At Purdue in 1926, a group -- comprised mostly of women -- became convinced of the advantages of schooling for very young children. They created one of the nation's earliest university-based nursery schools. Upon that foundation, the Department of Child Development and Family studies got its start 20 years later. At age 50, it has become a leader in the study of children and families.
Purdue will mark the 50th anniversary of the department and the 70th anniversary of the nursery school during activities Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 28. Among the activities will be a dinner, an open-house breakfast and a "Big Tent" Reception with displays of CDFS past and present.
"There is a growing national recognition that programs for children and families are a wise investment in the future," says Douglas Powell, head of the Department of Child Development and Family Studies. "Research shows that resources devoted to improving the well-being of individuals and families have multiple long-term benefits."
The transformation of universities -- from strictly academic units to active participants in improving the lives of children and families -- is being seen by more and more universities as an obligation to society, according to Larry Schiamberg, acting director of Michigan State University's Institute for Children, Youth and Families.
"This is an exciting development. We are more than aware of the problems, and now we're trying to do something about them," Schiamberg says.
The early leaders in fostering this concern were the land-grant universities. With a long tradition of community outreach in agriculture and engineering, reaching out to families grew out of college courses in the 1920s on child management, family living and home nursing and child care.
Such was the concern that started the Child Development Laboratory nursery school. "In 1926 a majority of states did not require kindergarten for their children," says Karen Diamond, the current director of the lab. She says the development of preschool education in this country came through the sponsorship of universities as well as private philanthropic groups and government agencies.
The Child Development Lab was one of the first 10 university-based nursery schools in the United States. Since the beginning, the lab has focused on educating teachers and other professionals working with young children and families, and on advancing the knowledge of young children's development and appropriate settings for child care.
The nursery school laid the foundation for Purdue's Department of Family Life, created in 1946, which now is called the Department of Child Development and Family Studies. The department was instrumental in getting Indiana to license nursery and kindergarten teachers starting in the 1950s, and by the 1970s the Purdue program was the major source of family life educators in the state.
Margaret Murphy, who still resides in West Lafayette, was the department's first head. She says parents and Purdue faculty and administrators were very supportive of the department's efforts. "Perhaps nothing is more telling of Purdue's commitment to children and families than the construction of the CDFS building in 1959," Murphy says. "It was rare for a department of this kind anywhere in the United States to have its own building."
At age 50, the department consistently ranks among the top 10 CDFS programs in the nation, according to an external team of scholars that recently reviewed CDFS programs for the department's strategic planning process.
"Each of the five decades has been marked by growth and recognition, but maybe none more than the last," Powell says. Since 1986 alone:
This concern for families is not lost on today's CDFS students. "College students today are increasingly interested in quality of life issues, and the personal rewards of contributing to society's well-being by direct work with children and families," Powell says.
The same is true at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, which soon will celebrate its 75th anniversary. Director Richard Weinberg says students see many career opportunities in the field. "We have students who plan to go on to medical or law school and want a background in understanding children. Many corporations are hiring experts on children, and there's a growing need for early-child care administrators," he says.
Sources: Douglas Powell, (765) 494-9511; home, (765) 474-6313; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry Schiamberg, (517) 353-6617
Karen Diamond, (765) 494-2958; home, (765) 497-7616; e-mail, email@example.com
Margaret Murphy, (765) 497-0162
Lorene Burkhart, (317) 923-3144
Richard Weinberg, (612) 624-3575
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; home, (765) 474-3741; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A black and white photo of children on the Child Lab playground in the 1930s and a recent color photo of children around a computer in the lab are available. The photos are called Powell/Playground and Powell/Childlab. Download Powell/Playground here or download Powell/Childlab here. A copy of a news release listing all the anniversary events, times and places also is available.
Caption for two photos.
Purdue's Child Development Laboratory nursery school was founded in 1926. A play yard was added in the early 1930s (above.) Seventy years after its start, children in the lab have fun working on computers (left.) (First photo courtesy of CDFS; Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Photos (the most recent one in color), electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo IDs: Powell/Playground and Powell/Childlab.
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