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K-12 Educational Design Community: Developmentally Responsive Design for Early Learners— Blanche A Ames PK-2 Elementary School (In-person)

Blanvhe A Ames ES

Donlik Lee

  • COST

    Free for BSA members, $10 for nonmembers

  • TYPE





    1.5 LU/HSW AIA credits available.


Research tells us that early brain development is critical to learning - the time when neuro-pathways are constructed and intellect takes shape. We know that about 80% of a child’s brain is developed by age five and is substantially shaped by age 14. Although many influences and factors affect a child’s development, the physical environment and experiences in school are significant contributors. As we strive to create highly effective environments, reduce environmental stresses, and design to help foster healthy educational experiences, we also need to recognize how learning differs from child to child and how the way they learn changes as they grow.

Using the design process for the new Blanche A. Ames (PreK-2) Elementary School as a backdrop, we will take participants on a journey into the research and design precedents that were utilized to understand better the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional differences of early learners as they progress through each grade level. We will explore how the District’s vision for teaching and learning and the team’s observations of students navigating their learning environments helped shape the new design and how they were synthesized into architectural responses, including a plan that fosters learning through play, discovery, indoor out connections, including a whole campus approach and spaces that evolve with the child’s awareness from self to the group dynamic.

This presentation and tour will also showcase universal design concepts (UD) connected to the school’s curriculum and create an actual community school that accommodates the needs of young to old. The UD approach culminated in an innovative main ramp instead of a central stair, which became the centerpiece for discovery as students participated in a design that tells the story of the school’s name-sake.


Dawn Guarriello, AIA LEED BD+C | Assoc. Principal, Perkins Eastman & Chair of the MAAB

Learning Objectives

  1. Define the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical/motor developmental differences among age levels and how they evolve year to year.

  2. Identify the parallels between Universal Design concepts and age-appropriate early childhood design needs.

  3. Recognize, through interactions with participants, the elements of design that can be used to support how children learn best at early ages.

  4. Specify how student participation in the design process can help enrich the design and, in this case, the elements of learning through play discovery and inquiry, helping make them more authentic and meaningful to the entire community.

  5. Explain how a whole campus approach and the development of spaces that evolve with the child’s awareness from self to the group dynamic