On the occasion of 75 years of educating young children and future teachers in 2004, the Child Study and Development Center (CSDC) at the University of New Hampshire embarked on a process of reflection about the identity of the center. One starting place for better understanding Where are we now? and Where are we going? is to look carefully at What came before?. Through this process we created a visual timeline, an Identity Card of sorts, that acts as a provocation for dialogue among teachers, faculty, families, community members, and, of course, children.
In addition to this more detailed photographic record and timeline, which is also displayed in our Community Room, we have included a much briefer history of the CSDC below.
The history of the CSDC mirrors many of the significant shifts in the broader society, including changing gender roles, the increasing participation of women in work outside the home, and challenges of cultural pluralism. More specifically, our center has often ridden the edge of the wave of innovations in early childhood education.
In January 1929, the Home Economics Department collaborated with the Durham Kindergarten Association to provide a laboratory for child development classes. Children from the private nursery school kindergarten attended the preschool. The University furnished the building, heat, light, maintenance, and the supervisor for the students taking the courses. In order to have the school near enough for university students to use, the program was set up in the location in what was called the “Practice House”.
In 1937, due to financial and administrative needs, the use of the Practice House as a nursery school was discontinued and the building was converted into a Craft Cottage. Weaving and other crafts, which had been a part of Home Economics, were transferred to the newly created Department of the Arts. In order that some work with children could be continued, one room in the new home management building, the Elizabeth DeMeritt House, was used to maintain a nursery school for six children.
In 1947, the small Home Economics Nursery School merged with the mother-run G.I. (Government Issued) Nursery in the College Road Apartments. In 1950, the Nursery School moved back to the Craft Cottage. There was one morning and one afternoon program for preschoolers. The student teachers’ primary role then was to observe through screened observation booths. A typical session included rest time on rugs, juice and story time. At that time there were only two courses taught in Child Development.
Shortly before 1980 a new program for toddlers was started, and in 1983 permanent positions with benefits were approved for two teachers. After years of discussion and development, the current facility was constructed in 1988, and full-day programs were initiated to offer year around services to children six weeks to five years of age. The existing nursery school programs also moved to the new facility, located at O’Kane Farm. In 1993 a full day kindergarten was added as a result of parent interest. The Child Study and Development Center (CSDC) was accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 1999 and in 2005 celebrated 75 years of operation.
The CSDC philosophy and pedagogical approach is rooted in the traditions of constructivist theory and practice. Since the early 1990s our center has been inspired by the ideas of early educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy, that emphasize the social construction of knowledge, the inquiry process of long terms investigations by learners, the role of symbolic languages in developing understanding, and the importance of reflecting family and culture in our environments. The children’s program is built upon the belief that children learn best when provided rich experiences that encourage collaborative inquiry and study of the world in which they live. Diverse materials and media are provided to them to support the many ways children represent knowledge. Taking an emergent/responsive curriculum approach, teachers act as learning partners and modify their practice in response to children’s questions, theories, and misconceptions.
Today, CSDC offers a variety of programs for campus and community families in a single location, and provides a complete child development laboratory to educate students for all areas in which the Department of Human Development and Family Studies provides teacher education. A team of 20 teachers and staff provide quality care and education to 122 children between the ages of six weeks and six years. Currently, more than 120 majors are enrolled in the Young Child Option and the Nursery- Kindergarten Certification option of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Faculty and students from many University departments visit this laboratory school each year for the purposes of child study and research.