Imagine you are a student playing in a preschool: building a block castle, finger-painting the masterpiece of the century, or playing ruler of the classroom with a sparkling plastic crown resting elegantly on your head. You can see the faint outlines of shadowy figures watching you from behind a screen wall, but do not worry. The shadowy figures are students — more specifically, Wellesley College students. They are probably observing you for their psychology class.
While this scene may sound vaguely creepy, it has long been the norm for children at Wellesley’s Child Study Center (CSC), located on campus at the pedestrian entrance near downtown Wellesley.
The Child Study Center, founded in 1913 as a part of the college psychology department, was one of the first laboratory model schools in the United States. A laboratory school has all the regular functions of a preschool, while also acting as a site for observation and research at the college.
“[The CSC] encapsulates the best research-based practices in early childhood education,” Professor Tracy Gleason, Psychological Director at the CSC, said. “Because [it] is both a preschool and a developmental psychology laboratory, the relationship between research and practice is much closer and more interconnected than is possible in most other programs.”
For Wellesley students, this means that they not only observe the children from the screened observation booths in each of the classrooms, but that they can also apply to be student teachers who work with the kids in the classrooms.
This year the CSC introduced the option of a for-credit student teacher internship position for students. In previous years, students were not compensated for the internship, which requires students to teach for more hours than regular student teachers, attend a class and meet with a supervisor for training.
While both the student teacher and student teacher internship positions are unpaid, the experience and hours from working at the CSC do count towards a Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care certification, which is necessary for anyone who seeks to work as an early education and care professional in group child care centers.
Students also find the experience beneficial in other ways. Madison Flowers ’17, who will embark on her fifth semester as a student teacher at the CSC this fall, spends about 4-6 hours in the classroom per week. Flowers shared that she finds it “very rewarding to know that [she has] helped the children learn and been a part of their preschool experience.”
“One of our goals was to reward students with something more tangible [credit] while continuing to value the academic and practical work that happens at the CSC,” Geer DelVecchio said. “We have found that sometimes students feel under pressure to chose between teaching at the CSC and engaging in activities for credit. This option allows students to see their work here as academically and personally fulfilling.”
For Flowers, even though she does not earn credit for her efforts, she still finds it relevant to her studies.
“There is so much to learn at the CSC and it all ties in very well with my academic interests,” Flowers, a Psychology and American Studies double major, said. “I have found that I can apply a lot of what I have learned in my classes — for example, Developmental Psychology — to what I see in the Child Study Center. There have been many occasions in my psychology classes where the professors mention something that young children typically do and I can relate it to something I have seen at the CSC.”
The CSC encourages student teachers like Flowers to develop personal relationships with a number of children in the classroom in order to foster a sense of community in the CSC. They also take on many pivotal responsibilities including assisting the Lead and Assistant Teachers in teaching and evaluating the children and helping plan and implement curriculum and special projects.
“Every year I get to know the children very well and see how they learn and develop throughout the course of the year,” Flowers said.
Among the basic guidelines of the CSC’s curriculum online is the comprehensive goal to foster the “children’s educational needs in all four areas of development: physical, cognitive, emotional, and social.” Student teachers, interns and student observers all aid this development, and the presence of student observers in the observation booths certainly does not hinder it.
“Simply explaining that the observation booth is the ‘place where grown-ups watch children play’ is a sufficient explanation and makes good sense to them,” Geer DelVecchio said. “We have heard many reports of children going off to kindergarten and asking ‘Where’s the place where people watch children play?’