One of the first things those who enter Wellesley College via the eastern gates will see is a small, white building with a group of adorable little kids running around the playground. Little do they know, there are numerous exciting projects occurring behind the walls of the Child Study Center (CSC). Even most Wellesley College students themselves do not know much about the three-mission program that the CSC offers: aiding child development, training teachers and supporting research.
The CSC differs significantly from other preschools. It was built in 1913 as one of the first laboratory schools in the United States, which means that it was designed for Wellesley College students and faculty to use for observations and conducting research. Like other preschools, one of CSC’s most important assets is a long-lasting tradition of meeting the needs of children.
“The teachers of CSC have lots of deep-rooted intuitions and feelings about child development and education,” said Maureen Morgan, the faculty director of the CSC.
Another attribute that the institution prides itself on is its developmentally-appropriate preschool program. Teachers at the CSC are cognizant of developmental levels of all children and, with that in mind, tailor the curricula to best facilitate cognitive and socio-emotional growth.
“We are always trying to think about children’s developmental needs socially, emotionally and cognitively,” said Annie Cohen, program administrator of the CSC.
Children are treated as individuals with different backgrounds and developmental trajectories. The teachers do not have a detailed daily agenda of activities; rather, they observe where a child wants to go with his or her learning process and adjust accordingly.
At the CSC, children are divided into three separate classes: one each for two-year-olds, three-year-olds and four-year-olds. Teachers at the CSC are experts in working with children of each particular age group and know exactly what’s most important for these children. Each classroom follows the same general curriculum and the materials reflect different age levels. For example, each classroom has its own playground and, even though there are many similarities between the different structures, they become more complex as children get older.
The CSC not only supports the youngest members of our community, but also the older students of neighboring colleges and universities. Wellesley College students have open access to research opportunities offered by the CSC. Every year, the CSC hosts numerous undergraduates working on large group projects or independent research. These include not only psychology and education students, but in the past have also included those interested in engineering and creative writing.
“We’ve had robotics students come and observe children to do working models of human beings. We’ve had writing classes come and listen how children speak, so that when they write their stories, they would use the language that a real 3-year-old would use,”Cohen explained.
Currently, a group of neuroscience students is using CSC facilities to study the differences in decision-making processes between fruit flies and children. Professors have also conducted important research at the CSC, such as Professor of Psychology Tracy Gleason’s research on friendship. Of course, the teachers ensure that children only participate if they want.
“Any research is a carefully scripted game for the child, and children have an option of playing or not,” Cohen said.
Teachers always ensure that the games are developmentally appropriate and engaging for the young subjects. Once they complete these games, they are brought back into the classroom to continue with the school day.
In addition to conducting research, students can actively engage in the life of the CSC by working as a student teacher for two to four hours a week. They can also take the practicum in child development as a class, also known as PSYC 299H, which involves a structured learning experience in the CSC under faculty supervision.
Furthermore, the CSC aims to give opportunities to people outside of the academic field to become involved in working with children. In previous years, several adult volunteers from the town of Wellesley and neighboring towns have worked as community teachers.
“[Adult volunteers] are often older and we have that multi-generational exchange,” Cohen said.
The CSC has been around for more than a century now, but its core values and philosophy have not changed. The question that comes to mind is ‘what is it that makes it so timeless?’ According to Morgan, it is the teachers’ belief that “all children are good and capable as long as we provide them with appropriate tools and environment.”
Cohen feels that the CSC is such a fantastic place because of its deep appreciation of childhood.
“Children are most treasured guests,” she said. “[CSC] created these spaces, where children’s biggest problem of the day is just to play. We want to create this seemingly limitless time and teachers’ support so that children could fully engage in their play.”