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'Champ Lane' Play Space Opens at ECHO 

click to enlarge The tree house at ECHO's  'Champ Lane'
  • The tree house at ECHO's 'Champ Lane'

Move over, Sesame Street. Make room for champ lane. The new play space for the 6 and under set opens its doors this month. Located on the second floor of ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, the main room includes a deluxe water table, puppet theater, multilevel boat, play café and creemee stand, and mini French-language market named after Marché Atwater in Montréal. A colorful mural pays homage to the Green Mountain State with details including the top of Camel's Hump, skateboarders cruising down Burlington's Main Street and a portrait of Bernie Sanders. A rustic tree house with a slide and walkway lined with intertwined branches is constructed with materials from Russ Bennett's land in Waitsfield. Bennett, who provided creative direction for the project, is a set designer for Phish and the Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival.

Outside the main room, a book nook offers space for quiet reading, nursing and relaxing. There's also a classroom/lab that will be used to teach about animals and scientific inquiry.

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The new space was created with input from parents, early childhood educators and kids. "We just listened really hard for two years," says ECHO executive director Phelan Fretz. The science center also responded to more practical feedback. There's only one door to enter and exit the space to prevent kids from running away and getting lost. And an area under the tree house designed for pre-crawlers is strategically placed so parents can also keep tabs on older siblings.

Phelan describes the space as "a three-dimensional storybook" that will provide fun learning opportunities for young kids — and help caregivers nurture child development. To that end, ECHO partnered with the early childhood public awareness and engagement campaign Let's Grow Kids to create signage throughout the space with ideas on how adults can use the materials as engaging teaching tools.

The champ lane grand opening takes place on Friday, February 12, at 10 a.m. After that it will be open during ECHO's regular hours, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., seven days a week. Info, 864-1848.
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