Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
September 19, 2006
DeKalb — Linda Anderson is more than familiar with the constant chatter, laughter and tears inherent with professional child care.
Anderson, associate director of Northern Illinois University’s Child Development Laboratory, has worked in child care for 30 years and has even owned her own centers. She’s an expert in calming parents with separation anxiety, locating lost socks and shoes and smiling at 4-year-olds who proudly display their latest artwork.
“I think it’s in my blood,” said Anderson, who’s also pursuing a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at NIU. “I love the realm of growth and development – watching them from 6 weeks old, the first time they roll over or take off crawling or walking, up through preschool, when they write their name or recognize a letter of the alphabet.”
Anderson, along with Director Linda Derscheid and the staff of early childhood professionals, students and parents, are celebrating another milestone: The laboratory has earned its first accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
NAEYC accreditation, good for five years, recognizes high-quality early childhood education.
Programs that meet the organization’s standards provide a safe and healthy environment for children through well-trained teachers, access to excellent teaching materials and a curriculum that is appropriately challenging and developmentally sound.
NIU’s Child Development Laboratory is an operation of the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, located in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
“We’re very excited,” Anderson said. “We really knew that we were a quality center, but to have this organization come in and take a look at us and validate that was super-exciting.”
“This has been a goal for many years. It is a stellar achievement by the faculty, staff and, of course, the students, who also had to contribute to this effort,” said Laura Smart, chair of the school. “The lab is essential for our child development emphasis within family studies. It’s where students learn about children’s development first-hand, and where they learn how to give guidance to parents regarding their children’s behavior and development.”
“Achieving NAEYC accreditation, and of course maintaining it, assures that the lab will be a high-quality role model for the child development majors,” Derscheid said.
“The child development faculty, including myself, are excited that the lab validates what we have been teaching the child development majors: be family-oriented, and use developmentally appropriate practices when working with young children and their families.”
The Washington, D.C.-based NAEYC sent an evaluator to the lab, located in Gabel Hall 170, in late January. She was greeted with a thick folder of supporting materials the center’s staff had prepared over two years, Anderson said.
Every aspect of the center, from the skills of the teachers to the design of the classrooms and outdoor play areas to the daily schedule, came under scrutiny.
“It was a wonderful process. We strengthened our teamwork with each other, fixed things we had in place and created things we didn’t have in place. I’m really glad we went through this,” Anderson said.
“Parents are becoming more savvy to the idea of accreditation,” she added, “and this shows the greater community that we’re high quality. We provide a very rich environment for young children.”
NIU’s lab is licensed to care for 47 children from ages of 6 weeks to 7 years. Services are offered to NIU employees and students as well as the public; care is available from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. when the university is open.
Six full-time early childhood specialists lead the staff, which also includes several graduate assistants with backgrounds in child development, practicum students who are completing their child development emphasis in FCNS and pre-service teachers from the College of Education.
The lab has three missions, Anderson said: to care for children; to train, and teach practicum skills to, FCNS students; and to provide research opportunities for NIU faculty and students.
Mirrored observation rooms on either side of the facility allow researchers (and parents) to watch and even listen, thanks to microphones installed in the ceiling. One current study involves a survey of typical play, asking parents how they play with their children at home.
Children are getting an education as well.
During the summer, children tended to a garden, studied grass and learned about ducks. Their artwork is displayed outside the lab in a glass case, and they occasionally make their own snacks learning math and science concepts.
“Our basic philosophy is that children learn through play and using all their basic senses,” Anderson said. “We pick up on the interest of the child and then dig a little bit deeper.”
Anderson, who is “always interested in teaching the field to more young adults,” said the state’s new “Preschool for All” initiative will create demand for more early childhood professionals.
The rewards are great: Passing through the preschool classroom, a 4-year-old girl with long blonde hair calls to Anderson with her arms outstretched for an embrace.
“The hugs are what make the day,” Anderson said. “How often can you go to work and have someone come running up and say, ‘I want to give you a hug.’ ”
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