At College, Teaching Even the Youngest Students

By Beacon Staff

The new childcare center at Flathead Valley Community College has “Early Childhood Education Center” in large letters across the outside of the building. The chairs, tables and most of the toilets in the building only come shin-high on most adults. Even the lights in the entranceway are kid cool – silver hot air balloons, planes and spaceships cover the light bulbs.

But, while the 7,140 square-foot facility will open next week for infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children, it will also serve as an educational facility for a much older group of students.

“It would’ve been huge for me to have had this as a student,” Laurie Peiffer, the center’s director and a 2004 graduate of FVCC’s early childhood education program, said. “We had to find other locations to do our practicum, and they wouldn’t always have the same philosophies or practices you were learning in class.”

Along with filling a need in the community for childcare for the very young, the center will act as a learning lab for FVCC students pursuing careers in early childhood education, elementary education, psychology, human services and social work.

FVCC students will have the opportunity to plan, prepare and implement a project with children at the center, and then gauge how well it worked or what they could’ve done differently. Each of the rooms in the brand-new facility will also have an attached observation room where FVCC students can observe without distracting the center’s charges.

The center started registration yesterday, giving FVCC students enrolled in nine college credits or more priority to register their children. Financial assistance is available to those students through the FVCC Financial Aid Office. Registration for the remaining spots opens to the community Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 by appointment only.

Peiffer said strict regulations for providing childcare to infants and toddlers make it less cost-effective and discourage other centers for offering care to that age group. The bond-approved center will operate on a break-even business plan, and apply for grants to supplement revenue from students.

“This will definitely fill a need for infant and toddler care in the community and we won’t just be watching them, we’ll also offer high quality education for that age group,” she said.

Seven of the eight people on Peiffer’s staff are also graduates of FVCC’s early childhood education program, and all of the center’s aides will have at least 18 credits completed in the program. The center will use a “child-directed program,” meaning the education will respond to children’s interests rather than follow strict lesson plans.

The center is scheduled to open Feb. 4 and will be open Monday – Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For registration appointments, call Laurie Peiffer at 756-3991.