The positive impact of wooden material on educational processes in the environment of Slovenian wooden kindergartens

Jakub Hanták, Danica Končeková

SUMMARY

The environment in which children grow up and spend their time constitutes a fundamental aspect of their knowledge, and social and personality development. As in the case of adults, children today spend most of their time in man-made environments. Kindergartens and school playrooms or classrooms are places that significantly influence children. Therefore, such an environment should respect not only their physical but also the psychological needs. The stay of children in preschool educational institutions such as kindergartens significantly affects their physical, social, emotional, but especially mental development, thus playing a significant role in their development and integration into the society. The feeling of well-being during the child’s stay in preschool institutions also depends on the physical conditions of the environment, which has an impact on the children’s daily activities and their mental and physical health. Recent research indicates that by applying natural materials and the principles of biophilic design or restorative environmental design, it is possible to reduce the absence of children from schools, improve the health, psychological well-being, increase work performance, and improve the results of not only adults but also children. Several scientific studies confirm that the colors, structures, or materials used in the physical environment of interiors affect the human psyche. Wood as a material applied in the interior spaces of buildings is an attractor that, in addition to its static and structural properties with high environmental responsibility, also brings other benefits to users, and thus has a great impact on the society. The topic of applying sustainable materials and transforming them into newly-built, valuable, and cultural architecture is currently also popular in connection with the new initiative of the New European Bauhaus. The initiative, which has ambitions to use the currently valid national and international legislative frameworks to link efforts to set sustainability rules with an interest in aesthetics and involvement of communities in the creation of new living spaces, is an ideal tool for the popularization of natural materials that can improve the quality of the physical environment in the premises of kindergartens. The contact with natural elements undoubtedly has an impact on the emotional and physiological well-being of children. The theoretical starting points and previous research, which partially touch on this topic, have offered other stimulating questions with which we would like to expand our research. The biophilic and restorative environment of kindergarten interiors should meet the needs of today’s children in terms of their progress and development. And not only because contact with nature is gradually disappearing from the traditional and existing interiors of kindergartens, but also because such an environment can teach children, make them responsible and prepare them for life with respect for both nature and for themselves. The presented article is a partial result of doctoral research aimed at studying the positive influence of wood on the psyche of children and educational processes in general. The paper aims to expand the current scientific knowledge about the positive influence of wood material and its impact on educational processes in the architectural environment of kindergartens. Selected analyses and comparisons made it possible to clarify whether the presence of wood material can positively influence the well-being of children in the physical environment of kindergartens, improve their sensory perception, create a sense of safety, a peaceful atmosphere, and, in general, assist in improving the quality of teaching and in promoting social interaction and playful learning. The study examines, analyzes, and compares selected interiors of kindergartens in Slovenia designed by the Kontra studio headed by Mojca Gregorski, who also focuses on the topic of educational facilities at the scientific-research level. In the presented author’s research, the wood material is characterized as an interior, visual, massive substance, in an authentic design, with or without a fine surface treatment, which does not degrade its visual-haptic-olfactory qualities. The partial research presented in this paper focuses on the results from the locations of Loče, Poljčane, Šoštanj, Polzela, and Škofja Loka. One of the goals of this research is to identify and summarize the opinions of teachers and educators, to present information about the educational potential of these institutions, to assess their atmosphere as perceived by the respondents, and to find out to what extent wood as a material has an impact on the educational process. Based on the field research abroad, we have found that the questionnaire respondents are convinced of the benefits of using wooden material in the interiors of their kindergartens. They perceive wood as a far better choice than using conventional materials. More than half of the respondents are convinced that wood as a material increases children’s concentration during educational activities because the presence of wood creates a sense of calm in children, and this is one of the basic prerequisites for their concentration during the educational process.

Keywords: new European Bauhaus, Slovenia, kindergarten, well-being, influence of wood