The Child Study Center provides a well-balanced curriculum to preschool children. The curriculum seeks to nurture children's development in all four areas: social, emotional, cognitive and physical. To this end the school offers a modified open structured classroom concept in which the schedule, routines, staff, classroom activity areas and presentation of materials are highly structured to meet the needs of each developing child within the context of the whole group. The curriculum model is "open" in that children are provided free activity times in which they learn to make choices of areas that are of interest and/or need and to negotiate their way into and out of various subject areas. These curriculum areas are: sand, water, playdough, language arts, blocks, dramatic play, art, music, science and math. In addition to free activity times and outdoor play, the schedule includes group meeting times, snack times, and walks on campus. On extended days, the schedule also includes lunch time and rest time. The outdoor activities are considered to be equally important to the indoor and are carefully planned to support specific developmental goals for each child as well as the group as a whole. Each child's progress is noted daily by careful staff observations and future curriculum is planned accordingly.

Some basic guidelines of the curriculum are:

1) Preschool children learn through direct hands on experience using all of their senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. Thus, the curriculum must present a wide range of activities that include experiencing the stuff of the world (all sorts of animals, minerals and vegetables, like shells, leaves, flour, water, butterflies, wood, clay, and metal) as long as that stuff is safe.

2) Preschool children think differently from older people. They are concrete rather than abstract thinkers. They cannot understand fully about things that they cannot see, touch, feel, taste and hear in the present. Thus, it is most effective to show them tadpoles and frogs than to lecture to them about tadpoles and frogs.

3) Because preschool children are not abstract thinkers, they are just beginning to understand representation, such as a toy telephone represents a real telephone or a block can represent a hammer or a child can represent a daddy. Since they are just learning that some things can stand for (represent) other things, the curriculum must provide lots of practice in representation. This is known as pretend play or dramatic play. When a child can practice and learn that a toy red hat can represent a firefighter, then she can begin to understand that the alphabetic letter "B" stands for a sound in our language, "buh." Understanding representation is one of the most basic beginning reading skills.

4) All children develop along certain predictable timetables in all four areas, social, emotional, physical and cognitive. Yet each child is an individual and may be more or less advanced in each area. Thus the curriculum must offer open-ended experiences that children can learn from on many levels. For example, in blocks, one child might make an elaborate representational castle, while the next child simply lines up two blocks on the floor. Sand, water, playdough, dramatic play props, art materials, and music, for example, all offer opportunities for complex or simpler play, depending upon the child's development.

5) All children are individuals with their own backgrounds and constitutions. Each child has a particular history (family, medical, social, educational), birth order, culture (perhaps second language), set of strengths and challenges, needs and desires. A preschool must provide a curriculum that teaches to the "generic" 2, 3, or 4-year-old as well as to each individual child. For example, all 3-year-olds should learn to recognize and name the colors, but, in addition, Sammy might be particularly drawn to colors because his mommy is an artist. All 4-year-olds should be using language to communicate to others, but Alfredo might need particular instruction since his primary language is Italian.

6) Preschool children (all children) must feel and be safe in order to learn. Thus the curriculum must include clear expectations for behavior in which children treat materials, themselves and others with respect. Safety is not limited to looking for rusty nails or covering electrical outlets. The best safety is offered by a developmentally appropriate curriculum in a well-supervised classroom.

7) Directors and teachers must be able to express a clearly articulated philosophy of education according to these guidelines and to justify each activity according to its social, emotional, cognitive and physical benefits to development. In addition, since preschoolers are concrete (not abstract) thinkers, their classroom (and playground) itself is the curriculum. Therefore, teachers must be able to express their philosophy directly by how they plan the space (furniture, walls, yard) to be appropriate for young children's stages of learning.

8) Our curriculum conforms to the OCCS (Office of Child Care Services) standards and NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) guidelines for diversity, developmental appropriateness, (including physical safety) and most up-to-date research and teaching practices.

Specific Curriculum Areas at the CSC with examples of activities:

Language Arts:

- A reading corner with books available for children to look through and "read" on their own level or to be read to by an adult.
- A "print rich" environment in which children see some labels, names and other evidence of written language even before they are expected to "read."
- An available adult or adults who attend to children's speech, model appropriate language and show a passion for literacy.
- An opportunity for children to dictate labels or stories or to accompany visual art.
- A rich group time curriculum that includes song lyrics, poetry, nursery rhymes and class discussions or verbal problem solving.
- Encouragement of children's listening and speaking skills in the context of dramatic play.
- For those who are ready, activities that promote recognition and writing of alphabetical letters.


