Dear Ms Architect

13th June 1997 at 01:00
What makes a perfect school building? Victoria Neumark asked a nursery nurse

Great news that you are going to design our new nursery. We look forward to having clean, purpose-built premises to replace our dirty old annexe to the primary school. But as well as the statutory regulations governing numbers of toilets, wash handbasins, square metres per child and sanitary outlets, there are other considerations.

Starting from the outside, can we please locate the car park, with its associated pollution and danger to young children, well away from the pedestrian entrance. Trees and bushes are precious not just for decoration and shade, but also to improve air quality and reduce noise from the urban environment. While we admit the need for high-security fencing and gates, we also need the emotional security of green and growing things.

In the outside play area, we need a lawn to sit on during the summer and a bed in which to grow plants, as well as a safe play area with weather-proof equipment set in safety surfaces, so nursery staff do not have to lug heavy, cumbersome climbing apparatus around.

A built-in sandpit and paddling pool with sturdy covers will also help remove backstrain from the daily agenda, as will an outdoor storage area for bikes and dolly prams. Pleasant seats around the trees, picnic benches and tables and ramps instead of steps will help make the outside an integral part of productive days. A canopy along a wall of French windows will provide shade in sunny days and shelter in less clement times.

But we don't want too many windows, or masses of high skylights. Light is a wonderful thing, but living in a greenhouse makes for fractious children with cheeks like cherries, and irritable, sweating staff wilting from the heat.

Likewise, we would like to be able to control the heating and lighting - and not be at the mercy of some inflexible central-heating system nor paralysed in the glare of headache-inducing strip lights. How about thermostatic valves and spotlights? I am sure we would save the initial outlay in no time.

Our office should be near the front door, so we can welcome and monitor visitors. Past the front door, however, all doors should be child-friendly, so our pupils can develop independence. Fire regulations may dictate the need for spring closures, but handles can be low down. Three years old is short, short enough for small toilets with low handles, low wash-basins, low rows of pegs and low lockers and cubicles for them to keep their clothes neat.

The pinboarding for notices also needs to run along the walls at a low level, so the children can actually see the displays. And the staff would appreciate some way of putting up mobiles and ceiling displays which does not involve getting out the long ladder and having to clamber up. We may be taller than the average five-year-old, but we are not giants.

We are so very lucky because we're going to have our own cook, kitchen and a purpose-built, easy-clean dining area. But we also need a whizzo kitchen, with all mod cons and safety devices to teach cooking. I won't deny the staff will find it useful and I suggest it is next to the staffroom. Staff need comforts too - their own chairs and space and toilet. So do parents. We want them to be fully part of the life of the nursery, to be able to come and settle their children in and to feel comfortable. So they will need a sink, a place to make tea and coffee, and a toilet.

But what about the children's space? While it is a good idea to have one small room off the main area, perhaps with books and puzzles and some quiet activities, we prefer a big open space that can be divided up by staff - or children - with two-sided screens.

Moveable bookcases around a carpeted quiet area will form one corner. In another, a waterproof floor should support messy sand, water, paint and craft activity, preferably with two sinks for the children to clean themselves and equipment.

Low, built-in shelves around the walls will help them maintain order. Tables for writing, puzzles, maths and games can be moved at will, but a large area needs to be designated for role-play or "home" activities.

Storage for props and costumes is crucial and the more low cupboards and shelves we have the better. Wall cupboards for the stock of the nursery - its paper, paint, sand and clay -need to be easily accessible by the staff, not stuck away out of sight. They are part of the workspace, not a treasure chest.

Although we need waterproof flooring in some areas, and a smooth, flat surface for construction play, some carpeted areas will help soften the surroundings and will make a pleasant place for story-telling and resting. We need to be flexible, to be able to jump and sing, as well as be quiet and focus.

More practically, as well as the small toilets we need a sluice or shower, in case of accidents. We will also need cupboards for first aid and spare clothes. Cross ventilation must be built in, so we can have fresh air without having to boil or freeze. We don't want to get up each other's noses.

I trust you can take these details into account in your design for our building. They may seem boring to you, but they are the stuff of daily life to us.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today