Changing the paradigm of design in the early childhood sector gallery

The continuous tree-like timber veranda was built to reflect a local Maori legend.


It’s a passion for design, the environment and quality education that drives the minds behind New Shoots Children’s Centres.

The niche brand of six early childhood centres, run by Kelly Lambert, Nikki Prendergast and Michelle Pratt, aims to create innovative and state-of-the-art educational spaces for children.

Their latest site, in Pakuranga, East Auckland, has received national accreditation for its leading-edge architecture and progressive sustainable design, having recently been awarded Excellence in the Resene Green Building Property Award at the Property Industry Awards 2017.


General manager of New Shoots Children’s Centres Kelly Lambert and founder and director of New Shoots Group and Source Cafes Michelle Pratt.


Surpassed only by Auckland’s ASB Waterfront Theatre, New Shoots Children’s Centre Pakuranga and adjoining Source Cafe opened in December last year.

The Cascades Road site was formally a rundown tow truck yard, but with the help of Collingridge & Smith Architects, designer Chloe Forsman and CGC Landscaping, the riverside section has been transformed into a benchmark property.

Approaching the bend of the busy eastern thoroughfare, the first thing grabbing the eye is the wooden latticework surrounding the centre.


The New Shoots designers and architects aim to create innovative and beautiful spaces for children, with ethical sourcing influencing their choices every step of the way.


General manager Lambert says the design is a replica of a Maori legend pertinent to Pakuranga.

Collingridge & Smith Architects website states, “Pakuranga is a Maori name meaning ‘battle of the sunlight’, based on the legend of a fierce overnight battle between mythical nocturnal monsters.

“To honour this spiritual story the design features a continuous tree-like timber veranda, with vines growing up the posts that will, in time, create a foliage canopy filtering the sunlight through to the rooms and sheltered outdoor areas.”


New Shoots Pakuranga comes fully equipped with its own kitchen and personal chef who provides fresh meals to children every day.


The contextual trellis is complemented by surrounding native foliage and the expansive greenery of the golf course and park opposite.

Along with spatial decks, multi-tiered sandpits and riparian rights down to the water, it’s questionable as to why anyone would ever go inside, but it’s the interior of this building that will impress even the most seasoned educational leader.

Walking through the doors, the vibrant fabrics, contemporary lighting fixtures and modish kitchenette lead the way into an early childhood structure like no other.


Family play huts at New Shoots Children’s Centre Pakuranga.


Designer Chloe Forsman says the team is very fashion-focused and their aesthetics are driven by what’s on trend.

“I’m a huge believer of inspiring children through design,” she says.

“At that age they’re so impressionable, so why not give them the best design and something to aspire to and encourage them.”


Every detail and product at the centre was chosen with careful consideration for design, sustainability and ethical purchasing.


Director Pratt says one of the indicators of high-quality education is really good environmental design. 

“Parents often walk through the door and say ‘oh my god this is beautiful. I’d never think this was an early childhood centre’.”

She says the team took inspiration from residential properties and international designers.

“Early childhood centres tend to have an institutional feel to them and they tend to be very orientated around vinyl and how to keep everything clean.

“Instead, we used lots of fabrics, steel, texture and wood. It’s the combination of those materials, along with a really good understanding of child development, that’s meant we’ve set a new standard of interior design for early childhood education.”

Lambert says they sought to create a home away from home that’s both beautiful and functional.

“Children can spend up to 11 hours in our care, so we need to provide them with the luxuries and comforts of a home-like environment.”

She says this homely feel is emphasised by having a kitchen at the heart of the building.

“We have a chef dedicated to the early childhood centre and a menu which has been reviewed by a nutritionist.

“That means we provide whole, pure foods which are locally sourced and grown.”

The centre caters for three age groups; infant, toddler and preschooler, with each space scaled and designed for the corresponding level.

Strolling around the facility, details to note are the sleep rooms, outdoor dining area, family play huts and project rooms.

Lambert says every detail and product was chosen with sustainability and ethical purchasing in mind. 

“As a company we’re strong advocates of ethical purchasing. Our end game is that everything within our centres is purchased from companies which are child labour free and have fair work conditions.

“This goes right down to all our permanent furniture, our uniforms, cleaning products and all of our fabrics.”

Less obvious features contributing to the building’s sustainability are extensive window glazing, passive lighting and ventilation, and PV solar panels that provide about a third of the centre’s yearly power needs.

New Shoots founders have also created their own company, New Shoots Educational Resources, which supplies all of its resources and toys.

Pratt says the company was developed because they couldn’t get the product range they were looking for and in the timeframe they wanted.

“We’re very minimal plastic, so we wanted really good, durable, wooden toys that would last the test of time,” she says.

“We source our products from around 500 suppliers for each build, with things coming from all different parts of the world.”

Beyond the look of the centre, Lambert says New Shoots accommodates small group sizes, really well qualified staff, and good adult to child ratios.

“Our approach to learning is through play-based theory,” she says.

“We’re very much inspired by the Pikler philosophy, which is based around infants having primary caregivers, so they have one teacher who feeds them, changes their nappy and puts them to sleep. All of those care moments are done by one specific adult so they can form a secure attachment.

“With our preschoolers we’re also inspired by Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, but it’s all taken in context. In no way are we saying we’re a Pikler centre or purists, we’re in New Zealand and within that there needs to be a wrap around of NZ cultural context.

“Our vision is simple, it’s where children and families grow together.”

Eight months after opening, the centre is already sitting at around 80 per cent occupancy, but has an open door policy for visitors.

“We invite people to come and see our spaces because at the end of the day we’re all in it for the same reason and that’s quality education,” Lambert says.

“It’s really nice to have people come in so we can inspire them.”

 – Stuff

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