Center for little learners on campus gets its own gold star

Woman reads book to a group of children

The UIC Children’s Center provides an all-day care center for the children of students and employees. The center’s was recognized for the quality of its program. ­Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

 

This year’s fall class includes not only undergraduate and graduate students, but the preschoolers of the UIC Children’s Center.

The on-campus resource, located in the Applied Health Sciences Building, offers an all-day care center for the children of students, faculty and staff. The child care program, open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, serves children between the ages of 2 years, 9 months, and 5 years old. There are 10 teachers and 50 preschool students, all excited to learn through play.

UIC Childens Center Family Potluck

The Children’s Center emphasizes community. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

What’s taught in the three classrooms is a constructivist curriculum developed by former UIC professors Constance Kamii and Rheta Devries, based on the theory of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Instead of worksheets and homework, the children learn through hands-on experiences to construct knowledge.

“It’s very important to us — the idea of experience being authentic, that it isn’t a canned curriculum,” said Children’s Center director Kim Kull. “Although they’ve only been on the planet for a short time, we all know what we like and we learn based on the things that are interesting to us.”

The curriculum is one of the elements that earned the Children’s Center the Gold Circle of Quality by ExceleRate Illinois this year. Programs receive gold ratings for demonstrated quality in areas such as learning environment, group size and staff qualifications.

ExceleRate Illinois, a statewide quality rating and improvement system for early learning providers, began as part of the federal grant program Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

“Part of its goal is to ensure that Illinois children enter kindergarten with the necessary skills and knowledge for success,” Kull said.

That knowledge includes language development, pre-reading and math skills.

One of the ways the Children’s Center takes on the task is through its cooking curriculum. Children work in pairs to prepare a recipe and in the process, learn about changing matter or how to make enough yogurt popsicles to bring home to their parents.

But the Children’s Center wants their little graduates to develop more than academic skills.

UIC Children's Center

“It isn’t a canned curriculum,” says director Kim Kull. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

“What’s really important to me is that the children learn to how to be a citizen within their classroom community, within our school’s community,” Kull said. “And that they take those skills and go off and learn to be these citizens within their new elementary school community.”

Another element that earned the center the Gold Circle of Quality is its full-time teaching staff. Many earned their bachelor’s or master’s degrees from UIC and 90 percent have a master’s in early childhood education.

The Children’s Center was founded in the 1970s by the combined efforts of the student organization Circle Women’s Liberation Union and faculty and staff who were looking for low-cost, on-campus childcare.

Tuition rates for students are assessed according to a sliding scale based on income; faculty and staff pay $258 per week. Children are provided with snacks and lunch prepared by UIC Dining Services.

For more information on the Children’s Center, email uicchildcenter@uic.edu or call 312-413-5326.

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