"A home away from home".
It's a description of ECE settings that is bandied about so often that its true meaning tends to be overlooked. It is not enough to use the phrase as a selling point for parents. We need to think about what home means to a very young child, and find genuine ways of offering a homely, nurturing safe haven.
More than a place
Even for our children, home is more than a physical setting.
It is a feeling, a sensory-filled emotion, a collection of stories and sense of warmth and belonging.
We need to acknowledge that for our children, home also means their loved ones.
Perhaps in honouring these relationships, we need to recognise that our centres are not home. We can, and should, however, make them homely.
Home-i-fy, incorporate warmth and love
We can start by home-i-fying the physical environment. This is a great, tangible beginning.
We can lose the clinical, or 'indoor playground' feel by infusing homely furnishings, soft lighting, rugs and non stock-standard shelves and cabinets. We can opt for 'real' in our choices of crockery and utensils, ornaments, and decor.
Children appreciate beauty in their surroundings, and homely is so much more satisfying for an environment where you spend so much of your time.
Furnishing the unseen
Now we get to the heart of the message. Furnishings is one thing, but we need to furnish our unseen environment too.
We need to furnish our settings with love, kindness and connection.
Stories and memories need to be woven into our days, shared with the children, not just hung on walls to tick off documentation requirements.
Homes have rhythms, varying paces, peaks and lulls. Home allows you to relax, let your guard down, and be yourself. Home reflects seasons and celebrations.
Families are made up of various ages, all doing life together in their own ways. This is something for us to consider in places where ages arevery segregated. How homely can that truly feel?
'Homely' conjures up images - sights, smells, sounds and feelings. An honest look at your setting can tell you if the sense of 'home' you may be promoting is a catchy phrase, or a genuine reflection of what your children experience. It's never too late to tilt towards genuine homeliness.