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It takes a community to look after a child

A great initiative, Buddy Day that was run in Hamilton on the 16th of November reminds us all that 'it takes a community to look after a child' - raising awareness and initiating conversations about child abuse and how we might begin to stop it.

Learning by doing

The quote for this week (seen right) is one from the famous progressive educationalist John Dewey (1859-1952). It goes:

“Before the child goes to school, he learns with his hand, eye and ear, because they are organs of the process of doing something from which meaning results. The boy flying a kite has to keep his eye on the kite, and has to note the various pressures of the string on his hand. His senses are avenues of knowledge not because external facts are somehow ‘conveyed’ to the brain, but because they are used in doing something with a purpose.” ( John Dewey, ‘Democracy and Education’, 1915)

Left: A book by Lauren N. Tanner - 'Dewey's Laboratory School - Lessons for Today'; and right: the Marin Montessori School designed by Pfau Long Architecture.

In 1895, Dewey set up his 'laboratory school' where he tested his ideas on 'learning by doing'. His early learning section (which he named 'sub-primary') was based on activities around family life and that "tapped in" to the child's natural interests. A popular pedagogical theme today that was however rather extraordinary at the time.

Feel inside (and stuff like that)


It might not be relevant to the architecture of early childhood. But it is great.

The hilarious kiwi duo Flight of the Conchords succeed in bringing together the ideas of children to create a charity song for red nose day. I highly recommend you check it out.

On another note, I will be back with more posts soon. So watch this space.


A must visit website

Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000 is an exhibition and interactive website that looks at the modern child through design. 

The Website's homepage is organized into seven sections or themes, presenting individual and collective visions for the material world of children, from utopian dreams for the citizens of the future to the dark realities of political conflict and exploitation.

Walls, floors and roofs become not just shelter but double as spaces for play

Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of the kindergarten was perhaps the first to realise the potential of using a chid's natural inclination for play for learning, creating a series of play objects, which he called the 'gifts and occupations' (see post for more here).

It was a revolutionary concept, implying that the child might use what was presented to them to self-improve, to create, explore and test their physical capabilities; and thus grow and learn.

Almost 200 years later and architects are continuing to embrace the concept, infusing elements of play into the architecture of their early childhood environments.

Anansi Playground Building / Mulders vandenBerk Architecten

Walls may provide a surface for children to express their creative talents - becoming a changing piece of art in the process.

Kindergarten Kekec/Architektura Jure Kotnik

Or they may provide moveable elements: "as the children manipulate the colourful wooden planks they get to know different colours, experience wood as a natural material and constantly change the appearance of their kindergaten, all at the same time."

Mirror House Kindergarten - a whole new way to look at play

The Mirror House, by MLRP Architects reflects - literally - the play of children. 

Born from the land is a centre that nurtures and delights this small NZ community

Following my previous (not long ago) post - I have some more stunning photographs for you of the recently completed Ngati Hine Childcare centre in Kawakawa, New Zealand. (Thanks to the designer Phil Smith and photographer Simon Devitt)!

I contacted Phil for some advice when I first started researching the architectural environments for early childhood - and he gave me some very good advice:

"the key thing is scale and a balance of intimacy and openness. Things should be designed to the scale of the child rather than the adult, and spaces both inside and out should allow little nooks for children who prefer quiet time. Nature is also a key part - playgrounds should be full of interesting (preferably native) plants and materials...The other thing that gets overlooked is cultural context - kids at this age are sponges and will absorb anything, yet we give them dull lifeless buildings."

Here Phil has achieved just this - balancing a sense of openness with enclosure while providing a community with a place with a unique identity to call their own.

A play experience for children and the public alike that goes further than your standard swing set

Blaxland Riverside Park in Sydney, Australia is a new playscape designed by JMD Design that goes much, much further than your standard playground set.

Landscaped mounds with varying textures and carefully selected colours are combined with metal slides, climbing structures, tunnels and balancing discs,working seamlessly to provide children with the tools to test their physical cabilities and capture their imaginations.

Sure Start offers a useful guide for designing an early childhood centre

In 2001, the UK government published 'Every Child Matters', a 10-year plan of action committed to giving young children the best possible start in life. A part of this is the creation of a large number of centres, including services that support and enhance family life.

This visual guide has been put together from the experience of those involved in creating Sure Start centres so far to demonstrate to local authorities how to deliver inspiring buildings that enhance family life within challenging timescales.

