I am an engineer. Sad commentary and statement to some, but true. I think with the left side of my brain, I like things orderly (cue the Monk episode), I love straight lines (why waste time and money on curves), I try and optimize every process in life (try it - it will drive your wife crazy) and I love things symmetrical. OK, it is off my chest.
There is a lady in who attends our church - an artist named Glenna. She is not an engineer. She is right brained and loves curved lines. She talks to me about all kinds of weird stuff like colors and shapes and moods set by environments. It really is crazy talk - my left brain doesn't comprehend!
The beautiful thing about Glenna is that she is persistent in her message. After observing her art work and listening to the stories of those who attend our church (which has a kid friendly atmosphere), I now understand (and value by the way) what she is talking about. I understand that when a kid walks into a place that has trees, park scapes, benches, tastefully bright colors: something will happen in their spirit (as well as their parents). They will intuitively understand that they are valued, that someone is thinking about them, that this just might be a place where they will learn some fun things. It opens the door for them to learn.
The physical atmosphere is only a part of the total package - the relational atmosphere is huge! If you do not have people that care, if you do not have people that are excited, if you do not have people that take the time to develop some sort of safe relationship, the physical atmosphere is all for naught. Kids and people will flow to care and be ready to learn.
I believe that atmosphere is also important for parents. They need to understand that you value them and their children. The parents will understand that you will really care for their kids if you really care for the environment they are in - the two go hand-in-hand.
Think of going to a restaurant that has a great atmosphere and lousy service/food - you don't go back. Think of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has GREAT food but is dirty and greasy - you won't be back.
Environment is important. It is not the message, but is sets the tone for the learner to hear the message. Take it from an engineer.....