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[Creating Childcare Environments] Technique 03: Technique to change childcare environments

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Creating Childcare Environments


In the sessions of "Technique 01" and "Technique 02," we examined actual childcare environments where children's daily activities exist. When pondering on childcare environments, the importance of grasping the entire picture to develop children's specific abilities, valuing the keywords that represent children's feelings such as "sitting around and playing," and offering activities desirable for children such as the "Cicada-Catcher" is the key factor.

I have been trying to collate and disseminate information regarding successful cases of childcare environments to other childcare workers. The intent was that they would emulate or apply these practices to their own workplaces, at least to a certain extent. However, in the actual childcare settings, I eventually found out that different problems existed, depending on circumstances. For example, daycare centers must comply with a requirement of minimum floor space per child, which is determined under the Minimum Standards for Child Care Facilities of the Child Welfare Act. Under the Act, the wording of "A childcare room or a playroom should have the minimum floor space..." is used. Because of this, some daycare centers may face difficulties in satisfying the minimum floor space per child in both their common play room and their childcare rooms where they carry out their class activities. It is easy to tell whether the room space complies with the Standard by counting how many futon sets can be laid out there. In cases where the childcare room does not comply, emulating the practices of other facilities is definitely not a major priority. It is quite understandable that they would become overly preoccupied with their daily tasks.

Give it a try

In a small childcare room, it is extremely difficult to plan and offer specific activities for children while valuing their feelings and grasping the entire picture of childcare settings. This is because daycare centers need to organize certain daily routines for children such as "eating," "sleeping" and "dressing" which are unlikely to be a primary goal of childcare settings. A year would pass quickly while they are struggling with decision-making on the balance and priority of these activities. If they make any drastic changes to childcare settings to achieve their ultimate goals, it is necessary to consider how children adapt to such a change. I suggest giving it a try and then noting their responses.

Figures 1 through 3 show the research on childcare environments under the theme of creating a quiet and cozy place for children, which started from the beginning of this year. This study specially focused on a reading corner in the childcare room. Around the time of May, a bookshelf was placed along the wall (Figure 1). Then, the position of the bookshelf was changed, placing it opposite the wall so as to create a cozy space (Figure 2). In the case of Figure 1, there were several restless children who were jumping around while others were reading. In the case of Figure 2, however, we rarely saw such children. As this reading corner became popular among the daycare center children, we changed the layout again and added some partitions to be located on the opposite side of the wall (Figures 1 and 2) to create a bigger reading corner (Figure 3). Some play-house toys were added and other detailed changes were made.

lab_01_57_01.jpg  lab_01_57_02.jpg  lab_01_57_03.jpg
Figure 1: A reading corner in the childcare room for 3-year-olds in April (left)
Figure 2: A reading corner in the childcare room for 3-year-olds in July (center)
Figure 3: A reading corner in the childcare room for 3-year-olds in November (right)
(Photos in Figures 1, 2, and 3 were taken at Shinagawa-ku Mitsugi Daycare Center)

Think back to the reason why the change was necessary

It is important to think about why such changes were made, while carefully watching the reaction of children to them. If it was done for a certain purpose, something should have been achieved. As a result of the change found between Figures 1 and 2, more children came to use the reading corner and fewer children displayed restless behavior such as jumping around. The change between Figures 2 and 3 created a bigger space allowing a larger number of children to join together. However, because we placed play-house toys in the reading corner, a static activity (reading) and a dynamic activity (play house) were combined. Therefore, we had to figure out another setting. It is advisable to think back on what purpose was intended with the change. If there was any purpose, something must have been achieved, at least to some extent. It should not be considered that the change was a failure. It is necessary to learn how to identify the purpose of changes when any attempt to carry out a change is made. Eventually, meaningful experience will be gained as different changes are tried out. In this way, childcare workers will learn how to link their ideal concepts to actual childcare environments. In other words, childcare workers can enhance their ability to create better childcare environments by gaining such experience. The point is, you can give it a try whenever you find anything you can change, add or reduce, and then, examine the next step based on the outcome and reason of the original purpose.

Even within the same room, children may exhibit completely different kinds of behavior depending on the number of children, their respective personalities, atmosphere of the class, and seasons. There is nothing strange about getting unexpected outcomes. Do not hesitate to give it a try to change your childcare environments.

Making subsequent changes easier

When you think it is difficult to change an entire room layout, at least try to change partially if this is easier. One example of this is the decorative canopy shown in Figure 4 in the first session "Technique 01." By using the canopy, the ceiling is lowered, giving a warmer effect. Moreover, by just changing the decoration on the canopy the image of the room can be altered easily, thus allowing you to create a seasonal atmosphere for each period of the year.

lab_01_57_04.jpg
Figure 4: Example of a decorative canopy
(Photo taken at the childcare room for one-year-olds in Germany
[Kindertagesstätte in Bremen "Entdeckerhaus"])

As I have explained, each childcare room has its own situations such as limited floor space and adjacent rooms. Therefore, I always try to emphasize, in a series of sessions, the methods and examples of "how to make changes," rather than "which items you need" when changing childcare environments.

Profile

Masayuki_sato03.jpgMasayuki Sato, Associate Professor, Department of Human Behavior and Environment Sciences, Waseda University

He was born in 1975 in Akita Prefecture, and graduated from Akita High School, the Faculty of Engineering at Niigata University, and the Doctoral Program of Architecture Graduate School of Engineering at The University of Tokyo (Dr. Eng.). He has worked as a coordinator for the program of creating childcare environments at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. He has two sons, four years old and seven years old. (At the time of writing the original article in Japanese.)
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