The Building Blocks of Designing Early Childhood Educational Environments

Jaclynn Shaw, Kansas State University

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Abstract: Early childhood educational (ECE) facilities overwhelmingly impact their occupants; the design of these facilities, therefore, cannot be understated as young children often spend up to 12,500 hours of their juvenile lives in child development centers (Day, 1983; Vaughan, 2007). An analysis of the literature and research on ECE reveals differences in the layout of preschool, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms. This paper demonstrates how the design of the physical environment should evolve to respond to the developmental needs of preschool, kindergarten, and first grade children. Both literature and research on ECE environments have been used to create a schematic analysis that informs designers of particular design implications used to create a physical space successful in fostering and enhancing positive child development and effective learning.

Introduction and Background We have a long understanding that, more than any other building type, early childhood educational (ECE) facilities have a profound impact on their occupants (Day, 1983; Olds, 2001). A universal and necessary development component, early childhood centers, preschools, kindergartens and first grade classrooms have become commonplace for millions of young children ages three to seven years old. According to the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facility Planners (2000), more than thirty percent of today’s children under the age of three and almost fifty percent of children between the ages of three and five attend an early childhood center or educational facility for some part of their day. This large increase results from the influx of women in the workforce, the intensification of longer workweeks, and educational research that supports the importance of early childhood education. All of these factors have contributed to the rise of early childhood centers and facilities throughout the United States (National, 2000). Vaughan (2007) stated that as many as seven out of ten American children under the age of six participate in some form of care and/or education outside the home; these children spend up to 12,500 hours in a child development center prior to entering the first grade. The design of these facilities, therefore, cannot be understated. The design and maintenance of a child’s physical educational setting should support high-quality activities as well as allow for optimal use that fosters quality learning. It is through new research in educational settings, new technology, and the consideration of the child in general that can aid designers in creating the most innovative, useful, and effective environment for the world’s children to develop, adapt, and learn.

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