Berkley Center playground gets an upgrade

Esmie Tseng

Construction on the new preschool playground at the Edgar L. and Rheta A. Berkley Family Development Center is expected to be completed this month. Workers are putting in final touches on the turf and ground material this week.

“The children are just beside themselves,” said Becky West, the Berkley Center’s Senior Child Development Specialist, about the playground’s ongoing construction. “I looked up the other day, and there was a whole group of toddlers lined up around the sandbox just watching. Anytime you see a one-year-old sitting that still for that long—they’re interested.”

The first trucks arrived at the Berkley building at 52nd and Troost the morning of October 16 to begin the project, which included demolishing the old playground equipment, pouring the new surface, installing a new drainage system and arranging the equipment, according to UMKC’s website.

Last October marked 20-years of childcare at the Berkley Center, and the celebration opened with a campaign to replace the old playground, which was installed in 1993 and had endured years of wood rot, termite damage and lack of adequate drainage. Ongoing maintenance over the years became costly as the equipment deteriorated.

The new playground will feature ADA approved, updated climbers with slides and handled ladders. Children will have more space to run and play with the playground’s new layout.

The Berkley Family Development Center was established as a state-of-the-art early childhood school for children of UMKC students and employees. Its methods follow constructivism, a theoretical perspective of childhood education that learning is built through experiences.

“It’s based on the idea that children construct their knowledge from their interactions with the world around them, with people, with objects, with nature,” West said. “So you’re looking at how kids really build that knowledge.” Teachers engage constantly with children, encouraging them to explore and expand their knowledge while cultivating a respectful and supportive relationship with them.

Children at the Berkley Center are as young as three months old. Teachers remain with the infants as they move to toddler rooms, unlike other centers that change children’s educators and classrooms frequently which can inhibit a child’s ability to build relationships crucial to development. Currently, there are 99 children at the Center.

The Berkley Center completed a two-year accreditation process with the National Association for the Education of Young Children in early September after rigorous internal examination. The NAEYC Accreditation is well regarded in the education community as an indicator of high-quality early childhood education. Earning the five-year accreditation required an extensive internal assessment measuring programs and services against various standards, as well as a two-day on-site visit by NAEYC assessors.

“Teachers had worked for three years, creating those portfolios, perfecting everything we could find to perfect, and really taking the teaching up to a new level,” said West, who has worked for eight years with teachers at the Center to ensure a constructivist curriculum.

Berkley scored 100 percent or more for accreditation criteria in nine of ten categories, scoring a 96 percent in physical environment. Currently approximately eight percent of 7,000 preschools and other early childhood programs are accredited by NAEYC.

Funding for the estimated $75,000 playground project began with a gift of $20,000 from the Oppenstein Brothers Foundation in May 2013. Additional private donations were made by past and present Berkley families, every staff member at the Berkley Center, the UMKC Robert H. Flarsheim Campus Beautification and Berkley reserve funds.

Learn more about the Berkley Center at