West Virginia University Child Development Laboratory:
The Big Little School
Do you remember when you were three or four years old? You probably have some vague memories along with a few vivid recollections. Regardless, the preschool age is a time to cherish the simplicity of life and at the same time encounter the most rapid period of learning.
Did you attend a preschool program? Chances are you did not have the opportunity to go to a preschool—especially a university operated center. University Lab schools are special and quite often have a reputation for their excellence. The West Virginia University Child Development Laboratory (Nursery School) is no exception.
The WVU Child Development Laboratory has been in existence since 1944. Since its conception, it has been located in several campus buildings and under the administration of two colleges. It finally reached its current home near Krepps Park under the College of Education and Human Services (formerly the College of Human Resources and Education).
But what makes this laboratory school so special? Even though it enrolls just 40 preschool children (with a waitlist of many) it has a tremendous service record to families, the university, and the community. As for families, the Lab School staff provides parents with resources and information on child development issues. In the area of service to the university, the Lab School filters through its doors over 900 university students each year. These students do observations, research, practicums, or field placements. This little school can facilitate the enormous population of students interested in child development. For the community, the Lab School program has been viewed as a model school and has been involved in the training of teachers from other preschools, child care centers, and kindergartens across West Virginia and surrounding states.
Another factor that makes the Lab School so special is its current curriculum that is based on the most recent research in the field of child development and early childhood education. Most of the curriculum is developed and researched at the Lab School. Studies conducted at the Lab School are published in educational journals and presented at national conferences. But most importantly, studies give child development students the opportunity to participate and observe current research in action within a supervised setting.
Much of the research that has been conducted at the Lab School has been in the area of literacy development. The Lab School offers a “print rich” environment for children. The program follows a philosophy, children learn about written language if they are given meaningful and functional print. For example, one of the research projects that has been published and used in a national training film for child care workers is the Scrapbook Project. Each child is given a scrapbook in which s/he can draw, scribble, print, or dictate stories. Through years of investigating this project, it has been found children learn to make conventional letters and detailed drawings without formal instruction. They just need the opportunity to experiment in a relaxed, non-threatening environment. After a few months their dictated stories begin to include conventional story elements such as a beginning, middle, ending, characters, and conversation. Children also enjoy performing their story inventions. After children add some illustrations, these stories become publications in our own school library.
The philosophy of the program is based on the understanding of the way children learn. Children learn by doing in order to make sense of their world. Young children’s minds and bodies are in constant motion. At the Lab School, children are encouraged to explore and share their ideas by talking to peers and teachers. Play is also an important component of the program as a vehicle for learning and creative thought.
The WVU Lab School is not all finger paints, blocks, and computers. There is the WVU Nursery School Marching Band—The Pride of Child Development. The Nursery School band marches with the WVU Band in each Homecoming parade. Hundreds of alumni (ages six and up) and their families join the event.
Yes, we are a little school with a big mission and an enthusiastic love for children and families. We are proud of our accomplishments in curriculum development and other research projects that have been presented and published. We invite each of you to visit the West Virginia University Child Development Laboratory to observe research in action.