Seedlings in San Clemente, California

Balancing Classroom Design for Introverted and Extroverted Children

Issues on Education Talk

Last Year I was on the Issues on podcast. Listen below for information on how the way we design early childhood classrooms can play a big role in how children develop.

Classroom makeover initiative at the YMCA in San Antonio


Inspire 2023 invites delegates into a world of fantasy opportunity and reality. It proposes that to work in the early years of education, we must foster our ability to fantasise about possibilities and release ourselves from practice and mindsets that can trap us from moving forward. Inspire 2023 straddles our ability to dream big whilst ensuring we continue to deliver exceptional outcomes. What might our sector look like if we dared to dream? What might children’s education look like if we could release ourselves from the mundane and collapse into the world of delight? Opportunity presents itself when we take a leap of faith and see the many ways in which our practices might present themselves in the everyday. It invites teams to travel as a collective and aspire for the extraordinary in a world that can settle for the ordinary. Our collective wisdom and power as a sector afford us the opportunity to create a new reality—a reality that positions us to succeed well into the future. Inspire 2023: Fantasy, Opportunity, Reality is your opportunity to experience a conference beyond your expectations.

INSPIRE 2023 provides a forum for national and international speakers to share evidence-based ideas. Facilitated through a range of learning experiences including keynotes, panels and interactive spaces, our accomplished presenters will offer a range of provocations to stimulate reflections, dialogue and debate. 


3 Ideas for Creating Nurturing Spaces for Seclusion in the Early Childhood Classroom

Sandra duncan author spotlight blog header

Sometimes early childhood classrooms can be noisy and overstimulating to young children, leading to challenging behaviors, and decreased engagement and learning. Sandra Duncan—coauthor of Through a Child’s Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Learning and Wonder—compares the early childhood classroom to Times Square and explains why young children need comforting, secluded spaces where they can refresh and regroup just like adults do! Here are her 3 ideas for creating nurturing spaces of seclusion in the early childhood classroom, away from the hubbub and the noise.

Have you ever been to Time Square? It's quite a busy place, isn't it? Especially on New Year’s Eve! Even when it's not New Year's Eve, Time Square can be a real assault on your senses. It's filled with bright colors, loud noises, tires screeching, and horns blaring. It's got lots of interesting smells, blinking and neon lights all over the place, and of course, crowded sidewalks. 

Hi there. I'm Dr. Sandra Duncan and I'm co-author of a Gryphon House book called Through a Child's Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Learning and Wonder. I'm all about designing inspiring environments for young children. 

Think about your typical early childhood classroom. It's a lot like Times Square, isn’t it? It's noisy. It's overcrowded. There's fluorescent lights glaring from above. There's bright colors. There's lots of conditions and the elements of an early childhood classroom that are very similar to Times Square. 

There's one difference, however, between Times Square and a classroom. The difference is, as an adult, you can get away from Times Square. You can get away from the chaos, the noise, the smells, and everything that's happening on that crowded sidewalk. You can get away from it! All you have to do is step into a restaurant. Maybe if you're a tourist, you can go back to your hotel for a nap. You can step inside a department store. You can go to the city park. There's lots and lots of options that you can do as an adult to get away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. 

But a child on the other hand is unable to escape a classroom. A child is unable to escape the busyness and the noise—the overwhelming chaotic environment day in, day out, week in, week out, month in, month out, and so on. You get the point. They are forced to stay within that chaotic environment. They have no other choice. Their responses to this chaotic environment are often increased challenging and negative behaviors, and decreased engagement, focus, and of course, learning. 

Indeed, classroom environments are important because they send messages of emotional stability, emotional security, and safety. These messages have become especially important after COVID-19. One of the most basic emotional development needs of the human spirit is opportunity for seclusion—the chance to go back to your hotel room for a nap, getting out of the chaos of Time Square. Children need to have the opportunity just like adults to be alone for even a few precious seconds, to be able to take time away from the hubbub of the classroom. 

Whether they know it or not, children at some point need a chance to rewind, refresh, and regroup, just like an adult. Yet the opportunity for seclusion in early childhood classrooms is pretty rare. It's one of the vastly overlooked elements of classroom design. 

We have lots and lots of excuses for not providing seclusion in our classrooms. We might say, “Oh my gosh, we don't have enough room. We have limited space! I don't hardly have enough room to get all the required learning centers in and yet alone, a place for seclusion.”  We might not believe that there's enough space in our room to dedicate to a type of space like seclusion. Or we might feel, “Gee! I want to be able to see every child every second of the day! So therefore, I don't think this seclusion idea is a good idea.” It also might be because of our lack of equipment. If you look in early childhood classroom catalogs with furniture, there's really not much out there in terms of furniture design for seclusion. But regardless of the reasons why we don't include seclusion areas in our classroom, it needs to be a very, very important element of our classroom design. So I've got three ideas for helping you create places of seclusion. 

1. Rethink Your Space

The first idea is to rethink your space. Just critically look around at the size of each and every learning center that you have. Now think about the children's usage of that center. Based on the amount of furniture in the particular space and the number of children using that furniture, is there too much square footage that has been dedicated to that space? How about the idea of stealing a few square feet from a larger center and allocating that stolen space to a smaller destination of refuge? 

