The Children's Center At Caltech
The Children's Center at Caltech (CCC) opened in 1972 and serves children six months to five years old. The CCC uses a constructivist approach, that is children constructing knowledge based on real experiences, inspired by other various educational approaches such as the Project Approach, Emergent Curriculum, Maria Montessori's Practical Life and Game Shelf, Reggio Emilia, and Froebel Gifts to build a learning environment that tells children they are respected, trusted, capable, and competent in their own learning. In whole, our goal is to emphasize and nurture the process, not the product. Our inquiry-based curriculum can last anywhere from two months to a year. We use broad science concepts such as form and function, change, systems and interaction, stability, force and motion, simple machines, cause and effect, just to name a few, to build our curriculum around.
Children, like scientists, need multiple opportunities to explore, ask questions, make predictions, experiment, test their ideas, collect information, document, reflect, and draw conclusions. We believe that children are scientists by nature. On a daily basis we watch our children use science inquiry to formulate ideas and test them. Whether they are playing with water of different temperatures, or observing cocoons in the lab, or experimenting with the physics of the incline plane, their curiosity make them natural scientists.
To understand how to facilitate children's learning and set up an environment for such learning, teachers are required to attend monthly professional development trainings of which many involve curriculum development. They also meet with the Science Curriculum Coordinator to thoughtfully brainstorm and plan curriculum. Weekly curriculum activities are posted on the bulletin boards in each classroom. We believe that while curriculum should be meticulously planned yet flexible, good teaching also involves being ready and able to catch the teachable moments to further enhance children's learning experiences.
Young children learn through play. All materials they play with, all ideas they play with, they are learning from. Some of the various activities and experiences that children receive weekly are on art, carpentry, gardening, wire working, block building, and origami. Within each area, various mediums are provided, such as in art, there are natural materials, clay, wire, beads, paint, oil pastels, chalk, crayons, markers, etc. Whether indoor or outdoor, children investigate big concepts piece by piece in earth, physical, and life sciences. Keeping in mind that science is inclusive of all other areas as math, language and literacy, history, art, and creativity. Science uniquely qualifies for such an integrated approach.