A Legacy of Impact

Lab school marks milestone in mission focused on child development

Story by Chris Adam, photo provided

Above: A playground used by the nursery school circa 1930.

Teaching nutrition and good eating habits to adults can be a challenge. Now, imagine trying to teach those concepts to a group of preschoolers — a tough crowd who may or may not yet be able to identify different fruits and vegetables by name.

That’s the type of challenge taken on every day by faculty, staff and student teachers at Purdue’s Ben and Maxine Miller Child Development Laboratory School. The lab school has seven classrooms, housed in Bill and Sally Hanley Hall and Fowler Memorial House.

The lab school — which is marking its 90th anniversary — began in 1926 with 16 children. The original mission for the school was to provide practice for senior students taking a course in child care and management. Although the teachers and researchers no longer walk around wearing white lab coats and carrying clipboards, the mission has not changed much in the 90 years since the school began.

“Unlike a traditional day care, we serve as a university lab school with a much broader mission,” says Doran French, who is head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and who oversees the school. “We still educate young children, but we also serve as a resource on campus to educate our students and help them develop their interests and understanding of the educational development of kids.”

The school also reaches well beyond the borders of campus — taking lessons learned in the Purdue classrooms to preschool educators across the state through seminars and workshops.

“Part of the mission for a land-grant university like Purdue is to share our knowledge with the state to improve lives,” French says. “We help achieve that mission through our Extension efforts.”

The Purdue school has an international reputation for developing cutting-edge curriculum for preschool-age children. Groups from China and other countries visit the lab school to observe firsthand the curriculum development. The school also partners with the U.S. Department of Defense — which has one of the largest day care systems in the world — for research on curriculum development to take back to military bases around the globe.

“We are constantly using real-time tests within our classrooms to determine the approaches that work and those that don’t for the young children we work with,” says Elizabeth Schlesinger-Devlin, director of the lab school. “It is incredibly rewarding to be a part of such a dynamic school that is making a worldwide impact.”

As the lab school looks toward the future, administrators and teachers must carefully balance the growing need to incorporate technology into the educational process.

“We have long led the way in innovative classroom technology, but we must not downplay the impact of face-to-face instruction and feedback for the young students and their parents,” Schlesinger-Devlin says.

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