Last month, NC State University College of Design’s Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) hosted the 2017 Early Childhood Design Institute. The three-day workshop, headed by NLI director and Kaleidoscope steering committee member Robin Moore, provided attendees with evidence-based design thinking for young children’s educational spaces.


According to Moore, the workshop’s most impactful takeaways resulted from small-group, hands-on design sessions in which attendees (ranging from architects to childhood program developers) walked through the full design process of educational play spaces, starting with a high-level vision and finishing with implementable construction documents.


Combining knowledge from their individual areas of expertise, small-group members identified common design themes and practices to enhance educational play spaces (many that happen to coincide with Kaleidoscope’s best practices).


Several groups highlighted the importance of incorporating the natural world into educational spaces. Ideas of gardening, nutrition and cooking surfaced across the board. Effective gardening needs sunlight and soil, so many group designs featured roof-top gardens to maximize sunlight. Easily-accessible gardens and kid-friendly kitchens also put the nature to nurture concept into practice.


Another common design need the small groups identified were areas for artistic expression to create inviting spaces and activities. Many small groups included places for performance arts in their landscape plans. One group even developed a space and materials for children to create moveable art and sculptures that can be designed and redesigned again and again.


Moore was thrilled with the enthusiasm of practitioners working together to find a common ground and highlight the importance of educational spaces for children.


In addition to the small-group breakout sessions, the NLI workshop focused on knowledge and theory, as well as field trips to local best-practice demonstration sites (childcare centers, museums, public gardens, parks, etc.).


To learn more about the Natural Learning Initiative and upcoming educational opportunities, visit