The ABC’s of Childcare Centre Design

As a graduate of the Master of Interior Design program at the University of Manitoba, I had the opportunity to conceptualize a Children’s Art Centre that supported a child’s well-being through positive development in mental, physical and social aspects. Throughout my research, I noted overlapping design concepts that I referred to as the ABC’s (Approach, Boundaries and Cues) that informed what was important to remember when designing a child-centred space.

A is for Approach

First impressions make or break how a child understands and experiences space. Design begins before even entering the building. The physical approach to the building, if unruly and unkempt, easily deters a child’s want to interact with it. Whether it’s building art, a playground or a flourishing garden–the maintenance of the outside area and the use of territorial markers act as points of positive recognition for kids.

B is for Boundaries

As we move into the building, the arrangement of spaces creates spatial zoning so that children define areas. The application of boundaries also creates awareness to know what is meant to occur in a specific space. A common example of a change in floor material or furniture can designate a change in function within a space. With the proper setup, a child knows that we read on the carpet by the bookshelves or we paint pictures on the easels without being told, giving them a sense of independence.

C is for Cues

Cues, both visual and spatial, define space like boundaries but also incorporates meaning or symbolism. Children rationalize their want to be in a space when they relate it back to something positive. If a child makes a friend at the playground, they will refer to that specific playground as the place they met so-and-so. There is no need to go against the grain in designing a childcare centre — familiarity is your friend. Whether the interior design is dynamic and vibrant or plain and simple, kids recognize specific objects, shapes and colours when they are designated with a purpose or meaning. A chair will always be a chair, no matter how avant-garde, so plan your spaces accordingly.

These three concepts are just the tip of the iceberg when designing a place for kids. In the end, I hope they begin to build your own themes and elements that you’d like to include in your space. For a more detailed look at what I wrote about, you can read my thesis Mind, Body and HeART: The Design of an Expressive Art Centre for the Health and Well-Being of Children.

Written by Leanza Barra, an Interior Designer in Manitoba

Daycare Essentials

I’m a mother of a busy 4-year-old boy and have been working in the childcare field for 15+ years.  Throughout the years, I’ve learned that a few items are absolutely necessary (in my opinion) for running a daycare.

Furniture is the first essential for any daycare, so items such as lockers are great as they keep items organized and accessible. Organization is key in encouraging children to put things away for themselves independently. A great way to help organize a daycare is to put toys inside of a clear or open container so that the children can see what’s inside and where it goes; labelling the bins also helps with this. Items like the Preschool Enviro Upholstered Furniture Set are wonderful as the pieces are comfortable, simple, durable and easy to wipe clean. Easily cleanable surfaces and furniture is definitely a must for daycares, as items need to be cleaned very often to ensure the health and safety of the children.

My overall must-have is engaging areas and toys for the children to interact with.  For this, my top pick is a sand and water table and a sensory light table for all of the children’s sensory exploration needs.  Items that would be good to accompany these would be modelling sand, play foam, tree blocks and numbers and math signs.  These tend to be items that most children don’t use often if they are not attending a daycare centre, so thus they are already captivated by a new area and new materials to play with and expanding that play and learning. Adding simple materials and loose parts can do wonders for a child’s development and imagination to create.

My overall personal favourite area in daycare is an open, organized art area filled with all the materials available for the children to create with at their fingertips.  Arts and crafts supplies, like loose paper, pencil crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks, tissue paper, popsicle sticks, googly eyes, pom-poms, pipe cleaners and any other materials that a child can use to make anything they desire.  This is a great area to add reusable materials to as well such as paper towel rolls, newspaper, Kleenex boxes, and old greeting cards and so on.

Daycares don’t need to be busy and complicated; they just need those key areas for children to be fully immersed in to keep them constantly learning about themselves and their environment.

Written by Michelle Ducharme, an Early Learning and Childcare Supervisor in Alberta

Happy Architect Review

One of our favourite areas in the room has always been the “construction corner.” I have watched wood blocks transform into pirate ships, tall towers, trees, baby carriages and everything in-between…many, many, times over the years. Perhaps what makes this corner my personal favourite, is simply the open-ended play that it provides my multi-age group. There is no “appropriate” age for building and constructing – building blocks support all ages and stages of development.