- Activities and materials that promote numerical concepts, such as one-to-one matching, counting, sorting, comparisons and seriation.
- Activities that encourage understanding of geometry, such as tangrams, puzzles, Legos and blocks.
- Incorporation of measurement, estimating and charting in everyday classroom activities.
- An environment in which children see some numerals and begin to learn how to recognize and write them.


- Lots of activities to experience the stuff of the world in all of its myriad forms and changes.
- Experiences in nature, observing, recording, guessing (making hypotheses), drawing conclusions, sharing information.
- Opportunity with basic materials (such as clay, sand, water, inclined planes and levers) to understand basic principles of physics (such as gravitational force, floating and sinking, and work).
- Cooking


- The widest possible experience with the widest possible range of materials to promote creativity, yet presented in a limited way developmentally suited to preschoolers. Thus we present a few kinds of materials at a time.
- Incorporation of many experiences with process, rather than product. Children who learn to tape, glue, measure, cut, chose color, paint, tie, etc can produce whatever they can imagine.
- Opportunities to view art, either their own or that of others, respectfully displayed.

Materials Without Shape (Amorphous Materials) Playdough, Sand and Water:

- Encourages scientific exploration of physics, geometry and math
- Offers a sensory experience, soothing to young children and non-threatening in terms of challenge.


- A basic material that is able to be manipulated to reshape, for example, squeezed, formed, rolled, pounded, cut, imprinted, and measured
- Presentation of shaping tools for widest possible learning, especially in the area of small motor muscle development, such as rollers, mashers, garlic presses, cookie cutters, and tongue depressors
- Incorporation of materials that promote emotional expression, like small plastic animals or Fisher Price people
- Opportunities for widest possible use from simply holding to forming representational objects, like worms, pizza, snowmen, or cookies.


- A table at child height filled with hygienic sand (indoors) A sandbox (outdoors)
- Stable, always available materials (pails and shovels) as well as materials that can change according to the play themes and units for the day or week
- A series of daily experiences in manipulating sand (a basic natural element) Children learn to lift, pour, measure, mold, and pack sand with a wide variety of tools, such as sieves, bowls, scoops, rakes, hoes, combs, shovels, tubes and boxes.
- Structured, time-limited opportunities to develop a content theme by representing things such as tunnels, inclined planes, animal burrows, or volcanoes or by incorporating other elements, such as toy construction vehicles, model buildings, toy animals or natural objects (sticks, snow, rocks, plants or shells)
- Experimentation with wet and dry qualities, hidden objects, and various types, textures and colors of sand.


- A table at child height filled with water
- Stable, always available materials (bowls, scoops, and sponges) as well as materials that can change according to the play themes and units for the day or week
- A series of daily experiences in manipulating water (a basic natural element) Children learn to lift, pour, measure, contain, and absorb water with a wide variety of tools, such as sieves, bowls, scoops, graduated cylinders, spray bottles and sponges.
- Experimentation with floating and sinking, absorption, water flow, suction, water temperature (including ice and snow), tidal changes, and introduction of other elements, such as soap, food color, or oil
- Structured, time-limited opportunities to develop a content theme, like washing clothes, bathing baby dolls, sailing ships, watering plants or stirring pretend soup

Blocks and Other Manipulative Materials:

- Shelves that present wooden unit (Kindergarten) blocks for child use
- Markings for children to know which shape block belongs on which shelf
- Presentation on nearby shelving of block accessories, such as: toy trucks, small human or other animal figures, buildings, mats, or wheels
- Blocks provide a wide possible expression of representation from a simple “road” built with one or two blocks laid end-to-end to an elaborate “castle,” complete with “drawbridge, turrets and moats”
- Blocks provide infinite opportunities in mathematics, physics and geometry to seriate, sort, count, name, compare, weigh, balance, make symmetry, and order. These are steps necessary to pre-reading skills.
- Pictures of topical interest are often presented nearby, such as photos of bridges, cities, statues, or roads.
- Many other manipulative materials are provided in various parts of the classroom, as appropriate to children’s development, such as: Legos, Cuisenaire Rods, Bristle Blocks, table blocks, parquetry blocks and puzzles.

Dramatic (Pretend) Play:

- Wide array of clothes and props to sustain representational play
- A defined play area (or areas) with space and structures to pretend whatever children create (house, hospital, space ship, office)
- Teachers present to support children in: developing play themes, explaining ideas to peers, expanding a repertoire of themes, respectful inclusion or exclusion of peers, conflict resolution, understanding of theatrical conventions, and written recording of children’s scripts or labels (“this is a restaurant,” “no bad guys allowed,” “museum is closed”)
- Materials in art and language arts areas for children to construct props, signs, costumes and scripts themselves for the dramatic play area

Outdoor Play:

- Outdoor play is considered as important to young children’s development as is indoor play. A fully equipped, safe, yet challenging outdoor playground provides, sand, natural landscape, swings, climbing equipment, dramatic play areas, places to gather as a group, and gardening opportunities.
- Children work with tools, such as rakes, shovels, and buckets as well as thematically structured materials, such as wind chimes, bird feeders, bubble blowers and kites.
- Children play freely and in groups depending on the structure of the day.

