child pouring water through a funnel in the CDC

The Child Development Centers at the University of Rhode Island offer preschool programs for children ages 3 to 5 years. The original Child Development Center is located on the Kingston campus of the University. The Dr. Pat Feinstein Child Development Center is located at the Feinstein Providence Campus. These programs are operated by the Department of Human Development and Family Science in the College of Human Science and Services in order to provide a setting for observation, participation, and research focusing on young children and their families. Opportunities in these areas are available to all students and faculty at the University.


The present Child Development Center program has its roots in a campus nursery school program started in the 1920s. The original nursery school was a half-day program operating two days a week in a building that is currently the Kingston Inn. In 1958 the present building was designed and constructed to specifically serve as the Child Development Center. The program continued to be a half-day session until 1980 when a full-day option was added. In September of 1995, the Child Development Center introduced a full-day kindergarten option which was in place until 2014. The Child Development Center serves approximately 40 families per year. The Child Development Center continues to be the campus laboratory school where student training and research are important priorities.


The Child Development Center is part of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Rhode Island. The Department offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas related to working with children and families.

The CDC has three missions which mirror those of the University: teaching, research, and service.

  • Relative to teaching, the CDC provides high quality early care and education programs for preschool children and their families. The CDC also fulfills a teaching mission for URI students with approximately 150 intermediate and advanced undergraduate students completing practica at the center each year. A larger number of URI students (almost 500 per year) use the CDC as an observation site for assignments in a variety of courses across campus.
  • The CDC serves as a research site with the CDC children, families, and staff participating in research studies conducted by URI faculty and students. Investigations may focus on a range of topics related to the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of young children; the creation and management of early education environments; relationships between teachers and children, teachers and parents, and parents and children.
  • In the area of service, the CDC is dedicated to providing an exemplary early care and education program that serves as a model of the best in early childhood practices. As the campus “lab school,” the CDC serves as a resource for early childhood educators in RI. Educators from across the state can call with questions or requests to observe. The staff also participates in outreach to the community by being active in professional organizations devoted to young children and by presenting at state and regional conferences.

At The Child Development Center

We believe in the uniqueness and intrinsic value of each child. We strive to develop a program that will enhance the development of each child to the fullest extent. We believe that children learn through meaningful play experiences with interesting materials that match children’s interests and abilities. These rich experiences and interactions help children move toward individual and age appropriate goals of the Rhode Island Early Learning and Development Standards.

We believe that high quality programs include goals for children, families and the program. The goals for the Child Development Centers reflect the 10 core standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the whole child through a play-oriented, integrated approach. Our curriculum includes a consistent daily schedule, well-defined classroom environment, positive verbal climate, a range of high quality instructional strategies, peaceful guidance techniques, and open-ended activities that are reflective of our diverse world.

Based on the belief that children are best understood within the context of their family and community, we strive to foster strong reciprocal relationships with families and to use knowledge of the community we serve as an integral part of children’s learning experiences. We seek to understand families’ personal and cultural backgrounds, create and maintain effective two-way communication and support and nurture family members to be effective advocates for their children. Families are encouraged to work in partnership sharing their knowledge of their child’s interests, approaches to learning and developmental needs. Through this strong relationship we learn about families’ concerns, goals and hopes for their child. Families are encouraged to be active participants in the program and are offered numerous and diverse opportunities to be included in all aspects of the program.

Program Philosophy

The URI Child Development Centers early childhood program philosophy, curriculum, and objectives are based on the integration of a number of theories of child development and early education as well as on recent research findings.

One significant influence, which informs our decisions is the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s position statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice. This statement emphasizes the importance of basing curriculum decisions on three critical factors: age appropriateness in which decisions are made based on what is known about children’s growth and development in the early childhood years, individual appropriateness in which decisions are made understanding that each individual child has unique strengths, interests and needs and social and cultural appropriateness in which decisions are made based on knowledge about the child’s social and cultural environment. In a developmentally appropriate program, each of these factors inform curricular decisions.

Other influences include the integration of a number of child development and early education theories and approaches. The constructivist theory advocated by Piaget, Forman, Kamii, DeVries and others tells us that children construct their own knowledge as they strive to make sense of the world around them. Children learn when they are actively engaged and intrinsically motivated to learn. The teacher’s role is to provide a rich and diverse environment with many opportunities for exploration, investigation, formulating questions, and solving problems.

The Child Development Center’s philosophy is influenced by the work of Howard Gardner. His theory articulates the existence of eight intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Gardner emphasizes the importance of recognizing that each child has a unique approach to learning and that teachers must provide curricular opportunities in each of these eight intelligences so that all children can experience success.

Lev Vygotsky’s work articulates the importance of social interaction for learning to take place. Additionally, educators from the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy emphasize the importance of providing opportunities for creativity and for documenting children’s ideas in a variety of different ways.

Each of these theoretical perspectives inform the decisions made at the Child Development Centers as teachers develop curriculum to meet the developmental and educational needs of each unique child.