By Sarah Smith, Wellesley College News
There's a study area on campus that combines the needs of both Wellesley students and little kids. Wellesley's Child Study Center is both a preschool for children ages two, three, and four years and a laboratory for the Wellesley College students who study them as a part of thesis research, developmental psychology and other education classes. The Center has a long history of providing early education. In 1913, The Wellesley Town Improvement Association built the off-white stucco house near the edge of campus as a free kindergarten for community children and as a teacher-training center for Wellesley students.
Today forty-four children fill the Center's three classrooms. Children of Wellesley faculty are given priority, but the majority of the children are from the town of Wellesley and neighboring communities. The Center receives many more applications than it can accept, and Director Mary Ucci said they try to maintain heterogeneous classrooms in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status, and gender.
For the past 81 years, the Center has remained a resource where Wellesley students can learn about child development. It has also been recognized as a model nursery school, and attracts visitors from outside the Wellesley community. Research opportunities for students at the Child Study Center range from one observation session a semester for those enrolled in Psychology 101, to five mornings a week for independent study students. Wellesley students have studied various aspects of children's development, including their relationships and interactions with teachers, other children and families, as well as topics such as sex role stereotypes. Child development researchers are able to analyze a spectrum of ages and developmental levels at the Center, as well as track progression over time.
Diane Bengston '96 and Susan Archambault '97 were both part of a group of students from a Developmental Psychology class last year that studied stages of moral development. They spent time getting to know the children they worked with, and then played 'games' with them to compile data. "The kids were really agreeable," Archambault said. "They're really used to doing these kinds of things."
Bengston, who is planning on obtaining an elementary teaching certificate, volunteered at the Center last year partly to fill her requirement for the certificate and partly because she was impressed with the Center as a whole. "The things they do there are just amazing. They really concentrate on the students," she said. "They children are so wonderful," she added. "They know so much."
Anthropology, art, linguistics, and photography students also find the Center useful for various projects. Last year, one linguistics class visited the center to study early language acquisition. Students from other schools, such as Connecticut and Skidmore Colleges, also use the Center for observation. Workers from Boston's City Year program, who were preparing for positions in inner-city day care centers visited last year to observe the model school.
The school is divided into three sections: the two-year-olds, the three-year-olds, and the four-year-olds. Each class is taught by a three person team lead by a head teacher, an intern and an assistant. Aside from doing research, Wellesley College students participate in the classrooms as volunteers or as work-study teachers.
Until the Psychology Department took over in 1968, the Center was known as the Page School, named after Ann L. Page, a founder and advocate of progressive education and a founding teacher of the school. Teachers at the school still describe their high standards as the "Page School way."
"We try to be a model school," Ucci said. She describes the Center as structured, but not in a limiting way. "We design a developmental environment for young children geared exactly to their developmental stage. It's a child-centered curriculum." she said.
For example, if a child has a new sibling at home, the teachers will discuss babies and how to take care of them. "Each day is based on what the kids did the day before," Bengston said. "As they say there, 'play is the child's work.' It's taken very seriously."
"The main thrust of the school," said work-study assistant Rachel Coursey '97, "is giving attention to the kids in every way. The classrooms are welcoming to them; they are happy there. Everything has its place and is on their level. We also change elements in the classrooms as the children grow more accustomed to them," Coursey said.
The Child Study Center has continually fulfilled its original goal: to train young women in understanding early childhood and to serve the community. "I like to think of ourselves as something very special," Ucci said. the Center takes studying and teaching children very seriously, but, as Ucci said, "It's a warm, nurturing place, where children play."