A playground can be a place to learn just as much as it is to play.
The playground at the East Tennessee State University Child Study Center just off campus on Signal Drive has recently been revamped to be more educational and accommodating to the development of the roughly 125 children enrolled there, said Beverly Wiginton, center director.
“Playgrounds typically are there for enhancing motor skills, gross motor skills and fine motor skills, but we also wanted to make the outdoor space an extension of the indoor classroom,” Wiginton said. “The teachers set up the environment in what we call learning centers, both indoors and outdoors, and we try to facilitate (the children’s) total development.”
The Child Study Center is a university laboratory school as well as a full-time child care facility operated by the ETSU College of Education.
The playground has been at the Child Study Center for a long time but since February there has been a focus on making the area more natural. The center received design assistance from Rusty Keeler, a nationally recognized artist and designer who is author of the book “Natural Playscapes.” Keeler spoke at the 2012 Early Childhood Conference at ETSU and volunteered with the enhancement work at the Child Study Center on July 27. The College of Education provided some money for the enhancements and local businesses donated materials.
Among the features and items added were water troughs fashioned out of trees, garden areas where herbs are grown, a bamboo structure where ivy will grow, an area inviting for squirrels, birds and butterflies to come for children to observe and mosaics along the walls with varying textures.
Wiginton said the children seem to enjoy the additions to the space. A group of excited and loud preschoolers utilized the playground earlier this week, enjoying every new aspect of the playground.
The children don’t realize they are learning and developing social and cognitive skills, Wiginton said.
“It’s just all fun,” Wiginton said.
Lynn Lodien, master teacher for the preschool program at the center, said the playground helps her children experience nature.
“We want a more natural playground for our children to be exposed to, and one of the ways to do that is to minimize the plastic and the rubber and bring the dirt back and natural materials for the children to work with and to experience and that has to do with nature.”
Nikki Dolan, master teacher for infants and toddlers, said many children today do not play outside very much, preferring instead to watch television, play video games or get consumed in technology like tablet computers. She said good playgrounds with water features and other things can help kids learn about nature and experience it.
“Children right now are in the midst of a nature deficit disorder,” she said.