Facility Planning

The Stuff of Memories

Designing for Play Environments


A recent discussion on DLR Group’s Intranet revolved around the question, “What is your earliest memory of kindergarten?” Some people had memories of teachers or friends; however, the majority of respondents recalled vivid memories of play: from playing tag on the playground to molding objects with Play-Doh and creating masterpieces with crayons. Since it appears that students retain the most information from their formative memories of play, shouldn’t our educational spaces be designed to encourage play to maximize our children’s learning potential?

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with children knows they sometimes have difficulty sitting still. Their tactile natures mean they need to move, touch, feel, see, smell, hear, even taste the world around them; for this reason, children tend to retain information better when play is involved. We must, therefore, consider how our designs can position play at the center of curriculum, allowing students to learn and create in a place that speaks their language.

Play Environments


Here are a few elements to consider when designing for play.

1. Furniture: Furniture selection is important for encouraging play and learning, not only in the classroom, but throughout an entire facility. Furniture cubes, for example, may serve as platforms, seats, or tables depending on the student’s imagination. Furniture that is flexible, adaptable and scalable to children of varying ages is an important aspect of designing spaces that accommodate play.

2. Corridors: A simple way to encourage everyday play is to focus on spaces where students travel. Corridors offer alternative interactive places for learning beyond the traditional classroom. A wide, undulating corridor, for example, can be more than a means of access from place to place, instead acting as a gathering space for engaging indoor activities such as reading or games.

3. Materials/Interactive displays: Materials with a variety of colors, patterns and textures invite students to interact with different surfaces. Distinguishing the mounting height of interactive display areas, such as marker boards, tack boards and smart boards, at children’s varying heights ensures their ability to interact with these displays.

4. Windows and doors: Window and door placement matters greatly in designing for play. Window sills placed at small children’s eye levels allows them to see beyond the classroom to the outdoors (an experience proven to improve overall academic performance), and look around classrooms into corridors or multi-purpose rooms; likewise, doors with direct access to indoor and outdoor play areas encourage children to spend more time in these spaces.

From an early age, play is critical to a child’s development and learning. As designers, we have the ability to create spaces that elevate play, allowing children to explore, experiment and better understand the world around them.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Katie Ramsbottom, AIA, LEED-AP, BD+C, is an architect at DLR Group with extensive experience in K-12 education projects. Katie thoroughly enjoys partnering with communities and school districts to elevate education, and her designs have afforded thousands of students the opportunity to grow and thrive in 21st-century learning environments.