Children NEED Play

"Play is essential to the development and learning of young children. Not optional…essential. Children learn as they play. In fact, play provides the perfect context for learning for the whole child - mental, verbal, social, physical, creative and emotional, in a way most structured classroom-style activities do not. " ~ Making Play Great, Play Grow Learn Issue One

Te Mirumiru (Ngati Hine) Childcare Centre now finished!

I blogged in August last year on the design concept for a new maori childcare centre in Kawakawa, New Zealand that had won a WAN (World Architecture News) Award. Designed by Phil Smith who has designed a number of early childhood centres in New Zealand, the project successfully reflects a desire to be both ecologically and socially sustainable.

The concept for the design is inspired by the Maori concept that all life is born from the womb of Papatuanuku (earth mother). Therefore the building's form is is expressed as a womb-like form, which seemingly grows from the land.

Fuji: an architecture that says "kids first"

Probably one of the best little or should I say rather big schools for little people is Fuji Kindergarten in Japan, designed by Tezuka Architects.

Architects Takaharu and Yui Tezuka joined forces with Kashiwa Sato, one of Toyko's most respected creative directors, to build and brand, a novel kind of kindergarten for 500 children in Tachikawa, a suburban area of Tokyo - conceived to play a role in the young child's education.

A central feature of the design is the landscaped rooftop, providing a deck and extended surface for the children to play. A slight incline sloping to the centre courtyard in the middle, and the absence of toys, tools and games encourages the children to run freely.

A school which strives to be better - to retain its history, encourage community and provide a healthy and happy environment for its young users

"Is this all ours?", asked a junior pupil. "The children are excited by all the space they now have", says Julia Simpson, the charismatic head teacher at Sandal Magna School, who has championed the project replacing the old dilapidated red brick Victorian primary school (Bauman, 2010: 39).  

The new design by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects serves the Wakefield, England community - including the 210 pupils who attend the primary school, the 26 younger children who attend the attached nursery, and a community room for community activities or events.

The architects' renderings of the school design concept, which combines natural materials, plenty of 'greenery' and gardens of flowers and vegetables - providing it's pupils with a relaxing and healthy environment, teaching them good practices for healthy living.

The brief was to design a highly functional, efficient, aesthetically pleasing and durable building. Extensive discussions with the community and teachers established additional design priorities such as a sense of history, a new identity, the provision of a variety of play spaces and the consideration for the building to 'fit in' with its urban context.

And to think is the beginning of a real education


“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.” - David Polis

Photo via Captured by Carrie and quote via Rain or Shine Schools (Creative Star Learning).

Thesis progress...(round 2)

Here is a selection of pages taken from the first half of my thesis marked: 'An historical framework', and which leads on from my last thesis update: round 1.

An architecture that reflects the competent child

The pedagogy of 'a competent child' can be said to require an architecture that is accessible, is scaled and functions for the child, offers flexibility and choice, and treats the child as an equal (and therefore does not patronise). Reggio Emilia have  successfully embodied this philosophy in it's architecture, like this one here designed by ZPZ Partners in San Felice.

The seemingly simple building utilises a covered colonade providing a natural extension from the interior space into the gardens.

Reggio educators are highly concerned about what their school environments teach, embodying the belief that children are resourceful, curious, competent, imaginative, and have a desire to interact with and communicate with others (Rinaldi, 1998: 114). They believe that children can best create meaning and make sense of the world through living in complex, rich environments which support “complex, varied, sustained and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and the many ways of expressing ideas”, rather than from simplified lessons or learning environments. As Louise Cadwell says of her experience with Reggio education: “no space is marginal, no corner unimportant and each space needs to be alive and open to change” (Cadwell, 1997: 93).

An architecture of adventure

This centre’s architecture illustrates the child’s need to actively explore and interact with their environment, creating a sense of adventure, and testing the child’s physical and imaginative abilities.

The Castle Child Care Centre, designed by Ton Venhoeven, in Souest, Netherlands in 1993 is perceived as a “day-care landscape” (Dudek, 2005: xvi).  

The interior environment - ramps, bridges, “hut-like” dens, different sized windows and openings, and a number of textural and lighting qualities combine to create an adventurous and challenging ‘landscape’ for the children. 

Venhoeven deliberately incorporated ramps terraces, and level changes encouraging children to climb and explore, just as they would do in a natural landscape.

