Learning Through A Green Environment: A Research Thesis on Sustainable Early Childhood Learning Spaces
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis thesis describes the development of early learning spaces which teach sustainable practices to children in a method that can be applied at a global level. Sustainability, for the purpose of this research, is defined as the idea of living throughout a lifetime with the conscious and unconscious understanding that natural resources are not unlimited and need to be respected and conserved through personal effort. Through a detailed analysis of both early childhood education methods and innovative sustainable design practices, a specific design matrix was created based on current standards set by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for New Construction v.2.2 © by USGBC, and from this matrix and casestudy analysis, 19 learning components were established. From research on two teaching methods, the Reggio Emilia and the Montessori teaching styles, it has been established that the environment surrounding the children acts as a pedagogical tool by engaging natural curiosity and demonstrating natural behavioral limits. Through the analysis of early childhood education methods, a learning paradigm outlining five key ways in which design relates to the way young children learn has been developed. Young children learn through five basic methods; tactile learning, spatial relationship awareness, connectivity of the child with others and the physical world, freedom of exploration, and the conceptualization of human comfort. Innovative sustainable design practices identified in this research include passive and active energy and water conservation, utilizing alternative energy resources, and incorporating recycled and non-toxic materials into the design components. Specific aspects of sustainability were chosen because they are easily adaptable into the lives and learning strategies of young children. By incorporating these strategies into a child’s daily life by exposing the function of sustainable techniques, the space creates a passive education approach. The learning paradigm developed from early education research is applied to current sustainable strategies, using LEED™ as an organization tool. The matrix was designed to show a clear connection between the way children learn and specific sustainable strategies. By relating each applicable credit to ways in which children learn, a set of guidelines has been established for incorporating energy efficiency and sustainability into a child’s life experiences. Four casestudies were chosen which demonstrate that educational spaces are convincing arenas for the process of integrating sustainable design features into the daily lives of children. Van Eyck’s Orphanage emphasizes the use of materiality and the idea of scale in spaces designed for children. The Argonne Child Development Center focuses on sustainable features of energy consumption and healthy resource utilization. Davidson Elementary School includes similar features but adds emphasis to the mutual relationship among school, immediate physical environment and the larger community. The Civano Community School utilizes sustainable strategies to teach children about environmental issues and awareness. From the sustainable learning matrix, and from analysis of case studies, which utilize key learning techniques and sustainable strategies, final design components have been developed and classified into easy to understand diagrams. The intent of these component diagrams was to provide a reference guide for future early childhood education design projects. The purpose of this research was to develop key spatial components for specific sustainable education spaces based on common ways young children learn and universal ideas of sustainability, which can be altered using site and climate specific techniques to be integrated into communities on a global scale. This document is meant as a guideline for other designers to use when considering the development of spaces to teach young children about energy efficiency and sustainability. The 19 key spatial components established in this document combine the ideas behind early childhood learning methods with multiple sustainable strategies, to provide learning spaces which bring sustainability to a level that children can understand. By encouraging sustainable choices and awareness at a young age, children will grow up with the understanding that it is their responsibility to preserve the environment and positively influence our future.
Degree ProgramGraduate College