Playground Lessons

By Joe Halpern ’82, August 27, 2020
Observing children at play is part of teaching plan for OT professor.

Amie Germain, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Ithaca College, wants her students to visit outdoor community play spaces this semester.

No, she won’t be asking them to go down slides or get on swings or climb jungle gyms. Rather, she will ask her students to stand back, at a safe distance, observe and imagine how community play spaces such as playgrounds are accessed and used by children.

“My Human Development I course has a heavy motor development component to it. Students learn about motor milestones typically achieved from birth through elementary school age. Observing and imagining how children access and engage in outdoor community play spaces helps students apply classroom knowledge,” Germain says.

“The flexible and learner-centered approach is easily adaptable to different learning contexts.” 

Amie Germain, assistant professor of occupational therapy

In past years, Germain has brought young children from the community into her Human Development I courses for students to interact with and observe. This year she plans to move this to a virtual platform, with families discussing development of their children with students in Zoom breakout rooms to give students real world and real-time interaction with caregivers.

Amie Germain professional headshot

Amie Germain, assistant professor of occupational therapy

Germain’s classes this fall will also encourage students to get on the floor and move through instructor-guided motor patterns and milestones used by babies and toddlers to better understand early motor development.

When COVID-19 forced classes to move to online learning last spring, Germain felt fully prepared to make that pivot. She redesigned her Human Development I course three years prior to the pandemic using the Universal Design for Learning framework to guide a flexible course format. She plans to incorporate many of the innovative teaching techniques this fall semester.

Germain frequently uses dry erase white boards in face-to-face instruction for students to build on ideas. With online instruction this fall, she plans to use collaborative, virtual white boards and mind-mapping tools such as Google Jamboards and Mindmeister

“The flexible and learner-centered approach is easily adaptable to different learning contexts,” says Germain, who has taught Human Development at IC for 14 years.

child in study

Part of Germain’s course redesign gives students open options for displaying their learning in a final course project. Students are encouraged to use a variety of methods to express knowledge gained in respect to human development over the course of the semester. Students use PowerPoint, infographics, concept maps, podcasts, video recordings and other presentation tools within their comfort zone. Germain uses crowdsourcing techniques for students to share class notes, summaries of readings and resources, and student-generated visual representations of information shared during class activities and discussions.

“My plan is to bring current events into the course by exploring potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on child development. I plan to bring in lifespan models that promote equity and social justice, with prioritization to racial identity development. I plan to integrate creative products and scholarly works by critically conscious and minoritized creators. Class activities will focus on engaging students in exploring their own racial identity development,” says Germain, who along with teaching two sections of Human Development I this fall will also continue to serve as the pediatric occupational therapist in the on-campus Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy Clinic.