Monday, June 30, 2014

Families at the Center, and Children in Public Life

The center where Katie and I work is called Peabody Terrace Children's Center, but we mostly call it PTCC. Peabody Terrace is a collection of towers of graduate student dorms at Harvard University built in the 1960's as "married dorms." This year we celebrated fifty years of child care at Peabody Terrace. While our organization hasn't been around for fifty years, children have been cared for in these spaces for fifty years.

When we talk to our colleagues from Reggio Emilia, they emphasize that their approach is a moral and a political one. They must remind us again and again because it's easy to gravitate toward the beautiful environments, respectful image of the child and use of art media as a thinking tool. And more difficult to think about child care as a political act. Universal child care in Italy was a part of supporting women's right to choose work outside of the home, and part of rebuilding the country after World War II. Child care at Peabody Terrace was part of supporting women's burgeoning role in academia, and the rights of academics to have a home life.

Children learning that mothers' lives can be rich, varied and include more than parenthood is a powerful part of their education about what it means to be a man, a woman, a parent or a teacher, and an integral part of our teaching tradition. In my first year as a teacher here, during a parent meeting about friendship, a mother whose husband is faculty at Harvard shared with us what it felt like to be a child growing up on a college campus in the 1970's, with a mother who was an academic. In these times, our institutions of learning are still learning how to support families, and we are proud to be supporting them.

It's said that this collection of rooms at the bottom of these towers were the first space on Harvard's campus designated for children. This is also a political value that we share with our Italian friends; that children are part of public life. This year we've walked together with children up and down the Charles river hunting for sea monsters, talking with community workers, flying airplanes from upper story windows, visiting the acclaimed American Repertory Theatre or observing the habits of local birds. When we make these sojourns, we are continuing the story of childhood at Harvard, making our learning visible to passers by.

This short article describes a little bit about the history of childcare here at Harvard (and Radcliffe) and our relationship to it. For those of you who follow our blog, it may be helpful for you to know more about the context in which we operate. Check out these photos and how universal some aspects of child care are. Here at Peabody Terrace Children's Center, we let children learn through their play and so we don't look that different on the outside than we did in the 1960's.

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