Color, scaled down furniture, and the occasional fairy door are often the hallmarks of Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) design. The hope is that this child centric veneer will inspire a sense of exploration and fun among the children, aiding the educators in the learning process. Without these elements however, there is very little that distinguishes most ECDCs from a typical elementary school.
Through a rigorous engagement process with Early Childhood educators we sought a deeper understanding. Asking “how can we go beyond this standard veneer to reveal a design challenge with greater impact?” Over the course of a couple months we lead a number of group user engagement activities, including;
- User Stories
- Precedent studies
- Day Mapping
- Design Charrettes
- Headline Stories
These engagement exercises uncovered a variety of staff spatial and functional needs. However, more importantly, the exercises provided a deep level of empathy and understanding for the care these educators have for their students. The requested items might easily be dismissed without fully understanding why. Washing machines and dryers, a small kitchenette, a community room, covered entries large enough to protect waiting parents and a community donation room make their way into the new plan because, “We want to make sure our students most basic needs are met. We’d love to able to send them home with a clean coat and freshly made snack.”
The final design meets many of these mundane functional requirements. It is flexible, has intuitive wayfinding, and is customizable. Most striking is the invention of an entirely new functional amenity born out of the engagement sessions. Put on display for all to see, this new amenity is central to every student, teacher and parent who use the facility. Dubbed the “Care Center,” this space provides room for the most basic needs of the building occupants – a place for relaxation, play, connection, and nurturing. The Care Center houses a kitchenette specially designed to give small children a view of the kitchen along with a washer and dryer, space for waiting parents, the teachers’ lounge, and visitor tutoring rooms. Through a movable wall, this space can connect to the fun and play happening in the gross motor room for a quick cooking lesson or presentation. Collectively, these rooms form the heart of the ECDC, creating a new tool for parents and teachers to nurture the development of the young children. The classrooms have been placed equidistant around this heart, ensuring that everyone is only a few steps away from the care provided.