Standards for child and youth development programs

2020 Edition

Early Childhood Education (CYD-ECE) 6: Classroom Environment

Child care is provided in an enriched, interactive environment that is well-suited to meeting the developmental needs of children.

2020 Edition




Early Childhood Education facilitates appropriate child development and ensures the health and safety of children in care.

Note: Additional standards that address the importance of providing a clean, healthy, and safe classroom environment are included in CYD-ECE 4 and 5.

The program’s practices fully meet the standard, as indicated by full implementation of the practices outlined in the Practice Standards.
Practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards.
Practice requires significant improvement, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards.
Implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all, as noted in the ratings for the Practice Standards.
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Provide a description of how toys and other materials are chosen for the classroom
  • Policy governing the use of infant cribs, walkers, jumpers, and swings (CYD-ECE 6.05)
  • Interview:
    1. Program director
    2. Teaching staff
    3. Parents
  • Observe facility

CYD-ECE 6.01

The environment supports positive development and education by providing:

  1. dedicated spaces to accommodate a range of developmentally-appropriate activities including group and individual play;
  2. an organized classroom that allows for safe movement throughout the space;
  3. flexible space that is easily updated to meet changing skills and interests of the group;
  4. sturdy, appropriate furniture;
  5. furniture that allows for adults to comfortably hold children, where appropriate;
  6. individual places for children to store their belongings; and
  7. reasonable accommodations for full access to indoor and outdoor activities by children with disabilities.


The room should be divided into areas for active and quiet play with low barriers separating dedicated spaces.  Quiet space should include soft elements, feel private, and provide an opportunity for activities such as reading, quiet play, or taking a break from group activities while still allowing for visual supervision of children at all times.


Appropriate furniture is defined as furniture that is designed to accommodate the age range of children in the classroom.  This can include consideration of the furniture’s size, weight, durability, construction, and material.  For example, chairs should be short enough that children can sit in them without having to climb, risking injury from the chair tipping.  Additionally, furniture such as bookshelves should be chosen and installed in a secure way that prevents tipping.

Note: See CYD-ECE 9 for more information about making reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities.

CYD-ECE 6.02

The physical facilities, buildings, and grounds of child care centers include:

  1. 75 square feet of outdoor space per child, based on the number of children outside at one time;
  2. outdoor areas enclosed by fences;
  3. outdoor areas and equipment that support a variety of play activities such as climbing, group activities, building, and exploring the natural environment;
  4. outdoor play areas that have shade;
  5. 35 square feet of unencumbered indoor space per child;
  6. separate lavatories customized for adults and children;
  7. drinking water available at all times and in all indoor and outdoor play spaces; and
  8. quiet and private indoor areas for parents and staff.


Quiet and private indoor areas should  include areas for parents to breast or bottle feed their children, space for staff to take breaks away from the children, office space, and private areas for parent interviews.


Child care programs located in urban areas with limited outdoor space can accommodate children’s needs for both active and outdoor play by offering larger indoor spaces such as gyms for active play and by taking children to local parks.  Additionally a child’s need for outdoor space will vary given his or her age and mobility level.  For example, a group of infants would require less square footage of outdoor space than a group of 3 year olds.


Unencumbered indoor space is defined as usable activity space for children.  Closed storage areas, indoor space reserved for staff, reception areas, etc. should not be included when determining the amount of unencumbered indoor space available.

CYD-ECE 6.03

Toys and other materials are chosen and updated regularly:

  1. based on the ages, abilities, and interests of children;
  2. to sustain interest and support emerging skills;
  3. to reflect differences in gender, ethnicity, cultural  background, age, and special needs; and
  4. to stimulate development in curriculum content areas.


Books, toys, and room décor are examples of ways that diversity can be incorporated into the child care setting. Attention should be given to providing toys and materials that promote a deeper understanding of diversity while avoiding stereotypical images.


The exact toys and materials selected for the classroom will vary based on the above criteria; however, some examples of age-appropriate materials for infant classrooms include:

  1. comfortable carpet or stiff blanket;
  2. shatter-proof mirrors;
  3. balls;
  4. washable plush toys;
  5. toys that make noise when shaken or squeezed;
  6. chunky toys that the child can look at, reach for, clutch, and mouth;
  7. board books; 
  8. a method for playing music such as a MP3 player docking station or CD player; and
  9. toys that allow for manipulation such as turning or inserting.

Examples of age-appropriate materials for toddler classrooms include:

  1. art materials appropriate to their developmental level including large crayons, markers, and large paper;
  2. containers that can be filled and emptied including household items such as measuring cups or unbreakable bowls;
  3. sturdy picture books;
  4. a method for playing music such as a MP3 player  docking station or CD player;
  5. items that can be pushed, pulled, or ridden; and
  6. sensory objects such as sand, dough, and water. 

Examples of age-appropriate materials for pre-school classrooms include:

  1. blocks;
  2. books;
  3. writing materials;
  4. math related games or toys such as items to be counted;
  5. a method for playing music such as a MP3 player  docking station or CD player;
  6. age-appropriate instruments;
  7. items for scientific investigation such as a magnifying glass;
  8. items to be used in imaginary play such as props or costumes; and
  9. sensory play items such as modeling clay, sand, or water.

Note: See CYD-ECE 8.01 and CYD-ECE 8.04 for more information on how toys should be chosen based on curriculum content and ongoing assessments.

CYD-ECE 6.04

Toys and other materials are arranged in a way that:

  1. allows children access without help; and
  2. encourages appropriate use.


Toys and other materials should be arranged in a way that makes logical sense and encourages their appropriate use.  For example, crayons should be stored with other art supplies, blank paper, and coloring books rather than on the shelf next to books meant for reading.  This encourages children to use crayons for their intended purpose and discourages writing in books.  However, this is not meant to imply that there is only one way of using each toy.  Often times, the best toys and materials are those that can be used in a variety of ways, encouraging creativity and exploration.

Toys should challenge the child both physically and mentally rather than relying on passive interaction.  The child’s manipulation of the toy should bring about a response or change in the item to promote exploration and learning.  The best toys are those that are open-ended and can be used in a variety of ways.

Fundamental Practice

CYD-ECE 6.05

The least restrictive environment for infants is chosen at all times including:

  1. using cribs only for sleeping;
  2. limiting the use of infant swings and jumpers; and
  3. prohibiting infant walkers.


Infant swings and jumpers should never be used when infants are sleeping and infants should be attended to whenever they are in use.  As with all of the equipment, toys, and materials used in the classroom, the program should be aware of any product recalls that affect their swings or jumpers.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides web-based access to a list of product recalls.