Developing a Child Care Curriculum for the Department of Defense

Story by William Meiners

The U.S. Department of Defense operates the largest employer-sponsored child care system in the world, serving more than 200,000 children and military families worldwide. In 2013, the DOD provided a five-year grant and selected Purdue University’s Department of
Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) to develop a curriculum for child development centers.

Douglas Powell, a distinguished professor in HDFS, and Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, a professor in HDFS and director of Purdue’s Military Family Research Institute, welcomed that tall order. They are leading a team of early childhood professionals and content experts that include other faculty members in HDFS, including Jim Elicker, David Purpura, Sara Schmitt, and Megan Purcell, plus Youli Mantzicopoulos-James, professor of education. Through this fall, the team is conducting a pilot program of curriculum materials in child development centers at eight military installations. After revising the curriculum based on consultations with and feedback from the center participants, they will make the updated curriculum available in spring 2018.

The curriculum is building on child development research to promote children’s growth in all areas of development. Powell reports that pilot center participants are especially enthusiastic about the curriculum’s use of active learning strategies to support children’s skills in mathematics, language and literacy, and in self-regulation. All of these areas received research attention in recent years.

There are many challenges in developing curriculum on a worldwide scale. “There is considerable variation in the educational backgrounds and levels of early childhood experience of classroom staff,” Powell says. “The curriculum resources seek to support classroom staff who are new to the field, as well as experienced staff. Fortunately, the DOD also sponsors extensive training resources for this program.”

Military families face their own challenges, not the least of which is the likelihood of frequent moves, often to faraway places. Powell says the curriculum pays particular attention to child and family moves, as well as to the mobility and turnover of staff, who are often married to military personnel. Children gain a better understanding of moves — from the logistics, which includes packing and traveling, to the accompanying emotional challenges of sadness, apprehension and excitement.

The curriculum developers also are sensitive to the various settings of the military child development centers. “The differences in the cultures and customs of the people and settings are a continuing theme in the curriculum,” Powell says. “Foods and family celebrations are a prominent part of this attention.”

More Life 360 Stories