Bridging the Gap Between Theory, Research and Practice: The Role of...: Volume 12


Table of contents

(14 chapters)

The case for child development laboratory programs has never been more pressing than it is at this time. The three-part mission of facilitating and supporting teaching, research, and outreach activities has guided the activities of child development laboratory programs since their inception. Although these programs continue to be important players in the child development and early childhood education arenas, many are being asked to provide justification for their continued existence. In recent years campuses have reconsidered, reconceptualized, and restructured the ways in which these laboratory programs fit within the agendas and missions of the universities where they are located, the local communities surrounding the universities, and the child development and early childhood education professions in general.

When Brent McBride and Nancy Barbour approached me with a proposal for an Advances in Early Education and Day Care theme volume on child development laboratory schools, I was eager to pursue the topic with them. This Advances series has always been dedicated serving as a forum to furthering the knowledge base on all aspects of early education, broadly defined. The disciplinary roots of the field are necessarily interdisciplinary, reflecting the range of disciplines that are relevant to us, including sociology, psychology, policy studies, curriculum studies, history, and related fields. A fair amount of our existing knowledge base was generated in campus laboratory programs, which were designed to be interdisciplinary, as Barbour shows us in her chapter in this volume. At the same time, I am aware of some of the turmoil and transformation that has shaken campus child development programs over the past two decades (Keyes, 1991); venerable programs have closed, converted from nursery schools to child care, altered to reflect communities beyond the ivory tower of campus, or asked to do things that they had never done in the past. What might a special volume on campus laboratory programs for children tell us about the state of knowledge, and the state of the field of early childhood education and care?

History helps us to better understand current practices, struggles, and potential solutions. This chapter provides a look back at the long, rich history of child development laboratory programs in the U.S. over almost 80 years. In particular, it explores the original vision of those involved in the early days of “child study” and the evolution over time of a sample of three child development laboratory programs. The struggles of today’s child development laboratory programs in the areas of funding, collaboration, research, training, and service are not unique to our times. Many of these same issues have plagued child development laboratory programs in the past. The historical perspectives were developed using a range of data sources: some period pieces (primary sources), some historical accounts, oral history interviews, and records of activity at various sites, with the intention of developing the historical foundation of the child development laboratory program in order to understand better the challenges we face today.

The University of South Carolina’s child development lab school faced extinction because of campus renewal projects and shifting priorities. Shrinking state budgets ended subsidies for small-scale programs at the same time the university was privatizing non-essential services. It became apparent that we needed to forge new partnerships and explore innovative funding strategies if the center was to continue providing quality childcare on our research university campus. Our five-year-long struggle has culminated with the creation of a unique public/private partnership linking the management expertise and investment capital of a for-profit childcare provider with the resources and professional knowledge at the state’s flagship university. After the framework for the public/private partnership had been created the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and Educational Television joined to create a center of excellence that will be a demonstration site for the entire early childhood community. We believe the partnership we have created is a sustainable solution to the campus childcare dilemma, one that will keep quality childcare and related research and teaching on our campus. The partnership we have created can serve as a sustainable model for other programs faced with shrinking budgets, eroding support, and threats to their existence.

This chapter describes the transition of a nursery school to a laboratory school. Dissatisfaction on the part of populations involved with the nursery school led to an extensive self-study, the results of which indicated several forms of discontinuity. The program was restructured through initiating structural changes and articulating missions congruent with those of traditional laboratory schools. Actions specific to educating and training students, conducting scientific inquiry and research, and implementing best practice and educational innovation also were taken in order to address the new missions and achieve higher levels of continuity. Throughout the chapter the difficulty and necessity of linking theory and research with practice and innovation are highlighted.

Child development lab schools have long played a significant role in contributing to our understanding of child development and new and innovative educational practice. In this chapter, we argue that lab schools need to be continually reinvented and reconstructed to meet changing societal and institutional demands. As models for the early childhood community, lab schools should be on the leading edge of what theory and research informs us are best practices in early childhood education and child development. Here we tell the story of the Virginia Tech Child Development Lab School’s efforts to reconsider and reconstruct our philosophical approach, practices, and policies and move closer to bridging theory and practice as a family-centered, teacher-inquiry based, community of learners. It demonstrates a paradigmatic shift in thinking about children, families, early childhood teacher education, and the role of lab schools in general.

This chapter describes how a college of education sponsored child development laboratory school responded to P-12 school reform movement efforts, particularly related to the establishment of professional development schools for the preparation of teachers. In its efforts to create a diverse learning community where all constituents (teachers, preservice teachers, and parents) are engaged in collaborative inquiry, the school sought inspiration from other sources, most notably the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. In both the professional development school standards and the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach, emphasis is given to learning to teach within practice, teachers as researchers, making teaching and learning visible and egalitarian roles in carrying out the work of the school.

This chapter focuses on the importance of collaboration between university laboratory schools and community partners. The why, what, and how of collaboration within higher education contexts are reviewed, with a focus on the steps required for successful collaboration. The University of Rhode Island Child Development Centers’ collaborative efforts are used to illustrate potential ways collaboration can occur through statewide professional development activities, relationships with state and local public school systems, and relationships with various community groups and agencies. The conclusion is that through collaboration, lab schools can enhance their potential to fulfill their three-part mission of teaching, research, and service, and can strengthen the interconnections among the missions, bridging the gap between theory, research, and practice.

Child development laboratory programs relying heavily on department and university funding can face unique economic challenges due to the constant shifts in academic resources. Many programs have faced elimination during times of financial crisis at their institutions. The purpose of this chapter is to present a variety of creative financing strategies for child development lab schools to address these economic challenges. The focus is on strategies that bring financial stability to programs and lessen the reliance on university funds for viability. It is equally important for lab schools to be highly integrated with the mission of their institution to prevent funding dilemmas. For many administrators this means addressing the research, teaching and service missions of their programs. A case study of one child development laboratory school faced with elimination will also be presented.

Although child development laboratory programs share a common history and a commitment to a three-part mission of teaching, research, and outreach, they vary in the ways their programs are structured. At the same time, lab schools are being confronted by new challenges that have put many of these programs at-risk for cutbacks in support and/or closure. The diversity that can be found in the structure of lab schools has made it difficult for these programs to collaborate on ways to address the challenges they face on a daily basis. The purpose of this chapter is to present findings from a national survey of lab schools, with a goal of identifying common issues and challenges being faced by programs regardless of their structure. Results are used to identify critical issues lab schools must address in order to continue playing an important role in bridging theory, research, and practice in the field of early childhood education.

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Advances in Early Education and Day Care
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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