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UIC Children’s Center

The Constructivist Curriculum

The Children’s Center is a demonstration site for a constructivist curriculum developed by former UIC professors Constance Kamii and Rheta DeVries and based upon the theory of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Using this approach‚ teachers encourage children to think and solve problems in their own way‚ rather than to memorize specific information and solve problems in an adult manner. Integral to this curriculum is the idea that young children think differently than older children and adults.

The Center’s emphasis is on children’s learning through play rather than teacher-directed‚ specific academic activities. As an integral component of any developmental curriculum‚ play is essential for children to learn. Through play‚ children have the opportunity to explore the world around them and pursue their own ideas. Teachers carefully plan the classroom environment‚ choose materials‚ and develop activities based on their formal educational training and in conjunction with observations of children’s interests and current abilities. Play offers children the opportunity to use language‚ literacy‚ and mathematics in meaningful ways. Cooking activities‚ story dictation‚ and board games are just a few of the activities children engage in on a daily basis that help them develop the fundamental building blocks necessary for future school success. Play is also a valuable tool for social and emotional development. Through play‚ children begin to develop self-esteem‚ self-regulation‚ empathy towards others‚ and the skills necessary to become productive members of society. We stress the development of each child’s curiosity‚ confidence‚ independence‚ and resourcefulness both in and out of the classroom. Teachers encourage children to discuss their ideas and to resolve problems using words and ideas. Children are cared for in mixed-age classrooms. Mixed-age groupings more naturally encourage older children to help younger ones and give younger children ideas and models. Children are assigned by the site director to a classroom of either three- and four-year olds or four- and five-year olds. This is the kindergarten experience for some children in the older group. Children must leave the Center when they are ready to attend first grade. The site director considers the age of the child and the make-up of the classroom in assigning children to a particular classroom. Most children start at the beginning of fall semester; others are enrolled as openings occur.

The Center does enroll children with special needs (a generally recognized and persistent physical‚ cognitive‚ or emotional disability) whenever feasible for the child and the Center. In such cases‚ an appropriate statement from the child’s physician or professional referring agency must be submitted at the time of enrollment. Center staff may obtain the assistance of a qualified consultant prior to and throughout the child’s enrollment. If a child develops signs of special needs after enrolling in the program‚ Center staff will provide the parent with information about available resources for the diagnosis of the child’s possible condition. Such diagnostic information will be required for continued enrollment in the program. The Center may also obtain the assistance of a qualified consultant to help develop appropriate program plans‚ to assess the feasibility of continued care at the Center‚ and to coordinate services with other agencies. In the event that the Center’s program and staff can no longer adequately meet the individual needs of the child‚ the director will set a date for termination of Center services and will offer the parent(s) information about alternative resources.

Assessment Methods and Materials

The Children’s Center assessment plan integrates the three influences on our curriculum: developmentally appropriate practice‚ a constructivist approach‚ and the Illinois State Board of Education’s Early Learning Standards. The purpose of assessment is to provide consistent documentation of what takes place in each classroom throughout the year.

Documentation is meant to show evidence of the growth of individual children in all curriculum areas‚ as well as track the progress made toward achieving the Benchmarks of the Illinois Learning Standards. Parents have access to information about their own child only.

Teachers meet with parents for a minimum of two conferences each year. Fall conferences include time for teachers and parents to collaborate on goals for their child.

Information will be documented in the following ways:

Observation Notes

  • Regular recording of each child’s actions‚ words‚ or behaviors
  • Considering what has been observed‚ teachers plan what they will do to foster each child’s individual growth

Lesson Plans

  • Current week’s plans (with corresponding benchmarks) posted in the classrooms
  • Reflect individual and group goals
  • Incorporate children’s interests and needs
  • Mindful of constructivist objectives (self-regulation‚ three types of knowledge‚ and cultivation of a sociomoral atmosphere)

Child Portfolios

  • May include (but not limited to) writing samples‚ drawings‚ artwork‚ photos‚ and anecdotal records
  • These artifacts emphasize what a child CAN do and provide a more holistic‚ comprehensive view of a child
  • Periodic collections demonstrate progress and growth over time
  • Reviewed with parents during spring conferences and sent home with families at the end of the school year (or upon withdrawal from the program)

Summary Report

  • Written by teachers near the end of the school year ( or when a child leaves the program mid-year)
  • Describes an individual child’s physical development‚ relationships with teachers‚ relationships with peers‚ and interests and abilities
  • Becomes a part of the child’s Children’s Center file and is available to parents upon request


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