» By TIFFANY HALL – thall29@my.apsu.edu

The APSU Child Learning Center is more than just ordinary childcare. It is a place for children to start life with their “right foot forward.”
One thing that makes the APSU Child Learning Center stand out among other centers is their playground, which is in the process of going green.

“When the director before me was here, she was in a car wreck and had a very bad head injury. I did some research and was trying to find a way to help her. I found out that the number one cause of head injuries in young children come from swings. Needless to say, I came back and the swings had to come down. The tire swing is OK for now,” Sanders said.

A pile of dirt replaced the swings. The children play king of the mountain, roll down the hill and get very creative. Instead of using premade toys, they create their own games out of their own imagination, Sanders said.

Sanders said there are crates of chopped wood on the playground to show the kids different textures and different sizes. Some of the pieces are chopped up and some have flakes. Across from the crates is a story time circle, made up of log seats. When they are not having story time, children walk on the logs.

There is a set of wind chimes, a musical set of pots and pans hanging on a fence, a bale of hay growing grass and a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” made of logs. There is also a bug rug, where underneath, bugs such as worms and “rollie polies” come out, said Sanders.

A recent addition is the “Right Foot Forward Garden.” The graduating class of 4-year-olds will bring in a right shoe and will be able to plant a flower in their shoe, which will then be placed next to the sidewalk.

There are two other gardens, including a vegetable garden and a flower garden. Last year the staff grew tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and green beans. According to Sanders, the children would eat the tomatoes and leave the other vegetables alone. This year, the staff is adding corn and peas.

The flower garden is maintained by the children. Parents bring in the seeds and help their children plant them.

In 2011, the center was ranked fifth in the state of Tennessee and the center is constantly working to keep the rank up.

“The most important thing we can give a child is attention. A safe environment and letting them know that they can trust us are probably the most important and beneficial things that we offer here,” said Annette Frees, childcare aide at the Child Learning Center.

The center requires all staff members have a degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition, every year the staff is required by the state to participate in 20 hours of professional development.

Students are also given the opportunity to work with the children through the Work Study Program.

Many of the student workers who come through have Nursing or Education majors.

Throughout the year, those students attend seminars and training sessions to work at the center.

In order to complete the training, the students must also take part in a three-hour training program required by the state.

Between student workers and full-time staff, the center includes an above average adult-to-child ratio, sometimes having two to four times more teachers per student than the state-required minimum, said Connie Sanders, manager of the Child Learning Center.

“The most rewarding part of being a student worker is the children,” said freshman Rebecca Hallburg. “We get to be a part of their learning process. Interacting with them just makes it worth it.”

Security is a big aspect with the center.

Every door in the center has a card reader, and in order to get in and out, your APSU faculty or student ID must have approved access. Parents must be buzzed in or have their student ID card ready to swipe.

The center has a growing library based on seasons, months and colors. Each classroom has certain themes they follow throughout the year, and their library is the place to get the children involved.

All of the books and videos can be checked out by parents to take home to keep the current theme going while at home.

The center is nonprofit, so all of the books and movies have come from donations or yard sales. TAS