During the 1970s, several universities within the State University System of Florida, including USF, identified the need for on-site child care facilities and made provisions for such centers on their campuses. Many of these early programs were funded by grants, student fees, and private donations. Due to the increase in the number of students at USF who were parents of preschool-aged children, the USF Student Government Association asked Dr. Troy Collier, Dean of Student Affairs, to establish a preschool program on campus. He formed a university-wide board of directors to formulate the policies and regulations and to secure a portable building for the child care center. Dr. Ron Linder and Dr. Louis Bowers represented the College of Education on the board.
In 1974, the USF Student Government provided $40,000 for the purchase of a portable building. Also, teachers were hired and the daycare program for children of students was initiated. After a short time with full enrollment and a waiting list of children, it was decided to plan a new, larger permanent building for the child care center.
The University of South Florida Educational Research Center for Child Development (ERCCD) was proposed and approved by the Florida Board of Governors in 1984. In 1987, the College of Education appointed a board of directors to participate in the planning for the new center. Funds for the child care building were to come from a percentage of student activity fees. The center was to be operated under the Dean’s Office of the College of Education. Dr. Ron Linder, Professor of Early Childhood Education in the College of Education, was appointed to lead the design team for the project and to select a structure that would provide the best developmental experiences for children. Dr. Linder traveled across the United States, worked with the board of directors, and consulted with several architects to provide the best possible plans for the ERCCD Building on the USF Tampa Campus.
Groundbreaking for the new building took place in February 1989. The ERCCD officially opened its doors on May 7, 1990 with Dr. Janet Allyn serving as the director. There were several innovative design concepts being carried out in the construction of the building to enhance the learning experience of the students. The building was to have three classrooms, an exploratorium, a large outdoor covered patio, and an extensive outdoor play area so that each child would have the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.
An especially unique feature of the preschool building was the exploratorium, which was located in the middle of the building. This large open space served as an area that contained an array of educational materials. It was designed so that the room could be as Dr. Linder described, “an ever-changing environment bursting with invitation” where children could explore, paint, build, cook, imagine, and experiment. This area was designed to emulate a hands-on children’s science museum. The exploratorium had a tiered stage and multiple activity areas.
The large patio had enough space and materials for children to have experiences with sand play, water play, and woodworking. The innovative playground, designed by Dr. Louis Bowers, Professor of Physical Education, allowed children to play safely, to be physically active and engage dramatic play on a large, wooden play structure. The layout also contained a tricycle path, wooden bridges, and a tunnel. One section of the playground contained three big gardens. The classrooms were intentionally designed to be smaller so that children would rotate between the classrooms, exploratorium, playground, patio, and gardens.
The preschool is located on four wooded acres south of USF’s baseball field. From the beginning of the program each classroom had a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and an assistant teacher with an associate’s degree in child development. At the onset there were three classrooms, each containing groupings of three and four year old children. A class of five-year old children was added and housed in a section of the exploratorium, and a class for two-year olds was added later. The center earned its accreditation from the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in January 1995.
The USF Preschool for Creative Learning primarily serves approximately 80 children who range in age from two to five years and are the children of USF students, faculty, staff, and persons from the community. The preschool also has an after-school program offered in the afternoon for school age children.
The preschool’s program provides an environment rich in play learning opportunities. The curriculum emphasizes developmentally appropriate, active, concrete learning experiences for the development of the whole child. Experiences are designed so that the children develop socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively.
In 1996, the name of the program was changed from the Educational Research Center for Child Development to the USF Preschool for Creative Learning in order in have a more child and parent friendly name. With the name change, however, the center maintained its focus on quality child care, research, training, and commitment to diversity. Early childhood education majors, graduate students, and professors continue to observe children and have internship experiences and engage in research at the USF Preschool for Creative Learning.