FIU’s Children’s Creative Learning Center Provides Students with Unique Educational Experience

The CCLC building located on FIU’s MMC campus. (Courtesy of Silvia Valdes/CCLC Director)

Milena Malaver / Contributing Writer

A typical day begins with students discussing with one another how they feel and what they will learn about. But these are not the typical students you would expect to find in a university–the oldest students found here are five years old, and they are students at the Children’s Creative Learning Center. 

The Children’s Creative Learning Center (CCLC) has been serving the FIU community by providing on-campus childcare for faculty, students, and staff since its founding in 1975. 

Aside from childcare services, the CCLC also focuses on the socio-emotional development of children as well as early education instruction. 

The center makes use of five classrooms for children aged two to five and is a State Educational Research Center for Child Development (ERCCD) and a Cognia Accredited Early Learning School. 

All public universities in Florida have an ERCCD. The centers were established to provide child care for the university students, faculty and other staff and employees, as well as conduct educational research and internship programs. 

Cognia is a non-profit organization that gives accreditation to early education and elementary schools. Each year, they have a rigorous selection and assessment process for choosing schools that best exemplify excellence in education. 

“The early learning years from zero to five are the most important years,” said Silvia Valdes,  director of the CCLC. 

“The children are developing not just academically, but socio-emotionally in the sense of being able to problem solve, think independently and be able to communicate their wants and needs.”

The curriculum varies from that of a normal public school or daycare as it emphasizes learning through hands-on experiences rather than worksheets or textbooks. 

Students take part in various types of activities throughout the day that makes learning fun for them, such as playing word games that promote vocabulary development and learning to count using unifix cubes and grids. 

The students learn the days of the week, numbers, shapes, and letters, just in a different approach. 

While learning about different seasons, the center wanted to provide the kids with an immersive learning experience in which students got to play and interact with animals. They were able to get their hands dirty by learning how to make their own buttercream.

Spring Festival at CCLC. (Courtesy of Silvia Valdes/CCLC Director)

Constant and open communication is key to how this school functions and teaches the students. They want to build an environment where the children feel welcome and free to express themselves.

“The teachers facilitate conversations in the classroom…so they can express their feelings,” said Valdes. “So instead of hitting or biting or kicking, the children are talking to each other and solving their problems by being able to express those emotions in a different way.”

CCLC students. Photo courtesy of Silvia Valdes

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the students because they suddenly did not have access to enriching social environments like schools or playgrounds. 

The center experienced this first-hand and taught the students how to adapt to learning in a classroom again after nearly two years of virtual learning,  prioritizing the children’s social and emotional well-being and making sure they felt comfortable.

According to Valdes, they were the only center in Florida to implement a remote early education program. 

“The teachers got very creative. Every week they created supply grab bags so the parents could drive by, and we’d have all the bags outside by the cars so they could pick up their supplies for the week,” said Valdes. 

Beatrice Suarez, a parent of a student enrolled in the center, remarked on how independent her son has become since he began attending.

“He wants to do everything himself. We have to let him because that’s what they teach him here: being independent, being themselves, expressing emotions, being friendly with everyone, and respect,” says Suarez. 

“That is why I chose this school, other schools don’t provide this curriculum.”

The CCLC also provides many FIU students with the opportunity to gain experience to further their education and careers by working as staff members. 

Alicia Lopez, a recent graduate who studied elementary education,  has been a student employee at the center for five years.

“A big part of the school is having the children communicate independently without having help from adults,” said Lopez, who is hoping to start her master’s degree in speech therapy. “And that has influenced what I want to study and studying speech therapy.”

“We want them to gain these skills here and be successful when they transition to elementary school,” says Valdes. “The same with our student staff, we want them to gain skills that are going to be useful in their future careers.”