Modern kindergartens – play on the brink of extinction? A new toy dimension

Lívia Kožušková

SUMMARY

The term “Play” is naturally associated with children. It is the basis of emotional well-being and mental health of a child and affects its balanced development, whether psychologically or physically. “Play” is such an important component of human life that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has acknowledged “Play” as the most important primary need of every child. Through “Play”, children naturally learn, without any pressure, even before they are part of the organized education system.

Our Institute of Interior and Exhibition Design /Faculty of Architecture of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava/ has studied the extensive topic of “Design and its function in prevention of the civilization impact on pre-school children” for the past 4 years, following the grant project: “Interior design as the medium of preventing and treating civilization diseases”. The present article is a partial output of the project which focuses on the role and status of “Play” in context of the current life-style and describes how “Play” has developed, transformed and changed in time, what changes have occurred with respect to the way “we play nowadays” and what impact the changes have had in general on the development of children’s personalities. The theoretical part of the study also covers the issue of the negative influence of the current way of life on children, as well as other factors that play an active role at the early stages of children’s development. The imminent social and technological changes are also relevant to the design of the space in which children move every day—this concerns the issue of the current state of the pre-school facilities, their spatial characteristics and the aim to provide children with suitable conditions for well-rounded development.  It is the very lack of space for free play that, from a long-term perspective, can result in many problems concerning health, up-bringing and, last but not least, learning, which can have negative consequences in adulthood.

We primarily focus on physical exercise activities and play, therefore the concept of play and exercise in the subject-matter of the study are interconnected. For children, exercise is a natural component automatically integrated in their play activities. As part of the research, we studied the facilities and conditions for full-time play in pre-school institutions in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and abroad.

Using theoretical knowledge and background, we offer practical solutions in the designing of the so-called NO-objects—Interior elements for “play and exercise” for kindergartens with an emphasis on the synthesis of artistic creativity and practical (useful and health-friendly) design. Our goal is to prepare multifunctional space, equipped with objects and modules for play and exercise that assist in in developing children’s gross motor skills and can also be used for relaxation. We have created undefined objects without pre-defined shape that can be built into new shapes, serving as a larger-sized puzzle, which can be stored in the wall-component of our design with the possibility of multiple compositional variations. The objects are creative and unique work, the result of synthesis of theoretical knowledge and personal, practical experience from working with children—specifically several years of lecturing art courses.

Design work with the ambition to meet the needs of children nowadays, ages 2.5 – 5, is a demanding project because of the specifics of pre-school children’s physical and psychological development. Throughout our research, we consulted the topic with experts in psychology and design. The scientists and experts nowadays focus on the issue of how the concept of play will evolve in the future and how it can impact the children. Care, education and cultivated environment in which we move everyday cannot be perceived separately, but as a harmonic whole. The more adequate stimuli children get very early in life, the better they live their lives as adults.

It is extremely important to be aware of the fact that the quality of the pre-school environment influences not only the education and development of children, but also their health and emotional well-being. Therefore, by designing of the NO-objects we want to try to re-introduce free play to pre-school facilities and, at the same time, to create appropriate environment in which healthy, happy and creative generations of future adults can grow up.

Keywords: architecture, pedagogy, teaching, movement, kindergarten, play, toy, upbringing, NO-object