Child Development and Learning Lab preps students for real-life scenarios before graduation

Birmingham senior Chardae Whitson reads to preschool students Jake, Anthony and Alzarah Thursday morning in the Child Development and Learning Laboratory in the Education and Human Services building. “It’s been a good experience,” Whitson, a special education major said of spending time in the lab. “It has offered a wider range of experience.” (Paige Calamari/Staff Photographer)

Sarah Lechota has picked up a skill in her time at Central Michigan University that most other students likely have not — how to manage a classroom of preschoolers.

The Flint senior said she wants to be a preschool teacher or something similar after she graduates, and the Child Development and Learning lab has helped her learn what activities will and will not work in a classroom. She said group activities tried out at the  lab include reading stories, singing songs and putting on puppet shows.

“We really got to test the waters for running a classroom with other teachers,” Lechota said.

The experience is gratifying, she said, when she is able to teach the children a song and she hears them sing it on their own for the rest of the day.

“It’s really rewarding when they like what you do and you can see that they like it,” she said.

Margaret Desormes, associate director of the lab, said students do a lot of observation at the start of the semester, and by the end they take over managing the classrooms. She said managing the classroom includes taking attendance, giving lessons and preparing students for lunch. Students also will prepare parent-teacher conferences for the end of the year.

Desormes said there are 72 children in the program and about 70 CMU students who work in the lab at different times during the week. The lab gives students hands-on teaching experience, she said, which is important for developing team-building skills.

"You can be a really good teacher, but if you can't work with people, you won't go far," she said.

Desormes said the Education and Human Services building allows for new facilities and more space for the lab.

“We wanted the program to excel and match the beautiful building we’re in,” she said. “We want to build this whole school as a community of learners.”

Desormes said the faculty believes children learn from their experiences.

“What we want to create is not a bunch of children that can spit back facts,” she said. “We create thinkers.”

Tracy Burton, coordinator of Outreach and Marketing for EHS, said the lab gives students a taste of future careers. She said students are able to work together with faculty to provide a wonderful experience for the children.

“They make this experience so rich for the children,” she said. “They’re able to put into practice what they’re learning almost immediately.”


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