SGM Lab School History and Philosophy

The Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School is one of the oldest laboratory school facilities in the United States. It has been in continuous operation as a University and community resource since 1925 and, through the years, has been integral to the programs of the Institute of Child Development as well as the College of Education and Human Development. In June 1987, the University Board of Regents renamed the facility in honor of Professor Emeritus Shirley G. Moore’s significant contributions to the field of early childhood education. During Professor Moore’s 13 years as Director of the school, it became widely known as a research laboratory and a center for the training of early childhood educators.

The primary purposes of the program have long centered on demonstrating exemplary early childhood education practices, preparing teachers of young children, and serving as an active center for child study and research. As a demonstration site, special attention is paid to the quality of the preschool program and the degree to which it reflects the growing knowledge of cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of the young child and the current best practices in the field. The philosophical orientation of the school is based on socio-cultural (i.e. children learn from others in their social world) and constructivist theories (i.e. children create their own meaning from their experiences). The essence of these theories and practices is that children are viewed as agents of their own learning, they learn best in the context of real experiences that are relevant, meaningful and matched to their developmental abilities and in environments where they have warm, nurturing relationships. Several decades of brain research supports these theories and practices as well. We know that "brain compatible" learning is when children have "hands on, minds on, and feelings on."

In each classroom children are provided with a carefully planned, rich environment where they can explore and experiment as well as utilize the knowledge that they have already acquired. Teachers carefully observe children as they play, supporting and extending their thinking, recording and documenting their interests, skill level and developmental achievements, so they can continually keep track of children’s progress. They also use some interactive or direct teaching strategies in order to introduce or highlight something new, promote discussion, or reinforce children’s learning. The focus of the educational component of the program is to facilitate children’s sense of wonder, curiosity and delight in learning as well as their acquisition of knowledge about the world and a beginning framework of academic concepts.

Each team of teachers plans curriculum on a weekly basis, which brings together the elements mentioned above: a focus on extending children’s interests so they are excited about what school has to offer; another focus on fostering children’s developmental skills and abilities such as social skills, self-confidence and emotional well-being, motor skills, creativity, reasoning, problem solving, memory, language, etc.; and an equally important, but sometimes not obvious, emphasis on concept development.

Because we firmly believe that young children (under the age of eight) learn best when they have a sense of control over their environment and are actively involved in determining what and how they learn, adults who are accustomed to teaching and learning consisting of adults delivering all of the academic content directly to children via "instruction", have to look closely to see the math, literacy, science and social studies embedded in the daily play activities of the Lab School. The academic content is rich and real and rooted in everything the children do. Did you know that the most important thing we can do to help children get ready to read is talk with them? Children develop an understanding of how language works, both oral and written, when they have the opportunity to talk with others about real and interesting experiences. New vocabulary words come alive with meaning when they are introduced in context. Singing songs, reading stories, having opportunities to notice print in the environment, and having their words and stories written down are all powerful ways to help children make the connection between the spoken and written word.

Children learn about number and math operations best when they have many sets of interesting objects to examine, sort, match, order and count (i.e. play with). Interested adults who are paying attention (i.e. teachers) step in and talk with children about what they are doing and thinking, as well as point out or introduce something new, thereby helping to bring children’s conceptual knowledge to a conscious level where they can remember and apply what they know in new situations. Many opportunities to use their beginning knowledge about numbers are planned for and watched for during the day, so teachers can support it. Counting how many Cheerios are on your napkin; creating a pattern on your pegboard, telling the teacher why you put all of the orange pigs in one pile and all of the blue horses in another in your block barn; going step-by-step through the "getting ready to go outside" dressing chart; measuring two cups of flour for the cooking project: this is the real math of preschoolers.

While children are engaged in fun, self-directed activities at school, they are observing, examining, touching, smelling, talking, listening, testing their ideas, relating to others and mastering tasks. And throughout all of this activity, the groundwork is being laid for every academic content area that children will be asked to tackle in the not-too-distant future.