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Welcome to the Campus Children’s School 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 School 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 School.
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 Amanda Ferguson (802)656-2026.
The curriculum for the UVM Campus Children's School reflects the School'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 all the children as well as photos of both the children’s and teacher’s families about the room. We arrange materials and structures in a way that reflects the children’s interests. We organize the classroom so 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 limited transitions and children move from activity to activity on their own schedule. Throughout the later morning, children are usually out on campus exploring the larger community, or participate in small group investigations.
Though you may find some traditional toys at the school, 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 interests. Students and staff observe children interacting with materials and each other in an effort to understand what children know about their world and what they wish to explore. 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 that 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 ideas the children are exploring. For us, “data” refers to the anecdotal records we write on the children as well as the children’s artifacts, photos, and videotape. We organize these materials in various ways that reflect our thinking about emerging projects.
Documentation also serves the purpose of supporting children’s emerging literacy. It helps children recognize that their experiences can be represented in multiple ways. Certainly the children experiment with traditional literacy like print and number, but more generally they explore other means of communicating including, but not limited to, paint, clay, wire, and paper. This reflects Loris Malaguzzi’s (see below) vision of children having one hundred languages. Each of these languages is a form of literacy that 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, founded by Loris Malaguzzi.
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 that 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 that 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 School staff, as well as several visits of representatives of the Reggio schools to our Program. We believe that by studying the programs in Reggio Emilia we have come to understand how important it is that each and every school be a reflection of the children and families in that particular program. What we have seen are ways of working with children that are consistent with the basic elements of a child-centered, social constructivist, emergent curriculum approach, that are qualitatively adapted in ways that respect and reflect the competence of young children.
In particular, the schools in Reggio Emilia have a vision of the child that 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 that 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 worldwide 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. Both the emergent curriculum model used at the center as well as our early childhood teacher education curriculum reflect a theoretical perspective which draws heavily on the work of both these theorists. 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 THAT 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 School 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 how to balance one block on top of another.
- by understanding the properties of objects as in the case of children’s investigation of flowing water,
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 reflective 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 that 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.
IN LARGE PART, The quality of an early childhood program depends on the quality of that program’s teachers. As such, staff development must be an integral part of any good educational system. Staff development takes several forms at the Campus Children’s School. 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 on their own. Most teachers have presented at state professional meetings and many have now presented at national meetings. Teachers also attend state, national, and occasionally international conferences and study tours, particularly to the programs 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."
For constructivist theory and the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy:
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.) (2012) The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd 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
Smith, D. (2008) Creating New Visions, Stories of movement, Media, Language, and Laughter, Gandini, Etheredge, and Hill (Eds.), Inspirations from Reggio Emilia and Stories of Teachers and Children from North America, Davis Publications.
Goldhaber, J. (2008)______Gandini, Etheredge, and Hill (Eds.), Inspirations from Reggio Emilia and Stories of Teachers and Children from North America, Davis Publications.
Stremmel, A., Smith, D., & Goldhaber, J., (2008) Training Modules for State of South Dakota Infant/Toddler Project, South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota.
Smith, D. & Goldhaber, J. (2004) Poking, Pinching, and Pretending: Documenting Toddlers’ Explorations with Clay. St.Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Smith, D., Creating a Community for Infants: Hearing all the Voices.
(Winter 2000) Innovations in early education: the international reggio exchange, Vol 8, No. 2.
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, J. & Smith, D. (2004). 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 School 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 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 School 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 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 School 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 School. 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 School, the PreK-3 Program’s focus shifts toward the primary grades. Students now take the “Literacy Block,” a ten-credit set of courses that 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.
Probably the first thing that visitor’s notice in the hallways is the documentation of children’s explorations on the walls created by both the teachers and the early childhood 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 and the teacher’s and children’s theories.
Each of our classrooms has two teachers and several early childhood student interns. All of our teachers have extensive experience and education in early childhood education and in mentoring students.
The infant room(s) provide for eight children between the ages of six weeks and one year. Activities in the Infant Room center around the nurturing of very young children and the exploration of a diverse array of materials. The relationship between the infant and teachers is emphasized with a focus on building trust through respectful, sensitive, adult-infant interactions. The curriculum, therefore, centers around the dailiness of caregiving while providing a rich environment for meeting the 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 whenever possible.
The young toddler room(s) are a continuation of the former 8 infants and their teachers. These children are now between one and two years of age and while continuing to explore the world, the focus is on understanding the relationship between self and others. Age-appropriate, positive steps are introduced to help the toddlers begin to develop an inner sense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We want the children to begin to understand that a specific behavior is unacceptable, not that they are unacceptable.
The ‘Older’ room(s) consists of 10 children between 2 and 3 years of age. The teachers continue with their toddlers into this classroom, and 2 additional children are enrolled. There are also 2 preschool rooms with three to five year-olds. There are 14 and 20 children respectively in these two classrooms. Teachers do not necessarily rotate into the preschool and children may have 2 new teachers.
The classroom arrangement in the Older and PS 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 others; how to listen and negotiate with words; how to reach agreements; and how to repair relationships 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 July 21 2015 11:10 AM