A beautiful description of the Diana Municipal Reggio Preschool, made by some 5 and 6 year olds in 1993

This is absolutely gorgeous.

Here are a few (of my favourite) excerpts from a pamphlet ‘Advisory’ made by some five and six-year-olds at the Diana Municipal Preschool for three-year-olds who are about to enter:

“It’s the most beautiful school in the world to us. The way you get there is always the same, and when it’s no more a new way to you, that means that you know it.”

Map of school and park

The 'designer' playground continued...

I found this wonderful archive of snippets from a book written in 1967: Creative playgrounds and recreation centers - capturing the post-war era where a number of architects and artists began to design public spaces for children's play. (It also follows on rather nicely from my previous post; The 'designer' playground). 

Modular system of prefabricated elements for demountable play equipment
Designed by M. Paul Friedberg & Associates, New York

Friedberg designed this simple and flexible system of demountable and portable play equipment, which were to transform vacant lots into novel playgrounds.  

The elements did not require any foundations, and could therefore be placed on to any desired site. Many of the elements could also be moved or adjusted by the children during their play, therefore the playground is not a fixed structure, but is constantly changing.

The play elements (here arranged into a umber of configurations) include: wooden logs, pipes and cables, slide, playhouse, sliding pole, rubber ball swings and a climbing structure of wooden logs of different lengths and sizes.

A beautiful story from the year 1093 that likens the child to a plant requiring nurture for its growth

A story from ‘The Invention of Childhood’ a BBC Audio Series, by Cunnigham & Morpurgo, counteracts the widely held view that the Medieval and Victorian people viewed childhood as having ‘little significance’ and children as ‘little adults,’ and actually bears a resemblance to the attitudes of the later pioneers of early childhood education - Rousseau and Froebel.

Thesis update (Round 1)

Sorry about my rather long absence - but I've been hard at work on my thesis!

So I thought for now, I'd show you a wee "snapshot" of a few of the pages I've compiled so far....and keep posted, as there is still very much more to come.

Click on the images to enlarge.

The state of play today

Following my previous post, which looked at a number of (sculptural and adventure) playgrounds  designed by architects and artists between 1930-80 in America who sought to create meaningful and creative spaces for children's play; I am now going to look at what is happening today.

It can be said, that we are beginning to witness a resurgence of interest in children's play. Perhaps this is because playgrounds today are competing for kids' time and losing. Nearly 25% of children aged 9-13 have no free time for physical activity, and a child is six times as likely to play a videogame as to ride a bike. Therefore, the playgrounds of tomoroow must offer something that even the most enticing virtual offerings cannot: real spaces that look at least as amazing as anything virtual (Manaugh, 2012).

Architects and designers are beginning to rise to this challenge, creating spaces that are complex, engaging and some even with technological gadgets to push.

Two types of approaches to playgrounds appear to have emerged:

Loose Parts: which allow the user to create their own play sculpture and can be transported from site to site.

Playscapes: which work on the thesis of combining play with landscape design - these playgrounds transform urban space into vibrant play spaces.

Loose Parts

Geometry Playground, The Exploratorium, San Francisco

The 'designer' playground

The playground frequently seen today is a colourful collection of commercial equipment where use is predetermined, leaving little open to interpretation or improvisation.

Michael Laris a playground designer for Kompan tells a story in Children's Spaces (Dudek, 2005) of an important lesson he learnt:

Having designed a children’s castle, with accompanying turrets, battlements, an archway, a drawbridge...he went back to observe the children play. Here he watched as three boys ran over to the castle, through the entrance and under the arch. The first boy ran up onto the upper platforms, whilst the second hid below in the ‘dungeon’. The third stopped at the portal, took hold of a lever arm, (placed so that children could pretend to lift the drawbridge), and shouted, ‘anchors up, we’re sailing!’

"Sailing? My new castle, sailing?" thought Laris.

So he learnt, it is not the designer who decides how something is used, it is the children.  And it became clear to him, the crucial need for designs that are less obvious, more abstract, and include a diversity of shapes and materials so that they are open to a wide range of imaginative interpretations – interpretations made by the children themselves.

Think, make, tinker!

Like my previous post (and thankyou ako for pointing me to this), the Tinkering School in the U.S. promotes enquiry or project-based learning - through building (or "tinkering").

