The Campus Children's Center
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- Staff Development
- Suggested Readings
- Teacher Education Program
Welcome to the Campus Children’s Center and PreK-3 Early Childhood Teacher Education Program at the University of Vermont. We hope that this visitor’s guide will give you a sense of our work with young children, our efforts to prepare new teachers to work with young children, and our efforts to improve the quality of early childhood education beyond our doors.
Early childhood education has a long history at the University of Vermont. The program dates back to the 1960’s when it opened as a half-day, academic year preschool laboratory center. In 1990, the laboratory program was transformed into a full time, full year program involving children between the ages of six weeks and five years. The change to a full year, full time multi-age program reflected the University’s growing recognition of the need for a quality early childhood center to help attract and retain employees. The children at the center are primarily those of faculty and staff of the University but we also maintain arrangements with local school districts to provide early childhood special education services within an inclusionary setting to children from the community - usually three to five each year.
Because the center is a lab school, it has the combined mission of both providing quality early childhood education and a laboratory setting for pre-service early childhood education majors. The coordination of this dual mission (and the larger outreach mission done through presentation, papers, publications and hosting visits to the center) is made easier by the fact that the Center is housed within an academic unit - the Early Childhood PreK-3 Teacher Education Program within the College of Education and Social Services. The faculty of the program and the teaching staff from the center work as a team both in terms of the child care program and the teacher education program. Faculty work with teachers in the classrooms, teachers participate in undergraduate courses, and core courses in the program are team taught between faculty and the two Head Teachers in the Center.
For more information, please contact Dianna.Smith@uvm.edu for the Infant/Toddler Program at (802)656-7879 or for the Young Preschool/Preschool Program call (802)656-2049.
The curriculum for the UVM Campus Children's Center reflects the Center's commitment to what we believe is best practice in early childhood education. It is based on our view of children as active researchers of their world, constructing knowledge on an ongoing basis.
Our curriculum emphasizes the importance of daily care giving skills, supporting child-initiated problem-solving, long-term investigations, the openness to children's representations in many different forms, and promoting prosocial behaviors. Teachers are constantly trying to understand and consider what the children know about their world and help them form new hypotheses through ongoing exploration and investigation.
In general we try to provoke children to extend their investigations, to have them reflect on their ideas, to express these ideas in a variety of media including print and number but also through the arts, 3-D constructions, movement, orally and through pretense. The specifics of what we do depends on the nature of the investigation but they all share several common properties. First, we watch and reflect in order to understand what children are trying to tell us. Watching and waiting are particularly important for a curriculum based on what children can do rather than on what they can’t do. We also ask, probe, challenge, and tell, repeat or suggest - all in an effort to extend and broaden children’s investigations and theories-in-action.
We also place great emphasis on how we structure the environment as a way to foster inquiry. We do this by making the setting a place that is both comfortable for children and equally so for adults. We make sure that all the children feel that it is their classroom. Each classroom, for example, displays pictures of each of the children as well as photos of both the children’s and teacher’s families about the room. Wherever possible, we use lamps rather than overhead lights to soften the room and make it feel more homelike. We arrange materials and structures in a way that we hope the children will find provoking and intriguing. We arrange the classroom settings so that different types of interactions can take place, ones involving large groups, small groups and individual efforts - interactions sometimes involving the teacher and sometimes not. Equally important, we structure the flow of the day so that children have as much time as possible to pursue their investigations. The schedule of the day is a very important aspect of our approach, we have few transitions, children move from activity to activity as they see fit. For example, in the preschool, even snack is done this way. Children eat in small groups when they get hungry or in some cases, they choose not to stop what they are doing. In general, our experience has been that the fewer the number of transitions across the day, especially ones involving the entire group, the fewer management problems we encounter. Interestingly enough this usually does not produce the aimless running around that critics attribute to such open ended approaches.
Though you may find some traditional toys here at the center, you will more likely find less traditional, more open-ended equipment. Students and staff design combinations of materials, which we refer to as "set-ups". These set-ups may encourage different uses of materials, challenge children's perspectives, encourage problem-solving, or serve other purposes depending on the children's investigations. Students and staff observe children interacting with materials and each other in an effort to understand what children know about their world. This careful observation is used to plan new experiences for children, and often leads to a change in the presentation of materials, the use of new materials, or an off-site field trip.
One essential element of an emerging curriculum approach is the documentation of children’s investigations or theories-in-action. We document these theories by a process of first observing, then recording and interpreting, and then providing experiences which we hope will extend the children’s investigations. Then we again observe, repeating the cycle anew.
