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Nursery School is Center For Educational Research

By Richard H. Ullman

Harvard has a group of students who never carry books, who never go to the Bick for after-class coffee, and who think a bluebook is pretty because the cover is of such a pleasing shade.

Ranging in age from two-and-a-half to four, they are all enrolled in the Harvard Preschool, a nursery school for demonstration and experimentation established by the Graduate School of Education. The school as housed in three squat quonset huts surrounded by a playground at 5 Kirkland Place.

Founded in 1950, the Preschool now serves a three-fold purpose. First is its service to the community, Seventy-two children from every sort of family background attend its twice-daily sessions, 45 in the morning group and 20 during the afternoon. Second is the valuable teaching practice it provides for graduate students in the Education School's division of early childhood education. Its third function is as a research ground for the Laboratory of Human Development and the Social Relations Department.

Director of the Preschool is Julia A. Schoellkopf, a Sarah Lawrence Alumna who also teaches courses in early childhood education. Most of the school's children come from Cambridge, and are off-spring of parents with some University connection, either as students or faculty, predominate. Teachers hope the school can get more children from non-academic backgrounds. Scholarship funds are available for children whose families cannot meet the 200 dollar yearly tuition fee.

Although, in Miss Schoellkopf's words, the schools is "middle of the road--not overly permissive or overly rigid," the prestige of its Harvard connection allows it to institute many advances that a more restricted type of nursery school would be unable to make. An example is the abolition of the daily line up for health inspection that so many nursery schools require.

Children at the Preschool are inspected by their family's pediatrician before enrolling, but afterwards their health is watched over by the teachers. This avoids making health an obsession that could be psychologically damaging to the child, and studies prove that the informal observation of the teachers is at least as effective as a rigid inspection by a nurse who does not know each child individually. Many other nursery schools followed this example after its effectiveness received nationwide recognition.

Small Groups

The afternoon and morning groups are subdivided into smaller sections of approximately 14 children each.

Discipline is rarely a problem, for the teachers manage to curb most situations before they get out of hand. When a child does misbehave, he is never sent to stand in the corner as is done in many nursery schools. He is taken instead to Miss Schoellkopf's office, where he plays alone and calms down. To lessen the problems of adjustment to foreign surroundings, mothers are told to stay at the school until the child no longer needs them. Some leave after a few hours; others come with their children every day for weeks, until the child says he can stay at schools alone.

Much important research in child development has come from the Preschool, but teachers are quick to point out that their charges are subjected to no elaborate experimentation that is either trying or uncomfortable for them. Psychologists gather data by observing the children playing with dolls. When the watcher is hidden behind one-way glass, the child takes on varying different roles in his relationship with dolls, and much can be learned about the child's personality, Most of the experimental work in the three years since the founding of the school has been in teaching the dependency patterns of children toward their parents and teachers.

Teacher Personality

Research in personality requirements for teaching is carried on simultaneously. This work has received great impetus from a newly-received Ford Foundation grant.

The Preschool is now taking a small number of two and a-half year olds, in addition to the usual three-and four-year olds, for a few hours each week. The teachers have discovered that starting this half year earlier greatly speeds the social development of the child. Rumor has it that just the other day a group of male two and a-half year olds were huddled in the corner, pencils and paper in hand, trying to select Miss Radcliffe of 1970.

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