Providing the children with tools, materials and guidance, these young imaginations run wild and learn creative problem-solving.

Watch this presentation given by Gever Tulley the founder of the school to see some of what these kids came up with...including boats, bridges and even a rollercoaster!

As Tulley says: "Success is in the doing and failures are celebrated and analysed." As it should be.

A radical experiment in the early 1900s that embodies the progressive theory of the child that learns by experience

Prestolee School in Lancashire, England under the guide of Mr E F (Teddy) O'Neil between 1919 and 1952 became a radical experiment of progressive educational ideas, encouraging its children to learn by experience or by 'doing'.

Prestolee from Green Schools Online on Vimeo.

O'Neil like that of John Dewey (1859-1952) objected to the concept that the child's day must be divided up between work and play, his thesis being that children learnt by doing. He therefore developed a school environment which enbaled the children to work at their own pace following their own course of development. He believed that children were constructors and researchers of their own worlds, and that they should choose to utilise their time best to develop their own interests (Dudek, 2006).

Rooms within rooms or spaces within spaces is the theme of these new early childhood centres and schools

I blogged previously about Suppose Designs' concept drawings for an early childhood centre that adopted the metaphor of a miniature town using 'house-like' units to fit-out an existing space for young children.

And now the concept has been realised!

Built in Kanagawa, Japan, the Kiddy Shonan C/X Nursery houses a series of small different shaped and textured 'dwellings' functioning as classrooms or playrooms.

Each of the units features large cut-out windows for the children to look out from or even climb out from...

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

- Albert Einstein (Via Accelerated Learning)

Photo from Flickr.

The post-war adventure (or "junk") playgrounds promoting autonomous play

The history of the playground is marked by an irresolvable contradiction:

On the one hand modernity has conceptualized play as a biologically inherited drive that is spontaneous, pleasurable, and free - attributed to the autonomous and individual self. Yet, on the other hand, modern societies have rationalised and shaped children’s play from the outside to advance social, educational and political goals.

Thus the 'playground' is in fact about censoring and restricting types of play deemed undesirable and displacing them from places deemed dangerous or corrupting, such as the street.

“War Games”: Photo taken by Francis Reiss to illustrate Lady Allen of Hurtwood’s essay in Picture Post, November 16, 1946 (Kozlovsky, 2007: 1).

This contradiction is embedded in the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which states that play is a universal right of the individual and, at the same time, defined it as an instrument of social policy: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purpose as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right” (Kozlovsky, 2007: 1). A statement, which encapsulates the paradox of the modern discourse of play.

A vibrant kindergarten in Levin, NZ that is recognised as the 'healthiest' and as a 'hub of the community'

Taitoko, which means 'ray of light' in Maori is a centre situated in small-town Levin in New Zealand that has been transformed from a centre on the verge of closure into a 'thriving community hub' (Northcott, 2010).

'Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights before the dark of reason grows'

- John Betjeman, from 'Summoned by Bells' (Figes, 1997: 31)
Photo from Flickr.

I love pinterest

I have to say Pinterest is the next best thing.

It allows you to 'pin' any image that you find from the internet to your custom created 'pinboards' - with a simple click on 'pin it' that you load into your bookmarks bar. You can follow others with similiar interests and the home page offers a feed of yours and others 'pins'.

Displaying loads of inspiration on one never-ending page.

So, over the last few days I have been compiling a collection of images to my pinboard: architecture of early childhood. It is a collection of my favourite images from my blog as well as features of other buildings that I thought might add some inspiration.

So please, do check it out, and you can even 'follow me', if you like.

Kompan wins design award for its innovative playgrounds

KOMPAN, a company that is dedicated to creating child-focused play equipment has been recognised by the Australian International Design Awards Yearbook 2011 winning the '2011 Award of the Year'.

A primary Hindu school that teaches children respect for their surroundings and each other

The Krishna-Avanti Primary School designed by Cottrell & Vermeulen Architecture in 2009 is a Hindu school in the UK that bears more of a resemblance to a large kindergarten than a school - with interconnecting spaces catering for a wide use of activities, experiments and life-skills.

The school aims to help children realise their spiritual, moral and academic potential in a welcoming, secure and supportive environment centred on loving service to Lord Krishna (school's website).

The architects collaborated with the school community in the design process, to better understand the client's religious and cultural ambitions and to establish an appropriate architecture.


site by Ana Degenaar