Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Designing Better Preschools: Improving Communication between Designers and Child Development Professionals

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Designing Better Preschools: Improving Communication between Designers and Child Development Professionals

Article excerpt

This exploratory study examined communications between designers and child development professionals during the preschool design process. Qualitative interviews and focus groups were conducted to investigate the need for communication support between child development professionals, parents, and design professionals (n = 20) during the process of designing preschool facilities. Participants had an interest in successful children's spaces and had been involved in the design and construction of new preschool facilities within the 2 years prior to the study. Data collected indicated a discrepancy in the perceptions of communication levels between participant groups and a desire to improve interdisciplinary communication. Recommendations are made to support the communication process during preschool design phases.

Society has changed significantly over the past three decades, especially in the area of family structure and child care. The increases in single parent families, both parents working outside the home, and nontraditional family structures has necessitated that more young children are cared for outside the home. The number of children receiving frequent or daily care outside their home is on the rise; more than 72% of children ages 3 to 5 receive care from someone other than a family member (U.S. Department of Education, 2001).

Research (Eliot, 2000; Gopnik, Meltzoff, & Kuhl, 2000) shows that early brain development is an essential foundation for future learning, and that the first 5 years are critical in a child's development. Because an overwhelming number of children in this age group are cared for outside of the home, it is the responsibility of parents, citizens, and professionals to pay close attention to every detail of the child-care system. One key factor in child care that is often overlooked is the physical environment that surrounds the children for so many hours of their day.

Facilities housing child-care centers and preschools are typically existing structures that have been retrofitted to minimally accommodate the needs of the center and are rarely designed with children in mind. Research indicates that the physical environment has a significant effect on an individual's behavior, development, and physical reactions (e.g., Evans, Saltzman, & Cooperman, 2001; Horne-Martin, 2002), and to support children appropriately, child-care centers must be designed to provide for the needs of both children and adults. Designers and child development professionals each have specific areas of expertise. Clear communication between designers and client groups is critical if spaces are to be designed to support children (Schneekloth & Shibley, 2000; Sternet al., 2003; Zeisel, 1993).

Communication is a key component in the success of every design project, yet use of "design language" or vernacular terminology by interior designers and architects can both intimidate and confuse the listener if terms are not clearly explained (Cherry, 1999). This exploratory study investigated the need for communication support between child development professionals, parents, and design professionals (interior designers and architects) during the process of designing preschool facilities. Key characteristics of a support tool that could be created to enhance communications during the design and construction process are identified.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

More than 56% of the children cared for outside their homes are in center-based programs, highlighting the need to design developmental^ appropriate child-care spaces. Designing children's facilities is a relatively new phenomenon, and there are few models and guidelines for the process. Olds (2000), an expert in design issues for children, provided a set of guidelines for developmentally appropriate preschool design in her book, Child Care Design Guide, however, most designers and architects involved in preschool projects are not aware of this resource. …

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