The Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC), under the direction of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), provides a learning environment for both children and university students on PLNU’s campus, a dynamic that Susan Rogers, director of the ECLC, calls a “classroom within a classroom.”
PLNU students taking a class in the development of the special needs child give one-on-one support to children with autism in the ECLC. Since children with autism tend to cling to organization and order, they may have individualized schedule boards or cards that have pictures or words lining up the day’s activities.
A poster board on the wall of the ECLC is covered with pictures of the different activities in the classroom. As a way of augmented communication, a student with autism can point to the various pictures to indicate where he or she would like to play. One boy in the class has a plastic keychain attached to his schedule that bends and swivels – a coping mechanism for sensory integration.
In Tamara Heinz’s 3-year-old class, she has a “sensory box,” a play table filled with objects of different textures that help sooth and perhaps ground the children to take in different stimuli.
“Giving a child with autism something tactile is just a calming tool,” said Heinz. “Giving children tools for transitions helps since change can be hard for them.”
Children can also jump on the trampoline or run through the trees outside the classroom if they need to move. These are just a few examples of the different avenues the ECLC provides for children to feel more comfortable and to listen and participate more on their own terms.
Children in the ECLC are not the only ones being impacted by a rich learning environment. FCS students get 100 hours of classroom time at the ECLC, giving them priceless field experience for their future careers.
“Many of our students have been inspired to become special education teachers,” said Kay Wilder, Ph.D., chair of the FCS department. “Many others now have the knowledge to identify a child with a learning disorder, which is helpful in many different situations.”
“It’s a real ministry,” said Rogers. “Our students will be helping children and families for the rest of their lives.”