"Boutiquing" in schools and Early Years settings

Posted on 17th May 2024

What is "Boutiquing"?
“Boutiquing” is a word that I use for the thoughtful organisation and presentation of many wonderful loose parts and materials so that children have an opportunity to become independent and critical thinkers.

What does "Boutiquing" do for children?
“Boutiquing” affords children with the opportunity to view materials, think about them, be inspired them, choose and access what they need, work and play with them and return them easily at the end of the session. This independence nurtures a calm and purposeful ambience in an Early Years setting. Children display high levels of autonomy, capability and competence as they choose and use materials that are rich in affordance. They are often heard discussing why a material is useful or that they have an idea why a different material might work better. With smart “boutiquing”in place that honours the rich potential of materials, children can make independent choices without restriction or delay.

Examples of "boutiques"
The following examples showcase how children access, use and return materials freely and competently. Having smart storage in the correct locations is key to making this work successfully. Quite simply, materials that may support and extend mud play will be close to the mud area. Water materials will be close to the water area and so on. But it is more than just having the materials available; it is paramount that the materials are carefully chosen, organised and labelled so that children can be fully independent in their choice, access, use and return. When this system is well established children remain inspired and purposefully engaged throughout the session. Adults are calm and able to observe and interact with children more meaningfully as they are not running around trying to organise everything. The adults have already done their thinking and planning as they resourced the boutiques with intentional materials that will support and extend the children’s independent learning (both in response to the children and in response to curriculum requirements).

Who creates and looks after the "boutiques"?

Adults create the boutiques. Boutiquing requires time and care. Each item is placed thoughtfully in a space in the understanding that children will be able to see, access, choose and return as much as possible without adult help. Occasionally items will be placed on the top shelf. This is still okay as the children can see the item and know that they can ask for help in accessing it. 

It is really important that all adults commit to the high level of organisation and presentation required for “boutiquing”.  Time is well spent at the beginning of each school year supporting new members of the team and reminding established members of the purpose of the boutiques, and to agree that everyone has a responsibility to maintain these valuable spaces.

One staff member, accompanied by 2 children go out at the end of each day to do a spot check on the tidiness of the boutiques. This, in itself, gives children a real sense of pride and ownership of their space and precious materials.

When do you create the "boutiques"?
Adults think about each boutique in conjunction with their long-term planning - their forecast – their planning for continuous provision. Once this in place – everything flows much more freely. Children’s play becomes much more child led and purposeful. But the secret to all of this is that the adults know from experience and from their observations over the years what it is that children will most likely be drawn to; what it is that children will most likely want to explore. Adults will also enhance their boutiques, and subsequently the learning opportunities, by adding intentional items to the boutiques. These items will be added in direct response to what they notice children are doing or exploring; or this can also be led by the adult in that they will add items to provoke thinking in another aspect of the curriculum that the children have not yet had a chance to explore. So, there is a mix of child and adult led learning happening at all times. Adults also quickly tune into areas that are not being visited by the children. They reflect on why this might be happening. Are the materials not appealing? Are they in the wrong location? Are they in a lagre container that is not accessible to the children? Are they unfamiliar to the children? Are they disconnected from what the children know? 

Boutiquing has completely transformed outdoor learning spaces, with children taking more control of their own learning. On a day-to-day basis adults are less busy with setting up and organising. They have more time to "be" with the children; to extend and enhance their thinking, language and learning. So this is a win win for all!


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