Places for Children
How great design builds great kids.
We discover the world via our senses – through site, sound, touch, taste and smell. From the day we are born this is how we learn, how we figure out our boundaries and limitations as well as our capabilities and potential. Everything around us has an influence – our families, our friends, the food we eat, the weather, the city or country that we live in.
It makes sense then that our physical environment, both natural and built, can have a huge impact on our development as human beings. As adults, the spaces we inhabit can influence our thoughts, our moods, and our physical wellbeing. Have you ever walked into a space and it somehow made you feel good, but you weren’t sure why? It can be guaranteed that this was all carefully orchestrated, that the designer of that space considered materials, texture, contrast, lighting, spatial arrangement, connection to the outdoors and more … and how these things were all carefully combined to create the intended effect.
In children, the influence of the physical environment can be even more profound than in adults. Children’s brains are like sponges; they are constantly absorbing new information and they are constantly learning. Babies are born with all five senses working, however important physical skills, particularly those to do with muscle control, still need to be developed. Other growth and development milestones in babies and children relate to cognitive and social skills. And with an increasing number of children in Australia using some form of childcare, particularly those under the age of 5, the importance of good design when it comes to the spaces our children inhabit cannot be underestimated.
There is huge potential for childcare centres in Australia to be world class, design-led environments. The best child care environments around the world focus on creating an experience for children that is positive and life affirming experience. Childcare spaces should be efficient and functional and the ‘flow’ of daily activities should be an inherent part of the spatial design. They should be scaled appropriately, be environmentally friendly, have a sophisticated unifying design theme, be nurturing and sensory and be appropriate for small children and how they experience the world. And the best childcare environments should address equally the needs of the children and their carers. This is especially important as the role of a carer can be highly stressful and physically demanding.
One of the most interesting trends we’ve seen in the evolution of child care design has been the encouragement of ‘risk taking’ within the physical and pedagogical environment. Previously, particularly when it came to design, child care centre experiences were all about eliminating 100% of the risk. This had a detrimental effect on children, as it meant that they couldn’t reasonably assess risk outside of such a controlled environment. Which is not to say that the leading child care environments are now unsafe, rather that they provide ‘real world’ challenges and opportunities for a child’s growth and development. Intelligent, thoughtful interior design of a child care centre has a critical role to play in teaching children how to understand the social and physical world around them, and their place in it.
Designing spaces for children is one of the most important areas of interior design to get right. Providing children with a ‘home away from home’ that is nurturing and secure early on in their childhood, can set them up for a lifetime of confidence, engagement, independence and resilience. The power of design to create community, influence behaviour and support emotional and physical wellbeing is important when designing any type of space – whether that be at home, work, school or play – for both children and adults. With an increasing number of children utilising childcare in Australia, the value that great design can bring to the lives of our children, both now and into the future, is a compelling story.