An expanded Preschool Learning Lab at Cal Poly, a part of the Child Development program, is expected to provide more educational opportunities for the 50 or so preschoolers and child development majors who participate in the innovative program since at least 1988.
That’s the expectation with last Thursday’s dedication of an improved outdoor playground, which is named after Josy Stearns, who was a driving force behind the learning lab’s creation in the 1980s. A small crowd of pre-schoolers, parents, Poly students and campus officials attended the informal dedication.
“The outdoor space can be just as good of a classroom as an indoor space,” said Cal Poly alum Fran Durekas, who donated some of the $190,000 to renovate the playground area, located in the Math and Science Building.
The new playground provides children with various activities as well as for the Child Development students, because they are observing the children participating. The renovated playground is filled with unique features, such as a grassy hill, a slide positioned from the top of the hill, a sand box, and even a vegetable garden.
A less visible aspect to these areas of the playground is that they “reflect the landscapes of California,” Durekas said during the dedication ceremony.
When first looking at the playground, it may not be obvious that it is not a typical jungle gym.
The new space is carefully planned and designed with an abundance of foliage to “connect children more closely to the natural world,” Durekas said.
One might think of the plants to give children less space to play. However, planners said the vegetation allows more exploration for preschoolers, such as the grassy hilltop with its strategically placed boulders to help children reach the top.
The old playground, said Carolyn Taylor, a child development senior, “used to be a lot of concrete […] Now, although minimal, [the playground] encourages both imagination and group play in the children.”
Child Development students are required to take a quarter-long course working in the Learning Lab. Some psychology students take the course as well. The children have to be accepted to attend the Learning Lab as part a day care program at Cal Poly. Children are eligible to be part of the program regardless of whether or not their parents have a connection to Cal Poly.
The new play space has even given numerous students the chance to complete their senior projects, such as Hillary Sinnott, a Child Development major who designed the children’s vegetable garden.
The ability to do senior projects in the expanded lab, Durekas said, is another welcomed feature for students interested in working with children.
The new playground is dedicated to Josy Stearns, an inspirational instructor at the Learning Lab for many years. “(She was the) the magic that (the lab a reality) in the good old days,” said Janet Murphy, the current director of the Preschool Learning Lab.
Stearns died of breast cancer in 1993.