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|At Children’s Place, UMD students gain valuable experience in their majors while working with young kids. Photo by Becca Lockwood|
Across from the hustle and bustle of the food court, where students study, relax, and grab a bite to eat, a whole different kind of learning is happening. It’s one of the few places on campus where students can make use of blocks, coloring with crayons, and playtime. UMD might be home to over 11,000 big kids, but it also houses a great childcare program right on campus.
Children’s Place is UMD’s on-campus childcare program and is available to children of the faculty, students, and staff. It is licensed for 46 children, and it gives UMD students a chance to interact with little kids.
“One of our main goals is to serve as a field placement site for education students,” Jen Johnson, director of Children’s Place, said. Children’s Place partners closely with the Early Childhood Education program. “We get about 50 UMD students placed in the program throughout the year to do practicum experiences, student teaching, and volunteer experiences. We really focus on giving UMD students the opportunity to work with young children and apply what they might be learning about in their coursework.”
Children’s Place has three different classrooms: a preschool, toddler, and an infant room. They have six full-time teachers on staff, meaning that there are two teachers for each room. The rooms all have one lead teacher, who is required to have an Early Childhood Minnesota teaching license, and an assistant teacher, who is required to meet the minimum childcare licensing requirements for Minnesota. Although they are technically two different positions, the teachers are referred to as co-teachers.
“Our staff team is exceptional and have many years of experience working with young children and families,” Johnson said. "They understand child development and are dedicated early childhood professionals.”
However, having two different teachers in each room not only provides more support for the young students, it gives student teachers more to learn from.
“I worked in the preschool room, and it could get a little bit crazy in there. The room had three teachers, counting me, so I liked to think of it as controlled chaos,” said Lanae Olson, an Early Childhood Education major who recently finished student teaching at Children’s Place. “I was eased in and out. I started out getting to know the students and teachers, and eventually began to teach the children myself,” said Olson. “It was a great experience to watch two different teaching styles before I started, though. Everyone teaches differently, and it gave me a broader look into teaching.”
Even with two teachers to watch, it isn’t always easy for new student teachers to get started in a new classroom. “Classroom management was the most challenging part for me. A student teacher needs to learn the routine and go with what is already set up, and it can be hard to fit in,” Olson said.
Children’s Place employs over 30 students as student aides. It provides some experiences for students as employment, and also provides students with the valuable opportunity to gain experience in their areas of study as the majority of them are in degree programs for education, psychology, or communication sciences and disorders. “Being on campus allows me to employ all of these really great UMD students,” Johnson said. “We depend on our student workers in our program; they are an integral part of what we do and we can’t do it without them.”
Children’s Place is also open to partnerships with the departments across campus. “In addition to our close partnership with the Unified Early Childhood Department, we have had two psychology interns, which is fairly new. We wanted to make sure it would be a valuable experience for both our program and the interns, so we tested the waters and it worked really well. We’ve also had medical students come in and do well baby checks, which is a great experience for student learning.”
Quality Child Care
Children’s Place opened nine years ago, and has always been focused on providing quality child care for children of UMD faculty, students, and staff.
Their view is that children learn best from natural experiences. This means that the teachers work hard to provide quality child care, as well as the best learning experiences possible. “Our staff team takes a lot of time in providing an environment that is rich and supportive of children’s development,” Johnson explained. “It’s not just about the activities they have planned, it’s about the materials they place in the classroom for the children to self-explore, and the routine teachers set up. A lot of time goes into how the environment looks, as well as the materials and opportunities we are giving the children.”
One of Children’s Place’s goals is to partner with families, and become an extension of the family when parents have to be at work or school. The staff team will do assessments and meet with families to talk about developmental milestones and what to expect. Teachers in each room hold parent-teacher conferences at least twice a year, but since they are so closely located, it’s usually pretty easy to chat with families each day when they are dropping off or picking up their child.
"The most rewarding part of my job is coming into this room every day and knowing that every day is a new day. We never have the same thing twice each day, and I get to watch these kids learn and grow through play," Melissa Preston, one of the co-teachers in the preschool room, said. "The most challenging part comes in the winter. This year we were stuck inside more than we are used to due to the extreme cold weather that we had, and sometimes it was hard to come up with new, fun things for the kids to do. We ended up bringing snow in and letting them color with it, or letting them play with it."
Although the teachers have to come up with new ideas for the kids, they also believe in the importance of sticking to a general routine each day so the children know what to expect. Each day consists of morning and afternoon snack times, choice times, where the kids can choose what they would like to do and explore throughout the different areas of the room and then, depending on the classroom, they will have some type of large and small group/teacher directed activity time.
When asked, the children all had good things to say about Children's Place. Elfrieda likes when she gets to play with Harper and Louie, and Simon likes playing with all his friends. Wyatt likes the slide and coloring but his favorite is playing in the kitchen. Otis said he likes play with marbles in the front of the room, the kitchen in the back of the room, and he likes when he gets to learn about "transtoration" (transportation).
“These are valuable learning years for children. It really is a basis for future success in schools. We are teaching them academics, social skills, and problem-solving,” Johnson said. “It is our job to set that up as a positive experience, so they are learning, and having fun, and they know that they can do it.”
"I tell people I have the best job in the world," said Lisa LochnerKrom, a co-teacher in the preschool room. "Every day I get to work, and I play with children to support their learning. I love my job!"
Find out more on the Children's Place website.
Written by Brilynn Janckila, April 2014.
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