This paper advocates for a new approach to the design of settings within learning environments that more effectively responds to the inclinations of children. The work of researchers such as Gibson, Greeno and Heft regarding the theory of affordances has led to an understanding that children‚s perception of the possibilities inherent in their environment is functionally-oriented and is directly related to both their capabilities and intentions (Greeno, 1994; Heft, 1988). It has also been suggested by environment-behaviour studies that rigidly defined features and settings may only support a narrow set of experiences and actually inhibit children‚s natural imaginative activities (Pollowy, 1977; Moore, G et al, 1979). Consequently, unstructured or ambiguous activities and surroundings may be as important for supporting developmentally appropriate experiences as more defined, formal settings. This paper therefore explores the notion that Œloose‚, affordance-rich settings can successfully reflect and encourage children‚s natural learning behaviour, while providing the environmental conditions that research dictates is conducive to healthy development.This investigation focuses on the developmental benefits for children of access to, and engagement with, informal, affordance-rich features and spaces within the context of formal school environments. A number of affordance-rich features are used to illustrate how such Œinviting forms‚ respond to the needs and intentions of child users, with specific attention to a few critical psychological developments of the early to middle childhood stages. The results of a critical review of case studies of 3 formal learning environments, built within the last 15 years in Europe, North America and Australia, will be discussed with respect to each facility‚s ability to provide unstructured and engaging settings capable of facilitating some of the critical developmental experiences of children aged 4 to 7 years old.Please Note: The above mentioned case studies are under active review at this time. However, it is expected that this study will generate a set of design guidelines which will outline how various affordance-rich features, arrangements and patterns can be incorporated into the physical form of a school environment to provide incentive for the experiences and interactions that are considered critical to the healthy development of children in the age range of the study group.BackgroundResearch from a wide range of disciplines over the last couple of decades has provided enormous insight into the natural behaviour of children, the unique ways in which they perceive their environments, as well as the environmental experiences and conditions that are necessary for their healthy development and well being. Studies have demonstrated that appropriate development, for example, requires the opportunity for the child to experience both privacy and appropriate social interaction throughout the various stages of childhood (Wohlwill & Heft, 1997; Cooper Marcus, 1995). A child‚s ability to choose and manipulate their settings to suit their purposes is also known to be an important component in the critical process of developing a sense of identity and environmental competence (Proshansky & Fabian, 1987; Sanoff, Sanoff & Hensely, 1972). It has also been established that children learn by Œdoing‚, and that exploration and discovery experiences are important methods for obtaining knowledge and understanding (Brown & Campione, 1996; Sanoff, 2000). With respect to the physical nature of behaviour settings, both research and design practice has demonstrated that a successful environment is one whose form and philosophy is compatible with the desired behaviour and preferences of the inhabitant. In the case of learning environments for children, an effective setting must therefore embody an understanding of the natural learning behaviour of children and their unique perception of the opportunities afforded by a physical form or space. These facilities are particularly of interest since, as Gump suggests, children spend such a significant amount of time immersed in these environments that much of the time is devoted to living as well as learning (cf. Wohlwill & Heft, 1987). The quality of this living is therefore of vital importance. However, many formal learning environments for children do not exhibit an understanding of the natural behaviour and numerous needs of children, and fail to provide a built environment that effectively supports the variety of experiences critical to appropriate development during childhood.Sanoff suggests that achieving more appropriate learning environments for children necessarily requires an approach that recognizes the vast differences in needs, abilities and preferences that these sensitive users exhibit (1994). The critical factor in developing responsive learning settings lies in the ability of an environment to effectively accommodate the various demands and intentions of its users. In the case of children, an effective setting must provide physical forms and attributes that are congruent with the goals and inclinations of a group of unique children. That is, the ability to respond to the myriad needs and objectives of these particular users must be made integral to the form itself.