WSU Children’s Center earns national accreditation

Tucked in between two towering residence halls, the Washington State University Children’s Center reflects the stature of many of the people who spend their days in the building: physically smaller but no less important.

3 children lay on the astroturfed ground while a fourth stands on a scooter.
Children play on scooters and tricycles in the Children’s Center’s Kids Cave outdoor, weather-protected space.

“We care for and teach children from six weeks old up to 12-year-olds,” said Heather Havey, director of the center. “We give them the space and opportunity to grow and experience a variety of interests.”

That dedication has led to a new status for the center: national acknowledgment of their work. The National Accreditation for Early Care and Education Programs of the Association for Early Learning Leaders recognized WSU’s facility as an accredited center.

“This was a three-year process that included parent feedback, staff surveys, continual improvement reviews, an extensive site visit: all to make sure we are hitting the highest standards,” Havey said. “They look at every part of our center: curriculum, interactions with children, paperwork provided, fire drills. It covers everything.”

The status is important because it shows WSU’s focus on meeting the highest standards. It also shows incoming faculty, students, and staff that they have a place where their children will not only be safe, but educated.

A child adds ingredients into a tiny skillet. Behind him, another child gives him a serious side-eye look.
A child cooks tacos and other foods in a play kitchen, while his friend seems to question the choice of ingredients.

The center, part of WSU’s Department of Human Development, also aligns with three different parts of the university’s land grant mission, Havey said.

  • They help everyone at the university do their jobs by reducing a significant worry.
  • They educate WSU students by providing field experience for those who want to work with children in their careers.
  • The center also offers a research location for university scientists.

“We have lots of parents sign their children up for research projects that take place in the center,” Havey said. “And it’s not just psychology or human development researchers, we work with many departments around campus that all eventually lead to helping children.”

One example involved partnering with the architecture program from the School of Design and Construction. Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, architecture students designed inflatable play structures for the center.

For current WSU students, they get hands-on experience working not only with the children, but interacting with parents.

“We want to train our student staff for all aspects of their careers, to make sure they’re strong employees out the door,” Havey said. “When students do parent-teacher conferences for the first time, they’re always scared. But we watch them grow and you can see their comfort levels rise as they get to know our parents.”

The center is licensed for 171 students. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, between 20 and 30 WSU students either worked at the center or did field experience requirements in their classrooms. Student employees are scheduled to return at the start of WSU’s fall semester in August.

Child in a green smock sticks a hand holding a paper cup into soapy water.
A child scoops water onto boats at a water table in the WSU Children’s Center.

“Our students aren’t just somebody in a classroom entertaining children, they are valued in our programs,” Havey said. “That gives them professional confidence for later when they interview for other positions after they graduate from WSU.”

The focus at the WSU Children’s Center is on experiential learning for the little ones: learning by experiencing. Teachers don’t tell the children to be careful, or not do certain things, but rather encourages exploration and inquiry.

“What’s your plan?” Havey said. “That’s almost our mantra. If a child climbs up on a tree stump or something, we don’t tell them not to jump or to be careful up there. We ask what their plan is. We want them to work through solutions. Sometimes, they jump and may get scrapes. Sometimes they’ll ask for help getting down. But getting them to think through their experiences is a valuable skill.”

The center also has extensive garden spaces, where pre-schoolers help in the whole process from ground to mouth. They plant seeds, make sure the plants are healthy, then harvest and eat the results, Havey said.

The new accreditation is valid for four years, until May 2026, and the center must submit annual reports to the accrediting association.