Designing and organizing the ideal child-care center

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

What would a model day-care center for children include - in planned space, furnishings, and equipment? Specialists at the Bank Street College of Education here have given such an ideal center careful thought as corporations have increasingly sought their advice in determining ways to help meet child-care needs of their employees.

Bank Street College is well known for its method of training teachers and child-care specialists. The founders, back in 1916, set out to study children and to find out what kind of environment was best suited to their growth and development. It has continued its research up to the present.

During the past year, Anne Mitchell of the Bank Street College has worked as a consultant to the American Diversified Realty Company to determine the details of a model day-care center for 75 children that could be built from scratch, with ample funds, in a suburban office complex. What has developed is a conceptual model that could be replicated, to varying degrees, by developers or corporations anywhere in the country. The superior center described here would require a monetary investment that not many realtors or developers would be able to afford today. But the ideas invested in thinking through the concept could be helpful to those, at any economic level, who are now planning day-care assistance.

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''Our model center,'' Mrs. Mitchell states at the outset, ''would, of course, have that most important ingredient for success, a well-qualified director who is both a good manager and administrator, and a well-trained staff that has demonstrated its skills in working with children. It would also offer an educational program that would not only be helpful to the child, but completely supportive of parents and of families. These are the primary essentials.''

Such an ideal center would serve the needs not only of children, Mrs. Mitchell points out, but of their parents and the staff members who teach and care for them. Its entire tone would be homelike and welcoming. It would have a comfortable lobby where parents could sit down and help a child take off his boots, and then talk to his teachers. Offices of the director and other administrative staff members would be located just off this entry lobby, and so be easily accessible to both parents and teachers.

Architecturally, this ideal center would provide as much variety, color, and interest as possible. It would have windows placed at child level. It would have movable walls, and several different floor levels, which would provide children with both niches and platform areas to explore. Floors would be covered with such different materials as ceramic tile, carpeting, and hardwood to give children a variety of tactile experiences.

The area would have lots of flexible, movable incandescent lighting, very little fluorescent lighting. It would have clusters of growing plants for the children to enjoy and for the quality they contribute to a warm, homelike atmosphere.

This model center would place food service in a central location. This area, too, would be homelike, serving small groups at a time.

The eating area would have a slightly raised, carpeted area at one end - not high enough to deter a crawling baby or a climbing toddler, but high enough to give the illusion of a real stage to a junior thespian performing before his peers.

Furnishings would include small chairs and small tables, where small groups of children could work together - not long tables, where many children must vie for a teacher's attention. And the area would include a number of large but very lightweight foam blocks and other play structures, which even tiny children could easily carry and move about.

The toilets would be child-size so very young children could learn to use them quickly, easily, and independently. Some experts at Bank Street argued in favor of adult-size toilets on the grounds that they were in common use all over the world, so the sooner a child learned to negotiate them, the better. Child-size toilets won out.

This ideal center would also include:

* A Swedish ''wet room'' (with drain in the center) for free water play. It would be a tiled room with many sources of water and wading pools, where children could don bathing suits and splash and play. It would supplement the water table now in use in many centers.

* A ''sticky city'' area, a room whose walls would be covered with Velcro-like cloth and filled with cloth-covered foam shapes, including spheres, squares, and rectangles, which could be stuck to each other and to all the room's surfaces. Such a room was first created by Anita Olds, a Cambridge, Mass. , designer for the Children's Museum of San Francisco, where it proved to be a major attraction.

* An indoor, as well as outdoor, place for big climbing equipment.

* Plenty of built-in storage space in each room so that equipment and materials could be put away when not in use - and a sink in every room.

* Separate staff rooms, furnished with adult furniture, where teachers could go for quiet breaks - and also one room big enough to hold meetings of the entire staff and all the parents.

* A workshop where teachers could construct projects for classroom use, as well as workshops that could be used by the children.

Mrs. Mitchell, a specialist in day-care planning and administration, arrived at the plan for this ideal center after many consultations with teachers and administrators in already-existing day-care centers, as well as with parents, employees, and employers. In each case she sought to discover what needs they felt were not being met. Comment was also received from the Bank Street College's own Infant and Family Center and its After-School Program.

The college, at 610 W. 112th St. in New York, is now able to offer consulting advice, for a professional fee, on the ideal architecture, organization, administration, and teaching program of child-care centers.

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