Over the past few weeks, my small group of eight children (ages two to four right now) have collectively been involved in dramatic play over in the construction area. Now, if you have ever known a two and a half-year-old and a three and a half-year-old separately, you can understand that cooperative play amongst these ages can and does indeed happen, but it’s rare when it comes to building because often the two-year-old is more interested in the inevitable crash of towers than the construction. If the common theme was “house” you could guarantee that the children were utilizing the blocks to build a kitchen or using the smaller blocks as various food items or props in their play. With the interest so high in the “construction corner” I was excited to have the opportunity to test out the Happy Architect sent to us from Quality Classrooms.

Upon receiving the package – I assumed that the 28 pieces in the box weren’t going to be enough pieces for a collaborative project amongst the children; but, keeping an open mind, I opened it up and presented the pieces to the group. They got to work right away – as you can tell in this one photo, they worked separately on their own projects (often referring to the pieces as puzzles *interesting*).

Some of my first thoughts about these blocks:
– They are NOT necessarily open-ended. They need to be utilized in a specific way in order to construct anything
– They do feel beautiful and like a quality item
– I wondered if the children would grow frustrated with these as most of the materials in our room are open-ended and don’t have a specific or rather, “correct” way to be utilized.

Over the next few weeks, a few of the children spent a lot of time building “the puzzle” and deconstructing it to build it another way – I could tell that these types of blocks were promoting some thinking challenges for the children, and I liked it. It wasn’t long before they were being used in other (more typical for my group) ways…photographed is a sailboat in the making complete with a highchair for the baby. I think once the children became familiar with how to connect the pieces, they were more easily used in other types of play.

In sum – these are really interesting building blocks for children. They most definitely support the development of the varying ages in my group (I observed a lot of scaffolding, problem-solving, communication, and both fine and gross motor skills being utilized – to name a few). I look forward to observing the new ways the children utilize them going forward.

Written by Ashley Elliot, a licensed ECE in British Columbia

Recess: Weather or Not?

When I hear the dreaded words “indoor recess” my heart falls.

I know then that my students can’t go outside to play, get fresh air or burn off some energy. They love indoor recess occasionally, but if we have an ongoing bout of bad weather, they get frustrated with the lack of outdoor play. I try to have options in the classroom such as games, Lego and drawing, but the gross motor movement is what most children seem to need.

Living in Canada means learning to live and flourish in cold conditions. We don’t call an indoor unless it is raining, or the temperature or wind chill reaches -35ᵒC (though this may be different depending on where in Canada you live). Teaching our students to embrace the cold, dress appropriately for it and have fun prepares them for life in Canada.

Families new to Canada often need help learning how to dress for Canadian winters. Suggestions on what to wear and where to buy it can be helpful for new families. Having a collection of communal collection of mitts, hats and even socks for the younger students is a good idea. Many teachers ask students to have their own spare socks, hat and mitts with them in anticipation of wet clothes.

On those days when indoor recess is inevitable, I recommend having more movement breaks built into the day. If you notice your students struggling, take a breather and have a stretch, check out a brain break and be ready to adapt a lesson, pivot and rethink quickly on your feet. Less sitting and more moving, harnessing your students’ energy for hands-on activities can make for a more productive and fun day for everyone.

Here is a list of whole class indoor recess games to help you out on the cold or rainy days:

  • GoNoodle is an option for a class that enjoys group dance. It can also be a choice option for a group while others play games if there is space in your classroom. GoNoodle does have an indoor recess section with songs and guided dances as an option and they include a good whole-body movement activity. Pushing back the tables to make space is worth the effort, to get everyone moving.
  • Simon Says is a good option to get a group or whole class moving and many children enjoy being Simon so you get to take a break or join in the fun.
  • Four Corners gets everyone moving too and, as with Simon Says, the leader can change.
  • Charades is less of a movement game, but it is engaging and students can help make the options.
  • Directed Drawing is popular in my classroom. Art Hub for Kids on Youtube is easy to follow and has a kid drawing with his dad.
  • Origami is a popular and quiet activity with only paper needed
  • It’s always good to have board games handy to keep smaller groups occupied.

Let’s hope for mild days, just perfect for playing outside and if the dreaded indoor recess is called, we are ready!

Written by Chris, a teacher in Manitoba

The Power of Not Yet

The new year is about making positive changes to our behaviours and mindsets, making it the perfect time to consider the growth mindset made popular by Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She explained the two mindsets she found in her subjects: fixed mindset and growth mindset.

Since this book became popular, teachers have been helping students identify when they have a fixed mindset (believing we have a fixed amount of intelligence and ability) and reframe their thinking with a growth mindset (believing we have limitless potential to learn and grow).

