Dream Classroom Makeover: Using Nature-Inspired Items to Transform a Texas Early Childhood Facility

Passion and a strong desire to provide children with a high-quality education are what drive most, if not all, early childhood owners to open child care facilities in their community. This passion is what led Edna Bermea to open the Imagination Child Development Center, located in San Antonio, Texas. 

However, the excitement of opening a new child care center often gives way to the startling realization that owning and operating a facility is financially demanding. Not to mention how overwhelming it can be choosing furnishings, hiring new staff, and setting up classrooms.  

Early childhood professionals have trusted Kaplan to furnish their classrooms and child care facilities with high-quality materials and products for decades. This article shares the story of one such professional, Edna Bermea, her remarkable classroom transformation, and how she provides a better quality of care for children and families in the South Side of San Antonio.

How did the Imagination Child Development Center begin?

"I was very young when I opened my center and did not have much money to purchase materials for my classrooms," says Edna. "Most of my classroom furnishings were from yard sales and other centers closing down. The center was very old, and some things were cracking. It was not pretty." 

The original Imagination Child Development Center was a small facility with only the capacity for 42 children, meaning local families needing quality child care now had to join the center's waitlist or search elsewhere for a center with open enrollment. 

Edna knew this space was no longer meeting her needs or supplying children with the educational experiences they deserved. This became more apparent while touring another facility with members of Pre-K 4 SA. 

"I would visit centers that were so beautiful. After seeing them, I  felt discouraged by my own center," says Edna. "I always wondered when I would be able to have a center like that." 

The decision to renovate.

After operating for 12 years, Edna knew Imagination Child Development Center needed an upgrade. Instead of renovating the existing building, she looked for a larger space to accommodate more children. Edna aimed to bring high-quality child care to more families in her community. 

"In those days, my partner and I were always looking for a larger place to rent," Edna said. "One day, we found a lot of land directly across the street from the old center and met with a bank willing to fund a new construction build."

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Building the new Imagination Child Development Center.

Before the construction process could occur, Edna and her partner met with an accountant to discuss how to make the new center a reality. They also met with architects experienced in early childhood facilities to talk through design and floor plans

The construction of the new center was a three-year process. Edna says she experienced many setbacks during that time, including the COVID-19 pandemic, material shortages, pricing increases, and more. 

How Edna selected furnishings for the Imagination Child Development Center.

With the construction of the new Imagination Child Development Center underway, Edna secured additional grant funding to furnish nine new classrooms with tables, chairs, and other educational materials. 

When choosing furnishings for the new classrooms, Edna took to the pages of a Kaplan catalog to begin her search. That is when she discovered the Sense of Place classroom furniture collection and fell in love with its realistic beauty and functionality. 
"I went to Amazon and LakeShore to check their prices, but after seeing their options, I decided that price was no objection," says Edna. "Sense of Place is something I would not trade; I wanted it in the new center."

To bring her vision to life and create classroom spaces that inspire exploration and learning through play, Edna worked closely with Dr. Sandra Duncan, an expert in early childhood education and the creator of the Sense of Place furniture collection.

Why Edna chose a nature-inspired aesthetic for her classrooms.

"Before, in the old center, our walls were bright purple, and the classrooms were really small. Even with fewer children in attendance, the children would go 'crazy' in the classroom and sometimes destroy items," says Edna. "In the new center, our classrooms are larger and neutral in tone. We now have more children in attendance, and while we still have challenging behaviors, the children are calmer and want to take care of the things in the classroom."

Edna attributes the improved behavior to the new classroom layout and nature-inspired aesthetic of the Sense of Place collection. The different learning spaces in the classroom provide restful areas where children can escape the hustle and bustle of playtime to rest and recharge. The varied seating options keep children engaged and focused as they learn through play. 

"While working with Dr. Duncan to set up the new classroom spaces, I learned that it is more important to have different centers in the classroom and not necessarily more materials," says Edna. "With fewer materials, children can use their minds to develop new ways to play."

To help the children learn to appreciate the new classroom materials and feel less overwhelmed as they entered the new space, Edna introduced classroom materials over time instead of putting everything out at once.

How Edna infused individuality and personality in the classroom. 

"I wanted realistic items in the classroom so that children feel like they are playing at home," says Edna. 

The Sense of Place furniture is inviting and provides opportunities for children to imitate the adults in their lives and play out real-life scenarios throughout the day. Edna also places pictures of the children and their families in the classrooms to make everyone feel welcome and accepted when they visit the Imagination Child Development Center. 

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Unveiling the new center to the community.

"At the beginning of this process, no one understood the improvements that would happen and how the new space would look," states Edna. "When the children saw the new space for the first time, their faces lit up! Parents are always asking to come help in the classroom. Everyone wants to be a part of this new space, not just the children."

Building, furnishing, and opening the new center took three years to complete, but the wait was well worth it for families and children in this community. What Edna has done for child care on the South Side of San Antonio has made such a significant impact that Mayor Ron Nirenburg and other community members hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce the center opening.

What impact has the new center had on the local community?

Access to high-quality early education is crucial to a child's development and the economic well-being of their families. However, that can prove difficult for those living in "child care deserts."

For families located in the South Side of San Antonio, Texas – a known child care desert – high-quality childcare is not often accessible. Not without traveling to facilities in neighboring cities and counties, which places an emotional, financial, and physical strain on these families and children. 

By opening the new and improved Imagination Child Development Center, Edna is providing her community with high-quality child care they wouldn't usually have access to. Before, she only had the capacity to enroll 42 children. With the new space, the center is now hitting its capacity of 259 children.

I'm very happy to be able to provide this opportunity for children and families on the South Side. There are times I still can't believe I was able to accomplish this.

Edna BermeaImagination Child Development Center

Are you preparing to renovate your own early childhood facility?

As you can see from Edna's inspiring story, the renovation process takes time, funding, and energy to complete. Whether you are only dreaming of updates you can make to your space or are currently searching for furniture to fill your classrooms, one tool that can help you update your early childhood facility is the myKaplan Floor Planner.

This tool allows you to create digital 2D and 3D renderings of each classroom in your early childhood facility. Play around with nature-inspired wall colors, furniture placement, and cozy rugs to create a classroom environment that enhances children's educational experiences while in your care. 

Read this article to learn more about the myKaplan FloorPlanner design tool, how you can use it, and how it will take the guesswork out of furnishing your early childhood classroom.

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