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Quality Child Care Space

What Makes for Quality Child Care Space?

In 2009, researchers in Child Development at St. Joseph’s University were involved in assessing the quality of local child care programs based on the ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale), a nationally-recognized standard. The ECERS attempts to apply ratings based on program processes such as teacher ratios, group size and curriculum materials. Missing from that assessment tool, however, was a way to rate the quality of the physical space.

Partnering with researcher Carl Sussman,  St. Joseph’s University‎ sought to develop the PEEL (Physical Environments for Early Learning) rating scale to fill this gap. CICADA Architecture/Planning, Inc. was engaged as technical consultant. CICADA has many years of experience analyzing and designing child care centers. The team used a variety of fun tools (light and sound meters, laser tapes) to test, expand and refine the PEEL rating scale. The team visited over 30 local Philadelphia child care centers, and five Boston area sites.

Understanding the nature of physical space is a complicated undertaking, so the measures were organized around four broad attributes: dimensional characteristics, ambiance (thermal, acoustic, light), functionality and relationship to the outdoors.

The results? The best child care spaces have:

  • Pleasing proportions and use architecture and lighting to create a variety of scales and settings
  • They are quiet
  • They have plenty of natural light and a strong connection to the outdoors
  • Classrooms have plenty of corners to define distinct activity areas
  • Heating and cooling is appropriate and controllable
  • Toilets and sinks are plentiful and visible
  • Play areas are varied, structured but flexible and incorporate natural elements

Does that sound like the center your children attend? Probably not – the economics of child care in Pennsylvania are very difficult. It’s why child care centers end up in church basements. Touring the sites in Massachusetts, where state funding is available, was a real eye-opener; improved facilities make them more effective learning centers. Aside from the scientific usefulness of the PEEL, we hope that someday this will also affect Pennsylvania public policy.