As teachers, we can access many resources to help support our students understanding of their mindset and how it affects their ability to learn. How we teach today and the language we use can greatly affect how our students see themselves.

Learning How We Learn Best

Talking about how a student learns best and identifying their strengths helps them celebrate what they currently do to learn successfully. It also highlights what they still need to work on to better improve their learning. Whether it is “finding a good fit spot” to learn in or getting started on work right away, this process allows students to focus on a goal. It also helps parents and students understand how we assess and report on learning behaviours. Reminding students of their learning behaviour goals can help them refocus on the learning process, recognizing their ability to learn.

Goal setting

Encouraging students to set goals for learning behaviours and specific subject areas, helps students to understand what they are aiming for and gives them ownership of their learning. Conferencing in small groups allows reflection and discussion time. Some students find this process quite easy by Grades three or four, others may need support and direction until they are older. Goal setting provides a focus for both the student and the teacher to move learning forward.

Mistakes Are How We Learn

Recognizing a mistake as a learning opportunity requires a mindset shift for many students. Regularly discussing the mistakes made and finding out what can be learned helps students reframe their thinking. The obvious place for this to start is math where there is a clear right or wrong answer. Talking about the thinking process allows students to understand how they calculate and listening to others provides a different perspective. Learning from our mistakes and seeing them as an opportunity changes how we approach everything.

The Power of Yet

Building resiliency in students can be challenging but having the language to understand what the “Power of Yet” means that students can understand the possibility of achieving their goal. A wonderful song from Sesame Street says it all:

“Keep trying and you will learn how.

Just breath don’t lose control

Keep trying and you’ll reach your goal

You just didn’t get it yet, but you’ll make it soon I bet

This is what you get with the power of yet.”

Learning is a Journey

Identifying learning as a continuum and helping students understand they are all in different places and that that is okay, takes time but is a worthy pursuit. For example, I ask my students to solve a one/two-step problem in math and when they are finished, they have an option to try a more complex word problem. They begin by highlighting the most important information, then find the math and the operations, then work out the steps. We always do this problem as a class later and students who completed the problem lead the discussion, explaining what they did. We talk about the fact that some students just completed step one where they highlight the important information, others are further along the process. The importance is placed on effort and learning from what we did, not the correct answer. This is all part of building understanding and respect for the learning journey.

Lifelong Growth

We can all learn and grow by thinking about our mindset. Talking to our students about our own mindset and attitude towards learning helps reinforce what we are teaching. I tell myself I spell badly just to help my students see my growth mindset as I am publicly corrected by a student! Demonstrating mistakes and explaining what we learn from them helps students understand that everyone makes mistakes and what we learn them is important.

“You just didn’t get it yet, but you’ll make it soon I bet”

Written by Chris, a teacher in Manitoba

Holidays Around the World

It is becoming more common for us to refer to vacation time in December as winter holidays or winter break. This is not because we are trying to get rid of the term “Christmas” but because not all our students celebrate Christmas. Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Chinese New Year and Holi are just some of the celebrations happening in the late fall and winter season, so using the term Winter Break is more inclusive for everyone.

Learning about these celebrations can be fascinating for students, perhaps because they often assume everyone celebrates the same holidays as them. Learning how other students celebrate, the food they eat, games played and stories told to give an insight into their peers’ lives. Educating for tolerance and understanding can help to eliminate ignorance and fear. Opportunities for student voices are plenty when we include holidays all of our students are involved in.

As a student who celebrates one of these holidays, this can be an opportunity to be an expert and share knowledge, experiences and stories. Students can enjoy being the leader and teach about their cultural background. If the student is willing, family members could also share their knowledge with students acting as a human library. Adults often enjoy having the opportunity to share their culture and address any misinformation that might be present. Having an expert share their knowledge gives students an authentic voice and an opportunity to challenge their understanding. Asking questions to a guest speaker can help students clarify their understanding.

Using a picture book as a starting point gives us as educators, a comfortable introduction into a topic, especially when we are also learning. Picture/informational books provide summaries and talking points. They give us an insight into a culture, history and common practises. Often a craft or art activity is suggested, giving teachers an opportunity to provide students with a practical application of their learning.

As educators, we must be willing to discuss and celebrate differences. Doing so builds positive community relations and respect for each other. While we recognize that no one group is as homogenous as it might seem and there is diversity within a common group, learning about world celebrations is an accessible starting point for young students.

Written by Chris, a teacher in Pembina Trails