Cornell Child Care Center Outdoor Playscapes: A Post-Occupancy Evaluation

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The purpose of this study was to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation (POE) of the preschool outdoor playspaces at the new Cornell Child Care Center. It examines preschool children's behavior on specific playground elements during outdoor free play. Designer interviews, behavioral observations, and a teacher survey were used as diagnostic tools. This methodology allows for a comparative analysis of preschool children's behavior on specific playscape elements against the architectural and landscape designer's criteria and intent. Observations were performed at the Cornell Child Care Center within the preschool outdoor playground at differing times of free play during the day and week. The study took place in upstate New York during the months of November through February. The research participants were 56 children enrolled in the Cornell Child Care Center preschool program, ranging in age from three to five years old with an equal mix of males and females and 90% Caucasian. All participants were selected by opportunity. Ten specific playground elements were chosen to be assessed during this study. At ten-second intervals, observed participant behavior was coded for each element. Number of children, date, time, temperature, and weather conditions were also recorded for each observation day. The initial assumption of this research was that the observations and teacher ratings of the playground elements would be equivalent to the architect's design intent for each element. Results from this study are expected to aid in better communications between designers and early childhood educators, and future decisions and policies regarding early childhood outdoor play spaces. Specifically, the findings from this post-occupancy evaluation will provide feedback to Cornell University, Bright Horizons, and Horizons Design, Inc. Overall, the results from observations did not match the design intent. The design intent for social behaviors such as solitary, parallel, and group interaction were of mixed results overall, and only two fully matched the intent of the designer. Many of the elements were designed to bring out play behaviors such as constructive, exploratory, and dramatic play and games with rules. However, the vast majority of observed play behavior was functional. The results from the teacher surveys were on the whole closer to the design intent. Keywords: design, play, playground, post-occupancy, pre-school.
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