Pen Portrait: Elizabeth Jarman

Elizabeth Jarman is a leading education professional, specialising in creating really effective learning environments. She is the founder and managing director of the ELIZABETH JARMAN® Group. Her company is the sole provider of The Communication Friendly Spaces™ Approach, which helps schools and settings to re-think the way they use their environment to really set the scene for learning to take place. Using evidence from commissioned research programmes, taking account of different learning styles and also preferred contexts, Elizabeth’s thinking professionally challenges the way that environments for children are viewed.

Elizabeth Jarman delivered the keynote speech at the 6th Early Years Conference Fostering Creativity and Imagination at University Centre Doncaster in March, 2015. This article was inspired by the workshop delivered on Creating Communication Friendly Spaces and tuning into the needs of individual children through ‘Creating a Space’.

Over the past decade much has been discovered about the significance of early brain development, attachment and the external factors that can impact on a child’s learning and development. Through provision of authentic learning opportunities knowledgeable, warm, caring adults can provide the essential ‘stickiness’ to foster children’s learning. Practitioners continue to develop their provision through adopting enquiry based learning creating the time, space and environment for these critical components to mix together (Jarmen, 2013). The Communication Friendly Spaces™ (CFS™) Approach focuses on the role of the environment in supporting speaking and listening skills, emotional well-being, physical development and general engagement.

Elizabeth Jarman says, ‘it’s critical to understand how the physical space should connect with its intention. I think it’s essential to tune into the environment from the learner’s perspective. To do this, it is really important to observe, reflect and then make informed decisions about the way that children and families interact with the environment if a developmentally appropriate, personalised, responsive learning space is to develop, reflecting preferred contexts for learning.’

During the workshop delegates were challenged to discuss issues concerning communication that they have within their own settings regarding particular children, groups of children or due to the environment. Delegates choose a particular issue to focus upon and used the materials provided to create a communication friendly space that could help to resolve these issues.

The materials provided were household materials/ resources which would be easy to find such as towels, bathmats, throws, blankets, cushions, baskets with natural resources inside, torches, fairy lights and many more such items. Taking into account the current financial climate and budget restraints that we find ourselves working within, it was stressed that none of the materials provided were more than a few pounds and in actual fact many were sourced freely from the natural outdoor environment, were upcycled, or purchased from charity shops, thus putting emphasis on how the creation of these spaces is accessible to all settings no matter what the size or constraints of the budget.

One important factor that was discussed during the keynote speech was stressed again during the workshop when discussing the materials available to use; the importance of colour. Referring to research by the University of Illinois on the ‘Human benefits of green spaces’ it was pointed out that too much colour in the environment can adversely affect children’s behaviour and although the Illinois research refers to outdoor environments, we should ensure that similar natural or neutral colours are used within our indoor environments, therefore the colours of the materials that were provided were carefully chosen natural and neutral colours.

The practitioners that created this space had in mind KS1 boys who find it difficult to engage in writing either for pleasure or for a purpose. It is import to ensure that the environment not only fosters the language and communication development of the child, but also the physical development. Proprioceptive development ensures that children have the physical capability to sit still and it is importance to acknowledge that kneeling and crawling can help to develop this skill along with increasing the child’s core body strength.


The research and ideas presented inspired the practitioners to create this writing area which they described as reminiscent of a den. They went on to discuss how they had chosen to use net screening which created the barrier between child and adult – enough to make it ‘private’ but not enough to completely cut them off from interacting with each other visually or verbally. A crawl space was created to enter the writing area with cushioning for laying and kneeling thus ensuring that element of the child being able to physically interact with the environment was included. Neutral and natural coloured materials were chosen to create the space with the subtle addition of soft lighting through the moon lights, lanterns and torches. Finally and probably most importantly, the practitioners discussed how easy this was to create, how the materials were readily available and inexpensive and how the children can easily get involved in making these changes.

A communication friendly space, created in the corridor, exemplified how these spaces can be created anywhere in an Early Years setting.

Another example of a space created using just a table and netting with other resources placed inside.

Further Information

Elizabeth Jarman Communication Friendly Spaces Approach –

Jarman, E. (2103) Communication Friendly Spaces Approach.