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The mission of the Early Learning Center for Research and Practice (ELC) is to foster scientific understanding of young children’s development. Prominent features of the ELC mission are the investigation of development in context, the study of children and families at risk, and the generation and utilization of informed practices. The ELC accomplishes this mission through (a) interdisciplinary research, (b) academic programs for undergraduate and graduate students, (c) early education programs for young children, and (d) outreach, advocacy, and public policy.

Interdisciplinary Research

The ELC leads and supports interdisciplinary research initiatives that share the common purpose of making qualitative differences in the lives of children and families. To this end, projects are typically conducted in natural settings, which better ensures the findings are socially significant and readily applied by parents and professionals. Research is supported by university, state, federal, and private agencies and addresses a wide range of current and emerging issues relevant to contemporary society. Current research includes: teacher inquiry, documentation of teaching and learning, school readiness, the effect of quality care on children’s development, family-centered practices, and linking authentic assessment to child outcomes.

University Academic Programs

Theoretical principles and empirical findings guide the selection and implementation of informed practices that are showcased in ELC classrooms. Undergraduate and graduate students discover how theory and practice combine to contribute to a deeper and more useful understanding of development in context. Through a diversity of ELC experiences, students learn to value and engage in processes of critical inquiry and systematic research that challenge popular solutions to complex problems related to the welfare of children and families.

Early Education Programs

The ELC provides an exemplary, inclusive early care and education program for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families. Children and families represent a wide diversity of racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The program design assures a well-balanced curriculum that promotes the physical, emotional, social, creative, and cognitive development of young children. The curriculum is guided by a theoretical orientation, which posits that all children, regardless of their developmental dispositions, are active learners who construct increasingly more complex representations of the world, primarily through the processes of play.

Outreach, Advocacy, and Public Policy

The ELC serves as a bridge between the university and the broader community through its involvement in outreach, advocacy, and public policy. As new knowledge is generated about young children and families, it is shared with local, national, and international constituencies of parents and professionals. The ELC also promotes university-community partnerships that facilitate the dissemination and utilization of resources in response to the needs of families and children, particularly those at risk. Because the ELC faculty, staff, and students generate and have access to science-based knowledge, they are in a unique position to advocate for children and families and influence public policy.

In all these respects, the ELC strives to achieve not only its own mission, but also the missions espoused by the Department of Child and Family Studies and the University of Tennessee.