We provide opportunities for children to revisit and reflect on their efforts by placing documentation of their efforts throughout the room. We regularly provide documentation outside of our rooms as well. Our use of documentation is more than simply an effort to present the children’s work. Rather, documentation regularly informs our efforts because it provides the data to understand what the children are investigating. For us “data” refers to the anecdotals we make of the children as well as products the children create. Currently, we keep these artifacts in notebooks, arranged by different emerging projects, each notebook houses a collection of all the artifacts relating to a particular project.
Documentation also serves the purpose of supporting children emerging literacy. It helps children recognize that their experiences can be represented in any one of a number of ways, certainly the traditional ones of print and number, but more generally, in ways which reflect Loris Malaguzzi’s vision of children having one hundred languages. Each of these languages is a form of literacy which we try to support.
We draw our inspiration and guidance from many sources but three in particular are worth noting - the first two are the child development theories of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky and the third is our continuing contact with the early childhood programs in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Reggio Emilia is a city of 150,000 in north central Italy, about half way between Milan and Florence. It is in the most prosperous region of Italy and a walk around its streets to window shop clearly conveys both the sense of style and prosperity in the community.
The schools in Reggio trace their origins to the end of World War II. There was a strong sense in the community at that time to establish a school which would have as its purpose instilling a sense of community and shared purpose in its children, i.e., a school system whose practices would prevent the return of Fascism to their community. Today the Reggio schools, which are operated by the municipal government, provide early childhood services for several hundred children between the ages of a few months and six years.
Our interest in Reggio grew out of our constructivist approach to the study of child which we have been pursuing since the early 1980’s. This interest has been furthered by several visits to Reggio by the faculty and staff of the Program, including a February, 1999 visit of the entire Center staff, as well as several visits of representatives of the Reggio schools to our Program. We believe that the most important thing about bringing Reggio home is that what you see in Reggio is not original to Reggio. What you see are ways of working with children that are consistent with what we believe to be the basic elements of a child-centered, constructivist, emergent curriculum approach.
What is unique to Reggio is that you see early childhood education being done as it should be done. In particular, you see a program whose vision of the child comes as close to being perfectly translated into practice as is perhaps possible. In particular, you see wonderful examples of the importance of their maintaining continuity with their culture and environment. It is not by chance that the schools in Reggio place such a heavy emphasis on the esthetics of the environment, all Italians look to their cultural traditions. Second, you see multiple examples of the use of materials to enrich children’s learning experiences and imaginative practices in their use of documentation to support these efforts. Third, Reggio constantly pursues efforts to ensure close home-school ties and, fourth, perhaps most important of all, wonderful efforts in their practice of teaching. It is not mere coincidence that this high quality of teaching in turn reflects a respect for teachers which creates the advantage of being able to maintain staff continuity. Teachers are municipal employees, have salary and benefits more similar to American public school teachers than American early childhood teachers and not surprisingly the average number of years of employment is much higher than in the United States.
As is true of our work in Vermont, the work in Reggio is built upon a theoretical foundation reflecting, in particular, both the work of Jean Piaget and the work of Lev Vygotsky. Although both men were born in the same year - 1896 - their lives were very different. Piaget lived a long and distinguished life, being recognized world wide during his life time for his image of the child. Vygotsky, who died in his thirties from tuberculosis, has only more recently come to be recognized for his equally important contributions to our understanding of children’s development. For many years following his death, his work was repressed within the former Soviet Union.
The emergent curriculum model used at the center as well as our early childhood teacher education curriculum both reflect a theoretical perspective which draws heavily on the work of both these theorists. Notwithstanding some theoretical differences in emphasis, Piaget and Vygotsky offer very similar views as to the characteristics of mature adult development and as such provide a direction for our educational efforts. In both cases, the emphasis is on the differentiation of form from content, that is, the ability to see the forest through the trees; in the effective use of metacognitive skills which allow people to reflect on and self-regulate their own behavior and thought; and in the recognition of the probable as a special case of the possible, a competency not always evident in the behavior of young children. For both Piaget and Vygotsky, the attainment of these mature adult thought characteristics is the fruition of a sequence of qualitatively distinct reconstructions of an individual’s cognitive or meaning making mechanisms.
Further, for both Piaget and Vygotsky, progress through this sequence is strongly influenced by the quality of one’s social and non-social interactions. There may be important differences between the two perspectives as to the specifics of the mechanisms regulating development but both are clear as to the interactive nature of the process. For both, development is a process of children constructing and reconstructing their understanding of their social and physical worlds. They do this by attempting to resolve the inevitable discrepancies which occur in their minds as they attempt to meld their understanding of the world with the new experiences they are almost always encountering. To both theorists, such disequilibria prompt children to construct more effective and adaptive cognitive structures, effective and adaptive in the sense that these new structures are better able to deal with the events which defines their lives.
