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Education Trends: Designing Peaceful, Playful Preschool Environments

Long gone are the days of cramped desks sitting in rigid rows; early childhood Education Trends such as play-based learning demand a re-imagined classroom design. The play-based pedagogical approach, which includes learning styles such as Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia, casts the classroom environment in the vital role of “third teacher.” Play-based learning guidelines serve as a catalyst to evolve learning environments in which young children explore, experiment, and innovate.

Here are some features common to play-based preschools:

Horizontal Layouts

The horizontal aesthetic applies to low, flat interior design elements within the learning areas. Nothing is kept too high for little hands to reach. Child-sized work tables, sinks, and storage shelves replace individual desks and towering built-in book cases of traditional classrooms. Items hung on vertical surfaces such as coat hooks and artwork are at child height to allow for easy access and exploration. It’s rare to find a teacher desk in a play-based classroom as it would create an “off-limits” space—the opposite of the message that in a safe, nurturing learning environment, no discovery is off-limits.

Central Common Space

To reflect a sense of community and independence, play-based schools often feature a central atrium or courtyard designed to function as a common area for the display of class projects; group work; and school-wide assemblies. Comfortable seating, floor pillows, and benches invite members of the school community to use the space as a place of quiet contemplation and conversation. The entrances to learning spaces face the common area, thus symbolizing the educational community at the heart of the school.

Flexibility and Transformation

The aesthetics of play-based environments underline the philosophy of child-centered learning. Neutral color schemes and natural building materials such as wood, stone, and tile allow a “clean slate” upon which to display and track each child’s artwork or creation. Seating areas of varying levels, from floor pillows to loft spaces, allow young children the variety of movement they crave as they explore and interact with their learning environment. Wheeled furniture and partition walls, stage-like platforms, and projection screens transform the learning space and accommodate opportunities for experimental play.

Introducing Technology 

One of the primary reasons for play-based learning’s popularity is that it fosters innovation as our children grow up in the Creative Age. It’s not unusual to see child-height computer workstations in some play-based classrooms. Technology trolleys equipped with tablets or digital recording equipment support the creation and documentation of artwork.

The play-based learning space allows our children the freedom they need to discover, create, and develop a sense of confidence in their abilities as future innovators. Understanding the important relationship between environment and educational experience is imperative to the future of early childhood educational design.

To learn more about Tangram’s approach to educational design, please contact us.