Classroom Design

Aligning Learning Space Design with 5 NAEYC Program Standards

By Dr. Christina Counts

The National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC, is an organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research. NAEYC is the world’s largest organization of early childhood professionals, and as such, it has set 10 standards for early childhood programs to define what all early childhood programs should provide. These 10 standards include relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment, health, staff, families, community relationships, physical environment, and leadership and management.

When designing early childhood learning environments, it’s important to consider research, development, and the input of experts and educators to determine what is important to help children thrive in these learning spaces. The NAEYC standards are a great foundation to guide the decisions you make in your learning space design in order to support students’ learning and development. Each of these standards aligns with different critical factors of early childhood programs, and therefore, each is impacted by learning space design in different ways––some, more than others.

Here are some ways to align learning space design with five of the NAEYC program standards:

NAEYC Standard 1: Relationships
The program promotes positive relationships among all children and adults to encourage each child’s sense of individual worth and belonging as part of a community and to foster each child’s ability to contribute as a responsible community member.

How to align learning space design: Different learning zones help to foster relationships in the classroom. Consider creating collaborative areas where students can work alongside and with their peers. Students also can participate in community-building in the classroom by participating in classroom duties, such as clearing the board or leading clean-up for different classroom activities. Having a clear and consistent organizational system in your classroom can make it easier for young children to help with these duties.

NAEYC Standard 2: Curriculum
The program implements a curriculum that is consistent with its goals for children and promotes learning and development in each of the following areas: social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive.

How to align learning space design: Active learning spaces designed to complement the curriculum can support student learning and development across a variety of different competencies. For example, sensory areas may help improve emotional development, a makerspace can foster cognitive development, and social spaces can help students develop critical social skills.

NAEYC Standard 5: Health
The program promotes the nutrition and health of children and protects children and staff from illness and injury.

How to align learning space design: Creating safe and healthy learning spaces is key to supporting student and staff well-being. The most basic consideration to make in early childhood learning space design is using furnishings, selecting materials, and designing a layout that will be safe for children to use and maneuver around throughout the day. Avoid high desks and stools, sharp corners, and furniture on casters without a locking mechanism.

Additionally, support student health with comprehensive cleaning and disinfection practices. Selecting the best surface materials is key to ensuring easy cleaning and long-term durability of learning space furnishings.

NAEYC Standard 9: Physical Environment
The program has a safe and healthful environment that provides appropriate and well-maintained indoor and outdoor physical environments. The environment includes facilities, equipment, and materials to facilitate child and staff learning and development.

How to align learning space design: The overarching NAEYC standard that affects learning space design is the standard for early childhood physical environments. Well-organized, equipped, and maintained environments support program quality by fostering the learning, comfort, health, and safety of children. Learning space design should consider accessibility for all students, comfortability of available learning environments, and organizational elements of spaces to ensure functional and effective use by all of those who participate in the program.

NAEYC Standard 10:  Leadership and Management
The program effectively implements policies, procedures, and systems that support stable staff and strong personnel, fiscal, and program management so all children, families, and staff have high-quality experiences.
How to align learning space design: It’s important to not forget leadership and staff in the design of early childhood learning environments. Creating community planning spaces is one way to include educator needs in your design, as these spaces foster collaboration, peer education, and relationship building among teachers and other staff. Spaces where teachers can decompress or work on various tasks allow them an environment outside of their classroom to engage with other educators, collaborate, and get professional development.

The NAEYC program standards are aimed at creating the most functional and effective learning opportunities for young students all around the country. Working these research-based and expert-developed standards into your early childhood learning space design can help create a foundation to build an early childhood program that nurtures students’ learning and development.

Dr. Christina Counts is the Vice President of Education at MiEN Company.