Students and teachers looking for a one of a kind, hands-on learning experience can visit the Region 7 Education Service Center's EcoLand Early Learning Center in Kilgore.

"EcoLand is a hands-on, multi-sensory learning center where children learn about the earth and its properties through investigation," EcoLand Education Specialist Lisa Richardson said in a statement. "EcoLand's goal is to create an experience that engages all senses and utilizes hands-on methods of teaching foundational elements behind complex concepts relevant to the challenges of this new generation of children."

Richardson said EcoLand, which serves students and teachers across the Region 7 Education Service Center area, uses activities and exhibits about the earth's environment to teach critical thinking skills.

"EcoLand serves all early childhood students in the Region 7 ESC area, including Head Start, pre-Kindergarten, Early Childhood Special Education and kindergarten classes," she said. "Teachers must complete EcoLand Teacher Certification before scheduling an EcoLand Experience for their class."

Richardson said EcoLand has continued to grow each year since its opening during the 2014-15 school year.

"EcoLand has grown and evolved tremendously since it first opened," she said. "During the 2014-15 school year, EcoLand served all ECSE, pre-kindergarten, and Head Start classes in Region 7. One of the biggest changes that occurred is the addition of kindergarten classes, which began in the 2015-16 school year," she said. "EcoLand staff also added activities and implementation strategies to assist during the learning process both before, during, and after their visit. Instruction is specifically geared towards further mastery of the TEKS or pre-kindergarten guidelines."

Richardson said students to EcoLand are given an overview before classes begin.

"Upon arrival, children are given an interactive preview of all that EcoLand has to offer," she said. "EcoLand specialists then assist in directing teachers to their unique EcoLand experience. Classes are divided to accommodate small group instruction, allowing each child to get the most from their EcoLand experience. Prior to an EcoLand visit, teachers are provided with Learning Activity Guides that introduce EcoLand’s concepts and deliver foundational learning needed in each content area. Pre-and post-activities based on Pre-Kindergarten Guidelines and grade level TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) will be provided for classroom extensions."

Richardson said the objective of EcoLand is to create future students and citizens who are conscious of the planet while helping provide teachers with a unique learning experience for their students.

"We create an environment where children are inspired to be responsible, caring stewards of the planet and its inhabitants," she said. "We facilitate essential pre-school and kindergarten learning and educational activities that are stimulating and engaging."

Richardson said the hands-on tasks at EcoLand are targeted to help the young students' developmental skills and provide unique learning opportunities.

Sabine ISD Teacher Linsey Loftis said her kindergarten class loved their visit to Ecoland.

"I believe that EcoLand is a fantastic place to take young children," Loftis said. "Their imaginations run wild in the creative rooms. It is exciting to listen to their conversations and social talk while they are playing and exploring. We love EcoLand."

Center ISD Teacher Jessica Belrose agreed.

"It was a great hands-on learning experience for my kindergarten class," Belrose said. "They had so much fun making discoveries and extending learning on topics we've already learned in our classroom. The staff was so friendly and helpful." 

EcoLand follows area schools' academic calendar and uses the summer months to offer training to teachers.

"EcoLand aligns its calendar with all Region 7 ESC school districts serving the students throughout the school year and conducting teacher training throughout the summer," Richardson said. 

EcoLand is free for all eligible students and teachers at the early learning center are required to attend free certification training prior to reserving a visit for them and their students.

EcoLand Early Learning Center is located at 1200 S. Danville Road in Kilgore and those seeking additional information or looking to reserve a spot can do so by visiting the website at https://ecoland.esc7.net

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