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Recently, on September 13th and 15th, I was able to participate in the Design for Early Learning Symposium, organized by Alissa Rupp, FAIA, LEED BD+C, Principal, FRAME | Integrative Design Strategies and Diane Kroll, Founder of Imag(e)ine Collaborative, an excellent team to facilitate conversations between the design industry and early childhood educators.

Each session was grounded in thoughts about how intention, planning and design thinking can benefit all users of a space. I was inspired by the various educators who shared their stories and gave insight into the implementation of their intentional and thoughtful programming. Seattle Children’s Playgarden, a 1-acre garden in the heart of the city, whose mission it is to provide children of all abilities with a safe, accessible and adventurous place to play and the Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center (MCFHC) in Tacoma, Washington; a non-profit human services agency who provides culturally relevant support services to children and families are just two examples of the amazing work being done by passionate educators who have dedicated themselves to building a program that models their values each and every day. 

This intentional alignment is typically where the physical learning space falls short. The majority of daycares and childcare centers operate in whatever facility they can secure. Providers have to choose between prioritizing their spending on daily operations or facility improvement. With interior design often not feasible in the budget, providers are left settling for a less than ideal physical environment.

Despite this, I found inspiration in the fact that both of the above mentioned programs started in this capacity. They had a mission and a vision and hope that the rest would fall into place. Over the course of several years, they prioritized their facility improvement to align with their values and mission and pursued funding until, little by little, they could bring their vision for their space to life, resulting in spaces that are reflective of the ethos they live every day through their work. The Children’s Playgarden designed and built their facility in 5 phases and The Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center is in the process of building their new facility to better meet their needs and growing program.

It takes time to build these programs and opportunities for our young learners. It is important work because our children are worth it and we owe it to them to be intentional with the design of our schools and learning spaces. When we take our time with design, engage all of the community stakeholders and act with intention, the result is a place that is welcoming, supportive and can reflect the programs’ values, while nurturing both the children and the facilitators of learning, exploration and play.