A web series from the University of Washington's Cultivate Learning institute shows easy and affordable ways to create a space for young children that is conducive to learning.

Share story

Want to create a space that beckons young children to learn? There’s a reality show for that.

Put together by a group of early-childhood-education experts (and home-improvement-show enthusiasts) at the University of Washington, “Meaningful Makeover” is a web series centered on low-budget makeovers of early-learning spaces in the Puget Sound region.

It’s got all the telltale signs of a show like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — there’s a friendly host, confession cams with key characters and a big reveal at the end — but with a budget of less than $1,000.

Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and City University of Seattle.

· Find out more about Education Lab  

“There’s a need for providers to get more inspiration,” said Gail Joseph, the show’s creator and the executive director of Cultivate Learning, a University of Washington early-learning research institute that contracts with the state to evaluate the quality of child-care providers.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The show focuses on family child-care programs, which are often run out of homes and enroll a wider age range of children compared to preschool programs. Throughout the transformation, the show’s crew explains how each change might improve the learning environment.

In the pilot (there are three episodes in the first season), 15 crew members help Pam Carino, Renton-based owner of Pammy’s Tots Home Childcare, maximize the spaces in her home where students play and learn. The first scene is a walk-through with the host, DeEtta Simmons, and the coach, Nina Evers, assigned to Carino through Washington’s Early Achievers program.

“I have a lot of stuff I need to thin out,” Carino confesses to the host. She points to a “hodgepodge” of art and science materials.

By the end of the show, the hodgepodge was no more. Over the course of a Saturday, the crew — all volunteers — divided Carino’s supplies, books and knickknacks by cognitive skill and subject area.

“By arranging things logically, it frees up the provider to engage with children and leverage the environment itself as a learning tool,” said Simmons.

It’s about accessibility for the kids, too. In lieu of a traditional bookshelf, Dawn Williams, a curriculum specialist for Cultivate Learning, brought in a front-facing book display so the covers would be visible to budding readers. The crew also installed new cubbies and found a good hiding spot for some spare beds.

To keep costs low, the team scours for opportunities to snag free supplies, like in “Buy Nothing” groups on Facebook.

Since the show includes a good amount of “edutainment,” providers can get professional-development credit from the state for watching. Family child-care providers often don’t get to see what other spaces look like, so it’s a good learning opportunity, said Simmons.

“Other folks who have watched it have now done their own Meaningful Makeovers,” said Joseph. “It’s kinda fun.”

The show is filming its second season, slated for release in August. In the meantime, you can check out other shows that Cultivate Learning has produced, including a bilingual talk show called “Circle Time Magazine.”

“It’s a different way of delivering the information,” said Williams. “It’s not a lecture.”