Campus Walks:

- The Child Study Center staff plans regularly scheduled walks on the Wellesley College campus. Typical walk destinations are the waterfall, the meandering stream and bridges, Paramecium Pond, the Davis Arts Center, and the Greenhouse botanical gardens. Children have opportunities to negotiate transitions, broaden their experience, learn to socialize in a larger societal context and learn new concepts. Walk experiences are always related back to classroom learning themes. For example, children might have studied about and collected pinecones, and then used the cones in art or science activities. Or children might have studied about site-specific sculptures and then visited the sculpture in the nearby Arboretum.

Group Time:

- Group time usually refers to any time that the whole group comes together under the leadership of a teacher to, for example, sing, play instruments, listen to music, hear and tell stories, share news, view a slide show, discuss topics, receive directions, or perform creative movement.
- Group time usually occurs once or twice a day for 15-20 minutes depending on the age of the children. Additional group time is incorporated into the schedule on extended days.


- At the Child Study Center music is not limited to group times. Music is sung spontaneously whenever it is appropriate, for example when getting dressed to go outdoors. Sometimes children may listen to recordings individually or in small group settings. Instruments are sometimes made available throughout the free activity time.
- Children are introduced to the concepts of pitch, volume, tone, rhythm, repetition, lyric, and instrumentation.
- Music is made in many ways, such as making instruments, singing, clapping rhythms, and reciting poetry in rhythmic patterns.
- Movement, such as dancing or jumping to rhythms, often accompanies music.
- Sometimes children listen to guest performers. For example, professional musicians have played for scheduled public events, and both parents and Wellesley College student assistants have also performed classroom “concerts.”

Snack/Lunch time:

- Snack & lunch times provide additional opportunities for adult-led group times; in this case the activity is eating and sharing social conversation.
- Children learn basic manners, good hygiene habits and beginning nutrition choices. They develop fine muscle skills at managing cups, pitchers, and napkins, as well as practice eating skills, such as biting and chewing appropriate amounts of food. Teachers model calm, safe and joyful eating experiences.

Self help:

- Learning to do basic self-care is essential to the curriculum for young children. Children are given many carefully guided opportunities to dress themselves (tie shoe laces, button, zip, snap and Velcro clothing); wash hands; be aware of bodily needs for toileting, thirst, and fatigue; and take care of some personal belongings. Teachers teach these life skills in increments, as other curriculum is taught.
- Children are not rushed through these experiences, as they are just as important as any other curriculum area.

Gooey Things

"Gooey Things" are not only fun to use but are also highly educational, especially for young children. They meet children's educational needs in all four areas of development: physical, cognitive, emotional, and social.

  1. Physical Development- When children squeeze and mold playdough and other gooey materials they develop the small muscles which are necessary to later write with pencils and pens or to turn pages in a book or press the keys of a computer.

  2. Cognitive Development- Children who watch the changes in forms produced by rolling, dripping, squeezing or pounding gooey materials begin to understand chemistry and physics- some of the principles of how our world works. They also get to talk about their play and to practice words as they describe their experience.

  3. Emotional Development- Playing with gooey things is a calming activity; it feels great to a young child to sense the coolness or smoothness of these materials and to have adult permission to play with something "nicely messy." Also, it's a relief to young children to simply be able to play (enjoy the process!) and not have to always make something (end up with a product!).

  4. Social Development- As children play with gooey things, they talk and share their delight in their experience. "Look at my playdough! It looks like an apple pie!" or "You can sit here next to me: I'm squeezing my playdough out as long as yours!"


Here are some recipes that you could use to help meet your child's educational needs.

Playdough Recipe
Fun Putty Recipe
Oobleck Recipe


The photographs below show curriculum materials and the three classrooms.

Please click to enlarge

a picture of playdough on the table picture of play equipment on table picture of the sandbox and toys

picture of paper and tape layout on table picture of cloth materials picture of the youngest classroom

picture of the youngest room set up picture of the middle classroom picture of the oldest classroom


Samples of children's artwork.

Please click to enlarge.

picture of a child's artwork picture of a child's artwork
sample of children's artwork sample of children's artwork
picture of a child's artwork picture of a child's artwork picture of a child's artwork