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Videographers Bruce Wittman, operating camera, and Ron Bozzay film a scene for Little Tikes Commercial's promotional video, as preschoolers from ECU's Child Development Center excavate dinosaurs with help from activity leader Cindy Crane, near the Clever Climber playground equipment on campus. The equipment installed by Little Tikes is ADA compliant and includes multiple safety features, such as rubber mulch to protect from injury in fall zones. ECU provided a detailed educational curriculum in exchange for the playground structure. (Contributed photo)

Collaboration leads to curriculum, playground exchange

Aug. 23, 2012

By Joy Holster
ECU News Services

A film crew zoomed in as tiny shovels plunged into sand on a playground at East Carolina University. 

Dinosaurs were buried there – toy replicas carefully stashed by ECU professor Linda Crane Mitchell for excavation by children who attend the Nancy W. Darden Child Development Center on campus.

The “Dino Dig” is one activity in an inclusive educational curriculum Mitchell created in collaboration with playground manufacturer Little Tikes Commercial, in exchange for new, fully-accessible playground at the center.

The equipment was installed in August 2010. This spring, Mitchell delivered her Clever Activities curriculum, written for child development professionals to use with Little Tikes Commercial’s Clever Climber play equipment. 
Dr. Linda Crane Mitchell

The resulting product – a commercial playground package that includes a detailed teaching manual – will launch in November at the 2012 National Association for Education of Young Children annual conference in Atlanta. The launch will include an interview with Mitchell and video highlights from the “Dino Dig,” filmed this month at ECU.

Mitchell explained that Little Tikes Commercial products are not the simple playthings one might find in a local toy store, but sizeable playground structures installed in schools and parks around the country.

“The curriculum development was one way to provide the new playground equipment that we desperately needed,” Mitchell said.

She led a curriculum development team composed of Child Development and Family Relations professors Archana Hegde and Suzannah Berry and graduate assistant Alex Lopez. The team developed accessible learning activities in math, literacy, science and social studies for ages two through five. They created 10 projects, each containing five outdoor activities adapted for age and ability levels.

Mitchell said they designed the projects so that child development professionals might begin a learning process in the classroom, then extend it outside with hands-on lessons. All activities incorporate the Little Tikes Clever Climber playground equipment.

The exchange of equipment and curriculum materials is just the beginning of an ongoing relationship with Little Tikes Commercial, Mitchell said. Future projects might include testing play equipment on campus and developing a training module to introduce Little Tikes’ sales representatives to early childhood development concepts.

Dr. Judy Siguaw, dean of the College of Human Ecology, where the Department of Child Development and Family Relations is housed, said the partnership between ECU and Little Tikes Commercial benefits the university. “As state dollars to fund university-operated expenses continue to decline, it will be critical to fund public-private partnerships so that universities can acquire much needed equipment and other resources,” Sigauw said.

“Doing so will allow us to continue to provide cutting-edge education to our students. The Little Tikes Commercial partnership is just one example of how the College of Human Ecology is advancing in that direction,” she said.

Mitchell said she is excited about future opportunities afforded through an ongoing relationship with Little Tikes Commercial. She’s also looking forward to the product launch in November.

“This is a curriculum that makes learning fun while promoting mental and physical development,” she said.

“I think a lot of people are going to be excited about it.”


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