Charlotte Manno has been part of the University of Kentucky College of Education’s Early Childhood Lab for 32 years. We recently talked with her about what it has been like to be part of the lab and watch young children grow into adulthood.
When did you start at the UK Early Childhood Lab and what attracted you to it?
What first attracted me to the ECL was seeing the children playing on the playground off Washington Avenue. I started working at the ECL when I was a junior at UK. I ended up going to graduate school right after graduation, and well, the rest is history. I have worked at the ECL for a total of 32 years, in some capacity or other.
Some of your students are grown ups now! What is it like when you see them again?
It is amazing to see graduates of our program. My last class of students are now around 29 years old. Some of them are having children of their own, and we have some second generation ECL children enrolled this year. Since so many of our families work at UK, I often see former parents when I go to the doctor or optometrist, etc. It is always great to catch up and hear how their children are doing.
As you reflect on your 32 years of watching children blossom at the lab, what do you think makes it such a special place?
The children at the ECL experience a very child friendly environment. They are encouraged to take every block off the shelves (if they want to and are willing to clean up when they are finished), create as much art as they want and do a hundred other things each day. They learn quickly that they get to make choices and do things their way, within the realm of being kind to others. I think this type of environment shapes the child’s understanding of their world, and lets them know they can do almost anything. This idea of making choices and being responsible while being kind to others and following the rules we have (be kind to teachers, friends and respectful of the classroom) works for most children. These things, and the absence of television and computers allows children to focus on exploring and creating their own world.
Parents of young students see the difference it makes in their lives, but may not know as much about how the lab impacts the college students who work and learn there. What does having an Early Childhood Lab on campus provide for college students?
The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I worked at a child care center in western Kentucky. I thought this would give me some good experience. I learned that even bad experiences teach us valuable lessons. Since I had been at the ECL for college classes and work, I knew child care could be different from what I was seeing that summer. I did the best I could with my limited knowledge at that point in my life. I still remember some of the children from that summer, and have wondered where they are now. One little boy in particular made such an impact on me. He was a crier, and cried every day, for hours on end. He was not in my class, but I saw him at the end of the day and on the playground. He liked me, and would stop crying when I was holding him. I remember one day, his mom came to the school to talk with his teacher about his crying. I so wanted to go to the mom and say – this is not the best place for your son. Of course, I didn’t, but I wish I had. I have thought about this little boy often, and promised myself I would be honest with parents, and try to make child care as fun and emotionally safe as possible for children in my care.
I have heard many stories like this from our graduates. Having a vision of what is good for children, and seeing it in action can impact not only college students and future teachers, but also every child they come into contact with over the course of their career.
The ECL provides not only a great place to watch children develop and learn, it also provides a safe place for college students. I have students tell me each year that the ECL is a favorite part of their college experience. They get to play with fun, engaging children and watch them grow over the semesters. Some end up working with us during their undergraduate and graduate years. It is an honor to play an important role in who they become and impact their future.