When I was a kid, I love to play under a table. I imagine that the table, where I am under in, is my house. Under the table, I could take on whatever roles I wanted: a mother, chef, teacher, bank teller, and a businesswoman. Together with my peers, we would imagine that the table is either a castle or a mansion. For most kids, they felt the same way but not necessarily under a table. Kids, today, create makeshift tents out of blankets or use a playhouse to execute their role play ideas.
Apparently, architects today had integrated playhouses or little nooks into their school designs.
The new Sandy Hook School has playhouses, or what they call tree houses, in various areas of the school. Jay Brotman, managing partner of Svigals + Partners explained that this is one of their efforts to, “…encourage compassion, prosperity, collaboration, and joy.” These small spaces allow young children to collaborate with each other.
In Japan, AN Kindergarten has little reading nooks shaped like playhouses are at the center of the space. Little nooks are located on the glass balustrades, independently standing on the ground floor, and even under the stairs. They added these features into the design as the architects explained, “In recent years, when children’s physical ability and creativity have been decreased, we expect that they can start improving by setting a variety of playgrounds indoors at different places.”
Flower Kindergarten in Seoul, South Korea has a similar play den under the stairs. Architect Jungmin Nam, head of OA Lab (the studio that designed that school), said that “The stair itself becomes a playground. The space created below and above the stair is utilized as a children’s play den at children’s scale.”
Aside from being a place where collaborative play and learning can thrive, playhouses or little nooks are where children can do free play. Free play is an act where anyone who plays will not be intervened by an authoritative figure.
Why are playhouses and even as simple as makeshift tents out of blankets are loved by kids
From the book, Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-Based Education, principal and author Rebeca Wild wrote,
“Playhouse provides a place for secret games and undisturbed conversations in an atmosphere of privacy.”
She explained further why playhouses are important,
“In such a prepared environment that offers many stimulating attractions but excludes the possibility of any pressure exercised by adults, it becomes surprisingly clear that each and every child, provided that it has no severe disturbances owing to disrespectful or inattentive treatment, possesses a clear inner direction or guiding force, as it were. This is what leads the child in its choice of activities [free play], makes it possible for the child to find its own rhythm and allows the child to achieve a new balance with each new activity, if permitted to– follow this inner directive force, the child is able to act and react as a self-confident, happy, and helpful human being, despite its tender age and to enjoy each day to the fullest.”
Lastly, “Even at only three or four years of age, many have lost confidence in their own inner direction as a result of the constant intervention and know-it-all behavior of the adults who love them. Some may not even had the complete love and attention of their parents when they came into the world. The purpose of which is to enable them to have basic truth and confidence in life itself.“
Playhouses provide children an opportunity to do their own choice of activities without being intervened by an adult. In little reading nooks, children can read and even talk about the book that they are reading to their peers without being conscious of an authoritative figure (if they were in a library). They could even role-play the books that they read, using the little nooks as their backdrop.
What if young students aren’t given an environment where they can play freely?
Author and psychologist Peter Gray wrote in an article entitled The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It,
“By increasing the amount of time spent in school, expanding homework, harping constantly on the importance of scoring high on school tests, banning children from public spaces unless accompanied by an adult, and replacing free play with adult-led sports and lessons, we have created a world in which children are almost always in the presence of a supervisor, who is ready to intervene, protect, and prevent them from practicing courage, independence, and all the rest that children practice best with peers, away from adults. I have argued elsewhere (Gray, 2011, and here) that this is why we see record levels of anxiety, depression, suicide, and feelings of powerlessness among adolescents and young adults today.“
In conclusion, rather than writing little nooks or playhouses must be integrated into school designs, designing spaces where children can play without an intervening adult, and a space that has a lot of affordances (ways for it to be used) are a must. Designing spaces where kids can grow holistically is an investment for a better world tomorrow.
Frearson, A. (2016, February). Flower Kindergarten by Jungmin Nam features curvy classrooms and colourful corridors. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/02/26/flower-kindergarten-oa-lab-curvy-colourful-classrooms-seoul-south-korea/
Gray, P. (2016, October 31). The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201610/the-culture-childhood-we-ve-almost-destroyed-it
Wild, R. (2000). Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-based Education. Shambhala.
Winston, A. (2016, March). Hibino Sekkei and Youji no Shiro’s kindergarten features house-shaped reading nooks. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/03/03/hibino-sekkei-youji-no-shiro-atsugi-nozomi-kindergarten-house-shaped-reading-nooks-kanagawa-prefecture-japan/
Yalcinkaya, G. (2017, October). New Sandy Hook school is designed to “prevent unwanted intrusions of any kind”. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/10/26/new-sandy-hook-school-designed-prevent-unwanted-intrusions-kind-news-architecture/