It is this interactive focus that has allowed us to use the work of the two theorists as the basis for the development of a theory guided program of early childhood education. It is this image of the child as an active and competent agent, one constantly trying to maintain an equilibrium between what he or she understands the world to be and how the world presents itself to the child that for us supports our efforts to base curriculum on children’s emerging understanding of the world.
The UVM Campus Children’s Center is a child-centered program following a constructivist curriculum model. We believe that knowledge is constructed rather than copied and that this construction takes place by children acting on both social and non-social objects and experiences. We believe that children’s efforts to construct knowledge are evident in many of their actions:
- in their efforts to transform objects such as discovering that flattening a ball of clay does make it flatter but also makes it wider,
- in their efforts to re-present images as in the case of a child’s efforts to re-present her idea through paint or by children’s efforts to re-present a favorite story by acting it out,
- by attempting to understand the relationship between objects as might be the case when a young toddler attempts to understand the relationship between his body and the steps of a climbing structure,
- by understanding the properties of objects as in the case of children’s investigation of how water flows,
and by learning to understand the actions of others as in situations when a child has to learn how to coordinate her intentions and movements with those of her playmates.
What is common to all of these activities is that acting on an object and experience, especially in the case of young children, involves both a physical and a reflected element. That is, for children to construct knowledge they not only have to be physically engaged in the activity, they also have to be cognitively engaged as well.
Children construct knowledge through investigations of their physical and social environments and these investigations reflect what we believe to be their hypotheses-in-action, i.e., investigations that children undertake to understand something or some relationship among things and/or people.
Our role as early childhood educators is to build on these theories-in-action. It is the building on these investigations or hypotheses-in-action that for us defines an emerging curriculum. It is a curriculum that emerges out of the actions and theories of children, actions and theories which show them to be competent learners, ones worthy of having their efforts supported. As such our efforts as teachers and teacher educators reflect our goal of inviting children to extend and reflect on their hypotheses or theories-in-action, both in terms of extending their ideas vertically to a more sophisticated level and in terms of extending their ideas horizontally into different domains.
he quality of an early childhood program depends, to a large extent, on the quality of that program’s teachers. As such, staff development should be an integral part of any good educational system. Staff development takes several forms at the Campus Children’s Center. In the first place, having the opportunity to work both with young children as well as college students provides a dual perspective from which to view your own teaching as well as have the opportunity to make these practices explicit in the course of mentoring students. Teacher’s schedules provide out-of-class time to meet with students and to reflect on ones professional practice through the development of documentation materials. Work on documenting children’s investigations is often a collaborative endeavor, adding a second dimension to staff development. Third, teachers participate in a variety of in-service opportunities each year, both as recipients of others’ experience as well as presenters of their own. All teachers have presented at state professional meetings and many have now presented at national meetings. A successful fund raising effort in 1999 made it possible for the entire Center staff to participate in a one week conference in Reggio Emilia.
“Our trip to Reggio was about learning from the heart . . . a passionate display of the highest potentials of collaborative teaching/learning from schools with strong identities and clear images of the competencies of children.”
Bredekamp, S. and Copple, C. (1997) Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Rev. Ed.) Washington, D.C.: NAEYC
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P. & Pence. A (1999) Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care London, UK: The Falmer Press.
DeVries R. and Zan, B.., (1994) Moral Classrooms, Moral Children New York, NY: Teachers College Press
Edwards C, Gandini, L. , Forman, G. (Eds.) (1998) The Hundred Languages of Children (2nd ed.), Greenwich, CT: Ablex.
Forman, G and Hill, F. Constructive Play Washington, DC, NAEYC
Goldhaber, D.E. (2000) Theories of Human Development: Integrative Perspectives, Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
Gonzalez-Mena, J. and W. Eyer, D.W. (1995), Infants, Toddlers and Caregivers, Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.
Hendrick, J. (Ed) (1997) First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way, Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing
Paley, V. (1997) The Girl With the Brown Crayon. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Shore, R. (1997) Rethinking the Brain; New Insights into Early Development. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute
Topal, C.W., and Gandini, L. (1999) Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications.
LIST OF CENTER-RELATED PUBLICATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
Gandini, L. & Goldhaber, J. (2000). “Two reflections on documentation: Documentation as a tool for promoting the construction of respectful learning. In L. Gandini & C. Edwards (Eds.), Infant toddler centers in Italy: The quality of experience. New York, NY Teachers College Press
Goldhaber, D.E. and Goldhaber, J. (2000) Education for all young children. in C. Brock and R. Griffin (Eds.) International Perspectives on Special Educational Needs. London, UK: John Catt Educational Ltd.
