Early Years as a catalyst for change across primary, secondary and beyond...

Happy, empowered, curious learners who are meeting their own individual milestones.

In the summer of 2018 SPACE strategies worked with the Northern Alliance, supported by Architecture and Design Scotland (A&DS), to set out a series of non negotiable constructs for an Early Learning Centre (ELC) fit for the delivery of 1140 hours.

While conclusions for the interior space were made through the engagement, the outcomes were not as clear when linking the indoors with the outdoor learning and play environment. A&DS commissioned SPACE strategies, Rankin Fraser and Wardell Armstrong to work with a number of participants from a range of backgrounds and localities across Scotland to further explore the link between outdoors and indoors in early years settings.

Two workshops were held in December 2018 which focused on the outdoor space and its relationship to an indoor / outdoors Early Learning Centre. SPACE strategies primary task was to take the view of looking from the indoors out, with a focus on the indoor / outdoor experience putting emphasis on learner choice and exploration. Wardell Armstrong developed five new forms of play principles and focused on how the outdoor space should support these. Rankin Fraser took a very interesting and honest approach by re visiting a previous nursery project and highlighting what they would do differently based on feedback from the workshops. Evaluation and outcomes from the three practices is detailed in: The indoor / outdoor experience : A cross authority exploration of key Early Years principles. https://www.ads.org.uk/inside-outside-learning-spaces/

Journey through an indoor / outdoor ELC

Journey through an indoor / outdoor ELC

Safe space at the heart of every setting

Safe space at the heart of every setting

Each Early Learning Centre has very individual demands influenced by location and demographics. SPACE strategies starting point was to look at the journey to the setting itself and how this could effect the child's overall experience.  Thinking right from the outset, what are the visual leads from the inside to the outside space, and how can design prompt users outdoors ?

Some of our initial questions were :

  • how do children and families arrive?

  • what do they experience on their journey?

  • what happens on arrival?

  • what, if anything makes them comfortable and want to linger and explore?

Blurring the boundaries

Blurring the boundaries

The SPACE strategies team explored ways of bringing elements of the outdoors inside and through design cues methods of blurring the boundaries between the two space typologies. The two space types are inextricably linked; any successful ELC of this kind must have the ability to work in unison with the indoors and outdoor space complimenting each other, without purely replicating experiences between the two. The ability to ensure that children feel happy and safe, creating positive memories from arrival and throughout their day; developing an environment that makes them want to explore was defined as key to success. This should be complimented by an understanding of the importance of how the physical environment makes a child feel.                                                      

Participants felt that the indoors should not be seen as an environment for clean activities and the outdoors for dirty; yet homage should be paid to the fact that some things are just done better outdoors. From the ability to foster a sense of magic and discovery to understanding the changing environment and developing investigative skills. Interior and exterior spaces will not always be used exactly as designers intend them to be, the space is likely to grow and adapt over time. Igniting discussions of what could be, rather than designing final solutions.  Feedback from our engagement would lead us  to recommend that some budget is left to support this personal interpretation allowing users to ‘grow’ with the space. With this put aside budget being used to support practice and learner lead adaptations. 

Bringing the outdoors in through design

Bringing the outdoors in through design

Whilst it is important not to simply replicate experiences between the indoor and outdoor space, consistency in elements of design between the two spaces can reinforce a feeling of safety and security. This can be achieved through a wide range of designed elements including, form and structure, colour and texture.

Learners with a sense of well being, resilience, affinity to the natural world - and who are having fun.

Some of the key outcomes are outlined below :  

  • make it fun for the users

  • staff and children being able to access practicalities, quickly and with ease ( I.e Toilets, sinks, equipment and resources)

  • right sized for the intended users - Child supervision leading to adult vision (fitment and furniture heights)

  • include luring sight lines and items of interest

  • not duplicating settings and experiences indoors and outdoors

  • nurture rest and retreat can happen anywhere anytime - not an assigned activity

SPACE strategies would like to offer a massive thank you to everyone involved in the process, from all of the participants - local authority and private organisations, to Dairmaid Lawlor and colleagues from A&DS as well as to Rankin Fraser and Wardell Armstrong. We really enjoyed working with you all and found the process really interesting and informative.