The Early Childhood Lab at the University of Kentucky College of Education recently opened a new outdoor learning lab, made possible by a gift honoring a family’s long history at UK and in the Lexington community.
The Elliott Family Outdoor Learning Lab, established through a gift from Dr. Edward C. and Anne Elliott of La Crosse, Wis., was dedicated in October and serves more than 70 infants and children. While the UK Early Childhood Lab was established on campus in 1928, the Elliott family has been making an impact in Lexington and at UK even prior to that.
“My great, great grandfather was born in Lexington in 1806,” said Dr. Edward C. Elliott at the playground dedication ceremony. “His grandson, my grandfather Dr. E. Cronly Elliott, was a freshman at UK in 1898 and graduated in 1902. He played football and baseball and was on the first campus basketball team. His son, my father, went to UK, then to medical school at Vanderbilt. I did the opposite, going to Vanderbilt for undergrad and then to UK for medical school. Our oldest son is a UK College of Medicine graduate and two of our grandchildren have taken courses at BCTC.”
The Elliott Family Outdoor Learning Lab features two levels, including roofs that provide shade. A tunnel maze and a drama deck provide areas for play and group activities. Steppingstones for balance play are integrated into the design.
“The new playground set was created by Play Mart in Somerset, Ky. We love that they manufacture the equipment from primarily recycled materials and are a family-owned business. That the gift from the Elliott family, who have deep Lexington roots, made it possible to build the new outdoor learning lab with equipment from a Kentucky-based company makes it even more special,” said UK Early Childhood Lab Director Charlotte Manno.
On the ground, a poured-in-place rubber surface enhances the playground’s safety, ADA accessibility, and longevity.
“Watching the children experience the new outdoor learning lab has been a joy,” said Dr. Jennifer Grisham, professor and program chair in UK’s Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education Program and faculty director of the UK Early Childhood Lab. “They are using their fine and gross motor skills, gaining confidence, and exploring the world around them. Each time we see them exploring, it is a reminder of the generosity of those who made this outdoor lab possible.”
The new outdoor learning lab has enhanced the UK Early Childhood Lab, which has the highest quality rating of any early care and education program in Kentucky and the nation.
“The Elliott family’s gift has enabled us to match the quality of our outdoor space for children to the level of service and educational experiences provided by the Early Childhood Lab. We are grateful that the Elliott family took interest in this project and gave generously to see it come to fruition. It is an honor to have space here named in recognition of a family that continues to leave legacies at UK and in the Lexington community,” said UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig.
The lab serves as a teaching facility to train the next generation of early childhood professionals. It hosts more than 1,000 UK students per semester, from several colleges across campus, gaining observation hours and clinical experiences. Additionally, students conduct research for master’s theses and dissertations at the Early Childhood Lab.
“Having the Early Childhood Lab on campus is integral to preparing our students for research and careers in areas such as special education, early childhood education, and more. It is through generous gifts from donors, such as the Elliott family, that we are able to provide this space for learning, while also serving children and families in the UK and Lexington communities,” said Dr. Ralph Crystal, professor and chair, Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education.
Members of the Elliott family toured the Early Childhood Lab following the dedication ceremony, taking a moment to observe the lab’s instructional practices.
“Early childhood education is extremely important. Our family is very happy to participate, in this way, in order to maintain the excellence that we know is here,” said Elliott.