Goldhaber, D.E. and Goldhaber J. (1999) The Emergent Curriculum Approach. Keynote Presentation, Canadian Association for the Education of Young Children Meeting, Montreal.
Goldhaber, D.E. and Goldhaber, J. (1998) The appropriateness of an emergent curriculum approach for working with children with special educational needs. Invited Plenary Presentation. Education for Special Needs Conference, London, UK
Goldhaber, D.E. & Goldhaber, J. (1996) Theory guided early childhood teacher education. Paper presented at the Piaget-Vygotsky 1996 Centenary Conference, Brighton, UK.
Goldhaber, J. & Goldhaber, D.E. (1995) The use of panel documentation as a component of PreK-3 teacher preparation programs Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, Washington, DC.
Goldhaber, J. & Smith, D. (in press). Documentation: A work in progress. in V. Fu (ed.) Teaching and Learning: Collaborative Exploration of the Reggio Emilia Approach. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Goldhaber, J., and Smith, D. (1993). Infants and Toddlers at Play: Looking for Meaning. Day Care and Early Education, 20, 3, 9-12.
Goldhaber, J., Smith, D., and Sortino, S. Working with Student Teachers to Bring about Change. in Hendrick, J. (Ed.) (1997), First Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. .
Goldhaber, J., Smith, D. (1996) "You Look at Things Differently:" The Role of Documentation in the Professional Development of a Campus Child Care Center Staff. Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 25, No.1
Smith, D., Goldhaber, J., and Sortino, S. (1995) Reggio Translations at UVM. Connections, Merrill-Palmer Institute.
The Early Childhood PreK-3 Teacher Education Program (more commonly referred to as the PreK-3 Program) is based upon a Constructivist model of human development and educational practice. This Constructivist theme serves as the unifying and integrating element of the program - one that cuts across both courses and field experiences. In effect, our Constructivist theme helps make it possible to recognize that you are participating in a coherent, integrated program of study rather than simply a sequences of classes and experiences.
The PreK-3 Program is designed to provide students the perspectives and skills necessary to work with young children from infancy through grade three in inclusionary, developmentally appropriate settings. The program involves a large field based component and makes significant use of the UVM Campus Children’s Center and local elementary schools as practicum sites. Graduates of the program are eligible for licensure (PreK-3) from the State of Vermont.
In order to provide developmentally appropriate educational experiences at the early/primary level, PreK-3 educators need to be well schooled in a pedagogy consistent with this developmentally appropriate practice model. The structure of the teacher education program is designed to provide these skills. In particular, this pedagogy is characterized by an emphasis on age-appropriate activities presented in an inquiry based mode; the full inclusion of children with special needs into the regular classroom setting; a special emphasis on the ability to observe and document children’s theories-in-action, and a view of the child as an active, competent, intentional giver and receiver of knowledge.
The PreK-3 Professional Preparation Sequence begins with two foundation courses followed by a sequence of six professional courses. The two foundation courses are HDFS 60 and EDEC 63. EDEC 63 (Child Development) serves to introduce students to the basic principles and research findings in the discipline of child development and how this knowledge can form the basis for educational practice. The second course, HDFS 60 (Contexts of Human Development), examines the context of development and in so doing establishes the foundation for recognizing that development is an interdependent and intertwined process.
The first professional course (EDEC 1) provides the theoretical rationale for the PreK-3 approach to early/primary level education as well as considerable opportunity to practice techniques for observing young children’s development. Observational skills are an essential component of the PreK-3 Program since an awareness of children’s interests and investigations forms the basis for the development and provision of appropriate educational experiences for young children.
The second professional course (EDEC 100) involves both a pre-student teaching internship at the UVM Campus Children’s Center and extensive seminar work in the documentation of children’s learning. Documentation is an essential element of the PreK-3 Program since a careful analysis of children’s activity is the basis for the development of curriculum.
The third professional course (EDEC 189) is a full semester, full time student teaching experience in one of the rooms of the UVM Campus Children’s Center. Over the course of the semester, students, under the supervision and mentorship of the classroom teachers, gradually assume more responsibility for all aspects of the curriculum as well as contact with families.
“I have been pleased with the friendliness, helpfulness, and competence of the student teachers.” --An Infant Room parent
Following the student teaching experience in the UVM Campus Children’s Center, the PreK-3 Program’s focus shifts toward the primary grades. Students now take the “Literacy Block,” a ten credit set of courses which provides a field experience internship in a primary level classroom in a local elementary school and courses in both early math and literacy instruction.
