What is a Laboratory School?
The Early Childhood Center is one of the longest existing College Laboratory Schools, having been founded in 1937. It is a laboratory in several senses. First, and most centrally, it is a living laboratory of child development: as a central feature of their study of child development, undergraduate and graduate students serve as assistants in the classes, participant observers in the ongoing life of the classroom. Of course, their presence also means a high adult-child ratio and the ability of the lead teachers to provide a greatly enriched physical and social environment for the children's exploratory learning activities, as well as much individual attention. Students doing this kind of field work at the ECC are collecting "data" in the sense of observing the children as they go about their days in school. Sometimes the students write down examples of children's play or language, as requested by their course teachers, always without any identifying information about the children observed.
As the semester progresses, these students, as well as others who come for a shorter time to the ECC as part of their course work, may carry out observational or interview studies on various aspects of child development. These projects are always developed with the course teachers, approved (and sometimes modified) by the ECC director and psychology consultant, and presented to the children as part of their activities of the day by their lead teacher. Sometimes all the children in a class participate, sometimes only a few volunteers are needed. These activities might involve play, drawing, talking about one's concepts about what it means to be a friend, or memory, perception or language tasks. They are always developmentally appropriate and usually quite interesting to the children.
A College lab school is also a setting for faculty research. In fact, the ECC was founded by well-known developmental psychologist Lois Barclay Murphy with a grant from the Macy Foundation to study the normal development of personality in young children. From time to time, psychology faculty members carry out research projects at the ECC. In the relatively recent past, some of the psychology faculty have studied pretend play, language development, and children's artwork.
Finally, a College lab school is a model of educational practice. In this role, the ECC is a fieldwork site for graduate students in the Art of Teaching program and students in Early Childhood Education at Westchester Community College. These students work with the ECC master teachers as a central aspect of their education. Professional visitors from numerous places also come to visit and observe at the ECC to see how our school implements a progressive early childhood educational philosophy. These visitors, as all observers, come into the classrooms, as do prospective parents, rather than glimpse the school from behind a mirrored screen, because we believe that children, and programs, are best seen and understood close up. We help the visitors to behave unobtrusively and the children to accept these observers with equanimity—often a child offers to show a visitor what is going on, but most frequently the newcomers are taken for granted as life in the classroom proceeds.
As part of the ECC community, children and their parents provide a valuable service to a range of students, faculty, and visitors. Children are never identified in any observations; should photos or footage of children ever be considered for other than in-house educational use, your permission for a specific use would be requested. We believe that attending a lab school is an enriching experience for children in many ways, including the fact that they get to know a range of students of different ages and interests and backgrounds—making it also a kind of living laboratory for the children's ongoing "research" into the world!