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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Children First, Durham, NC 2 [ Introduc tion Designs for Living and Learning, we were seeing homogenization and insti- tutionalization everywhere in early childhood programs with commercial, if not political, interests beginning to shape early childhood settings. The tenor of this standardization of environments has somewhat shifted over the last decade, with more attention to connecting children to nature and more use of research on the importance of lighting, air quality, and the impact of color on behavior. Though early childhood catalogs and conference exhibit hall vendors still feature an abundance of plastic, artificial, and prefabricated mate- rials, they have started to include materials with more neutral colors and natural fibers. This doesn’t diminish the danger of standardization, however, because programs typically fill their rooms with catalog furnishings. The rooms still all look the same, with no clear identity of the community the program is a part of. Busy administrators fall prey to “one-stop shopping” for their programs, eager to earn high ratings in their QRIS to secure new funding. Traveling across the United States, we’ve discovered that even beautiful environments with top scores on rating scales can easily lack an identity and feel soulless. When programs rely only on commercial vendors and think only in terms of compliance with regulations, they typically forget to define the core values they need to guide their selection of materials or to help plan their environment. They fail to develop a unique identity and begin to look like an early childhood catalog, not a particular community in a particu- lar place. Thus, though lip service is given to early childhood programs as being a home away from home and the term “developmentally appro- priate” is widely used in the current climate of assessment and academic benchmarks for school readiness, too many programs continue to feel like schools or standardized institutions. True, most programs don’t have chil- dren sitting at little desks, but they do regulate children’s time and routines, remind children of the rules, and surround them with uniform learning materials. Early childhood programs may not implement ringing bells or have long hallways to walk down, but too many of them are organized around schedules, standards, checklists, and assessment tools. Outside of the United States we have seen a more expansive vision for childhood represented in early education programs. But within the United States, a more enriched vision is normally only found in isolated little pockets of alternative and independent programs—programs not typi- cally intended to remedy income and academic inequities with subsidized government funding. Of course, our field wants to close the so-called achievement gap. But with this goal, programs need to continually ask COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL