Jan White Natural Play

Natural Play, Natural Growth, in the Early Years

World Forum Foundation – Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children

Shelter 4, Rachel McMillan Nursery School, London, UK

The Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children (OnDesign) is a recently formed working forum of the World Forum Foundation on Early Care and Education, a grass-roots, global network of people working with and for young children. 

The mission of the World Forum Foundation is to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings.  This mission is accomplished through convening gatherings of early childhood professionals around the world and by promoting the continuing exchange of ideas among participants.

Working Forums serve as “meeting places” where all those interested in promoting the well-being of young children and families can share ideas, strategies, and perspectives.  This NEW working forum is an enthusiastic and experienced group of early educators, architects, landscape architects and others who focus on issues related to designing spaces where children can learn and grow – indoors, outdoors and the spaces in between.

The OnDesign Forum seeks to bring together practitioners and researchers from around the world to engage in a variety of interactions, debates and collaborations. We are seeking to engage professionals involved in working with young children, as well as policy makers, architects, landscape architects and designers in a collaborative effort to understand the needs of children and how best to deliver stimulating environments to support learning, discovery and joy.

 “Maybe if we approach each child, each group of children, as an unknown entity, we will be inspired to discover the infinite possibilities that exist for the temporal organization of early childhood spaces”.  Kathleen Kummen

Boroondara Preschool, Melbourne, Australia

 The OnDesign Working Forum came together in May 2011 at the World Forum on Early Care and Education conference in Hawaii.  The initiative has been spearheaded in particular through the enthusiasm and dedication of Ken Jaffe, [President and Executive Director of International Child Resource Institute (ICRI) based in Berkeley, California], and is already a good mix of early childhood educators, architects and landscape professionals from across the globe, with a driving group spanning the UK (Jan White), Brazil (Vera Melis), Mexico (Ivan Galindo Herrara), and eastern (Mike Lindstrom) and western USA (Paul Roberts and Ken Jaffe).

At this first meeting, we agreed a set of working principles for what we were setting out to do:

  1. The Working Group shall be named the World Forum Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children.
  2. We agree that all environments work should be approached through the lens of valuing the image of the child as capable and miraculous.

Children are miracles. Believing that every child is a miracle can transform the way we design for children’s care. When we invite a miracle into our lives, we prepare ourselves and the environment around us.
We may set out flowers or special offerings. We may cleanse ourselves, the space, or our thoughts of everything but the love inside us. We make it our job to create, with reverence and gratitude, a space that is worthy of a miracle! Action follows thought. We can choose to change. We can choose to design spaces for miracles, not minimums
.” — Anita Rui Olds, 1999

  1. Each child is unique and all children should have access to high-quality environments. Spaces for children should reflect universal design principles.
  2. Our work should foster positive relationships in an enabling environment.
  3. All work should start with the child and include the child’s point of view.
  4. Children must be seen in the context of and as an integral part of their specific communities.
  5. We should work to ensure that community members and stakeholders are included in the effort to create great environments for children.
  6. Spaces and environments must fit the context and rhythm of the child’s life and the child’s day.
  7. It is the responsibility of this working forum to both educate and learn.
  8. St Kilda & Balaclava Kindergarten, Melbourne, Australia

We also discussed what work we thought was important and relevant for us to be doing, as a global collaboration.  We are keen to use the internet to establish a clearing house on information, projects and research into children’s environments, and to provide an active means of enabling discussion, sharing and debate. 

We were also eager to make it possible for practitioners and researchers in all relevant fields to come together, so as to learn from each other and to initiate collaborations that can take thinking and action into new places.  It is important for us that this is a global initiative and that we are learning about and developing the quality of environments for young children in all parts of the planet and all walks of life.

An active, interactive website OnDesign is in construction.  Meanwhile, The World Forum Foundation Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children is thrilled to announce its first International Working Forum meeting.  This working forum will challenge views on model building design for children, present state of the art building reviews from around the world, provide opportunities for deep discussion of approaches to incorporate the latest design features into children’s buildings and spaces, and establish an international network under the Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children that will offer a dynamic interface between architects, landscape designers, early childhood educators, planners, local and national governments, and the greater public on issues related to design of optimal buildings for children.

  • Dates: June 27-29, 2012 evening reception on Tuesday, June 26, and lively sessions Wednesday, June 27 through Friday, June 29. We also hope to offer optional extensions before or after to visit model sites, celebrate International Mud Day, and enjoy a tour of hidden treasures in the gorgeous San Francisco Bay Area! More information on these extension activities will be provided when they are confirmed.
  • Location: the Clark Kerr campus of the University of California at Berkeley – Clark Kerr is a beautiful, self-contained mini university with lovely grounds, great food, and world-class facilities including lodging. Across the bay from San Francisco, Berkeley is known for its ethnically diverse community, culinary attractions, and amazing building design and scenery.

To learn more about, contact or join OnDesign, and for up-to-date information on the International Working Forum conference with registration, presentation submission details and accommodation, please visit the OnDesign website.

To find out more about the work of the World Forum Foundation in the UK, contact the World Forum UK representative, Laura Henry at Child Care Consultancy or Jan White.

Isabel Henderson Kindergarten, Melbourne, Australia

All images (C) Jan White.  Thanks to Kindergartens in Melbourne, Australia (visited with the help of Sue Elliott and Play Australia) for these images showing attention to transition zones that make it easy for children to move between indoor and outdoor environments as part of the ‘indoor-outdoor’ programming that has remained common in Victoria.

Rachel McMillan Nursery School was set up in a very poor part of London in 1914 by nursery pioneers Margaret and Rachel McMillan, with a design that intentionally enabled children to be outdoors as much as possible – the big ‘shelter’ windows folded right back to allow plenty of fresh air indoors as well.

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