Happy, excited voices filled the air last week as ECU community members eagerly awaited the unveiling of the Pirate family’s newest addition—the Child Development Laboratory’s Little Tikes Commercial Playground.
Parents, children, community members, and ECU staff and faculty gathered last Tuesday to enjoy a beautiful August afternoon for this momentous and highly anticipated ribbon-cutting celebration.
“Dreams do come true,” said event speaker Dr. Linda Crane Mitchell, associate professor and director of the Child Development Laboratory (CDL). “This is a glorious playground that will last for years.”
Dr. Linda Crane Mitchell, director of the Child Development Laboratory, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the new Little Tikes Commercial Playground.
To make this dream a reality, the CDL, part of the Department of Child Development and Family Relations located within the College of Human Ecology, forged a partnership with Little Tikes Commercial, a company based in Farmington, Missouri.
Little Tikes has been around for more than 30 years and is dedicated to providing innovative and developmentally appropriate playground equipment that promotes healthy minds and bodies for children through unique and exciting play experiences.
According to Mitchell, accessibility was the key to building the new playground.
“The ultimate goal was to create an all-inclusive playground where children of all abilities could play together outside of the classroom,” she said.
Mitchell added that the idea for a new playground first came about several years ago during one of her classes.
“I had my students assess the playground by standards they were learning in class,” she said. “The results were alarming; there was no support for children with disabilities.”
Little Tikes representatives Julie Ketcherside and Jolean Boyer agreed with Mitchell’s observations.
“Before, the playground wasn’t safe and it needed to be updated,” said Ketcherside. “There also wasn’t enough equipment.”
She added that Little Tikes kept several ideas in mind when creating the playground, including safety, age of the children using the equipment, play value, inclusion, and play experience.
In addition, making the playground compliant with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was an important priority for the university, the CDL, and Little Tikes. The opening of the new playground this year was made even more special because ADA recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary.
Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Judy Siguaw, dean of the College of Human Ecology, speak at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
To ensure adherence to ADA, specific details such as the surface for pathways, access to play equipment, and fall zone materials had to be carefully considered. The evidence of these safe, accessible elements is in the equipment.
For example, the rocket swing was designed so that any child can enjoy it. The chest straps offer extra support for the child who sits in the swing. The rubberized tile walkways are wide enough so that wheelchair-bound children can easily navigate and play.
The Clever Climber is another piece of equipment that children can crawl and play on. This structure is also part of future plans that Little Tikes has to create educational activities to go along with the equipment.
One of the most noticeable components of the playground is the blue rubber mulch, made from recyclable rubber. This bouncy mulch, which surrounds the Clever Climber and slide, provides a safe surface for children so they will not be harmed, even if they fall.
“This is a fabulous arrangement and it is so safe with the state-of-the-art equipment and the rubber mulch,” said Greenville Mayor Pat Dunn. “This is one of the most beautiful playgrounds I have ever seen, especially with all of the trees. Also, there are so many different activities for the children to participate in.”
Mitchell hopes that CDL’s playground will be a model for other agencies who may be interested in creating more accessible play areas for children.
“The main aspect that keeps children from being part of programs is lack of access,” she said. “Our model also allows for modifications for accessibility, if need be.”
Candice Little, mother of twins who will be attending the CDL this year, said the playground is an amazing addition. One of Little’s children has physical disabilities, which makes the playground especially meaningful for her.
“I love it here; it’s very nice and very cushioned. They can play and enjoy themselves and not get hurt,” she said. “This playground gives my children more options; they are able to play with the other children.”
Children and parents alike enjoy the new Clever Climber at the Little Tikes Playground.
The CDL has been at the university for more than 70 years. It is a five-star childcare center accredited by NAEYC’s Academy of Early Childhood Programs and also has Developmental Day status, which allows it to support children with disabilities.
There are three classrooms that have both typical and atypically developing children: a new infant classroom, a toddler classroom, and a preschool classroom.
The CDL provides excellent opportunities for students to observe and teach young children and to interact with families of the children. All birth through kindergarten teacher education students and child life majors complete practicum and/or internship experiences in the CDL.
“Our goal is to train budding professionals about what inclusion means,” said Mitchell. “We want our professionals to make a difference; that is our hope.”
Students specializing in early intervention or child development also observe and implement activities in this closely supervised model classroom. These “hands on” experiences help students understand the integration of theory and practice.
By Meagan Williford