UWM’s Children’s Learning Center relocates


That’s the word Lisa Mosier, director of UWM’s Children’s Learning Center, uses to describe the feelings of leaving a much loved building for new and beautiful spaces.

“There’s excitement, but a little bit of nostalgia,” she says of the move that took 250 children and the adults who care for them from their 40-year-old home in the Kunkle Building to new quarters in the Northwest Quadrant (the former Columbia-St. Mary’s buildings on Hartford Avenue) this week.

The Kunkle Building, at 2114 E. Kenwood Blvd., was built in 1954. It is being demolished to make way for the new Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, already under construction behind the current center.

Current and past students, parents and staff celebrated a farewell to the old home with a Wrecking Ball Memory Tour Nov. 17.

Even a few students who’d been in the building when it was the Campus Elementary School back in the 1950s and 1960s showed up to say goodbye, says Mosier.

“We’re moving from a much-beloved space filled with good memories to a new and exciting space specially designed for young children’s learning,” she adds.

The center first opened as a campus laboratory school for the School of Education in the 1950s.

Next, in 1971, came a facility that served as a drop-in child care center for children of faculty, staff and students.

After being housed in two rooms and an office in Vogel Hall for several years, the program moved to the Kunkle Building in the fall of 1974.

The designers of the new center in the Northwest Quadrant worked hard to develop spaces that fit the center’s philosophy and encourage children’s learning, says Mosier.

In addition to consulting with center staff, the designers asked them to gather adjectives and nouns related to children’s experiences.

“They were interested in what we wanted to do and how the children feel about the space,” says Mosier.

The architects gathered building ideas from concepts in early childhood learning developed by experts in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Reggio-inspired architecture, explains Mosier, fills the environment with light and plants, including an amazing tree house in the center of the building.

“The entire design palette is based on natural colors,” she adds, with the color schemes for different age-group areas reflecting spring, summer, winter and fall colors.

Infants are in the “spring” wing with greens; toddlers are in the summer wing with warm yellow accents; preschoolers have fall’s pumpkin colors in their wing and the older children have winter blue accent colors.

A creamy yellow unites all the areas and provides a neutral backdrop to display the children’s creations.

“It’s a very child-centered and natural place where children and their work are the focal point,” says Mosier.

The new center is also focused on community, an important concept at the center. Informal gathering places were built in the hallways outside the rooms – similar in concept to a front porch, says Mosier. Dutch doors allow teachers to open the upper half when they want to connect with what’s going on in the rest of the school.

One of the outdoor play spaces – built into the former Columbia Hospital emergency room entrance – is covered to keep equipment from getting wet and slippery.

“We take children out every day unless it is very hot or cold or wet,” says Mosier “so this expands the time we can take children outside.”

Over the years, thousands of children have started and continued their learning at the center. Hundreds of UWM students have worked there, including the center’s longtime director, Pam Boulton, who came to the center as a graduate student.

“We have adults working here now who started as children at the center,” says Mosier.

The construction outside the window of the old building was a daily reminder that the campus is changing, says Mosier, but the spirit of the school is just moving to a new place.

At the farewell event, one former student wrote: “This is the happiest place on earth.”

The Children’s Learning Center is open to children of UWM students, faculty and staff, and members of the UWM Alumni Association.

The center focuses on providing quality early childhood learning experiences that build a solid foundation for school and adult life.

The center also provides before- and after-school care for older children, as well as summer programs.