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Design as a guiding hand in early childhood education

Design Guiding Hand

 “There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.” – Loris Malaguzzi

Design and its role in the creation of productive learning environments have become well recognised as an essential foundation of education. The Reggio Emilia approach identifies the child’s physical environment as the “third teacher”.

At Orchard Early Learning Centre, the environment and its purposeful design have been at the heart of the development of our new Kirrawee Centre. In fact, it is very much at the heart of our learning philosophy.

The Architect responsible for the Orchard Early Learning Centre design, Chris Bombardiere, began with a very clear brief based on the vision of the OrchardELC team. “We wanted to create a design that seamlessly moved from inside to out, that exposes children to the cycles of life, growth and the production of food. We had an opportunity to create a genuine connection between the children and the environment.” Chris said.

“The interior space was created as an open canvas to be adapted to a variety of care and learning environments by the Orchard Early Learning Centre education team. The exterior grounds begin with a structured environment similar to the gardens that surrounded the homes of European orchardists in the eighteenth century. The spaces provided a formal outdoor living space that existed between the house and the Orchard”.

“Our approach to centre design is based on a core principle that everything has a purpose”, says Loretta Godfrey, General Manager. “The organisation of indoor and outdoor spaces, the selection of colours, the type and location of plants, furniture, materials and learning aids. Everything has a clear purpose that creates both an environment conducive to learning and elements that frame discovery and learning in collaboration with our educators. The design aesthetic is intended to be beautiful. Beautiful design creates a sense of order in which children’s minds are free to explore”.

“Fundamentally, children have an immense capacity to learn from what is around them”, Loretta continued. “By purposefully structuring the environment we create opportunities for children to discover something new every day and find cognitive stimulation in that discovery. It is an empowering feature of early learning”.

The design approach employed by Orchard Early Learning Centre in the Kirrawee Centre encompasses:

  • Stylish simplicity and a lack of clutter
  • Themes that create visual harmony and an inspiring link between activities and spaces
  • Natural colours that represent natural outdoor environments
  • The Atelier – a space for children to express their creativity through art
  • Spaces that allow for organic learning from a natural sense of wonder and joy
  • Quality of design, materials, furniture and objects
  • The cycle of life and growth
  • The philosophy of paddock to plate – from the growth of produce to the meals the children eat
  • A visually open kitchen that allows children to observe and engage with the chef

Inside, the colour palette and materials are soft and gentle. Colours are natural, and materials are soft in a way that makes children feel safe and secure. Objects range in tones from pastels and soft greys to blues and whites. The textures boast natural timers and fibres, while the furniture and many of the objects are made from natural materials.

The areas are open, yet compartmentalised by arranging learning, eating, quiet and sleeping areas in a modular way. This helps children to learn about the phases of their day and feel secure in each environment.

The outdoor spaces are full of natural visual and physical objects and places to discover. Tactile textures are used such as play grass, sand, water, stones and paving.

The fluid nature of the transition from indoors to outdoors is alive in the design. The sheer volume of space is breathtaking. The central outdoor area provides space to run and play. There are sand and water play areas to enjoy, and so many details to discover.

A large chicken coup contains chickens to care for and eggs to collect. There is a native beehive with stingless bees. Picnic tables placed immediately outside the centre provide places to eat, while others create learning zones.

At the southern edge, the formal garden transitions into the orchard, planted with apple, pomegranate, pear, mango and fig trees. The children will watch them grow and help pick the fruit. Beneath the orchard trees are sensory plantings of lavender, gardenia and rosemary to excite the children’s senses. The orchard is also the parking spot of the exciting antique red tractor that lets the imagination run wild.

As the ‘third teacher’, the environment at Orchard Early Learning Centre provides a great breadth of inspiration and information. When combined with the observation and guiding collaboration of our educators, it becomes an inspiring place for children to begin their life of learning.

“All children, regardless of circumstance, should have access to beautiful environments. I urge you all to consider the child’s right top beauty, and so examine with great detail what a child should expect when it comes to beauty” – Anthony Semann

We agree.

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