Finally, students take a second student teaching experience (EDEC 187) in a primary grade classroom, gradually assuming more responsibility for the classroom schedule and curriculum over the course of the semester. The student teaching experience is accompanied by a second course in reading instruction (EDEL 187).
In addition to the professional sequence, students also take a broad range of courses in the arts and sciences, courses related to multiculturalism and a thirty credit major concentration in an arts and science discipline.
A tour of the Center begins in the “piazza,” the large open area in the middle of C-Building of the Living/Learning Center. The piazza serves several functions. It is a place for families and it is typical to find several families at the beginning or the end of the day spending a few extra minutes with their child reading a book or drawing a picture. The piazza is also used by families during the noon hour to have lunch with their child. During the day the piazza is used mostly by the younger children as a place to have a large motor activity or as a place to pursue an investigation while other children in the room are still napping. Finally, the piazza is the place where the Center and the rest of the University meet. It is the place where students, faculty and staff passing through on their way to class or a meeting or their dorm rooms encounter young children and learn a bit about quality early childhood education.
Turning down the corridor to the left brings you into the area of the four classrooms of the Center. The infant room provides for six children between the ages of approximately six weeks and one year. The young toddler room provides for seven children between approximately one and two years of age. The young preschool room provides for nine children between the ages of approximately two to three years and the preschool has eighteen children, from ages three to five. Each room has two teachers and several early childhood PreK-3 student interns. All of our teachers have extensive experience and education in early childhood education and in the mentoring of students.
Probably the first thing that visitor’s notice in the corridor is the documentation of children’s investigations on the walls created by both the teachers and the students. These documentations serve to help teachers and students reflect and build on the children’s efforts and to alert parents and visitors as to the events taking place in each room.
The first two rooms visitors come to are the Young Toddler Room on the right and the Infant Room on the left. Activities in the Infant Room center around the nurturing of very young children. The relationship between the infant and caregivers is emphasized with the focus being on building trust through respectful, sensitive, adult-infant interactions. The curriculum, therefore, centers around the dailiness of care giving while also providing an appropriate environment for meeting infant’s social and cognitive needs. Daily problems are viewed as learning opportunities and infants receive the encouragement and support they need to solve these on their own, as much as possible.
The focus of activities in the Young Toddler Room is on the establishment of a basic understanding of the links in both social and non-social interactions. This focus is important because young children tend to be egocentric at times and as such their abilities to see the relationship between their actions and those of other people and/or things is not yet very well established. This lack of perspective-taking places limitations on their abilities to share, take turns, and in general, exhibit the social "rules" we as adults value. Recognizing these limitations, children are not punished for their actions i.e. grabbing a toy from another child, or hitting out of frustration, but instead positive steps are taken to begin to help the child develop an inner sense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We want children to know that a specific behavior is unacceptable, not that they are unacceptable.
Continuing down the hall, visitor’s come to a door which leads to both preschool classrooms. The Young Preschoolers’ Room is on the right once you enter the space and the three to five year olds use the space on the left. There is a door between the two rooms and it is common to find children from one room spending time in the other. It is also common, by the way, to see children from any of the four rooms visiting one of the other rooms.
The classroom arrangement in both preschool rooms changes often, reflecting the changing interests and investigations of the children. However, no matter what the specifics of the room arrangement, there is always a high emphasis placed on activities supporting children’s emerging literacy and teacher’s are always viewing the children’s pursuits from the perspective of how they can be used to help children better represent their experiences and emerging ideas.
An equal emphasis is placed on the development and use of appropriate social interaction skills. Teachers strongly believe that the children have the capacity to solve their own problems. The teacher’s role then is to model for and with children how to keep the space safe; how to have essential dialogue with other people; how to listen and negotiate with words; how to reach agreements; and how to repair the relationship, without forcing them to be insincere. Even in conflict situations, teachers ask themselves, "What can be learned in this situation?".
Because of our belief in children’s ability to negotiate social issues, teachers deal with potential problems by first simply monitoring the situation to make sure that resolution is within the children’s competence. If intervention is needed, teachers will ask children to first recount the episode in question, and then solicit suggestions from the children for possible resolution strategies. If these steps do not lead to resolution, the teacher will then make directive statements as to how the problem will be resolved and only as a last resort, physically intervene.
“You need to be someone who is nice and never hurts people and if someone says, ‘Can you help me?’ Then you say, Yes!”
Last modified September 17 2010 03:31 PM