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The Art of Play

Senior Emily Kennedy brightens up the ONU Child Development Center with a new mural.


For young children in school, recess is the time to take a break from the rigors of learning and just have fun with friends. But does that mean that there is no place for learning on the playground? The Ohio Northern University Child Development Center certainly doesn’t think so, and more to the point, they actually commissioned a mural for their playground to reinforce educational concepts to children while they play.

An artist-signed masterpiece.

“We believe that a child’s environment can also act as a teacher,” says June Zimmerman, director of the Child Development Center. “The mural is an interactive tool that we can use when we play games outside that address math, science, literacy and social studies objectives at the preschool level.”

The idea for a mural came from a desire to improve the center both aesthetically and functionally. Zimmerman wanted to “spruce up” the CDC and raise the profile of the facility in the community, and Dr. Sandy Calvert, director of ONU’s Center of Teacher Education, was looking for on-campus opportunities to engage education majors with high-impact, experiential learning.

“They were looking for an early education major with an interest in art,” says Emily Kennedy, a senior from Columbus, Ohio. “I am always doodling in class and going above and beyond in the art parts of projects, so I guess they saw that in me and recommended me to paint the mural.”

Kennedy had never painted a mural before. In fact, she had never painted anything other than paint-by-numbers. But when presented with the opportunity she didn’t hesitate, developing a plan for what she wanted to do right away.

“I knew I wanted to paint a happy picture filled with energy and life and early childhood education themes of shapes, numbers and primary colors. I wanted the mural to convey learning,” she says.

Kennedy began by making various sketches for Zimmerman to consider. Once the design was chosen, they determined a suitable color scheme, and Kennedy began painting in the late spring of last year. The mural became a family affair for the Kennedys as Emily’s mother, father, grandparents and boyfriend all lent a hand.

The mural is actually just one of the major changes to the Child Development Center this summer. The other is its recent Three-Star Step Up To Quality Award from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Bureau of Child Care and Development, the state agency responsible for licensing and promoting high standards among Ohio’s early care and education programs.

Step Up To Quality is Ohio’s rating system for early care and education programs. Participating programs can earn a one-, two- or three-star rating by meeting an extensive list of quality benchmarks. Projects like the playground mural are examples of how the center is constantly striving to improve its services to parents in need of childcare at the University and in the Ada community.

“We are working to build relationships across the campus communities because of the many possibilities and resources that are available that can enhance our preschool program,” says Zimmerman. “Working with Emily was one of what will hopefully be many opportunities to enhance our preschool environment, and we hope that she enjoyed the experience as much as we did!”

Kennedy will be the first to tell you that she did. In fact, painting the mural has encouraged her to set a new goal for herself — to one day write and illustrate a children’s book. And while that may be a few years away, one thing is certain to occur as soon as next fall when she begins her career as an elementary school teacher.

“I think it’s safe to say that I am going to have a very artistic classroom.”