By Jessie Forand/ECHO Crews work on ECHO's new exhibit, Champ Lane, open Feb. 13. (Jessie Forand/ECHO) Since its inception, EC...

Meet Champ Lane

By Jessie Forand/ECHO
Crews work on ECHO's new exhibit, Champ Lane, open Feb. 13. (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
Since its inception, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, has preached – and practiced – the importance of early science education. In order to create a healthy Lake Champlain, the organization believes everyone, and at any age, can find their “One Drop” to contribute.
After years of testing, collecting data from childcare providers and more, the new early education exhibit Champ Lane will open to the public Feb. 13. Yes, it will be a fun place for ages 0-6 to play, complete with a treehouse, boats, storefronts, and a puppet theater, but it offers much more than just a fun afternoon.
Vermont is in the midst of a statewide early education crisis, according to ECHO Executive Director Phelan Fretz, with many families struggling with school preparedness while addressing cognitive and social needs.
Champ Lane is poised to tackle this issue by offering both a highly interactive learning space for children and a tool furthering the skills of preschool teachers and caregivers. Champ Lane will elevate early education from all sides, and when combined with ECHO’s Open Door access program, will provide the community with a critical resource, Fretz said.  
ECHO’s Youth Education Manager Elizabeth Nuckols said the exhibit will highlight the importance of play through a truly immersive environment. The goal, Nuckols said, is to allow children of varying abilities to experience their own world by using all their senses.
Muralist Candy Barr brings Burlington to Champ Lane. (Jessie Forand/ECHO)

Kids can practice their developmental skills with choreographed guided play and programming. This includes everything from fine-motor manipulatives and role-playing, to physically climbing into a massive treehouse.
In order to support the early education objective and the science center’s mission specific science-based skills have been placed in focus. Director of Programs and Exhibits Nina Ridhibhinyo said these include Communication, Logical Thinking, Inquiry, Persistence, and Science Identity — CLIPS for short.
To bring the vision to life, ECHO teamed with Russ Bennett of NorthLand Visual Design & Construction. Bennett is known for designing sets for Phish and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, and brings a local breath of fresh air — the wood used to create Champ Lane’s treehouse was harvested from his Waitsfield home.
Bennett and ECHO worked to create a beautiful and functional space to cultivate young students with features focused on what their lives, minds, and emotions look like at such delicate ages.
“Let’s take all of these individual things and make it look like a 3-D children’s storybook,” Bennett said of the exhibit’s origin.
Designer Russ Bennett shows ECHO staff Champ Lane. (Jessie Forand/ECHO)

Ridhibhinyo said she hopes children visiting the exhibit will grow up to be scientists, engineers, artists, writers, accountants — whatever they choose — and also be science literate. The deliberate design keeps caregivers in mind, too, helping them understand the ways in which critical skills develop to better aid the children they influence.
Ultimately, ECHO wants to create lifelong learners.

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