Design: CHANG Architects (Chang Yong Ter, Doreen Eng)
Photos credits: Albert Lim K.S
All children deserve a happy childhood. This is particularly so if childhood is filled with play, and allows children room for imagination, exploration and experience of their senses. For children living in cities, play is often replaced by enrichment programs focusing on academic training. Physical play is often replaced by virtual play that does little to engage the physical senses. More children are engaged and addicted to the digital medium than interacting face-to-face with their peers. Wondrous Light Children’s House offers a living, breathing form of education. Located and adapted in a conservation shophouse, this place is about making connections to the environment, humanity, the cosmos, and all of life's experiences as these unfold through daily encounters. Designed with the children’s scale, perspectives and psychologies in mind, children dwell and move through crafted spaces with a variety of spatial experiences that support emotional developments. Varying planar qualities through the use of natural and recycled plywood panels offer different experiences of touch and feel with the change in texture, line works, and formal expressions. Devoid of large, colourful graphics and alphabets that are common in most pre-schools, it is the spaces that set the backdrop for the different needs of the children’s activities, arousing the children's sense of curiosity and imagination. The emphasis here is not about ‘head-learning’ but ‘limb-learning’; it is about experiences, the senses, feelings, and the concern for children as embodied beings engaging with the material world; and the importance, richness, and value of experience as a source of knowledge. Learning consists of an element of will, which is closely tied to the body and the senses, as well as of emotion and cognition. At a time when life and human relationships are dominated by the digital medium, the younger generations need to be grounded and stay in touch with their innate selves. This project is a response to the modern stresses that many children are facing, particularly children facing emotional and mental and health issues. This place does not aim to 'educate' children through academics nor exposing them with the latest digital technologies. What it offers is a 'home environment' where children feel calm and secured; where children grow to enjoy free, self-directed play; where they develop a sense of empathy. Through explorations and enhancements of their senses, they become emotionally stable, authentic, imaginative, and conscientious of their state of being. In collaborating with nature through gardening and mud-play, the child becomes aware of the various senses associated with the play, and the connections between social, physical and the tropical weather, offering experiences and understanding of growth and decay in nature, of rainwater and waste/recycling/composting management. Parents are motivated with the idea of cultivating interest and awareness of ecology amongst the children, and promoting co-living with nature as a way of life. Although housed in a small setting, this place has much to offer for a happy childhood, as can be seen in the confident, contented and joyful faces of the children here.