Breaking the Aesthetic Code:
Essential Understandings for Early Childhood Design


Sandra Duncan, EdD, Author of 6 Early Childhood Environmental Design Resources , International Consultant and Keynote Speaker
Lauren Magee, Registered Architect, Director of Architecture and Environmental Design, Guidecraft
Linda Watts, Early Childhood Specialist and National Consultant, Owner and Director of Early Connections, Linda Watts Consulting

 “Adults admire their environment: They remember it and think about it—but a child absorbs it. The things a child sees are not just remembered; they form a part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.”Maria Montessori


Research indicates that space is a powerful regulator of young children’s behavior, learning, and emotional development. There are many traditionally accepted codes that permeate preschool spaces and include preconceived notions such as (a) early childhood classrooms can be designed in much the same way as older children’s spaces; (b) walls define the classroom rather the people who abide within the four walls; and, (c) an abundance of primary colors and flat surfaces, which can be easily maintained, are appropriate. Early childhood experts in the fields of education, architecture, and design are beginning to look at new ways to break these antiquated codes. The interdisciplinary panel of this presentation offers three essential understands of classroom design to break the aesthetic code utilizing Metaphoric, Biophilic, and Empathic design thinking.

Learning Objectives

After this course, participants will be able to:

  • Define the early childhood classroom’s aesthetic code and how it either positively or negatively impacts young children’s development and learning.
  • Identify three essential understandings of classroom design, which are (1) Metamorphic Design: Softening the Edges of the Box; (2) Biophilic Design: Infusing Nature’s Color and Texture Palette; (3) Empathic Design: Responding to Young Children’s Fundamental Needs.
  • Describe at least two reasons why neuro-based research on child development and its link to classroom design is important.
  • Describe at least four ways to implement essential understandings of classroom design into their professional lives.


Child Care Design Guide, Anita Rui Olds, 2001
Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky ,Carol Garhart Mooney, 2013
Thinking Critically About Environments for Young Children: Bridging Theory and Practice, Lisa P. Kuth, 2014
Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, Third Edition (ITERS-#), Harms, T. Cryer D., Clifford, R. M., & Yazejian, N., 2017
Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Third Edition (ECERS-3), Harms, T. Cryer D., Clifford, R. M., & Yazejian, N., 2019
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams, 2017