Green Child Care Center Design

Traditionally child care centers are designed and built to meet minimum licensing and building codes. This process minimizes the initial costs but creates centers that are not designed to be comfortable, healthy and productive for children and staff. Given the rise of environmentally linked health and developmental problems in children, such as asthma, autism and developmental disabilities, it makes sense to create healthier buildings. Decades ago green childcare construction could cost as much as 20% in additional costs. Current costs for green child care center construction, which looks at life cycle assessment, show that the additional cost would be around 2%. In some cases, designing a childcare center to be green does not increase its cost.

Often times green buildings and sustainable practices are used interchangeably. Sustainable practices are actions that sustain human needs and improve the quality of life while making efficient and environmentally responsible use of natural, human and economic resources. Sustainability is a value at the core of a new way of life. Green building is construction using any various methods that promote resource conservation (materials, energy, water) and reduces environmental impact while keeping operational costs low. Green building also looks at the lifecycle of a building in terms of energy use and environmental impact.

The practice of building green is one that works with nature, works with the occupants, focuses on an integrated design approach and requires planning and coordination. The benefits of a green child care design and construction include:

  • Reduced operating expenditure for energy
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Healthier staff and children
  • Improved employee production
  • Improved air circulation and acoustics
  • Reduction in water usage

While there is a certification process for green buildings called LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), not all buildings can afford to go through the certification process. There are many shades of green, so not every child care center will need to be LEED certified. Easy, cost effective decisions can lead your center to a healthier environment.

Just because a childcare building is LEED-certified does not mean the interior or outdoor environment is truly sustainable, developmentally appropriate for or even healthy for children. LEED is a point-rated certification system and does not assure that certain minimum standards are maintained from a children's health perspective. Children have developing neurological systems and are much more susceptible to chemicals, so to have a green environment for children requires toxic free environments, including nontoxic cleaning practices. A healthy indoor environment also includes one with high quality indoor air and appropriate furniture that does not off-gas toxic chemicals.

LEED has no standards for the design of the outdoor play environments. We teach young children to value the environment by providing them the opportunity to act upon and be in the natural world, not by providing them playgrounds with manufactured equipment void of vegetation. Currently a child care center can be LEED certified but have less plant materials than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Children need outdoor environments that are as healthy and as supportive as their indoor environments. A supportive outdoor environment includes plants, trees and shrubs for shade, hiding, collecting and investigating, sand, water, art, music, places to socialize, bike riding and gross motor play.

You can find out more about how to create a healthier center or school at the two-day training provided by our design team called the Institute on Creating Sustainable Environments for Young Children.

Several members of the White Hutchinson Design Alliance are LEED Accredited Professionals and have worked on the design of many types of LEED certified and green buildings including those for children with special needs and developmental disabilities. As a design team, we are committed to high quality, sustainable and healthy environments for children and staff that also protect Mother Earth.
You can contact Vicki L. Stoecklin, our Education & Child Development Director, to discuss the design of a green and sustainable child care center by calling her at +1.816.931-1040, ext 102, or by e-mail.

Also see our article "Green Washing" Comes to the Child Care Industry.