Play Lab challenges UNO early childhood students to engage

Photo courtesy Mimi Boswell

Andalamia Ahmed-Manakdan

The UNO College of Education invited the public to join them in celebrating the grand opening of the Teacher Education Play Lab at Roskens Hall on Oct. 27.

The Play Lab was created to reflect what students will be doing out in the real world and designed in a way that makes children and adults comfortable.

The event began with a story reading for preschool children by author and illustrator Bruce Arant followed by free play experiences led by early childhood students, a brown bag luncheon, a play environment presentation by Peggy Pawloski and a sponsor gratitude ceremony.

The Play Lab includes a theater unit with a stage, a library filled with children’s books and an art unit designed for creative minds. During the event, the public was encouraged to play with all of the hands-on art pieces in the room to get a sense that it was a space for everyone to experience.

Professor of early childhood education Dr. Debora Wisneski emphasized how the play lab environment brought the joy back in teaching after transitioning from a large teaching space with lectures and PowerPoints. Wisneski values the importance of field experience as part of teacher prep. After UNO began offering a bachelor’s of science in education with an early childhood inclusive focus one year ago, Wisneski wanted to create a space that would prepare her students for field experience and teaching practices. An environment where professors and students could practice congruency in teaching. She wanted to make sure that her teaching was reflecting the same tactics that she was encouraging her students to use.

“I wasn’t modeling good teaching practices by lectures and tests,” Wisneski said.

Wisneski teamed up with Peggy Pawloski, an educational and play environment designer who got her degree in early childhood development with an emphasis on the gifted and talented from UNO. While creating the environment of the Play Lab, Pawloski focused on the overall softness, color, light and multi-sensory materials that are rich and varied.

“There needs to be joy and playfulness in learning and work environments,” Pawloski said.

The furniture is built with inspiring colors that Pawloski hopes will bring the best out of teachers and students while also challenging them to engage. Many of Dr. Wisneski’s students feel that this new space has inspired them to build a community in the classroom. There is a play class offered to early childhood education majors. In this class, students put content learning into action. They have class outdoors, they create art projects out of cardboard or industrial scraps and learn by doing handson activities. Harley Thernka took the class in a regular classroom setting where she felt that the environment was similar to other general education classes that she’s taken where communicating with people around you isn’t always emphasized.

“Dr. Wisneski has us leave our laptops and backpacks outside so that we are here to be here,” Thernka said.

Thernka appreciates how the Play Lab allows students to lead in class and build their own learning. Another student Jorey Prange, who has been lucky enough to take the play class in the new Play Lab, has walked into many classes feeling awkward because she doesn’t know anyone. Prange said that being in a space away from laptops and backpacks,

“Allows us to get to know a little bit about everyone based on what they share and what they create.” The Play Lab was created with support from the PLAY Consortium Fund, a collaboration between community partners and donors. Some donors that were honored at the grand opening were playground manufacturer BCI Burke Company, architectural firm RDG Planning & Design, Montessori expert and scholarship funder Dr. LaVonne Plambeck and educational and play environment designer Peggy Pawloski.

The Play Lab is located in room 412 in Roskens Hall and is open to everyone when it’s not being used.