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The Early Learning Center for Research and Practice first opened in 1927 as a nursery school program in the Jessie B. Harris Home Economics Building. In the early 1930s, a nursery school building at 1206 White Avenue was constructed. It was one of the first structures in the country designed and built specifically for the use of preschool children.

Eventually, the program was named the University of Tennessee Child Development Laboratory. The daycare program for preschoolers was begun at the Golf Range facility at 3700 Sutherland Avenue in 1966. The infant day care program opened in 1968 and the toddler day care program in 1981 at the Nursery School Building.

In the fall of 1982, the nursery school (half-day) program was discontinued and all programs were converted to full-day childcare. After extensive renovations to the kitchen and food-service areas, the infant and preschool programs were located at 1206 White Avenue. The facility on Sutherland Avenue was also renovated so that it could adequately house the toddler program.

In 1983, the special education component was added to the preschool program. The inclusion of children with special rights became a welcomed mission and goal of the program.

The program converted to a full-time twelve-month schedule as an additional step to meet the needs of working parents in the fall of 1986. Also in 1986, the foster grandparent program, placing grandparents in the laboratory programs to work with children with special rights, was initiated. The special education component was expanded to include the infant and toddler programs in 1987.

In 1987, the program became the first child-care program in Knoxville to receive accreditation from the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, a division of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Also in 1987, the Cumberland Child Care Center was established as the first employer-sponsored early education center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Cumberland Child Care Center began operations under the UT Knoxville personnel office. In 1989, the administration of the center was transferred to the Department of Child and Family Studies as a first step in the expansion of university childcare programs.

In 1991, the Cumberland Child Care Center was restructured as one of the Child Development Laboratories’ programs. This became the CDL’s third site (White Avenue, Cumberland, and Golf Range), and a total of ninety-nine children, ranging in age from six weeks to five years, were served.

In 2000, the Cumberland facility was closed and newly renovated space in the Laurel Avenue Student Apartments became the third Child Development Laboratories site. An eighth classroom was opened to expand the number of children served to a total of 111. The programs were simultaneously restructured to create the infant and toddler programs at Golf Range and Laurel Avenue, and the preschool program at White Avenue.

In July 2005, the Child Development Laboratories became the University of Tennessee Early Learning Center for Research and Practice. This change came from a desire to better reflect the diverse mission and goals of the program and the Department of Child and Family Studies.

In August 2006, the Early Learning Center for Research and Practice initiated a new kindergarten program at the White Avenue location.

In August 2007, the Laurel Avenue facility closed for extensive remodeling, and a newly constructed building at 2010 Lake Avenue became the site for the infant-toddler classrooms at the Early Learning Center for Research and Practice.

In July 2011, the Early Learning Center for Research and Practice closed the Golf Range facility and opened a new facility—Lake Avenue at 21st Street. This facility serves two toddler classrooms and one preschool classroom.