As a mother of two young boys, and a designer, Sam Parsons understands that the quality of her sons’ education environment will play a huge role in whether or not they feel safe, inspired and have a positive learning experience.
As Senior Interior Designer and Landscape Architect at Hames Sharley’s Brisbane studio, Sam said she has always had an interest in how space enhances a child’s learning – but as a mother, the relationship between pedagogy and learning environments is a key driver.
“I find designing for learning environments fascinating, there’s so much happening in these spaces, so many users and needs, it’s a wonderful creative challenge,” Sam said.
“Each space, whether it’s used for staff facilities or learning experiences, such as reading, drama, common study areas, or small group classes, should be purposefully designed for that particular activity as well as for a number of compatible activities.”
Prior to joining Hames Sharley in 2015, Sam worked on the design of a number of Private Public Partnership (PPP) schools in Queensland, so has a good understanding of the theories and techniques that go into designing effective learning environments.
“It is imperative to design the interiors, landscape and architecture collectively as a whole, from the inside out,” Sam said.
“Designing from a functional standpoint first, I consider the ideal number of students who will use a space, the nature and duration of the experiences taking place in that space, the availability of natural light, visual connections to the outdoors and the importance of seamless links between indoor and outdoor learning environments.
“Child care centres and schools need to accommodate strategically positioned administration facilities, bathrooms, storage (for equipment and supplies) and other back of house amenities such as a kitchen, laundry and staff rooms.
“Flexibility is an essential ingredient to allow spaces to expand or contract to accommodate different class sizes, to cater for a great diversity of activities –including some specialist activities such as science, art, cooking, sleep and more robust play during periods of wet weather – and to allow opportunities for the children and staff to personalise their space.”
Sam said it’s also important to create a feeling of intimacy in early learning environments – if a space is too open young children can lose their sense of belonging.
“Although flexibility is essential it is important to get the balance just right between allowing things to change and providing familiarity,” she said.
“By installing appropriate acoustic and lighting solutions and playing with ceiling heights, a space can feel a lot more intimate.
“Providing display opportunities is another important ingredient. This allows the children to show off their creations to their peers and parents and to instil a sense of pride.”
At some child care centres, children are separated by their age or stage of development – if this is the case it’s important to design the space based on the teaching systems or techniques used to accommodate these groups.
Colour selection is also an important consideration when designing for children.
“Colour is so tied to mood and atmosphere, it’s essential when choosing interior finishes,” Sam said.
“I tend to avoid using red in educational spaces, as it can promote a lot of energy, which may be good in the schoolyard but not necessarily conducive to learning in the classroom – where I’d tend to go with blues, greens and yellows.
“Blue is relaxing and comforting, while green has a soothing effect on people, it can also help with anxiety and provides a connection to the outdoors.
“Yellow is a happy colour and can be great for concentration and creativity.”
Thoughtful design can also give children cues about how to react and behave in a space, through the type of finishes used or through the layout of a room.
“This could be a circle on the carpet in a different colour, intended as a quiet sitting zone, or a space designated for relaxing activities, with lots of soft furnishings to relax the children,” Sam said.
As for the educational spaces where Sam’s most precious designs will learn and grow, Sam said her three-year-old son attends a child care centre in Brisbane’s CBD that ticks all the boxes.
“The city location didn’t put me off as the centre is well designed with age-appropriate rooms, so he’s been grouped with kids his own age,” she said.
“There are also comfortable spaces where he can relax and sleep, and an outdoor play facility on the rooftop where he can get a sense of space, place, and better understand the context of the world he’s living in.”