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.