Safe, accessible storage areas can be a valuable resource in the child care environment. Storage enables child care providers to rotate materials based on the developmental needs and interests of the children. A storage area makes it possible to create collections of materials and props around specific themes and to build those themes into the curriculum at appropriate times during the year. Storage also keeps children safe by ensuring that dangerous or hazardous materials are inaccessible.
Storage Location Options
The organization of your child care facility may dictate where to store items. Whenever possible, store materials close to the place where they will be used.
Within the classroom: Use cabinets, drawers, and closets to store materials that do not need to be displayed in the classroom. Especially in toddler rooms, store extras of popular toys near the play area so the child care provider can pull out additional toys if children argue. Store some toys out of children’s sight, and rotate toys occasionally to keep children interested. Make sure each cabinet or drawer is labeled so you know what each one contains before you open it.
Outdoor Storage: Use an outdoor closet or shed to store outdoor toys, tricycles, and sports equipment. This saves classroom space and helps keep bugs and dirt outside. Be sure the closet or shed can be locked in order to keep curious children out.
Additional Storage Options: If you do not have storage in your classroom, choose an empty room or closet to store materials. When materials for a specific classroom are stored outside that room, labeling these items with the classroom number or name may help reduce confusion.
Tips for Organizing the Storage Area
The key to making storage work for your child care program is organization. Here are some tips to keep your storage areas organized:
- Choose appropriate storage containers. Cardboard or plastic boxes of the same size can stack easily. Select containers large enough to hold the material but small enough to transport and lift easily. Place lids on boxes so they stack easily.
- Create a designated space for each material. This will help you find what you are looking for easily and help prevent you from buying materials you do not need. It will also help new child care providers find materials easily.
- Store similar items together. Setting up a storage area for dramatic play, an area for puzzles, and an area for art supplies will make it easier to find things.
- Label things clearly. Placing labels on shelves, cabinet doors, and storage containers helps staff know where to return items.
Storing Materials in Learning Centers
Learning centers are a great way to encourage children to make independent play choices and to select materials that interest them. To be effective, materials in each learning center should be organized for easy use and cleanup. Here are some ideas to consider.
- Book Center: Use a book rack, a low shelf, or baskets to store books. If possible, display books with their covers facing forward so children can see the choices easily. Rotate the books in and out of the book center regularly to keep children interested.
- Art Center: Keep some materials that are safe for children to use independently (such as paper, markers, and child-safe scissors) accessible to children. Arrange these items in labeled storage containers at a height that is easy for children to reach. Keep more expensive materials or materials that need more supervision (such as glue and finger paint) out of children’s reach until it is time to use them.
- Dramatic Play Center: Keep dress-up clothes and dramatic play props in a place where children have easy access. Hanging up costumes helps children see the possibilities more clearly, and increases the likelihood that children will use them. Organize props on low shelves in baskets or other containers. Avoid overcrowding the dramatic play area with too many materials. As you change dramatic play themes, rotate new materials in to help children expand on that theme. Store other theme materials in labeled boxes in a storage room or closet.
- Building Center: Set up an area for building with blocks, other building toys, and props to encourage pretend play with building materials (such as vehicles, traffic signs, people, and animals). Unit blocks should be organized on shelves by type and size, and shelves should be labeled with pictures so children can figure out where to return blocks.
Storing Toxic or Potentially Dangerous Materials
Materials that are potentially harmful to children, such as cleaners and disinfectants, should always be kept in a locked cabinet or closet out of the reach of children. This also includes items like scissors, staplers, garden tools, or any other materials that require adult supervision. Check the storage cabinet or closet at the beginning of each day to ensure that it is locked.
For More Information
To learn more about how to organize your child care facility, and for more ideas on selecting toys and materials for child care, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:
- Creating a Safe Child Care Environment that Supports Positive Behavior and Exploration
- Toys and Materials in Child Care
- Toy Safety in Child Care
- Age-Appropriate Toy Ideas for Child Care
- Things to Consider When Choosing Toys and Materials for Child Care