CMU Children's School celebrates 50th Anniversary

Credit: Isabelle Vincent/ Credit: Isabelle Vincent/

The Children’s School at Carnegie Mellon University — one of the most sought after children's schools for children three to six years of age in Pittsburgh — is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In 1971, it was placed under the Department of Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The school was founded in 1968 by Ann Baldwin Taylor — a developmental psychologist and educator, with a grant from the Esso Foundation and support from psychology professor John Sandberg. Dr. Baldwin served as director of the school for 25 years after which Dr. Sharon Carver, who also teaches at Carnegie Mellon, led the school and is serving her 25th year as the school’s director. Dr. Carver completed her Bachelor's and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon.

Dr. Baldwin founded the school based on the vision of John Dewey — philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer — who believed in progressive education, such as learning by doing, and argued that learning is a social process which makes the school a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. The school designs its own curriculum and comprises of 96 students who are both racially and economically diverse, with only 15 percent from Carnegie Mellon-affiliated households and one-third of the students on partial or full scholarship. At the moment the school has 17 educators and three substitutes.

In a Carnegie Mellon press release, Dr. Carver says, "the needs of the children have not changed all that much over the years, but each year the Children's School makes a greater impact on [Carnegie Mellon] and the broader community of early childhood development, research, and education." The laboratory school provides a space for over 200 undergraduate students enrolled in child development courses and research to better understand children's language, concepts, mathematical and scientific thinking, and other cognitive foundations for learning.

The school provides its students with a constructive learning environment and in return, the students participate in research conducted at the school. While enrolling, parents have to consent to the research studies which are only conducted if approved by Dr. Carver and the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

One of the projects that the school has is "Message from Me," which is an age appropriate adaptation of technology that allows the children to record the activities of their day using kiosks and send them to their parents’ mobile phones or emails. According to the Message from Me website, this project is based on the principle that, while these children — aged three to five — are developing rapidly and in many ways, they are unable to tell their parents what they “did at school” due to limited abilities in remembering and explaining. This would not only foster better communication skills among the children but also “enhance parent-child conversations in ways that impact the child's feeling of individuality, self-confidence and well-being.”

Another example of the research at the school is that of Dr. Anna Fisher — an Associate Professor in Carnegie Mellon's Psychology Department who is currently working on "Classroom Environment, Allocation of Attention, and Learning Outcomes in K–4 Students." The research aims to study the effects of visual media on children's ability to get distracted in a classroom setting. This research is a multi-study process and will be conducted using a variety of approaches.