Each year over 100 Mount Holyoke College students observe the development of preschool and kindergarten children from the observation booths at the Gorse Children's Center. Most of these students are members of an introductory course in psychology or the 200 level developmental psychology course (Psych 230).
While observing, students may record children's and teachers' actions and words from behind one-way mirrors. By practicing different observational methods, students learn how to objectively observe and analyze behavior, a fundamental skill in social science and in psychology and education in particular. Students also learn about ethical issues, including the importance of treating all information as confidential.
Working with Children
Mount Holyoke students also learn practical skills at the Gorse Children’s Center. Each year approximately 85 students work for 3 to 6 1/2 hours each week in the classrooms under the close supervision of highly trained and experienced teachers. These students are usually members of the psychology laboratory in Early Social and Personality Development (Psych 331). Others are completing their Community-Based Learning component or pre-practicum requirements for courses in Educational Psychology (Psych 233), Differences in Learning (Educ 234), or one of the introductory education courses (Educ 205, Educ 220). During each session, students work directly with the children and complete observation and curriculum assignments for their courses.
Research with Children
A number of continuing research programs focus on the development of children's peer relationships, their attitudes about race, gender, and culture, and the effects of the media on children's play themes. Some applied studies have assessed how particular interventions and curricula influence children's attitudes toward different groups of people, their understanding of the human body, and their friendship patterns in the classroom.
Students can participate in these ongoing research programs. Specific projects range from small informal independent studies (Psych 295), to formal one-semester projects (Psych 306), to year-long senior Honors theses (Psych 395). Some of the investigations involve observations (e.g., the frequency of conflicts) that are usually done from the observation booths. Others include interviewing children (e.g., their ideas about gender roles and friendships) using small interview rooms adjacent to the classrooms. Still others are in-classroom projects where students collaborate with the teachers to implement curricula (e.g., activities designed to increase cross-gender cooperative play) and observe the results.
Many projects involve two or even all three of these methods. A number of student research studies done at Gorse have been presented at national conferences and have been included in book chapters and professional journal articles. Students conducting formal research projects must get parental permission to observe and interview children.
Early Childhood Curriculum Development
Throughout their history, college and university laboratory schools have been the source of new early childhood teaching practices and curricula. The Gorse teachers, with the active participation of Mount Holyoke students, continue this tradition. Teachers and Mount Holyoke students often work together to design curricula and to document the effects of particular changes in curriculum or teaching practice. Innovative curricula in multicultural education, social justice, environmental concerns, and the human body and self-awareness have resulted in the publication of a number of books, articles, book chapters, and several picture books for children.