There is something so special about a blank canvas set in front of a creative person. Since I first joined the team at Eikon Church, I’ve been able to create some beautiful spaces and let my creative flag fly. When my Pastor presented me with the opportunity to design classroom environments for our eKids, a sense of joy and anticipation overcame me—what a fun canvas to work with and a great end in mind to work toward! I sat down with the Children’s Pastor and asked her what she had in mind for these spaces. She gave me some basic parameters and then said the magic words, “Really it doesn’t matter to me, you can just make them look the way you want them to look.” Boom! I’m on it!
As I thought about the kids that would be discovering faith and community in these classrooms, I knew I wanted to create distinctive environments that would play to their heightened sense of imagination and wonder. We had decided to use a scheme that matched the colors I had previously designed on the entry doors to each class . . . So now all I had to do was find the scenes to match the schemes. Part of the planning process involved the understanding that the current ages represented in the rooms would change over time. Currently, our eKids classrooms serve kids from 2 years old to 5th grade. However, we are in the process of building out a new eKids wing on the other side of the church dedicated just to our Elementary-aged kids. Once that project is complete, all of these current classrooms will be dedicated to our Early Childhood kiddos. (We also have a Nursery connected to our lobby that I needed to design out.)
I started with a blank canvas . . . kind of. I took pictures of each of the rooms and proceeded to design the spaces quickly with Photoshop layers on top of the original images. Once all the designs were submitted and approved, our Children’s Pastor organized a team of volunteers from our church to come in and transform the classrooms one coat of paint and one sheet of foam at a time. For three months we all worked hard to complete a project we could all be proud of. As a designer, I still ooh and ahh at the beautiful way my art has come to life in these classrooms. Here are some snapshots and stories from along the journey:
DESIGNING THE NURSERY
Let’s start at the end, shall we? This was actually the last room that we completed and oh was it a process. Each of the rooms started with a taupe base and I knew I wanted to go with a brighter but softer color for the nursery. Since the other rooms were already claimed by the colors red, purple, yellow and green, I went with a shade of blue . . . baby blue, that is. I originally thought of going with clouds and stars, but I just felt like I should add more pops of color. I wanted it to look like a fun confetti party so I mapped out a pom pom swag to paint on the walls.
Since we had spent so much time on the other rooms, we were kind of painted out by the time we got to the nursery. Instead of painting more, my Pastor suggested going with white wood slats adhered to the wall and pom poms of some sort connected to them instead. So he purchased the wood, and I worked with my Intern to create some pom poms made of yarn—and it was a total disaster. We spent 3 hours working on winding yarn onto cardboard spools to make the pom poms, and they ended up being a bust because the yarn wasn’t tight enough and the tie wasn’t holding in the center. All in all, we got one done after hours of work—ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when we needed about 30 total! We landed on the option of buying tissue paper pom poms and unfolding those to use instead.
Then came the process of adhering the wood slats. It was suggested that I use Liquid Nails to attach them, so after tying and stapling the pom poms onto the wood slats, I lined the backs with Liquid Nails and held them to the wall for a bit to set. As I continued sticking them to the wall, the ones I’d already put up started falling. So I did what any other clueless person would do . . . I Googled “How long does liquid nails take to dry on wood?” It turns out you need to hold it for at least 10 minutes before it starts to cure. (Ugh!) So we did that, and they still kept falling. So I found another solution—I went to one of our staff members who is a hardware guru, and I presented my dilemma to him. I suggested just screwing them into the wall, but he had a much better idea. He suggested I use his Brad Gun to hold the wood in place long enough for the Liquid Nails to dry. That way I wouldn’t waste the Liquid Nails I already purchased, and I wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of trying to screw each board individually. His solution worked wonders, and I’m so glad I asked him for help!
The Brad Gun worked wonders and cut our work time significantly. FINALLY we had a finished project that made my heart so happy! Here is what the room looks like now that all is said and done!
DESIGNING THE 2s & 3s CLASSROOM
My original idea for this classroom involved painted brick and bright foam gears so that I could play on the red scheme of the paint chosen for the room. I had previously worked on a similar set using foam board insulation on the Maker Fun Factory VBS set at my church in Seattle, so I knew how cool it could look.
However, once a few more eyes were on the designs I started with, we decided it would be better to go with simpler objects that preschoolers might connect with more. I went with fun foam flowers instead and played on the brick red shade to be the background of a large garden wall.
Our volunteer crew worked so hard to bring those designs to life and now our 2s and 3s get to learn and play in a great big garden of fun!
