The real purpose of an ECE centre layout

Published on Tuesday, 14 July 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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For any childhood centre the design of the layout is key to its success. Whether you are starting with a purpose-built new building, working within an existing space to set up a new centre or renovating a centre, paying attention to the layout design at the very beginning is crucial.

The layout of your centre informs how it works for staff, what activities take place and where and how children use the centre.

A well-planned layout will make it easier for your staff to do their job and support children’s learning and development. A good layout will also encourage children to move, play and be creative, and make your centre attractive to families. Whereas, a badly planned layout runs the risk of stifling both children and their educators.

At its heart a centre layout must:

  • Conform to any necessary regulations and requirements
  • Function well for both staff and children
  • Match your centre’s philosophy
  • Be stimulating and interesting

Ministry of Education requirements 

Your early childhood centre needs to meet MoE and building requirements. While you should always be striving to take your centre design to the next level, at the very least it needs to meet minimum requirements set down by the Ministry of Education and meet building codes and any local council requirements. 

The Ministry of Education sets basic requirements for your centre including:

  • Minimum indoor and outdoor space per child
  • Setting areas for physically active play
  • Having spaces for quiet time
  • Having areas where centre staff can take breaks or complete admin
  • Having a separate area for food preparation and eating

Further to these requirements, you will need to fulfil whatever building consents or resource consents are required by your council. These are likely to be more about the building structure itself and impact on neighbouring properties, but they are still important considerations.

If you have a small space, you may need to give more careful thought to your layout. Look for opportunities to save space without compromising the development and comfort of the children.

Space-saving cots for example still provide cosy sleeping areas while making it easier to fulfil MoE requirements, or look for storage that can be kept under tables or does double duty as seating or a room divider.

A learning environment for educators and children

Centre layouts should function well for adults and children - encouraging learning and development as well as being practical. Your centre layout is important because the layout of the building will, in many ways, dictate the flow of activity and behaviour throughout the day. It should be easy for children to move between activities or to switch between play, eating and rest times and for staff to support children at all times.

Your layout needs to function in two ways - for staff and for children.

 For staff the centre layout should:

  • Make it easy to scan whole rooms and keep an eye on all children inside and out
  • Be easy to navigate even if carrying babies or young children
  • Include suitable barriers where necessary to prevent children from leaving an area or the premises
  • Be easy to tidy, clean and store things at the end of the day or during a session
  • Have appropriate storage including some not accessible to children that makes it easy to set up activities in a relevant space
  • Have spaces for staff to have their own time

For children the layout should:

  • Provide areas for different types of play
  • Provide areas for quiet time and sleeping - preferably separate from the main activity areas
  • Be easy to navigate using the gross motor skills the children of each age are likely to have mastered in each particular area if the centre is divided by age groups
  • Foster independence where appropriate, for example through the use of cubbies and toilet areas that children can use on their own
  • Inspire creativity, a sense of belonging and be of interest

For everyone, the layout should be hygienic and safe - with large items secured to walls and no trip hazards or dangerous items.

When you are thinking about your layout don’t forget about the outside spaces - and how children can move between the two. The layout of outdoor spaces to allow for ample physical activity and to balance purpose-built equipment with natural elements and options is just as important as designing the inside.

A design that reflects your teaching philosophy

If you choose to run your centre according to a particular philosophy then you may want to consider this right from the beginning when you are thinking about your layout.

For instance, if you are running a Montessori centre there are clear guidelines on how to set up a room and display items for play. If your centre follows the Pikler philosophy, which encourages free movement and naturally paced development, then your layout needs to facilitate that.

Done correctly, your centre’s design will also support the guiding principles and strands of Te Whariki, the early childhood curriculum - including empowerment and holistic development, well-being and exploration.

A place that stimulates creativity and exploration

With thoughtful planning, your layout design can take your centre from ordinary to extraordinary. Every part of your layout can be utilised to create opportunities for development and learning through play and working with others - even parts that you think are just performing a function.

Make your childcare centre layout design unique with customised furniture and equipment. Clever cutouts or decoration can turn room and section dividers into objects that help young children learn. Storage areas can also be development opportunities - especially if they are designed in an age-appropriate way. Walls can become display areas where children’s creations and thoughts can be put on show, creating a sense of belonging and family.

Play ’n’ Learn know the importance of good layout design and offer a range of furniture solutions and customised furniture and equipment. All our products are made from sustainable sources.

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