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Early Childhood Education: Where Pedagogy and Architecture Come to Play

John Noble

Study after study has confirmed what most of us sense intuitively: the pre-K years have an outsized impact on a child’s future success in school—and beyond. A landmark study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which examined the long-term effects of universal preschool in Boston, is a case in point. Per a synopsis from NPR, “Kids lucky enough to get accepted into preschools in Boston saw meaningful changes to their lives. [They] were less likely to get suspended from school, less likely to skip class, and less likely to get in trouble and be placed in a juvenile detention facility. They were more likely to take the SATs and prepare for college. In other words: preschool can permanently improve kids’ lives.”

This is precisely why there’s so much at stake when renovating or creating Early Childhood Education (ECE) facilities. One could be forgiven for assuming ECE design is simply a scaled-down version of elementary, middle or high school design: lower the windows and drinking fountains, choose smaller furnishings and—voila!—you’re good to go.

Such an approach would, however, do a serious disservice to the children, teachers, staff—indeed, the entire community—that the ECE facility is intended to serve and improve. When it comes to ECE facilities, ECE spaces that embrace different pedagogies should look and feel differently from one another. If they don’t, something is definitely amiss.

The link between pedagogy and space is something we think about a lot. It’s also the topic of our latest whitepaper: Where Pedagogy and Architecture Come to Play. Authored by myself and my colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, Leslie Kochanowski and Rachel Konerman, the whitepaper dives into specific pedagogies—HighScope, Montessori and Reggio Emilia—and their impact on classroom operations and design. We also share some insights and lessons gleaned from specific projects SHP has worked on: The Arlitt Center for Education, Research and Sustainability at the University of Cincinnati and the Mt. Healthy Early Learning Center.

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