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Friday, September 17, 2021

Play time meets research at campus preschool

A wedding took place last week where all the guests were no taller than the average four or five-year-old. Probably because they were all four or five-year-olds.

Kelly Twibell’s preschool class at the Center for Child and Family Studies (CCFS) set up a mock wedding for the preschoolers having the children practice letter-writing with invitations and counting with the number of bouquets.

“It was a playful moment of ‘let’s get married,’ … that got turned into a learning experience,” Twibell said.

Established in the 1960s by the UC Davis Department of Human and Community Development, CCFS is a center where “play time” and research come together.

Around 82 children every quarter – ranging in age from six months to five years old – are accepted into CCFS where they simultaneously learn through play and are a part of observations that help to advance the field of child development, Twibell said.

CCFS allows researchers and graduate students a chance to observe the children at play among the three playgrounds, sensory gardens and chicken coops outside. Inside, some young infants learn to communicate with sign language by as early as 10 months.

The CCFS buildings, located on First Street in downtown Davis, are surrounded on all sides of evidence of play and opportunities for research. Whether it is the two-seater scooter that facilitates social interaction or the bushes grown specifically for hide-and-seek, the CCFS creates an atmosphere of study not only for researchers but for the children too.

Julia Luckenbill, a program coordinator for infants and toddlers, finds that the children work just as hard as the researchers and staff.

“They’re so hard at work because to them play is work,” Luckenbill said.

CCFS also serves as a classroom every quarter for UCD students enrolled in the human development 140 course and lab, where students learn about child development through interacting and communicating with the children.

Luckenbill, who has worked at CCFS for four years, is also the child demonstration lecturer for UCD students at CCFS.

“[Students] are self-conscious at first [interacting with the children] … then they’ll go home and tell their roommates about … potty training,” Luckenbill said.

Hannah Minter, a senior human development major, has continued working at CCFS for five quarters.

“Working here really opened my eyes,” Minter said. “Children really do start learning from day one.”

Tiffany Tu, a junior human development major, is in her second quarter working at CCFS and is now an advanced student caregiver.

“It’s a great experience and it helps you understand yourself in terms of temperament and patience,” Tu said.

Researchers who have done studies at CCFS have explored the developmental areas of gross motor skills, the understanding of emotions or empathy and the historical roots of play behavior.

Children who are subjects of these observations and research do have the consent of their parents and were chosen from a “nontraditional applicant pool.”

Because applicants must be generalized in terms of research, the children on the waiting list are chosen based on criteria that is mindful of diversity, Twibell said.

But research is not the only thing driving staff and students alike to continue working with the children at CCFS.

Luckenbill is in awe of the many moments in which a child has said or done something that she said makes her job worthwhile. She said one of those moments was when she set up a “messy materials” area in which she stacked rocks, pine cones and gourds in a pile in front of one of the toddlers.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘I love it!’ They’re just so little everything is new to them. Everything is very magical to them! When you’re two a duck is really cool,” Luckenbill said.

Twibell agrees with Luckenbill about those moments, adding that the staff and undergraduates at CCFS are very dedicated to the children.

“At all levels of the paid staff and undergraduates…there is a strong passion,” Twebill said.

For more information about the Center for Child and Family Studies go to ccfs.ucdavis.edu.

JESSY WEI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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