As a designer working with a young child between five and seven I would first make sure I understood the mind set and capability of the child. Having worked in the classroom with the learning disabled child and the mainstreamed child I have a leg up on this process. I would arrange to spend time with the child – about 30 to 45 minutes preferably without the parent present.
I would create a list of activities to do with the child that would help me determine interest, ability, and developmental positioning. In reviewing the neurodevelopmental themes for evolving expectations (Mel Levine, 2000) of the five to seven year old I would make note of several themes: attention, temporal-sequential ordering, spatial ordering, memory, language, neuromotor functions, social cognition and higher- order cognition.
With this information (it sounds serious but really is not) I would create a preliminary drawing of the space that would include elements determined by the play time interview. A second meeting with the child and the parent would reveal the concept of the room using the drawing and floor plan illustrating the zones for sleeping , reading, fine motor activity, and imaginative play. Gross motor activities would be better suited for other locations in the home and yard. The color palette would be discussed along with options for encouraging task completion, sequential ordering, musical rhythms, visual discrimination, vocabulary enhancement, and classification skills. This preliminary plan would be presented with questions for the child to answer. A child this age a child is not ready to determine bigger design decisions but is ready for simple multiple choice options. Example: “The reading center will be in this corner. Would you like it to have a green pillow or a blue pillow on the chair?” Of course I would avoid open ended questions such as, “What color pillow do you want on the reading chair?” And of course I would have determined with the parent an acceptable color range in advance and allow the child to make minor decisions creating the impression that these are important decisions. This process is all about empowering the child so that the space becomes his/hers. A child of seven going on eight should be demonstrating emerging brainstorming skills, understands that other peoples’ opinions matter, and is ready for group discussion. A designer therefore should be cautious when working with the five and six year old who is emerging out of the “me” stage.
My design strategy would be to avoid a theme within the bones of the room to encourage creative thought and imagination, and manage gender identity issues. This allows the space to grow with the child. The character of the room would take shape through the child’s play and current interest. And, at the end of the day the room is cleaned up and ready for the next week’s world of imagination.
Here is a plan for a seven-year-old child whose room is being redesigned with the introduction new materials and colors.
As this seven year old boy matures the room can grow with him. No dinosaur paper to remove from the wall or juvenile bedding to replace (until it wears out of course). The color palette is non-descript in age. The child height game table and chairs can be removed and replaced with oversized bean bags and the walk in closet becomes a closet again.
This room provides an environment that will teach and encourage adult readiness skills: organization, time management, social cognition, language skills, spatial ordering, creativity, academic preparedness, restorative behavior, etc. The time to learn adult skills is as a child and this room offers the opportunity to do just that.
Note: Decision to not include a television or computer was intentional and not an oversight. Young children, all of us for that matter, need a place to get away from the world. Cable TV and internet should be used in the presence of the parents not behind closed doors. Children should learn that there is a proper time and place for certain behaviors.
Mel Levine, M. (2000, January). Neurodevelomental Themes. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.