The philosophy of the Child Development Center and Lab School regarding curriculum is that every experience the child has at school including routines like naptime and meals are part of the curriculum. The curriculum includes activities, arrangement of the environment and materials, teacher-child interactions, parent involvement, and center family communication and events. Organization and management are major factors influencing the quality of an early childhood program. When teaching staff is organized, they are free to interact with the children and provide quality activities and care.
The curriculum is built on the following beliefs:
- Children learn best in multi-age level groups. The CDCLS places infants and toddlers (6 weeks to 35 months) into class groupings and preschoolers (3 years to five years old) into class groupings.
- Children learn through play.
- Children learn best when the atmosphere is calm and relaxed.
- Children learn from first-hand experiences followed by symbolizing experiences.
- For learning basic concepts like classification, seriation, visual skills, one-to-one correspondence, and auditory skills, children need repetition of the same basic activity using a variety of materials.
- Children develop cognitive and language skills best when the teacher puts into words what the child is doing or guides the child to put into words what is being done.
- Children develop positive attitudes about school, which are permanent, when the routines and materials are well organized and consistent.
- Early experiences with literature have positive effects on children's attitude toward reading and ability to learn to read.
- The development of a healthy self-concept is related to development in all areas. Self-concepts are enhanced and children are more comfortable and relaxed at school when their culture is incorporated into all aspects of the curriculum in a natural way. Cultural activities should be used to develop basic concepts.
- Children experience optimum development when activities are hard enough to challenge them, yet easy enough for them to be successful.
- All children in the program have a right to developmentally appropriate activities, including rapidly developing children and slower developing children.
- Children learn more when they develop positive relationships with their teachers, which is possible when adults are nurturing, and with other children when teachers facilitate the development of social skills.
- Children are creative. Maintaining and enhancing creativity help children develop in all areas, especially self-esteem.
- Children benefit from outdoor play. Children need the freedom of outdoor play. Large motor development, which primarily occurs outdoors, serves as a foundation for development in all other areas.
- Children benefit more from an early childhood program when their families are involved and when their families value the program.
- Families are more likely to value the program and be involved when the program is organized.
- Families are more likely to volunteer in the classroom when the classroom is well organized, when they can make significant contributions, and when they have specific duties.
Constructivism is an approach to education. This approach is best noted in the work of child development theorist Jean Piaget. Constructivism is not a model to follow, nor is it a packaged curriculum of lesson plans - rather it is an approach, a philosophy of understanding how children learn best and develop to their fullest potential. The CDCLS teaching staff has had extensive study and practice in the constructivist approach.
Children experimenting with and exploring materials, interacting with one another, making discoveries through their personal observations, explorations, and experiences, constitute the concept of constructivism. In other words, children construct their own knowledge as they become directly involved with their physical and social environments. An understanding of the world around them is developed through personal life experiences.
A classroom project is the most meaningful way to implement the construction of knowledge into our program. The Project Approach, developed by Drs. Lilian Katz and Sylvia Chard and explained in depth in Katz's book Engaging Children's Minds, is an exciting method of exploring topics in which the children and their teachers are interested. Together each classroom decides what to study, as well as the questions needing answers for their investigation. Subject areas are integrated within the contents of the project work, such as literacy, language, mathematics, science, reading, writing, and social studies. Field trips to other areas of the College Campus, guest speakers, and culminating project displays and events are a few of the activities involved in our projects.
Several of the CDCLS Teachers have studied the Project Approach with Dr. Katz and Dr. Chard at the University of Illinois. Every teaching staff member has completed college level training in designing and implementing projects in an early childhood classroom. The CDCLS Teachers have presented the implementation of projects in the early childhood classroom at local, state, and national conferences.
As teachers develop weekly lesson plans the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (P.A.S.S.), Oklahoma Early Learning Guidelines Professional Development for Children Ages Three through Five (Core Competencies), and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Standards for Early Childhood Programs are incorporated as a foundation. Well formulated goals and objectives of each curriculum topic include the needs of individual children and children as a whole group.