The educational philosophy at the Manchester Family Child Development Center is child centered and developmentally based. It begins with the knowledge that young children learn through their direct interactions with their environment and the people within it.

While most children do go through predictable stages of development, each child grows and learns at a pace that is individually specific. Age is not necessarily an accurate indicator of development. Children at Manchester are generally in the stage that Jean Piaget described as preoperational. Characteristics of this stage include egocentricity, concrete thinking, and the explosion of language. The preoperational stage lasts until approximately age eight.  Children in the preoperational stage learn best through activities that are inspired by their own curiosity rather than by the direct instruction of an adult. Extensive research shows that young children learn through play and through active exploration of their environment. They construct knowledge through the manipulation of concrete materials and the stimulation of their five senses. Children gain ownership of their learning in a child centered environment through the choices they make during play. Our classrooms are arranged into activity areas to encourage the children to make choices. These centers include but are not limited to: art, science, writing, books, clay, light, sand and water, dramatic play, manipulatives, music, blocks and the outdoor learning environment.

The teacher’s role in a child centered environment is that of a collaborative learner and a facilitator and extender of the children’s learning. The primary role of the teacher is to interact with the children while encouraging problem solving and language experiences through the use of open ended dialogue and questions. The teacher also spends a great deal of time observing the children during their play and reflecting with the co-teacher, with the children, and with parents to translate those observations into a common language of learning.  In addition, the teacher takes care to arrange the learning environment in a way that stimulates curiosity and encourages choices while allowing the children to work independently and in groups. The teacher can then plan activities that extend the interests of the children and promote the exploration of more advanced concepts and tasks. Such planning is flexible and short term to meet the needs of the learning group.

The development of literacy is encouraged through a whole language approach where the children experience the various aspects of language through all sign systems such as music, science, math, art, drama, dance, reading and writing. We do not use formal reading and writing instruction that emphasizes isolated skill development. Instead we encourage and accept the child’s best attempt at reading and writing. In this way we encourage the children to take risks in their learning knowing that their work will be accepted and valued.

The curriculum that results from this philosophy is open-ended and based on the children’s choices. The curriculum is dynamic in that it changes with the interests and needs of the children. Our schedule includes large blocks of uninterrupted free choice time for the children to explore the classroom and the materials within it.


The Center is inspired and challenged by the methods in the preprimary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  We do not strive to duplicate what has evolved in Reggio over the last several decades, but rather to interpret the theories inherent to their approach into a method that reflects our own distinctive culture and practices. More detailed information about the Reggio Approach and our unique interpretation is made available during our annual New Parent Orientation, and a suggested reading list is available to those interested in learning more.

We view our approach as eclectic and evolving.  We strive to undergo continual reflection and critical analysis of the methods we employ in our classrooms. With our vision of the child as central to the learning process, we enjoy ongoing opportunities to question, refine, celebrate and develop new ideas as we collaboratively embark on this journey of early childhood education.  We view parents as our partners in this process, and welcome and encourage dialogue and feedback about our pedagogy.  

Research and Observation

The Center is a research and practicum site serving USD faculty, staff, students and the Early Childhood community.  All research projects to be carried out in the center will be cleared first through USD’s Human Subjects Review Committee.  If your child is a potential subject to be included in a research project, you will be fully informed in advance of the purpose and procedures involved in the planned study, and your written consent will be obtained before the study begins.  You may choose to keep your child from participating in any study without consequences to you or your child’s participation at the Center.  Children also have the right of refusal.

From time to time you will encounter students observing at the Center as well as working at the Center.  All visitors to the Center, including observers, must check in with an office representative before being allowed access to the classrooms, and all visitors and observers are always under the visual supervision of one of our staff members.

Guidance and Discipline

An important goal in guidance and discipline is to help each child develop a sense of self-control and autonomy.  Our commitment to human dignity and respect dictates our philosophy on guidance and discipline in the classroom.  We do not use authoritarian methods of controlling children such as yelling, issuing orders, or spanking.  We strive to help children understand that there are natural consequences to their actions, and help them understand the necessity for rules.  We believe that children can speak for themselves, and under the close guidance of teachers, can solve conflicts and disagreements.  We believe that children who feel confident and capable of solving problems in a fair and meaningful manner will internalize rules of cooperative behavior and will follow these rules because they want to, not because we are forcing them to do so.

Of course, safety and the rights of all children are always paramount.  There are times when children must be stopped from what they are doing immediately.  In such cases we act quickly and provide explanations later.

Time outs are generally not used at M.F.C.D.C.  It may be necessary; however, to remove a child from a situation in which persistent aggression is occurring.  When necessary, this removal takes place immediately after the transgression and with a minimum amount of attention being given to the transgressor (other than a clear explanation for why he or she needs to be separated from other children). The child will be allowed to rejoin the group as soon as she or he is able to regain control and the teacher can ensure the safety of all children.

Behavior determined by MFCDC staff to be severe will be documented and addressed on an individual basis. If such behavior is recurrent, the family will be included in the inception of a written plan to remedy the situation, with mutually agreed upon consequences assigned to any inability to do so.

Grievance Policy

A parent who wishes to report or discuss a grievance concerning any aspect of the program shall request a meeting with the Director. The Director will attempt to address the concern in an expedient manner, and will discuss the grievance as appropriate with individual staff members, the staff as a whole, or the Assistant Dean of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. The parent will be provided with a written summary of follow-up to the grievance. If at any time the parent feels that the Director is not addressing his or her concerns, that parent should contact Linda Dews, Assistant Dean, in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences.