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Kent State’s Child Development Center Takes Learning to the Outdoors

Posted Sep. 9, 2013

New Outdoor Learning Lab offers children the opportunity to observe and learn from the environment

enter photo description
Pictured is the art shelter, part of the
Kent State University Child Development
Center's new Outdoor Learning Laboratory.

For the 150 children enrolled at the Kent State University Child Development Center, the opportunity to explore and learn more from and about the environment just got better. The center is set to launch its new Outdoor Learning Laboratory on Sept. 19. Work on the lab began in March and was funded by the university and donations from parents.

The new Outdoor Learning Laboratory offers a natural outdoor classroom that is supportive of children’s learning and development, while adhering to Kent State’s commitment to environmental responsibility. An outdoor educator will work with children and teachers at the center to support the enhancement of curriculum in all academic content areas that relate to the new lab. 

“Our new Outdoor Learning Laboratory is so much more than simply a larger playground,” says Monica Miller Marsh, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s Child Development Center. “That’s because we view it as an opportunity to take learning outdoors. We want children to make discoveries, have adventures and engage in dramatic and physical play in a natural outdoor learning environment.”

The Outdoor Learning Laboratory features sand, water and gravel, an amphitheatre, an outdoor art studio, a mud kitchen, a garden and an extended bike path. The lab will enable the children to investigate nature through observation, documentation, prediction, experimentation and expressive arts, such as painting, drawing and plays. The lab also will help children, families and early childhood teacher education candidates to develop knowledge and understanding about environmental stewardship through the communication of and engagement in environmentally responsible and sustainable practices.

“We also see this as an opportunity to conduct research in a variety of areas, including the design of outdoor play spaces and children’s interactions in natural environments,” Miller Marsh says.

“We want to serve as a catalyst for those in early childhood education fields to think about how the natural environment can support children’s overall development,” says Pamela Hutchins, coordinator of children’s programs at Kent State’s Child Development Center. “It is our belief that supporting young children to develop an understanding of ecological systems in concrete and age-appropriate ways will enable them to learn about nature and begin to recognize the effects of their own interactions on the environment.”

The Outdoor Learning Laboratory was created on the premise that playing outdoors should not only focus on strengthening a child’s physical development, but also their ability to problem-solve, build relationships and collaborate with others.

“Educating children early, in the toddler and preschool years, is important for instilling these dispositions,” Hutchins says. “Children are full of potential, have many ideas and theories, and have a desire to learn. The children have been able to watch construction all summer long so they have been very curious about what is happening."

Hutchins says that the Child Development Center hopes at some point to offer professional development programs for early childhood educators and outdoor education programs for children not enrolled in the program.

“These are both important to fulfill our mission statement in the areas of contributing to the early childhood education field and community outreach,” she says.

For more information about Kent State’s Child Development Center, visit www.kent.edu/ehhs/cdc.