Campus News

New ECRC playground encourages learning though play

ECRC playground

ECRC's new playground features sandboxes filled with toys, a reading nook, tables for crafts and an exploration station for creative learning. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CATHLEEN DRAPER

Published June 4, 2015

In the heart of UB’s North Campus, the playful shrieks of children floated through the air, overshadowing the sounds of parents chatting.

Preschoolers ran, climbed and hopped across a brilliant green turf on a beautiful day in early June. The squeak of tricycle wheels erupted from a section of pavement.

“Look what I can do,” called a rosy-cheeked toddler from the slide, showing off to his mom.

 GSE Dean Jaekyung Lee cuts the ribbon officially opening the new playground

GSE Dean Jaekyung Lee cuts the ribbon officially opening the new playground. Photo: Douglas Levere

A feeling of excitement was in the air as Jaekyung Lee, dean of the Graduate School of Education (GSE), cut the ribbon this week officially opening the new playground at the Early Childhood Research Center (ECRC). The center’s outdoor area outside Baldy Hall has been transformed from a loved but worn-out playground to a modern, naturalistic play space.

“We are very excited how the new playground turned out,” said X. Christine Wang, director of the Fisher-Price-endowed ECRC. “It reflects our philosophy of open-ended exploration, play and learning.”

The innovative playground is no longer a single, large structure. Instead, it is equipped with sandboxes filled with toys, a reading nook, tables for crafts and an exploration station for creative learning. The central play area features pavement for tricycle riding and earthy structures for climbing and active play.

The playground project was a team effort, Wang noted, with ECRC working closely with UB’s Capital Planning Group, University Facilities and Fisher-Price, which contributed “much-needed” seed money for the project.

“What this environment presents us is the ability to really have no difference between the outdoor classroom and the indoor classroom,” said Corinne Eggleston, assistant director of the ECRC. “So we are able to take our centers — our play-based centers and child-centered atmosphere — and bring them outside and just as easily implement them outdoors as we can indoors.”

The new environment encourages learning through play for the children enrolled at the ECRC.

“The educators here see no difference between learning and play. The children’s play is their learning,” said Eggleston. “All of the centers we present for them are completely play-based, and our curriculum is completely child-centered. So the children are free to rotate from activity to activity and from center to center at their leisure.”

The ECRC joins the UB Child Care Center — with locations on the North and South campuses — as child care facilities serving the UB community. While the ECRC is officially affiliated with UB as part of the GSE, the UB Child Care Center is a private, non-profit organization.

“The ECRC has distinct missions of teacher education and research, in addition to providing high-quality early care and education,” said Wang, who also is an associate professor of early childhood education in the GSE. “We have high-quality teachers. All lead classroom teachers have a master’s degree and are currently pursuing their PhD in early childhood education.”

The center’s educators, as well as the students and faculty at UB, also have the opportunity to conduct research on the developmental years of early childhood.

“For the research that’s taking place here, we want to make sure we are implementing best practice,” Eggleston said. “The outdoor environment that we have aligns with what research and what the literature is saying is best practice for the children.”

The new playground fits perfectly with the ECRC’s research mission. Besides benefiting the children enrolled in the center’s program, the playground provides opportunities for pre-service teachers to understand the importance of outdoor exploration for children. It also emphasizes how to orchestrate outdoor-learning opportunities.

After the formal opening ceremony on Tuesday, children continued to christen the new playground with a playful fervor.

“I don’t want to go,” a toddler cried to her mother, desperate to continue playing as the celebration came to a close. She came to a halt in front of a hand-painted sign reading “We love our playground.”

“It’s not a teacher-directed atmosphere here; it’s really a child-directed atmosphere,” Eggleston said as she smiled and waved goodbye to the departing students.