Terra Boeker, Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) teacher at Eureka District 140 in Eureka, Illinois, recently received a THF grant to purchase outdoor equipment to support her students' "cognitive, social-emotional, physical and language development."
After a move to a new facility, the ECSE classroom was provided much needed indoor and outdoor space. Boeker said with the extra space came the need for more equipment to support her students' growth.
"Our ECSE program just moved from the district’s administrative building to the elementary school, after completion of a large addition," she wrote in her application. "This construction project occurred during a time of global supply chain shortages and rapid inflation, resulting in higher costs to furnish both the indoor and outdoor spaces. This led to increases beyond the allowed budget, resulting in money not being available to finish the spaces as planned. Currently, our outdoor learning and play space consists only of a tricycle path and riding toys. Other types of play are currently missing, which are integral to learning in ECSE."
With grant funds, Boeker plans to purchase a summit climber, a mud kitchen, a climb and play log, a water and sand table and giant hollow blocks for her students' use.
"Research shows that spending time climbing increases executive functioning and problem solving skills in children and positively impacts physical development," she said. "The summit climber and climb and play logs will provide this opportunity for our children. The large hollow blocks allow for open-ended, creative play. They are lightweight and can be carried by the children to be used throughout the play area. The mud kitchen and sand and water table are great areas for socialization, language development, scientific exploration, and sensory regulation. All of the equipment allows for open-ended, developmentally appropriate learning. Furthermore, the equipment can be utilized immediately."
Boeker's ECSE program implements play-based learning. Her students have a wide range of cognitive, physical and social-emotional needs and often receive various therapies, like speech and language, occupational, physical and social work, while at school. ECSE implements play-based learning.
"This equipment will allow them to socialize and develop their language and communication skills in another part of our classroom," she added. "Research shows that being outdoors with opportunities to explore nature helps children better regulate their emotions, improving their performance inside the classroom. I am confident that they will benefit from the interactions provided with this enhanced play area which will be shown through improved play and meeting individualized goals."