Texas A&M: Youngest Aggies Celebrate New Playground

Texas A&M University architecture students helped design the new playground at the Becky Gates Children’s Center (BGCC), made possible by a $750,000 donation from the university. The outdoor activity area will allow the children of Texas A&M students, faculty and staff to explore nature and learn through play.

The BGCC focuses on active learning and interactions that use all of children’s senses.

“Play is extremely important to child development. When children become deeply involved in play, they experience a higher level of cognition,” said BGCC Director Erica Ritter. “Nature provides children an opportunity for exploration and provides limitless open-ended materials. In nature, children are creative, increasing opportunities for science and math learning.”

Planning for the playground began in 2018 and presented an opportunity to collaborate with students in the College of Architecture. Sophomore students from LAND 211, a landscape architecture design studio, and two students from the Master of Landscape Architecture Program, designed the new nature-based playground with the guidance of professors Kenneth Hurst and Mike Teal. The final project design and drawings were started by Xin Xu ‘19, and was finished by Jiali Liu ‘19.

“I am most excited about not only having the support of the university for this project, but the collaborations that made this project so special,” Ritter said. “This project, to create a natural playscape for children, is new, innovative, and exciting. We believe this will be the only playground of its kind.”

The playground will be undergoing certification with Nature Explore, a national nonprofit program of Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, which works collaboratively with a network of organizations throughout the nation. Its goal is to help nature become an integral, joyful part of children’s daily learning. Along with outdoor design services, the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program is offered. This national initiative recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning.

The center celebrated its new playground Sept. 3 with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The space incorporates nature into everything, from the mud kitchen (where “mud pies” are made) and outdoor painting spaces to the treehouse-like features of the outdoor stage and play village areas.

“This is a unique, one-of-a-kind playground and center,” said BG Joe E. Ramirez, Jr. ’79, USA (Ret.), interim vice president of student affairs. “I’m grateful for the positive impact this center has on all our staff, faculty, and their children. This offers far more than just an opportunity to play.”

Investing In Young Aggies

The center has a variety of giving opportunities through which individuals, corporations, or organizations may contribute to the active learning environment for the youngest Aggies through the BGCC Directors’ Discretionary Fund.

The most significant opportunity to contribute to the next generation of young Aggies is the naming of the playground. The amount of the naming opportunity is $200,000 and may be fulfilled over five years. These funds may also be directed to the BGCC Directors’ Discretionary Fund.

For questions or more information on supporting BGCC, contact Reagan Chessher ‘96, senior director of development at [email protected].

About BGCC

BGCC was established in 1998 and focuses on exemplary, affordable, accessible early childhood programs for the children of the students, faculty and staff affiliated with Texas A&M.

In 2006 the center was named in honor of Becky Gates, wife of former U.S. Defense Secretary and Texas A&M President Robert Gates, after a generous donation from Dorothy J. and Arthur McFerrin Jr. ‘65. While at Texas A&M, Becky Gates was active throughout the university. She was involved with the Texas A&M Women’s Club and the Federation of Texas A&M University Mothers’ Clubs. She was an honorary president of both organizations as well as an honorary member of the Texas A&M Extension Service Club, serving and supporting all three of these groups in their activities.