On this particular day in Sonna Schupak's classroom for 5- and 6-year-olds at Sarah Lawrence's Early Childhood Center (ECC), memories of her students' field trip to the Hudson River are ever-present. On one shelf lie life-size papier mâché replicas the children made of fish from the river—from a two-inch Sand Shrimp to 14-foot long Atlantic Sturgeon. By one window stands a painting/collage the students made of the Yonkers waterfront, looking across the River at the Palisades with a pale blue sky and rusty-colored cliffs.
The children were making plans to hang their fish and transform one of the classrooms into an underwater world. A visit to Sarah Lawrence's theatre department helped them discover ways to make scenery. These art projects, inspired by the field trip, are part of the "emergent curriculum" that evolves in Schupak's classroom.
"My passion is to build the curriculum around the children's ideas. So many interesting projects came from that trip to the Hudson," says Schupak, who has taught at the ECC since 1988. "Children are like birds in flight. I follow their lead. I'm the breeze that keeps them aloft."
The ECC was established in 1937 to provide a laboratory setting for Sarah Lawrence students to learn about child development and early childhood education while serving the community's preschoolers. Programs are modeled as extensions of the Sarah Lawrence belief that children are the makers of meaning.
Today, there are 128 children ranging in age from 2 to 6 at the ECC with about 60 undergraduate and graduate students augmenting the Center's professional staff each semester. In classrooms with 14 children, there are often as many as five adults.
"This ratio gives us the opportunity to provide very close adult attention to the children," says Lorayne Carbon, director of the Early Childhood Center and a faculty member of the Child Development Institute.
Reprinted from the Spring 2009 issue of InTouch, a free newsletter for our neighbors published three times a year. To stay up to date on news and campus events at Sarah Lawrence College, subscribe to InTouch.