Years ago, when we were getting ready to open the John Hancock Child Care Center in Boston, I had the privilege of working with Jim Greenman (author of Caring Spaces, Learning Places [Children’s Environments That Work] and Places for Childhoods: Making Quality Happen in the Real World). Jim had been hired to design the indoor and outdoor spaces. And, he and I worked closely preparing the space and thinking “out of the box” as to how some of the unique corners, alcoves, windows, and tucked away spaces could become “unexpected pleasures” for our young children.
Jim came to our meetings armed with printed quotes to be hung in strategic places; display boxes for the treasures children would find and share; unique toy boxes that would become anything and everything during play – and many, many beautiful artifacts that both children and adults would enjoy for the next twenty years.
I loved talking with Jim. He could see the world through a child’s eyes – and he ignited the passion in me for creating beautiful, functional child-centered, child-driven environments for them. I often scrunched down to the level of a two-year-old to take in the sights, sounds, and smells while deciding where to place children’s equipment, materials and supplies. And, to this day, I sit on the floor – if given a choice. It has become my way of keeping the focus on our little ones.
Our environment at John Hancock evolved over time, as our brightly-colored plastic lessened and our natural materials increased. Our commercially-made materials gave way to making our own from recycled odds and ends. Our sensory-based environment was pervasive indoors and out with many opportunities for children to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Our environment set the stage for all that happened within it.
So, we spent a great deal of time thinking about it in the context of our vision. Was it exceptional and thoughtfully designed? Why did we put that piece of equipment there? Were we thinking about the lighting; did we factor in the interruptions; does it fit; is there an aesthetic value to placing it there? Did our environment meet or exceed the national standards and state regulations? Did our environment reflect the people who “live” in it and the community we had created? And, did our environment reflect the values and philosophy of our early childhood program?
Lots to think about – reflect upon.
I believe that creating thoughtful and intentional environments for children is about opening our eyes, our ears, and our hearts.
Do you take the time to open your eyes, ears, and hearts to what is happening in your space? Are children thriving, or are there many problems? I believe that almost anything that happens during the course of our days finds its beginnings in the environment. So, it behooves us to take a good look at our spaces and places every now and again – to see if they are working for both children and adults.
In the next several posts, I will share some of what I’ve learned about peaceful, harmonious environments; the basics of designing infant, toddler, and preschool environments; making and keeping order; and some thoughts on evaluating your environments. Are you sending the right messages to the children? Are there problems and, if so, how can you correct them by “tweaking” the space?
And, if you have specific questions or comments, please contact me.