2. Scrounge Your Space

Idea number two is to scrounge your space. Stand in the middle of your classroom and just look around. Are there any unoccupied spaces, like an empty wall? What could you do with this empty wall to make it a place of solitude? You might think, “Wow, I don't have the slightest idea what to do!” But could you find a sturdy laundry basket, add a small pillow in the basket, and add a flimsy piece of cloth so the child can get in the basket and throw the cloth over his head? This will just make him feel that he's in a place of solitude. 

Or how about taking off the door of a closet and in the lower part of the closet, perhaps there's a space that you can create for a child to be alone. Add cozy elements for snuggling up. Even if it's in the bottom of a closet, it makes a perfect place. You can even add a battery powered light that the child can flip on as he goes into that small snugly space. 

3. Reimagine Your Space

Idea number three is to reimagine your space. Try considering this idea of what I call “topsy-turvy furniture” as a way of reimagining your space. For example, could you turn a small table upside down and drape a flimsy piece of cloth over the four legs? This is instant refuge and instant seclusion! 

Got an extra crib hanging out in the storage closet that you're never going to use in the infant room? What about sawing the four legs off from the crib, turning the crib on its side, adding some lounge-chair cushions, adding a few pillows, and of course, adding some books to make it a terrific place for solitude for one child? You could also drape some flimsy material over the top and on the sides of the crib for an extra sanctuary effect.

Reducing the chaotic effect of Times Square in your classroom can have a dramatic impact on children, especially the emotional impact of safety and of security and of emotional stability.  Start now by creating at least one place where children can find solace. Thank you.


Early Years TV - Early Childhood Design Principles

In this interview we discuss the four design beliefs or pillars that Dr Duncan starts with when designing a space for children - nature aligned, heart centric, sensory based and authentically inspired. Dr Duncan explains the main benefits of designing spaces using this framework and how this can be applied to any setting or childcare centre, whatever size or wherever you are in the world.We also touch on her soon to be published book: The Honeycomb Hypothesis: How infants, toddlers and two-year-olds learn through Nature Play. This is a fascinating new way of thinking about play and how we can supporting children’s learning through the way that they play naturally.

View Video HERE

Presentation at Fullerton College


Class in session: how architectural agency can influence positive learning experiences

Original Posting:


The Old School New School conference returns after a two year hiatus with a virtual program that seeks to understand how architectural agency can influence positive learning experiences.

Held over three online sessions, the conference will examine the design of learning environments in early childhood settings, schools and universities.

Architects, educators and research specialists hailing from Australia, Europe, Asia and North America will present their work and interrogate architecture’s role in the future of education.

Western Academy of Beijing by Rosan Bosch Architects.

Western Academy of Beijing by Rosan Bosch Architects.

Image: Courtesy of the architect

Session one, Designing for Primary and Secondary Education, will present research and evidence-based studies that explore how design can influence learning experience for diverse individuals across a range of backgrounds, cultures and learning abilities. Speakers Rosan Bosch of Rosan Bosch Studio from Denmark and Rachel Neeson of Neeson Murcutt and Neille from Sydney will present a range of projects, while Meagan Killer from the Queensland Department of Education, along with Bentley Park College principals Bruce Houghton and Adam Catalano, will present a program of inclusive space that seeks to support students who are at risk of disengaging from school.

KNO Nursery by Youji no Shiro.

Image: Studio Bauhaus

In session two, Designing for Early Learning, speakers will present case studies of educational projects from a variety of pedagogical approaches and examine how the built environment influences developmental outcomes in children. Presenter Sandra Duncan from the USA will examine research on how emotions influence learning in children, and her co-presenter Faith Swickard will examine how this research applies through a spatial analysis of architectural elements. Sydney landscape architect Fiona Robbé will present a range of play spaces in early childhood settings and Japanese architect Taku Hibino of Youji no Shiro will present case studies of early learning centres.

University of Tasmania's Teaching and Learning Building at Inveresk by John Wardle Architects.

University of Tasmania’s Teaching and Learning Building at Inveresk by John Wardle Architects.

Image: John Wardle Architects.

The final session, Designing for Tertiary Education, will explore the rise of the city campus and how universities are influencing the transformation of the urban fabric. Canadian architect Shirley Blumberg of KPMB will present her practice’s university projects in Canada and the USA; Hazel Porter of Woods Bagot will speak about one of Australia’s first “innovation precincts,” Melbourne Connect; and the University of Tasmania’s vice-chancellor Rufus Black will speak about the university’s campus development projects.

Each session will be followed by a live panel discussion with all the presenters moderated by industry experts.


Old School New School is a Design Speaks event, organized by Architecture Media (publisher of and supported by principal partner Duluxand major partner Planned Cover. Tickets for the conference are on sale now until 24 September. The sessions can be viewed live on 24 and 31 August, and 7 September or on demand until 1 October.



Link to Original Article:

Designing COVID-19 Preschool Environments: The Butterfly Approach

COVID-19 has brought about numerous changes in how we work with young children. One of the biggest challenges is physical distancing. The call to physically distance children—sometimes as many as six feet—has caused us to rethink the classroom landscape, especially for those classrooms with limited square footage.

Learn how to overcome the challenge of limited space with a unique strategy for classroom layout called The Butterfly Approach. Joining me will be:

Zlata Stankovic-Ramirez, PhD

Zlata’s experience in working as a preschool teacher, director, mentor, and high education instructor gives her a full-focus appreciation and knowledge of learning environments. Zlata’s research and passion is early childhood environments for young children.

Lauren Magee, Architect

Lauren is the Director of Architecture of Environmental Design at Guidecraft. She also has taught architectural design in higher education for many years.