Howard Community College's Children's Learning Center was awarded an $11,000 grant Sept. 13 from the PNC Foundation, which will be used to upgrade the center's playground as part of an outdoor learning environment.
The Children's Learning Center — an accredited educational program for children 8 weeks to 5 years old — encourages children to play outdoors at least an hour and a half every day under its Healthy Howard Child Care Initiative.
Kimberly Pins, senior director of the Children's Learning Center, said about 35 percent of the preschoolers are children of HCC students; 25 percent are children of HCC staff and faculty; and the remaining 40 percent are children from the community.
"We offer experiences with young children to many different departments within the college," Pins said. "We work with the teacher education program, the nursing program, the EMT program and the psychology program. Students come over and have opportunities to observe ages and stages and they might practice teaching lessons with young children."
Through the PNC Grow Up Great early childhood education initiative, Pins said the recent grant funding will be used to upgrade the center's current playground and add new equipment, such as outdoor musical instruments and toddler play equipment. When students have teaching lessons, Pins said they can move some class assignments outside, including art, music and science.
Anne Johnson, director of resource development at HCC, said playground improvements and additions are included in phase one of the project, costing $14,000. Columbia Association provided the additional $3,000 for phase one.
"We had tremendous community support," Johnson said. "We received funding from other organizations and we planned out phase two, which is going to incorporate our engineering students to design the next phase of playground equipment."
Phase two features the construction of a climbing structure for infants and toddlers and a swinging bridge for preschoolers, she said, using $1,250 provided by the Horizon Foundation and $3,500 from Harkins Builders. Students are working with the Children's Learning Center to design the playground and develop a curriculum to accompany the new space.
"Our mission is to offer high-quality care," Pins said. "It's not just a playground; it's really creating an outdoor learning environment. It's really exciting to take the collaboration between real practice and academic theory to another level in the outside environment."