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Healthy environment next big competitive advantage

25 February 2019

Early Childhood Education: Healthy environment next big competitive advantage

Environmental monitoring could be the next competitive advantage in the early childhood learning sector as industry leaders come to grips with the impact of environmental conditions – including lighting, temperature and noise – on the growth and development of pre-schoolers.

New Shoots Children’s Centres – a national group of state-of-the-art, innovative, purpose-built facilities for infants and early childhood – recently installed the Tether environmental monitoring system in their West Auckland facility.

Another early childhood centre, the Academy for Gifted Education in Takapuna, has also installed the Tether EnviroQ system within its facility and interest is growing from other centres.

Director and owner of New Shoots Children’s Centres, Michelle Pratt, says getting the environment spot on for health and comfort is essential and a competitive advantage because not only do infants and children get sick easily, but environmental conditions can help or hinder their development.

“We take pride in providing an exceptional learning environment for our kids. Our facilities are architecturally designed for purpose because we know that conditions must be optimal for health – including mental health – productivity and learning.

“Temperatures, whether too high or too low, ambient noise, moisture levels and lighting impact children’s moods, how they interact with each other, their focus and their learning.”

There is a regulatory requirement that early childhood centres maintain a temperature around 20 degrees Celsius, while also ensuring that children must have access to an indoor and outdoor environment at all times. In other words, an open door, but this does not help when it comes to keeping temperatures stable.

“The science is sound on the importance of ventilation to avoid the build-up of carbon dioxide – including the problems with mechanical versus natural ventilation. I have my doubts about whether heat pumps benefit children – we just don’t know.

“We’ve installed the Tether environmental monitoring system at our Westgate facility to help us better understand the impact on of environmental conditions on the health and wellbeing of our children. We can study the data and make changes to improve things.”

Pratt says that studies show that environmental conditions play an important part in learning, behaviour and moods at a critical time in the development of a child’s brain up to the age of 7, particularly where high levels of noise and CO2 exist in a built-in environment.

Tether CEO Brandon Van Blerk says Tether is experiencing a high level of inquiry from right across the education sector in New Zealand, including from primary schools, colleges and tertiary institutions.

“We measure five critical factors when it comes to the comfort and health of an educational environment – a sort of five spoke wheel. The factors are thermal (hot or cold), ventilation (carbon dioxide is an indicator of poor ventilation), acoustic levels, light levels and usability.

“By usability we mean by how functional the classroom is in terms of windows, heating and cooling, whether the classroom is north facing, built from brick or plasterboard etcetera – in other words, whether a classroom is able to fulfil its function as a learning environment.”

Van Blerk says studies show that in New Zealand conditions, children can spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors.

“If the quality of the indoor environment is poor – not well heated or cooled, poorly ventilated, noisy or poorly lit – then kids get ill and respiratory conditions are exacerbated. Older school buildings in particular aren’t well built, ventilated or insulated.

“But there’s a growing awareness in the education sector that children spend so much time in a school environment that it needs to be optimal if they want the results. The first step is measuring and monitoring.”

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