By Robin Pecka, Interior Designer – ALSC Architects
As a parent to a young toddler, my daughter’s safety is my #1 concern. My #2 concern is keeping her busy and active so she has more time to work on fine motor skills and creative thinking, and less time to throw tantrums.
More and more athletic and fitness facilities are embracing an “all in the family” mentality when it comes to programming spaces, activities and staff into their business plans and buildings to ensure that there are activities for people of all ages. This is music to the ears of grandparents, parents and children since the benefits of being active don’t start or stop once you reach a certain age.
Until I started researching child care safety, I didn’t realize that some States grant exemptions to fitness facilities offering short term child care from needing to comply with Child Care Licensing Rules and Regulations. The nation’s health club industry does not provide specific regulations for child care because state requirements vary dramatically, according to Meredith Poppler, Vice President for Industry Growth at the Boston-based International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/17/unregulatedchildcare/2656615)
Whether your state requires compliance with Child Care Regulations or not, as a parent I always verify that background checks and CPR certification are required of all staff in the child watch at a minimum.
When it comes to child watch and fitness facilities, having a myriad of activities for children and knowing they will be in a safe, secure environment is crucial. Since my daughter is young, this blog focuses on design attributes in an infant through elementary school age child watch area of a fitness facility and the design issues I look for when I leave my daughter (even if it is only for a 20 minute workout):
- Secure Location: Is child watch located inside the check-in area of the facility so that someone must check in first before entering the child watch area?
- Visibility: Is there concealed visibility into the child watch area? Most parents/providers don’t like the idea of people being able to look into the children’s area without having to first go in and be known to the staff. If there is an outdoor play area, a fenced/screen area that is less visible is desired.
- Lighting/Views: Is the area bright and well-lit with views outside?
- Multiple Zones: Are there various areas for age appropriate activities offered within the child watch center to allow a variety of age groups to “play”? It’s unfortunate when a program’s square footage does not allow space for separate activities and younger babies/toddlers are put with bigger kids where they may get run over. Or vice versa, and older kids become bored playing with the younger ones.
- Open Concept: If there are different zones within the space, are partitions low enough or full height windows provided so staff can watch multiple kids and areas at one time?
- Appropriate Materials: Are flooring and wall finishes durable, easy to clean and anti-microbial; thus less likely to spread germs? Does the flooring have an absorptive quality or cushion to help break the fall of wayward toddlers?
At ALSC Architects, we understand the multiple considerations that need to be addressed in athletic and fitness facility planning. Child watch areas are only a small piece of the puzzle. With the expertise of an architect and interior designer, the parts and pieces can (almost) seamlessly fall into place; and our maternal and paternal hearts can rest easy knowing our kids are safe and having fun while we work out!
Robin Pecka is an Interior Designer with ALSC Architects. She has a passion for people and what makes them tick. Her goal as a designer is to create spaces that emotionally and physically enhance the built environment. Robin and her husband are parents to a young daughter with another one on the way.