Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 2, Page 2
Winter 1993
Laboratory Preschool

     Three-year-olds learn side by side with undergraduate and graduate
students at the University's Labratory Preschool, a bustling facility
operated by the College of Human Resources.
     It's a brisk November day outside as the 3-year-olds in Nadine Heim's
class disperse to various learning centers in the preschool, located in
Alison Hall on the Newark campus. Some youngsters paint at easels. Others
head for the dress-up corner. Two boys race toy cars down an inclined
track, while another builds with blocks. Many sit and listen to stories.
All the while, the master teacher, Heim, and four student-teachers
circulate, guiding the children to discover as they play.
     Across the way, in Nancy Edwards' kindergarten room, students begin a
learning unit on pasta. In a "corner store," children customers order
pasta, which student cooks then prepare. At other work stations, colored
bits of pasta wait to be sorted or arranged into collages. Two student word
detectives, complete with spyglasses, scour the room for words having to do
with pasta. Even the computer is set up to print out a picture relating to
the theme of the day.
     Meanwhile, University students and teachers, sitting in observation
booths behind two-way mirrors, note events unfolding in the classrooms
before them. Learning, teaching, observing-all are part of the recipe for
success at this special school.
     Now associated with the Department of Individual and Family Studies,
the Laboratory Preschool was founded in 1934 as a component of the child
development program in what was then called the School of Home Economics.
Originally designed to provide students and faculty with a center for the
observation and study of young children, the preschool has been in
continuous operation nearly 60 years, refining and evolving its mission.
According to its director, Alice P. Eyman, the preschool today aims "to
provide an excellent education for children ages 2 through 5, to offer
research and educational opportunities for faculty and students and to
serve the community."
     Since this is a model school, admission policies seek a balanced
student population. Each class contains an equal number of boys and girls.
To provide a span of developmental stages, no more than two children in
each class have birthdays in the same month. Finally, two spaces are
reserved in each group for mainstreamed youngsters. Competition for seats
is enthusiastic, with parents registering their 6-month-olds for spots in
the 2-year-old class.
     Children lucky enough to enroll at the preschool enjoy an environment
tailored to meet their individual needs and to stimulate their learning.
Ample opportunities are provided for play and for structured activities.
Hands-on lessons abound, from planting and watering seeds in the 2-year-old
group to an exciting walk around town for the kindergartners.
     The result of this education is evident in an active
parents-of-"alumni" group, whose members stay in touch with each other and
follow the progress of their children after "graduation."
     Preschoolers are not the only students at this school. One of the
primary goals of the facility is to provide University of Delaware students
with opportunities to study young children and to learn methods of
educating them. Undergraduate and graduate students come to the preschool
from a wide range of disciplines, including education, human resources,
psychology, physical education, health and agriculture. Many of these
students arrive with specific research to complete. Representative projects
range from a study of youngsters' clothing choices to surveys of their
eating habits. The staff delicately balances the needs of these scholars
with those of their preschool charges.
     In addition, the site is open to observers outside the University.
Middle school and high school students from the tri-state area visit
frequently, as do others who are taking college-level courses that require
observation time.
     Training student teachers is a primary purpose of the preschool,
although that focus developed
     gradually. As teacher-training programs became part of the University
curriculum, the preschool-with its state-of-the-art materials, its focus on
methodology and its experimental materials-became the ideal site for
studying the methods of teaching young children.
     In fact, in the late '60s, when the first public kindergarten in
Delaware opened in Wilmington, this center worked with the public school
system to train teachers. Since then, the focus has expanded to include
training University students to work with children as young as infants in
day care up to 6 years old.
     Recently, the fine work of the preschool faculty earned national
attention when kindergarten teacher Nancy Edwards received a Presidential
Teaching Award for Mathematics. This honor carries with it a $7,500 award
that Edwards will use to purchase equipment for the school and set up a
family math center.
     There is a definite emphasis on the family in the preschool program.
Questions are asked about the primary caregiver, the composition of the
family, disciplinary styles and attitudes toward child-rearing, providing a
wealth of information that researchers use to plan educational programs.
The result is a school in which the family is integral to the educational
team-where teachers and parents are partners in the process.
     Moreover, parents are invited throughout the year to watch their
children from the observation booths. Interviews and gatherings with
parents throughout the term provide continuity between school and home.
     That continuity contributes to a special learning experience-for
University students, for youngsters and for their parents. As one parent
wrote: "Watching the children helped me better understand what it is that
children are and do. It has helped me relax my expectations for and
reevaluate my misconceptions about my own child's development. And as a
direct consequence of watching Nadine work with children, I think I have
become a better parent."
                                        -Rosemary Crawford