Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
November 6, 2007
DeKalb — Joy has overcome heartbreak at Northern Illinois University’s Child Development Lab, the proud home of a new playground for infants, toddlers and 2-year-olds.
One year has passed since two sad occasions when unknown vandals caused nearly $2,500 of damage to the old playground equipment, which included a “Discovery Tot Tree,” a “Country Cottage House” and an “Easy Stove Table.” The top of the plastic treehouse was ripped from the bottom, hoisted over the 4-foot fence and later found adrift in the river. The house and the table were torn apart.
A police report was filed, but no one ever was charged.
“We were just devastated,” says Linda Anderson, associate director of the Child Development Lab. “We couldn’t believe someone would do that to children.”
Now the children finally can return to the playground, which has been remodeled and re-equipped immediately outside Gabel Hall. About $28,000 has been spent so far.
Sara Kreiss, design consultant from the Brookfield, Ill., office of Mansfield, Texas-based Grounds for Play, worked with center leadership to create the perfect replacement. Kreiss also designed the playground at the neighboring Campus Child Care Center.
Planning was conducted over a period of months by Kreiss, Anderson, CDL Faculty Director Linda Derscheid and the lab’s entire staff of early childhood professionals.
“Sara attends our National Association for the Education of Young Children conferences, and our staff had seen her present. We liked the fact she was very up-to-date on the Americans with Disabilities Act and just overall safety,” Anderson says. “She has strong knowledge of child development as the rest of us do. That was nice because we could speak the same language.”
The 3,100-square-foot area, surrounded by an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence, sports a modern piece of elongated playground equipment with a variety of physical challenges.
Children can climb up one end of the “infant activity center” and slide down the other side; inside they can spin shapes and feel the textures of four carpet squares. They can look at themselves in a mirror or peer through a bright red pane. It’s sturdy enough for adults to crawl inside as well. The CDL’s symbol, designed by a parent, is professionally carved into one of the structure’s partial walls.
“I was interested in it looking more like a park. That was my big thing,” Anderson said. “We really took into consideration all their little leg and arm muscles.”
A circular wooden bench hugs a shady tree. An enormous sand box is tucked in a corner with a wooden deck attached. Embedded in a paved patio meant for tricycle traffic is a flat circular planter with simulated pizza slices: Children can plant pizza vegetables such as tomatoes or peppers, Anderson says, or flowers.
Sod has taken root in places that once were just muddy. Two storage chests are ready to hold all the playthings, and a full-size picnic table has been installed.
Grant proposals are being written for additional equipment, including a playhouse, a water table, an outdoor easel and more storage facilities.
“We’re so excited,” Derscheid says. “It’s just so beautiful. This is a beautiful blessing.”
“Our children just absolutely loved watching the work,” Anderson adds, “the construction workers, the cement trucks.”
Some of the work coincided with an NIU project to move the sidewalk between the CDL’s two playgrounds – a larger play area for older children is located just to the east – that also helped make the playground more accessible to all. ADA compliance is a requirement for NAEYC accreditation.
Now children in wheelchairs can cruise around the patio, down a new sidewalk and even into a woodchip-covered surface surrounding the infant activity center. Workers also installed a ramp into the Gable Hall door nearby and a smaller ramp of sorts from the lab door that leads directly into the playground.
“Children gain in all areas of development while being active,” Derscheid says. “It does not only improve their motor coordination.”
NIU’s Child Development Laboratory is an operation of the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, located in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
The lab is licensed to care for 47 children from the ages of 6 weeks to 7 years. Services are offered to NIU employees and students as well as the public; care is available from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. when the university is open.
Six full-time early childhood specialists lead the staff, which also includes several graduate assistants with backgrounds in child development, practicum students who are completing their child development emphasis in FCNS and pre-service teachers from the College of Education.
The lab has three missions: to care for children; to train, and teach practicum skills to, FCNS students; and to provide research opportunities for NIU faculty and students.
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