Program philosophy

We believe that children learn from others in their social world and that children create their own meaning from their experiences.

Check out this video from the Natural Start Alliance to hear from CDLS staff!


Teachers at CDLS see themselves as facilitators, co-researchers, and co-constructors of knowledge in areas of social, motor, language, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development.

Our teachers believe that children are born curious and with the desire to learn. They focus on cultivating trusting relationships between teachers and children and among children. The role of our teachers is to encourage learning through each child’s interactions with others.


To us, the learning environment is a “third teacher.” Our physical environment incorporates natural elements and is meant to be sensory rich and engaging to children.

We’ve given thoughtful attention to lighting, colors, projects, activities, and the overall ambient tone of each room. We also prioritize incorporating natural elements like plants and wood furniture, equipment, and intentional materials for problem solving, into our spaces.

Outdoor spaces are a key component of our learning environment. They are considered an extension of our overall philosophy and approaches to learning. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are intentionally designed for use with pre-service teachers and observational research.

We use environmentally sustainable materials when possible and use reusable dishes, cloth napkins, and silverware for all food. Our spaces offer recycling, composting, and hand washing stations for children and adults.


At CDLS, our curriculum incorporates many different educational theories and models. The different approaches allow us to provide an evidence-based and individualized educational experience for the children, families, and cultural communities we serve.

At its center, our curriculum is play-based. It takes into account children’s interests as well as Minnesota Early Learning Standards. On a weekly basis, each team of teachers plans curriculum, which focuses on extending children’s interests so they are excited about learning. Through the curriculum, teachers seek to foster children’s social and motor skills, self-confidence, emotional well-being, executive function, and creativity. Other areas of focus might include reasoning, problem solving, memory, language, literacy, and mathematics.

Children are given hands-on learning activities that extend their understanding of specific concepts. These concept investigations frequently center around everyday experiences and they are highlighted by engagement with the community in a variety of ways. Special consideration is often made for creating a home-school connection by inviting families into the learning environment or through collecting artifacts from home.


In the CDLS, we see assessment as an integral part of our program. Assessments are done on an ongoing basis and provide a road map to support children’s learning and development of curriculum.

We use a variety of developmentally informed tools and methods such as observations, work samples, and photos. Teachers use naturalistic assessment through daily interactions, activities, drawings, quotes, dialogues, individual, large and small group activities, and projects to document development. Observations are shared with families during conferences, and families are encouraged to contribute to the process with their reports and examples of the child’s behaviors and work outside of school.

If through observations a developmental screening or referral for diagnostic assessment is suggested, teachers will communicate directly with families in person or via telephone to discuss resources in their area. Assessments and conferences are made available in the family’s home language upon request.

Special needs 

At CDLS, we enroll children with special needs (i.e., those children with a generally recognized and persistent physical, mental, or emotional disability) whenever feasible for the child and the family. Our program uses an early childhood inclusion model, where young children with and without disabilities play, develop, and learn together.

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and their family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential.

Guidance/challenging behaviors 

Our primary goal for behavioral guidance is to create a warm and nurturing climate where all of the children and adults feel safe and accepted as we guide children toward the development of self-regulation.

The development of self-regulation is a life-long process and one that is closely correlated empirically with cognitive development, self-esteem, self-awareness, and empathy. We work toward helping children like and value themselves and understand and care about the well-being and rights of other people as well as support their growing ability to focus and direct their own actions with increasing skill.

To accomplish these goals, the adults practice skills for achieving open, honest, and genuine communication. These skills include active listening, sending non-judgmental messages about the effects of behavior, and problem solving in an open-ended manner without exerting unnecessary control over the outcomes.

Positive contacts with each child during every session establish trust and set the stage for discussing feelings and behavior. Alternative behavioral strategies may be used to meet the children’s needs. These strategies include redirection toward constructive activity, scaffolding in constructive social strategies, and providing immediate and directly related consequences for challenging behavior.