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New Strategies in Playgrounds

By Colleen Chandler
August 2005

When is a playground not just a playground? When it's an outdoor learning environment, of course.

In keeping with a tradition of staying on the cutting edge of early childhood education, the new daycare center that NIEHS and EPA share is taking shape as an innovative facility that promises to entertain, coddle and educate at the same time.

It will take several years for the landscaping to establish itself, but the outdoor play areas at the new First Environments Early Learning Center will stimulate kids' natural instincts to explore the world around them and will provide an exciting yet safe place to do it, said Dona McNeill, project officer for the new daycare center. McNeill and her counterpart at the EPA oversee the construction of the new center.

NIEHS and the EPA have called in Robin Moore, an expert on architecture, urban planning and old-fashioned playing, to help design a natural outdoor learning environment that will compliment the design of the building.

The outdoor learning environment will feature sensory paths, plants, water fountains and sculptures, seating rocks, semi-secluded privacy areas that teachers can easily monitor, and sculptures. The idea, McNeill said, is to stimulate children to be active and to be competent and confident outdoors.

Traditional linear paths were replaced in the planning stages with free-wandering paths and as many distractions as planners could come up with. The idea, McNeill said, is to maximize the social, intellectual and physical stimulation by creating an environment that invites kids to participate in the natural world around them. "The whole person is intrigued," she said.

The play areas will feature easily sustainable landscape, including native plants that were rescued from and will be restored to the construction site.

Child Care Subsidy Pilot Program Launched

NIH employees whose family income is less than $60,000 have a new option to pay for child care. NIH is launching a pilot program to assist lower-income families pay for child care at licensed facilities.

A detailed description of the program, eligibility requirements, and complete application instructions can be found at or by calling the NIH Pilot Child Care Subsidy Program at 301-402-8180.

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