Our experience designing the Concho Head Start for the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes reinforced the importance of implementing design strategies that stimulate healthy growth and development for children and that inspire cultural connections and expressions within their learning environments.
Studies have shown a strong relationship between color preferences and the academic performance in children. Children who learn in bright and colorful environments tend to have an improved academic performance and an overall positive disposition. Colors stimulate different parts of the brain and aid in memory, attention, and recognition. Studies have also shown how children who play and learn in an environment with views and access to the outdoors are provided with a connection to nature that can improve their cognitive development. Implementing these design considerations can improve a child’s social and emotional skills, as well as their cognitive growth.
DMA referenced cultural elements of the tribe and surrounding region, and current trends in head start design as inspiration to help inform the design of the building. It was important for our team to provide a culturally appropriate and aesthetically pleasing environment for both the children and adults who use the facility. The following are some of the interior design strategies that were used to foster connections between learning, people, and culture.
Using Color as a Guide
The design team incorporated different colors and shapes into the design for wayfinding purposes and classroom age separation. For example, the three-year-old classroom and cubbies are yellow, the four-year-old classroom and cubbies are green, and the five-year-old classroom and cubbies are blue, helping the children to navigate the building. The colors also create a fun and stimulating space for children.
Establishing Cultural Connections
The Head Start design integrates the use of a fun color palette and design aesthetic on the exterior of the building as well. Three shades of blue stucco in a wave pattern and round windows emulate water, while yellow sunbursts and rays emulate the sun. Traditional tribal beadwork and rug colors inspired the use of many colors throughout the design.
Designing to Reinforce Learning and Creativity
The Concho Head Start is designed to encourage interaction and flexibility. The facility contains three classrooms for children ages three, four, and five. Each classroom incorporates space for an activity area, built in child-height casework, restrooms, a storage room, multiple windows to provide natural light, and access to the outside playground area. In addition to classrooms, the Head Start features an outdoor, shaded playground area, kitchen, multipurpose space for dining and activities and administrative spaces complete with offices, storage space, work rooms, conference rooms, and an observation room.
The exterior and interior spaces of the Head Start are designed with safety in mind. The outdoor playground area is completely fenced in and visible from each classroom. The playground is away from busy roads and high traffic volume areas. The check-in counter is located at the front entry of the building allowing the staff to monitor people coming in and out of the facility at any given time. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rated shelter is also located on the site. The shelter is essentially a large concrete box to protect children and staff in the event of a tornado. The FEMA shelter is designed to remain standing even if the structure around it falls or is damaged in anyway.