Learning environment

Lab school creates model learning environment for young children and students at Baylor

The Piper Center for Family Studies and Child Development offers students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in child care and education. Olivia Haven | Photographer

By Sarah Wang | Personal editor

The Piper Center for Family Studies and Child Development is a laboratory school that offers model programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. It provides education for young children and their families, a learning environment for undergraduates, a context for researchers, and a collaborative working environment for teachers.

Dr. Nicole McAninch, head of the child and family studies division, said the Piper Center offers students pursuing a degree in child and family studies a “unique opportunity to observe and ‘applying theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios’. According to McAninch, these students holistically study individual development and family dynamics throughout their lives; later, they apply their findings to a variety of clinical, nonprofit, and educational fields.

Michelle Kiefer, director of the Piper Center, said the center also has a professional development component. It is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which it claims is the highest accreditation for an early childhood center in the United States.

“We believe that as early educators, we walk with a family and really join them in the care and nurturing of their child at those early years,” Kiefer said. “We think our job is to really associate with the family and work with them.”

McAninch said all three of her children went to the Piper Center at some point. She said the center is dedicated to using methods and techniques grounded in theory and research.

“One way to do this is to use the center’s chosen guidance strategy: mindful discipline,” McAninch said. “For our family, learning and using a guidance strategy that was about building strong relationships, building emotional intelligence, and activating critical thinking from an early age was an incredible experience.”

Amanda Harris, a lead teacher at the Piper Center, said she started working at the center as a student during her freshman year in 2016. She said she experienced kindness, responsibility, collaboration and encouragement as a teacher over the years.

“Children need to learn and see through many interactions that you, as a teacher and caretaker, are a safe place apart from their guardians,” Harris said. “It’s also the blessing of this work: becoming a trusted and safe person for children and families.”

Harris said the Piper Center isn’t just a daycare; rather, it is a school that works to guide the wonders and development of children. It strives to cultivate skills in all areas of development, nurture emotional understanding and healthy expression, and prepare children for the world ahead.

“I see our school as an extension of the family for the child, and it’s so important that these two special places in a child’s life work together,” Harris said.