Blanche A. Ames Elementary School

Blanche A. Ames Elementary School: A Case Study

Easton, MA

An example of early-childhood education whose very architecture supports learning through play.

Project Facts

  • Client:

  • Town of Easton School Building Authority
  • Size :

  • 148,422 sf
    760 students + 60 Pre-K
  • Services:

  • Architecture
  • Sustainability:

  • LEED Silver
  • Markets:

  • K-12 Education
  • Region:

  • United States
  • Studios:

  • Boston

    The new PreK-2 Blanche A. Ames Elementary School was built in the shadows of Borderland Park, the original estate and art studio belonging to the school’s namesake in Easton, MA. Ames was a prominent artist, political activist, writer, and supporter of women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, and her creativity, wisdom, and compassion are on display throughout the school, reinforced by curriculum and architecture that encourages student learning.

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    The building design supports Easton’s youngest learners as they “Create, Care, Discover, and Invent” each day through their journey around the building and campus as they learn through play. The school’s design supports inclusivity, creativity, and learning in the following ways:

    Three themed playgrounds (shown above and below) provide choice and variety to students outdoors to hide, seek, jump, swing, and play instruments.

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    Learning through Play

    Children of all ages learn by doing. Play is the occupation of the child. Students can interact with learning elements as they travel along the Blanche A. Ames ramp, whose balconies overlook the cafeteria and assembly stage. Buttons illuminate lightbulbs, and color wheels can be spun to overlap and create blended colors.

    Blanche A. Ames Elementary School: A Case Study

    Animal prints in the floor encourage hopping and jumping. Peg boards in the corridors provide STEAM toys and interactive learning. And numerous other features encourage learning outside the classroom.


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    The learning doesn’t stop for adults, either. The school’s media center features pivoting wall panels that open into a conference area for faculty and staff.

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    Outdoor Learning + Connections

    “[There is] a strong relationship between the inside and outside of the school building. A school should be a place that senses what is happening outside—from weather to seasonal changes, from the time of day to the rhythms of the town—precisely because it exists in a specific place and time.”
    —Giulio Ceppi and Michele Zini, whose 1998 study on the infant/toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, revealed the benefits of the city’s approach to early childhood education and well-being.

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    Low window sills and built-in, student-height benches along the exterior walls provide direct views and connections for these young learners to see the landscape and weather as connections between the building and the outdoors.

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    Interior spaces, like the one below, have windows into adjacent classrooms where children can still see the outdoors.

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    The Ames design is mindful of a child’s perspective, incorporating broad overhangs and natural timber porches to create a scaled, warm, and welcoming entry to the school. Exterior “front porches” under heavy wood timber framing provide spaces for students to learn no matter the weather. In fact, when it’s raining the water is collected on the porch roof and directed to a rain chain where it runs down (or freezes in the winter) and directs the rain water out to a cast-stone, landscaped bed of rocks where the water then flows under a wood bridge in the sensory courtyard and collected underground.

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    Age Appropriate + Scaled

    Every space and surface can contribute to teaching and learning. Modern educational spaces provide learning opportunities not only in the classrooms, but throughout the building and campus. The Blanche A. Ames School provides walls to write on, outdoor classrooms to learn in, journeys to travel along while they interact with building elements, and themes for academic wings that connect students to the history of the town of Easton.


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    Students can grow vegetables in gardens outside, then bring them into a teaching kitchen to prepare their harvest.

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    Celebrating the Legacy of Blanche Ames

    “For her, to have an idea was to act” —Pauline Ames Plimpton, daughter of Blanche Ames

    Ames’ life work is memorialized along the school’s main ramp as a celebration of her enduring contributions to the community. She was an artist, a women’s rights activist, inventor and author. Her remarkable life is honored by pictograms, facts, and activities that allow students to learn about her legacy as they travel from the first to the second floor along the Blanche Ames ramp. Students can also see the orchid varietal that she was the first to breed, which is stained prominently on the wood wall overlooking the cafeteria, and they can explore colors from Ames’ patented color chart on the balcony’s glass railings.

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    The Blanche Ames ramp switches back, gently leading children from one floor up to another, as they experience pictograms and activities along the way.

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    A niche above the cafeteria and stage offers views of all the action but without all the noise. It was intended, in part, for students who do better without too much stimuli. The stage below, in turn, passes into the gym, whose colors indicate the school’s different wings and grade levels.

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