Kober House, First Floor

Robbin Hawkins ‘99 teaches a class of 3- and 4-year-olds at the Early Childhood Center. Founded in 1937, the ECC is both a school for young children and a laboratory setting where SLC students learn about child development and the art of teaching through hands-on participation.

Robbie Hawkins

1. The teacher Robbin Hawkins has taught at the Early Childhood Center since 1998. Her main goal in the classroom “is to create an atmosphere that encourages independence and self-motivation.” When the children are confident and comfortable, learning happens naturally, she says.


2. Wooden blocks The room is stocked with simple toys—blocks, drawing supplies, play dough, and puzzles—that can be used in myriad ways. These open-ended objects invite exploration and creative play, which the ECC maintains is the richest way for children to learn.


3. The children There are usually 14 children in Hawkins’s class; she’s assisted by a graduate student from the Art of Teaching or Child Development program and several undergraduate participant-observers doing fieldwork for their classes.

Fire truck

4. Imaginary fire truck Building social confidence is an important part of Hawkins’s classroom. She refers to the children as “friends”—as in, “would any of my friends like to drive the truck?”—which sets the tone for the classroom and gives children a framework for understanding their relationships. If someone is your friend, there’s an expectation of how you should treat each other.


5. Homemade play dough At the beginning of the school year, Hawkins and her assistants set the table for play before children arrive. She varies the supplies from day to day, and the children start to learn that if they want to use something that’s not set out, they can ask. When the second semester starts, they come in and nothing is set up. “It’s a way of saying, ‘This is your space, your time. What do you want to do with it?,’” Hawkins says.


6. Storage Most objects are stored in the open and at children’s eye level. The accessible placement reinforces the idea that this space is for children. With the freedom to play as they please and the confidence to ask for what they want, children’s activities—from drawing to playing house—become creative, meaningful acts.


7. Seedlings A child came up with the idea of planting seeds and watching them grow, probably inspired by gardening with his parents. Most activities in the classroom are initiated by children’s interests and requests. Philosophically, this self-directed learning comes from the same place as the College’s conference work system.


8. Snack time is another small lesson in self-sufficiency. It’s presented family style, and children serve themselves, learning to take one item at a time and pouring their own water from small pitchers.


9. Dollhouse “I love the Sarah Lawrence philosophy that we meet children where they are,” Hawkins says. “We’re all in this learning environment together.”