Embracing Inclusivity and Diversity – a learning centre design

From the first entry to the Enhancing Learning Centre (a custom designed therapy and education support service in Western Australia) our commitment to doing things differently for families is evident.

1. No waiting room.

We have a hang out “front” space.

This space provides open access to every other part of the centre.

Yes this is not always expected by our new families. Families who are much more used to medical model designs. Bland uncomfortable chairs and a small space with a child’s table and books. Old magazines or glossy table top books. Implied expectation to being a “patient” patient. Waiting.

The focus for our centre is firmly on play. It starts from the moment you walk in the door. All sorts of choices and lots of low to the ground stools so parents easily become part of the play.

The focus for our centre is child led. It starts from the moment they walk in the door. A buffet of cool spaces they can see and access and engage in.

Learning starts from the moment the child enters the centre. It starts in the car (after a few visits) when children alert their family they know exactly where they are heading on the way to the centre. It starts when new families enter the space to find three other families sharing and navigating and showing interest in each other.

2. Overlapping interaction

Services are often designed to be one to one therapy sessions done in a small room that are generally not able to be replicated in the busyness of “real life”. Maybe some group sessions – carefully curated children with similar needs run for a certain period of time.

We think there are lots of other ways for therapy supports to be provided to children and their families.

Instead our centre is designed to allow overlapping sessions of no specific plan. This may mean sharing the space with a different child every time. Or the same child at different times. This is children wandering over to see what the other child is working on. This is children silently watching other children. This is children choosing a quiet space away from the crowd.

We want to build an inclusive space that is respectful of differences – different interests, different needs, different plans.

In this style of design we see parents who become confident to greet and respond to the peers of their child. Who accept pretend play roles placed on them by children not their own. Who recognise another parent needing comfort and support and freely offer it. Parents who immerse themselves in enjoying all the differences of children.

3. No goals

How many adults are told by self development guides to set goals. Set measurable goals and commit to them. How many adults set goals and judge themselves on their capacity (and interest) of achieving said essential goals to life and well being.

Life is not goal focused.

Like is messy and unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Goals can make us a feel like a failure when our plan gets disrupted.

Goals are arbitrary expectations we think help us to get “ahead”.

Goals for children trespass on the rights of a child.

Goals for children are poorly formed expectations of conformity to society expectations. Poorly formed because they are rarely created with a deep and respectful understanding of the child’s preferred purpose or drive.

We don’t set goals for the children in our space. We strive to understand the help they need to progress from where they are now to where they might get to next. We support them to make progress. But we don’t set the change standard. How could we? We don’t know what brings them joy ( but we try to learn it ), we don’t know the path they will travel in a year or ten years (but we want it to be getting smoother every time).

We have no timeframe for progress.

We can just be a safe, inclusive space that values difference.

We can just seek to understand how the child currently sees the world and make adjustments to the world they see to support progress.

It’s not on them.

It’s on us.

So in our purposefully designed space we understand and fulfil our role as an ally sharing ideas and knowledge at the right time for each child.