Over the last few months, the College’s Children’s Center has been growing into both a new outlook and a new facility. The former came last spring when Sarah Becker arrived as the director from Bennington College. The latter opened on Whitman Street this summer.
Since the opening of the Center’s new premises, Becker has had plenty of opportunity to begin establishing the vision and goals that she articulated upon joining the Center.
The new facility itself provides Becker and the Children’s Center staff with a space designed to facilitate early childhood learning. It caters to specific age-appropriate needs: “Not every building has closets designed to store the children’s napping mats,” Becker said during a tour.
The building has separate classroom spaces and playgrounds developed for infants, toddlers and two pre-school age groups. The school-aged children have a wing of the building and a playground for themselves, because “they tend to get a little noisy,” Becker said.
Becker’s teaching philosophy is that of “emergent curriculum,” a learning program that focuses on the expressed or observed interests of children. One of the pre-school classrooms is currently home to a large, painted cardboard spaceship. “I’m encouraging the staff to think of projects that the children can work on together creatively,” Becker said.
Emergent learning, she noted, means fostering the development of independent skills. It centers on a curriculum that is responsive to children, and utilizes dramatic play spaces. These deliberately structured environments allow children to learn and explore without necessarily needing specific prototypes from teachers. “We’re exploring what it means to do things in an open-ended way, allowing the children to explore materials and ideas,” Becker said.
Becker is also starting conversations with parents and the community, a goal that she expressed at her hiring. “We’re still establishing a new school,” she said. “It’s an interesting balance, because it’s ongoing, but there’s still the vision and the hope of what it can be in the future.” To that end, Becker is beginning to engage the parents in discussions of curriculum. There are plans in the near future for a parent committee that can facilitate feedback and ongoing relationships.
The Center’s capacity to draw and involve parents is crucial to the College and the community. Sixty percent of the children that the Center cares for are the children of Williams faculty and staff. “The Center is an important tool for the College in attracting and retaining faculty,” Becker said. “The College has been amazingly supportive of this project.”
Another of Becker’s long-term goals is to engage the College in relations with the Children’s Center. Fostering connections with the College takes a long time, Becker admitted, but she plans to meet with the Faculty Childcare Committee to develop an idea of what the relationship might look like.
Becker is also optimistic that the student involvement and research that she discussed in the spring will come to fruition in the near future. “I love the new perspective that students of education can bring,” Becker said. “They’re learning about child development and education, but they’re also questioning it.”
At some point, Becker hopes that the Center’s reach can extend beyond the College and into the surrounding areas. “The staff members are very interested in being of service to the wider community,” she said.
This might include providing workshops for other early childhood educators and bringing students from other area colleges in to volunteer at the Center.
Becker is visibly excited about directing the Center. “I’m just really thrilled to be here and to see it up and going,” she said.