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Child Study and Development Center: 75 years of leadership in early education teaching and research

By Lori Wright, Media Relations

Each Christmas, Katie Ellis of Durham is reminded of her preschool years at the University of New Hampshire Child Study and Development Center (CSDC) when she hangs the Chinese lantern Christmas ornament she received from one of her teachers.

“I have fond memories of the play area out back, especially the swinging gate and other climbing structures, and the big rock. I also remember a friend named Rosita who returned to Peru with her family in the middle of my 3-year-old year,” says Ellis, now 41. As a child, she was among the thousands who attended the center, which this summer is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

“News articles from the 1940s and 1950s talk about how college students at that time were training to be good 'wives.' Classes devoted to child development were introduced for the first time. In the 1960s the research in the field started to shift things. Since the late 1980s the center has been a complex place bustling with external and internal research – a true lab for teacher training and observing child development. The teachers are researchers in how they approach their work with children,” said John Nimmo, executive director of the CSDC.

Events planned for the 75th Anniversary Celebration include a reunion picnic and open house on Saturday, June 4, 2005, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This event will include tours of the CSDC facilities and the official opening of the new Infant-Toddler Outdoor Learning Environment. Displays of 75 years of center history will also be present, as well as a barbeque picnic, live music, tours of the nearby UNH dairy barns, hayrides and more.

The mission of the CSDC has three parts: providing a laboratory teaching site for UNH students, offering opportunities for child-focused research, and providing early childhood education that promotes children's development and supports families.

In collaboration with the private Durham Kindergarten Association, the CSDC began in 1929 as a nursery school in the Practice House on Main Street as a laboratory for child development classes in UNH's Home Economics Department. In 1937, the nursery school moved to the Elizabeth DeMerritt House for the next 10 years. A Boston Herald article of 1940 headlines "Co-Eds Study How to Make Homes and Raise Children."

The nursery programs were seen as an important training experience for young adults moving into parenthood. In 1950, the UNH Nursery School moved to Craft Cottage. College students' primary role was to observe through screened observation booths. Only two courses were taught in child development, but as interest in the field grew, courses were added, the Home Economics Department expanded, and the nursery school programs increasingly reflected research in the field of Child and Family Studies.

By 1960, the nursery program was focused on teacher training for "child-related occupations." Admissions to the program recognized the importance of including children that reflect diversity in ethnicity, needs, bilingualism and being a twin. Three hours of film of nursery children engaged in activities reflecting play, social and motor development, and creativity were completed and used in classes at UNH and the local middle school over the next decade.

A decade later, the two part-time nursery programs (for 3- and 4-year-olds) had grown to an enrollment of 20 children, each with one head teacher and an assistant teacher with a faculty director. Video cameras were installed to enable staff and student teachers to view and re-play classroom action in the planning room on the second floor of Craft Cottage.

The 1980s culminated with the opening in 1988 of the new Child Study and Development Center at the O'Kane Farm for 110 children in four new full day programs (children six weeks to 6 years old) and the three existing nursery school programs. The center adopted an international education approach for the next eight years with each class given names of countries, and children and staff immersed in a single culture for a year. Teachers engaged in exchanges with programs and educators in countries including Japan and Canada.

The center reached several milestones in the 1990s. It committed to creating an inclusive classroom environment and initiated special admissions for children with disabilities and served as a field-test site with the Institute on Disability/UAP. Reflecting the rural environment of the center, the "Growing a Green Generation" curriculum was launched in collaboration with UNH Plant Biology Department.

At this time CSDC began to be influenced by the innovative philosophy and practices of the early childhood programs of Reggio Emilia, Italy, named by Newsweek magazine as one of the best programs in the world. Faculty and teachers traveled to Italy and on return CSDC began to explore how a focus on collaboration, community and a renewed respect for children’s abilities should change how things were done. The curriculum for children and college students shifted to long-term investigations, supported by ongoing documentation of children’s ideas and play. Greater attention to the capabilities of infants led to the introduction of American sign language into the infant and toddler programs to support children's communication.

As the 1990s came to a close, the center was fully accredited by the Academy of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the CSDC received a state child care license from the NH Child Development Bureau. On the eve of the center’s 70th anniversary, Child Care Information Exchange Magazine noted that the center was one of the oldest early childhood programs in the nation.

As UNH entered the new millennium, the center continued to forge ahead with cutting-edge programs and to be a strong voice for early childhood education in New Hampshire. The CSDC hosted a regional forum on child-care issues and held a virtual strike to focus attention on the real costs of child care and teacher conditions. The center continued its focus on the social-constructivist approach and inspirations from the city-run school of Reggio Emilia, Italy, with more than 10 teachers attending conferences and visiting schools in Chicago, Miami, Boston, Denver and elsewhere. The Research Mentorship Team was initiated as a forum for teachers to explore the development of research projects at the center and a CSDC teacher received the Providian NH Child Care Excellence Award.

As the center moved into its 75th year, it held the "Growing a Green Generation" conference for 50 regional educators to share learning from the five-year project on the garden as a play and investigation site for children. After many years of planning the new Infant/Toddler Outdoor Learning space was completed through the support of the UNH Foundation. CSDC recently initiated a renewed focus on diversity in early education with the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Bias Taskforce, the devotion of several staff retreats to explore the issues, and the drafting of a diversity mission for the center.

CSDC is currently in the process of becoming a wireless site to enable easier access for children, teachers, and UNH students to the Internet to support curriculum investigations and documentation. “Students from more than 25 classes in more than 10 academic departments across UNH now observe at CSDC with close to 800 individual visitations annually. Faculty and student research projects from various departments are in progress each semester from a study of children's perceptions of social conflict to the impact of manual signing on verbal language development,” Nimmo said.

For more information about the center, visit its Web site at Major sponsorship of this event is provided by EBSCO Publishing and TD Banknorth.


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