When the University’s early child development center, Center for Children and Families (CCF), first opened its doors in 2007, it had just 23 students. On September 4, CCF will celebrate five years of collaborative partnerships and discovery-based, innovative learning with its more than 150 children.
 

An Innovative Approach

Not to be confused as a day care facility, the Center’s approach to child development and learning is rooted in a research-based curriculum known as Guided Discovery. The practice blends developmental theories from several renowned psychologists like Erikson, Piaget, Vygotsky and others, and focuses on play, which means that children learn through engaging in age-appropriate activities.
 
“The distinction that really sets CCF apart is that there is a curriculum for every age group from infants to our pre-kindergarteners,” said Danielle Tucker, assistant director of CCF. “Our customizable curricula are very unique and very engaging, and every day our children are learning.”
 
Guided by overarching learning objectives, the specific topic for lessons -- be it marine mammals, dinosaurs, sports or super heroes -- is influenced by the interest of the children, explained Tucker.
 
In one preschool classroom, she said, students became fascinated with space exploration during a sharing time. Recognizing that interest, the teacher transformed their classroom loft into a spaceship and structured the lessons of literacy and language around the topic of outer space. As the children’s curiosity shifted from space to stargazing, the homemade spaceship was morphed into a tent and the topic of camping and outdoors emerged.
 
“Creating curricula that are student-centered increases students’ interest and motivation, while still reaching important learning milestones,” said Tucker.
 
Among the unique learning experiences at CCF is the popular Kid’s Kitchen. The child-sized kitchen invites children to be young chefs - mixing, blending and rolling ingredients -- while utilizing their science, math and culinary skills. Some of their ingredients are even picked by the children from the Center’s vegetable garden.
 

Beneficial Partnerships

From its very inception, CCF has been a collaborative partnership.
 Communicative Sciences and Disorders graduate student performs a language test for a child at CCF
Housed on the eastside of campus off La Moree, the state-of-the art 21,000 square-foot facility is owned by CSUSM and managed by University Auxiliary and Research Services Corporation (UARSC). The childcare program, which received accreditation in 2010 from the National Association for the Education of Young Children -- a distinction earned by less than 10 percent of early childhood centers nationwide -- is operated by Children's Creative Learning Centers (CCLC).
 
Beyond providing early education for its students, who range in age from six weeks to five years, CCF also provides educational opportunities for college students through the use of clinical observation lobbies which are attached to every classroom and activity space. Through the use of two-way mirrors, these areas permit CSUSM students and faculty researchers to observe children’s learning and play.
 
In the last year the number of student observations has more than doubled, said Professor Colleen Moss, university liaison for the center. More than 760 students utilized CCF during the 2011-2012 academic year to observe play, learning, social interaction and communication development.
 
“Observations of child behavior are applicable to more subject areas than people may realize,” Moss noted.
 
While psychology is a natural fit for these types of observations, students studying human development, sociology, liberal studies, education and nursing have also benefited from the experience.
 
In addition to observations, CSUSM students also provide services that are mutually beneficial for the children at CCF. Graduate students from Communicative Sciences and Disorders, for example, administer language and hearing tests for the pre-K classes annually. Last semester, Visual and Performing Arts students helped develop a unique art exhibit showcasing the painted self-portraits and career aspirations of CCF children.
 

Serving Students and the University

More than 60 percent of the families served by CCF are affiliated with CSUSM, either as students or employees.
 
For many student-parents, the financial cost and availability of childcare can be challenging, said Moss, and those barriers can often be the primary reasons why many student-parents delay or don’t complete their education. CCF focuses on supporting student parents by offering CSUSM student discounts for part-time and full-time childcare options, and each semester CSUSM awards several scholarships based on financial need, covering 40 to 70 percent of the child’s enrollment costs.
 
Student parents receiving the scholarship must maintain academic benchmarks as well as attend two parenting workshops and volunteer 10 hours at the center. For the spring semester, students must submit an application for the Childcare Scholarship by Aug. 31, 2012.
 

The Next Steps

This fall will mark another milestone for CCF: the addition of a kindergarten class. The Center will expand its classroom options to include a private, full-day kindergarten curriculum for about 11 students. The interest came from parents who voiced concerns as California public schools phase in the new age five requirement for students starting kindergarten. CCF’s kindergarten class will be the first of its kind, nationwide, for CCLC.
 
As CSUSM considers expanding its academic offerings to include a Child and Adolescent Development major, CCF is playing an important role in helping shape and define the program’s curriculum, and will offer opportunities for hands-on practicum and observations at the Center.
 
“Not only do we partner with CSUSM students and faculty to provide educational and research opportunities, but the students and employees of CSUSM are also our families and have a vested interest in us,” added Tucker. “Truly, we invest in each other.”
 
To schedule a tour or learn more about CCF, call 760-750-8750. For more information about classroom observations, please email Colleen Moss at cmoss@csusm.edu.

Housed on the eastside of campus off La Moree, the state-of-the art 21,000 square-foot facility is owned by CSUSM and managed by University Auxiliary and Research Services Corporation (UARSC). The childcare program, which received accreditation in 2010 from the National Association for the Education of Young Children -- a distinction earned by less than 10 percent of early childhood centers nationwide -- is operated by Children's Creative Learning Centers (CCLC).