The Rita Gold Early Childhood Center serves to promote the growth and development of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families through four inter-related practices: child care and educational services for young children, transdisciplinary professional preparation for graduate students, ongoing research to improve practice and inform theory in early childhood care and education, and outreach activities for early childhood professionals locally, nationally, and internationally. Founded in 1982 as the Center for Infants and Parents and located at Teachers College, the Center now provides inclusive and culturally responsive care for infants, toddlers, preschool children, and their families who are affiliated with Columbia University.
Our mission is to build a safe, educational, and caring community through establishing and nurturing authentic relationships among children, families, graduate students, and staff members. We strive to help empower each member of our Center to better serve the community at large, to nurture a love of learning, and to foster the sense of wonder that is within us all. Together we demonstrate our commitment to continually discovering, creating, and sustaining a teaching and learning environment that supports inquiry, diversity, and equity.
Founded in 1982 by Leslie Williams and Annette Axtmann as the Center for Infants and Parents (CIP), the Center has long been providing quality early care and education for the youngest children and their families and professional preparation for graduate students whose studies focus on infancy. Over the years and with the support of Teachers College, the Center has grown from one part-time infant toddler room, primarily serving children of TC graduate students, into a more comprehensive service program providing full-time and year-round care and education. We now serve children from 2 months through 5 years of age whose families are currently affiliated with Columbia University as students, staff, or faculty. Early care and education is provided in three rooms, each with a mixed-age group of children. Adaptability to meet a wide variety of developmental needs is built into the program. The Center’s growth and development has also been supported through the gifts of many kind and generous donors. We are grateful to Rita and Herbert Gold for their support of our most recent expansion.
The Center philosophy is guided by several principles which inform our work with children, families, graduate students, and staff.
We consider families as the primary caregivers and educators of their children and we ask them to participate in their children’s care and education at the Center. Parents and teachers exchange information on a daily basis through verbal and written communication. Some parents are members of our advisory board, while others serve on the newsletter or fund-raising committees. All parents are invited to join the staff for ongoing parent-teacher seminars, individual conferences, small group discussions, and social events.
We prioritize human relationships in all aspects of our work. Research tells us that young children’s learning takes place within the context of human relationships. We work to create and support positive relationships through ongoing staff collaboration, reciprocal communication between staff, graduate students, and families, and fostering a spirit of community among the children.
We believe that young children are competent and innately motivated to learn. Our teachers create curriculum based on careful observations of children. A safe and interesting environment is designed each day which allows children to engage in activities according to their interests and developmental abilities. Children are encouraged to participate in their own care and to take responsibility for the group to the extent that they are able.
We embrace an integrated and emergent curriculum that strengthens children’s developmental potential. Interactions and activities in our classrooms focus on the whole child, and are designed to be flexible enough to take advantage of “teachable moments”. We provide care and education for children in mixed-age groups that foster caring and community. Activities and materials are carefully selected for their potential interest to a wide range of children to accommodate developmental and learning differences.
We respect young children’s sense of time (in the moment), and work to mediate their understanding of adult (parent and caregiver) expectations and schedules. We allow children to make choices and try to accommodate to the children’s pace when possible during transitions. When adult schedules must be imposed, teachers try to take the child’s perspective as they negotiate understanding and compliance.
The Rita Gold Early Childhood Center supports and promotes the growth and development of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families through four inter-related practices:
Direct service to children and families
The Center provides child care and educational services for children from 2 months to 5 years of age whose families are currently affiliated with Teachers College and/or Columbia University, in an integrated curricular, multicultural, and inclusive setting
Our program serves as a practicum site for students across the College who are interested in learning about issues of practice and research in early care and education. Our teachers serve as mentors to Masters students who are studying to become early childhood teachers. Masters and doctoral students from programs in music, art, school psychology, counseling, and speech pathology, among others, are also participant/observers in our classrooms.
In collaboration with our faculty director and classroom teachers, students and faculty from departments across Teachers College engage in descriptive and observational research on children’s development and learning which informs early childhood theory and practice. Teachers, graduate students, and faculty present their work at local, national, and international conferences and workshops and publish their findings in scholarly journals.
Our Center engages in outreach activities which serve early childhood professionals in New York City, New York State, the United States, and countries around the world. We provide guided observations of the Center, inservice staff development opportunities, and international exchanges on promoting high quality child care and educational services.
Our curriculum is play-based and emergent, capitalizing on children’s experiences in the world, their growing skills and competencies, and our constant belief in their ability to construct higher level meaning through engaging hands-on activities. Our approach to teaching and learning draws from several sources of knowledge, including widespread research literature that supports the essential value of young children learning through play. Within each of our classrooms, we employ a curricular style that begins with observing the children and learning from them about their interests and passions. We work to provide a space which supports their participation in curricular decisions.
Our teachers, all prepared as early childhood specialists, are well-versed at scaffolding learning for very young children “in the moment”. Although well aware that there are times when direct instruction methods are needed, our teachers more commonly engage the children in exploration and discovery. Thus, teachers are prepared to respond to the ways that children construct their own knowledge, drawing on their deep understandings of young children’s ways of being and learning. For example, as a child finds her name on her bin she is exploring print; on a community walk to the bakery, children learn about sizes and shapes of the various loaves of bread. As children eat their snacks, they explore colors, tastes, and smells, expanding on emergent language skills and sensory awareness.
Graduate students in early childhood music and art education provide special opportunities for our Center children to engage in musical and artistic experiences on a regular basis. The preschool children are also able, for a small fee, to take swim lessons once a week throughout the year in the Teachers College swimming pool. Field trips and special events are planned regularly based on children’s evolving interests.
More information on particular activities within each classroom are provided in the Classrooms section of our Web Site.