School Steps Outside

Cleo L. Craig Child Development Lab breaks ground for Return to Nature Outdoor Classroom

College of Human Sciences

The Cleo L. Craig Child Development Lab in the College of Human Sciences has been a national leader in the research of early childhood education for 92 years. It will soon add a new, impressive resource by opening a playground to foster lifelong learners with strong imaginations and an appreciation for the outdoors.

Human Sciences Dean Stephan Wilson led a groundbreaking on September 22, 2016, for the 13,750-square-foot Return to Nature Outdoor Classroom Project. Also present were representatives of the Oklahoma State University President's Office, the Child Development Lab Parent- Teacher Organization and the Cleo L. Craig Family Foundation, which provided the lead gift for the playground.

"We are so grateful to the Craig family for their longtime support of the Child Development Lab," Wilson says. "Their significant gift in 2006 helped renovate and double the capacity of the entire lab. Today, we are celebrating their leadership and support of Return to Nature, which will transform the lab's playground into a cutting-edge 'outdoor classroom' for teaching, learning and research."

The renovated space is scheduled to reopen in January and will include many features to enhance both its utility and fun, while implementing a naturebased curriculum to creatively introduce concepts and establish best-practice models for schools. For example, the windmill music and movement area will allow the exploration of sound, music and instruments. The entry and gathering area will include shade and flexible seating, allowing the space to be used for children to learn and teachers to observe. The rain garden will incorporate a fun walking bridge and water-tolerant plantings. The climbing adventure will help children safely test their boundaries and become expert climbers.

"One of the most important tenets of early childhood education is that children learn best through free play and discovery," Wilson says. "Research shows a strong connection between brain development and opportunities to participate in outdoor activity. The Return to Nature Outdoor Classroom will allow the children to play, explore and interact with the natural world, enhancing the development of their independence and autonomy. It will unleash children's imaginations and senses of wonder through a variety of sensory and learning stations."

The CDL provides a research-based, early childhood learning environment to approximately 70 children during the school year.

From 75-100 OSU students utilize the lab for observation, research or practicums each week. Every day, OSU's youngest students are teaching undergraduate and graduate students from human development and family science, nutritional sciences, communication sciences and disorders, health and human performance, and recreation therapy management and recreation therapy.

If you are interested in supporting the Return to Nature Outdoor Classroom Project or any other aspect of the Child Development Lab, contact Stephanie Vogel at or (405) 385-5615.