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The U’s Child and Family Development Center remodel includes new facilities, Montessori teaching method and expanded ages and programming.

By Annalisa Purser, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications

The University of Utah’s oldest child care program celebrated its grand reopening on Oct. 5. The Child and Family Development Center, which first opened in the 1930s, functions as a training center for students enrolled in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies. It is available to university faculty, staff and students and offers infant care for children 12 weeks to 24 months, toddlers 2-3 years old, preschool for children 3-5 years old and private kindergarten.

child-care-58The center is one of seven early care and education programs on campus. The U’s programs strive to provide flexibility, especially for students, by offering full- and part-time care, evening hours and care for infants as young as six weeks. This comes at a time when child care facilities are on the decline at many campuses across the country. A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the proportion of four-year public campuses that have child care centers has declined to less than half and that the trend occurred while the number of college students with children grew.

“It is critical that we support the campus community by providing high-quality, affordable child care options,” said Shauna Lower, director of the Center for Child Care and Family Resources. “It leads to the success of our students, our faculty and staff and shapes the next generation.”

Matthew Miller, vice president of university relations for the Associated Students of the University of Utah, exemplifies the long-term impact of these facilities. Miller attended the Child Care and Family Development Center preschool from 1996-1998 and now sits on the U’s Child Care Advisory Board in his role as ASUU vice president.

“Coming full circle and having the opportunity to help other children receive the same opportunity as me is really fulfilling,” he said. “It seems like yesterday that I was a student at the preschool, and I’m still friends with some of the kids I met there. It had a key impact on my life.”

Leadership at the U recognizes the impact of early childhood education on the future of individuals and recently hosted a symposium that explored ways to invest in early learning and development programs.

“The critical foundation for long-term educational success begins in the early years,” said Lori Kowaleski-Jones, chair of the U’s Department Family and Consumer Studies. “Expert economist James Heckman found that ‘investing in early learning and development programs for children can foster valuable skills, strengthen our workforce, grow our economy and reduce social spending.’”

The $285,000 remodel of the Child and Family Development Center started in June 2016 and included new furniture, flooring and new rooms that allowed the facility to expand its age offerings as well as new full day and full year programming. In addition to the remodeled interior, the updates extended to the curriculum. The infant through pre-kindergarten now practices Montessori techniques, an intentional and purposeful curricular approach that supports children’s intrinsic motivation to learn.

“Montessori programming provides a natural state of being whereby learning is a spontaneous, self-directed experience in complete harmony with the child’s development,” said Geri Mendoza, director of the Child and Family Development Center. “We had significant faculty and community support in moving our curriculum in this direction.”

The remodel was made possible by donations from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation; the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation; Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke, Jr. Foundation; and The Castle Foundation.