It's hard to know what to look at first: maybe the big glass jars full of multi-coloured buttons, beads, pipe cleaners and paper scraps; or the row of shiny metal robots; the collections of shells and bits of driftwood; or the bouquets of pencil crayons and paintbrushes waiting in cups.
In one corner, there's a chess set, ready and waiting for players; in another, there's an overhead light projector with clear, coloured disks sitting atop it, their shadows and shapes hitting the wall like a mixed-up rainbow. On the walls are handmade pieces of art, and pictures of the young artists who worked on them.
For visitors to L'Atelier, the eye jumps from one spot to another, soaking in colour, light, and texture of every type.
In some settings, it could be overwhelming, like a noisy carnival full of bright lights, but here it's both peaceful and energizing at the same time: every nook and cranny is filled with the possibility of creation.
The Burnaby NOW visited L'Atelier exploration studio in the brief respite between the program's summer season and the fall season; soon, the small kidsized seats will be filled again with youngsters learning and doing.
But for now, the studio is quiet, with just brother-and-sister team Saira and Karim Devji, and their collaborator Laurie Kocher.
The trio has spent the last several months putting the finishing touches on the studio, which opened in May, putting into reality something all three had dreamed about in one way or another for years.
The facility, which runs Reggio-inspired programs for children from approximately three to 12 years of age, is the melding of ideas and inspirations from all three people.
"Karim has always had the dream to have a space for children," says Saira. "When he and his wife first had children, they didn't find (a lot of programs) that allowed children to just explore, to build and create, that gave them space to just imagine."
Saira and Kocher met several years ago, in one of those kindred-spirit ways: At the time, Kocher was teaching in the education department at UBC. Having placed a student teacher in Saira's kindergarten class, Kocher was immediately drawn to Saira's approach.
"This was a teacher who was remarkable," remembers Kocher of when she first met Saira.
Philosophically, the two were of like mind on issues related to child development and education, and a fast friendship quickly sprung up.
Both had plenty of ideas about creating something that could potentially fill a gap they saw in available programs in the community: though there were plenty of "product focused" programs out there - activities aimed at teaching specific skills or to produce specific items - there weren't many that had the simple goal of exploring the process and learning along the way, but not necessarily focused on reaching a set destination.
When Karim, a real estate agent, came across a vacant store space in a small Canada Way shopping strip, the wheels began turning on their combined vision.
"He looked around the space and something dawned on him," says Saira.
Karim could already envision just what the studio would look like in the former consignment kids shop that had been there; Saira and Kocher weren't so sure if it was the right spot.
But both women now agree: Karim was right. As the space came together over the space of a year, with each detail pondered over and carefully considered, they soon realized that the vision they had for a unique place for children was indeed finding a home in this unusual spot.
The studio is luxurious, but approachable - and yes, everything is kid-friendly, from the reclaimed-wood table built at just the right height, to the knicknacks and décor, and the 2,000plus book collection.
"Everything is for the kids - absolutely everything," says Karim.
He says some parents look around during their first visit and worry that an energetic child might touch something they're not supposed to but Karim, Saira and Kocher insist that's just what they want.
"Children deserve beautiful things. There's a quote, something like 'Children are miracles - what kind of space do you create for miracles?'" says Saira, gesturing at the studio around her. "It's very intentional."
And no stone is left unturned in the effort to find fun: an overhead projector is used to play with light, colour and shapes; a pipe running from the sink is done in clear tubing, so children can watch the water and paint colours swirl away.
"They love it!" laughs Saira.
The studio even has a darkroom - not common in this digital era - that is used in their photography course, and the kids get to use it all.
"We're really just committed to providing a space for children that really honours children," says Kocher.
Kocher says it's important to realize that the studio isn't about "art", though that is one of the ways that exploration can be expressed.
"(In the Reggio Emilia educational approach), they call it the '100 languages of children' and that's what we want: a place where they can explore in all those languages," she said.
She's quick to add that the intent is not about creating "hot house" genius kids, where parents are stressed and anxious about getting an edge on education, and children are pressured to excel.
In fact, it's not even about attaining a specific skill, but about what is learned along the way: the ability to work with others, to talk out problems, to find new ways around a challenge, to build confidence and excitement.
The studio hires individual instructors - masters in their own fields - to lead the courses. During this summer, they ran a variety of programs, including one on robotics, and one on photography. Fall programs include light explo-ration, writing workshops and more.
Karim hopes not so much for individual success in their own studio, but that the concept as a whole - of allowing children the freedom to explore and learn, of the atelier as a learning environment (see "The 'atelier concept" on page 11) - will become more and more prevalent in the North American culture.
"This is something we're passionate about," says Karim.
In the meantime, they're excited that word is already spreading about their venture - during the NOW's visit, one eager parent pops in with questions about signing up her own two young children - and eyeing future possibilities, such as development workshops for teachers, organized outings to nearby Deer Lake, or activities for adults eager to try their own hand at exploring.
L'Atelier studio is having an open house on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., free and open to the public.
For more information, call 604-522-111, or see www.latelierexploration. com.
The studio is located at 5097 Canada Way, near Sperling.
What: L'Atelier is hosting an open house, free to the public, to allow local residents the chance to check out their studio.
When: This Saturday, Sept. 10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: At L'Atelier Exploration Studio, 5097 Canada Way (near Sperling). Call 604-522-1100 for more information.