DESIGNING THE 4s & 5s CLASSROOM
This classroom took me the longest to design because although green is one of the more comfortable colors to design for, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted the kids to be surrounded by in this space. One of the earlier suggestions was to focus on geometric shapes, so I started with squares and got bored before landing on pinwheels instead. Though it got a lot of good feedback, I still wasn’t personally sold on it. So I kept going back to the drawing board and coming up with other options. Circles? Stars? Stripes?
I took a step back and after downing about my 50th cup of coffee, I asked myself, “What do preschoolers love to do for fun and how does it make them feel?” That question led me to see things from a different angle. I thought, “If there’s one thing preschoolers have a lot of, it’s feelings.” I joked around as I designed their space that I was going to create a Forest of Feelings.
I played around with the idea of making mountaintops cut from reflective silver and even bought the materials, but in the end, we went with white snowcaps instead. I mean, I guess I did stick with geometric shapes . . . I just kicked them up a notch. The bonus fun to this room is that every time I walk into it, I’m reminded of the tall trees that I miss from the Pacific Northwest. Now I have a little bit of ‘there’ here with me!
DESIGNING THE 1st-5th GRADE/ELEMENTARY LARGE GROUP ROOM
Our largest room in the original eKids wing is used for both our Elementary Large Group setting where all kids 1st-5th Grade gather together for praise & worship and the weekly Bible Story. After those elements of the service are done, the 1st-3rd Graders stay in that classroom, and the 4th-5th Graders go to a different room for their Small Group activities. Right away, I knew I wanted this classroom to have the look and feel of Monsters, Inc. I had seen a similar version somewhere on Pinterest, but decided to switch up the color scheme and style a bit.
I added skewed foam squares and rectangles to resemble the doors used in the movie and went with skewed lines to mount them on.
The tricky part was tying in the projector screen on the main wall. This is the space they use to watch their praise & worship and Bible Story videos. I decided to give it a bold skewed border to make it stand out. In my first draft of the design, I put two other elements on the stage wall. They were going to be chalkboards painted with shapes around them to represent the scripture verses and bottom lines that they focus on each week, but as we got to work on that wall, I realized it would look too cluttered. They neither added to or subtracted from the design on the whole, so I just scrapped them in the end.
DESIGNING THE 1st – 3rd GRADE CLASSROOM
This classroom was actually kind of tough to design an environment for this one. The room is yellow—bright yellow. You can see the bright yellow peeking through the connected ceiling panels in the main hallway. That’s the kind of bright it is. I wanted to try to subdue the brightness by bringing in some bolder yet still complimentary colors. My original idea involved a honeycomb design, which both kept a geometrical shape theme and a creative environment.
However, after submitting the designs, I was brought back to reality and told (in love), “That looks amazing! It would be so cool to do that, but there’s just no way that we could make it look that good without paying thousands of dollars for actual artists to come and paint it.” They aren’t wrong, and I wasn’t super bummed, I was just left racking my brain to figure out what else I could make it look like.
After even more coffee-fueled thinking and listening to Disney songs, I tried a different idea. I decided to go Under The Sea. I thought it might be cool to contrast the bright yellow with a strong blue and make a chevron design that could resemble waves. I still have yet to get the netting to drape from the ceiling and the push lights to attach to the wall, but I think it’s a vast improvement!
FINISHING TOUCHES . . .
Another church inspired one of the other finishing touches I put on all the rooms. I visited LifeAustin Church when I attended the Orange Tour with our Family Ministry Directors a couple of months back and noticed a handy system they were using. Each of their early childhood classrooms had numbered racks with a whiteboard that had corresponding numbers listed on them. These were designed to keep diaper bags, artwork, etc. organized according to each guest in the room. Leaders would write the name of a kid on a certain number and hang their belongings on the corresponding rack number. I knew that was something that we were currently struggling with so it was a no-brainer to add that sweet system to our classrooms as well. I even designed the numbers to match the classroom themes to pull in some extra fun!
It felt so good to see all of these rooms complete and ready for the new year! It was such a fun experience to help create these unique spaces for our eKids to grow and learn in. Even more exciting is that I get to do it for our new eKids wing as well! Our Pastor met a while back with another designer for preliminary ideas on how to design out the new eKids Elementary wing. This designer that he spoke with had previously worked on designing spaces for The Walt Disney Company. My boss showed him my designs for the current spaces to see what would be good for the expansion and the designer told him that my designs were amazing and that he should stick with having me dream up and design out the new spaces! (That totally melted my heart in the best way!)
I’m looking forward to the new few days where I’ll get to take the photos of the newly built space and design out the environments to turn in to our main painting crew. This new year ahead already holds so much promise and excitement. Onward and upward!