University of Minnesota Child Development Laboratory School: A model early learning community

The new Child Development Laboratory School brings together two high-quality early childhood programs

The University of Minnesota Child Development Center (UMCDC) and the Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School are uniting in Fall 2021 to form the University of Minnesota Child Development Laboratory School (CDLS). The new, combined program will be academically and administratively housed in the Institute of Child Development (ICD) and integrated with the department’s research and early childhood education training programs. 

The CDLS combines two long-standing, high-quality early childhood programs that have served the University of Minnesota (U of M) and Twin Cities communities for decades. Founded in 1974, the UMCDC has provided a full-day, “fee-for-service” childcare and enrichment program for University of Minnesota-affiliated staff, faculty, and students and cared for 140 children, ages 3 months to 5 ½ years old. The Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School opened in 1925 and is one of the oldest laboratory schools in the United States. Its part-day program, which has annually enrolled more than 100 children, ages 2 to 5 years old, is available to families from throughout the Twin Cities who are not affiliated with the U of M. 

Now under one roof at  921 17th Ave SE in Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, the two programs will combine their expertise in early childhood to form a model learning community for young children, student teachers, and families. We spoke with Sarah McKee and Sheila Williams Ridge, co-directors of the CDLS, about the new program and its exciting next chapter. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What about the combined program are you most proud of? 

McKee: I’m most proud looking at the future of both the Shirley G. Moore Lab School and UMCDC and the programs’ long history. Together, we are continuing the quality that we’ve always provided for families, children, and the University. 

What sets the CDLS apart? 

Williams Ridge: The expertise of the staff and commitment to early childhood. Many teachers in both the part-day and full-day programs have many years of experience and advanced degrees. Our staff also continue to incorporate new teaching approaches as best practices evolve, both from a developmental and a cultural perspective. 

What will children and student teachers gain from the CDLS program?

McKee: Our programs are laying the foundation for children’s education and growth later on. They are developing important skills with the support of teachers and student teachers that will help them navigate their education and career. 

Williams Ridge: Student teachers are going to gain a lot more tools for how to work in a wide variety of programs. We now have an opportunity to show them several different models of what high-quality early childhood can look like. That’s exactly what the early childhood workforce needs — teachers that are adaptable and creative. 

How will research be integrated into the program? 

Williams Ridge: There will be many opportunities for research both in the part-day and full-day programs, as well as in our indoor and outdoor spaces. Our classrooms have observation booths that researchers, teachers, and parents can take advantage of. Our gym also has an observation booth, which will allow researchers to study how children move and develop physically. 

If you had one thing you wanted parents to know about CDLS, what would it be?

Williams Ridge: Their child’s experience at CDLS is not just to support their child’s development but to also support them as parents in their journey of raising young children. We have many opportunities for parent education and engagement, so they truly feel a part of their child’s learning experience. 

McKee: The dedication to the work that we’re doing. Whether it’s a teacher on the floor in action for 40 hours per week, a researcher studying child development, or a staff member completing professional development, there are a vast amount of people at CDLS who are dedicated to providing the highest quality early care and education to children and families.