The influence of the physical environment on its inhabitants cannot be underestimated. Nowhere is this more important than in the design of daycare centres and early learning child care centres; the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that since 1999 there has been a significant increase in the demand and use of formal care for children, especially between the ages of zero and five.
When my son started going to daycare at the age of two, I’d recently finished designing some benchmark child care centres at Homebush and Chatswood (even if I do say so myself!). These centres were focused on the user experience and equally addressed the needs of the children and their carers. Each centre had the child as their focus – they were also environmentally friendly, they had a sophisticated unifying design theme, they were nurturing and sensory and the scale was appropriate for small children and how they experience space.
Unfortunately these types of centres are few and far between in Sydney and Melbourne. And I was disappointed that my son ended up in a fairly ordinary environment. Many of the centres I have visited since have very basic amenities, address the bare minimum of regulatory requirements and have a décor that is unsophisticated and underestimates the needs of both children and their carers.
Child care centres should provide opportunities for learning for small children – physically, emotionally and intellectually. They should be efficient and functional and the ‘flow’ of daily activities should be an inherent part of the spatial design. This is especially important as the role of a carer can be highly stressful and physically demanding. And physical settings can determine or influence behaviour, so to design a child care centre that addresses security, safety, supervision and is aligned with the routine of a typical day is simply a no brainer.
As a business owner I understand how critical the ROI of any venture is. The child care centres we have designed are a balance of aspiration and business acumen – they are highly successful joint ventures between the designer and operator, with a focus on the experiential, operational and vocational benefits to all stakeholders, including the adult and child end users.
As more and more families have both parents working, the demand for quality centres is increasing. According to Cred Community Planning, since 2005 the number of privately operated long day care centres has increased to 53% of all centres. So as competition between centres increases, the standard of care and accommodation must also increase. No longer is ‘cheap and cheerful’ good enough; our children and their carers deserve better.