Photo of children using mixing bowls and measuring cups to make a mixture of something.

About Us

Our Mission

The mission of the Ben Samuels Children’s Center at Montclair State University is to be a model of excellence in inclusive early care and education of children from birth through five years.  The Center is committed to examining and implementing the best practices of teaching and learning in a nurturing environment where all children learn, play and grow together.

In support of this mission, we have created a community where:

  • Children of differing abilities, needs, cultures, ethnicities, means and family structures are provided with developmentally appropriate activities and services, and where families, staff and university students understand and embrace the value of that diversity.
  • Families of children enrolled in the Center are provided with support, assistance and resources in the care and education of their children.
  • Future generations of professionals who care for children are educated through research, observation and hands-on experiences of the best practices in early childhood education and development in an inclusive environment.
  • Center faculty and students engage in observation and reflection relating to child development, early education, inclusive learning and other related areas.

Our History

The Ben Samuels Children’s Center, which opened in September 2005, brought together three longstanding and proud programs:

  • The Demonstration Program began in the late 1960s when the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders saw an educational need for children who had severe communication disorders. It was influenced by the fields of speech-language pathology and learning disabilities as it pioneered cutting-edge practices, and encouraged the community to do the same. By 1990 it was providing special education for three to five year olds with significant communication and regulation disorders. Many of these children showed developmental patterns that were consistent with the spectrum of autism. This strongly transdisciplinary program was influenced by the Developmental, Individual-differences, Relationship-based (DIR) approach developed by psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan and psychologist Serena Weider who were in turn influenced by occupational therapist and psychologist Georgia DeGangi and others.
  • The Jeffrey Dworkin Early Intervention Program began in 1981 when the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders saw the need to extend the work it was doing to children under the age of three. By the late ’90s it was providing early intervention services to families in western Essex County in their homes and in other places where very young children and their families typically spend their time. This program was influenced by the field of early intervention that, as a whole, stresses family-centeredness, consultative transdisciplinary practices, and working in the naturally occurring environments and routines of families.
  • The Child Care Center was opened in Feb 1989 under the Division of Student Development and Campus Life primarily as a service for the students of the University. The original Child Care Center was a one-room schoolhouse serving 20 children ages two and a half to six years of age. As the need for additional child care services became evident, the Center grew and expanded to meet those needs. It became a recruiting and retention tool for attracting students, faculty and staff to Montclair State University and began providing early care and education employment opportunities for Montclair State University students, as well as observation and fieldwork opportunities for students majoring in education.

The process for bringing these programs together began in 1994 with a group of faculty members studying inclusion of children with disabilities in general education settings, with the support of a grant from the New Jersey Network for Educational Renewal. This inclusion task force proposed several recommendations, one of which was the creation of the Ben Samuels Children’s Center as a premier inclusive early childhood care, education, and professional development facility. Through the support of President Cole, The College of Education and Human Services, The Center of Pedagogy, The University Foundation and many generous donors we opened our doors in September of 2005.

Our Philosophy

Our philosophy is based on how we know learning occurs.  This knowledge is rooted in decades of research about child development, inclusive education and early learning.  We believe that everyone in the Center community – children, families, staff, and university students and faculty – is poised for growth.  We grow together through collaborative inquiry, reflection, and interactive and nurturing relationships.  As each of us grows, so does our community.

Essential components of the Center’s philosophy are that:

  • Understanding and embracing diversity – differing needs, abilities, cultures, ethnicities, means and family structures – is crucial for the healthy development of individuals, organizations and our society.
  • Embraced diversity is evident in the interactions among children, families, employees and the community.
  • All children have the potential to and are capable of constructing their own understandings.
  • Curriculum emerges out of what children and other members of the community bring to the Center.  Children come with experiences and interests influenced by their lives.  Our curriculum explores, extends and builds on their experiences to help children gain new insights.
  • Trusting, long-term relationships are essential to growth.
  • Beautiful, inspirational environments are essential to learning and encourage involvement, discovery and the use of a variety of media.
  • A transdisciplinary team – of educators, psychologists, speech-language specialists, occupational and physical therapists and music therapists – plans, implements and assesses for learning.  This approach uses insight from these interrelated areas to maximize children’s growth.
  • The process of learning, for individuals and groups, is documented through observation, recording and reflection on experiences.  Documentation makes learning visible.

Our philosophy is informed by a broad range of theory and practice.  Key components include:

  • Deweyan Democratic Education – John Dewey saw democracy as more than a style of government.  He held that the essence of democracy is inclusiveness, where everyone is recognized, utilized and rewarded, both as an individual and as a member of society.  He believed that the purpose of education is to help develop personally fulfilled, but socially responsible, effective citizens; and that education is “a process of living and not (merely) a preparation for living.”
  • Constructivism – Constructivism holds that throughout life individuals create, or construct, their own evolving knowledge through interaction between what they already know and believe, and the ideas, people, events and activities they encounter.  Learners gain knowledge through active involvement, rather than through passed down information.  Active engagement, inquiry, problem solving and collaboration with others characterize learning. Instead of merely dispensing knowledge, teachers guide, facilitate and explore alongside learners, always questioning, challenging and helping them formulate their own ideas, opinions and conclusions.
  • Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) – DAP, created by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC ), is “a framework of principles and guidelines for practice that promotes young children’s optimal learning and development.”  Here are the basic principles:
  • Early Childhood Inclusion– Early childhood inclusion, according to the joint position statement of NAEYC and the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division of Early Childhood (CEC/DEC), “embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child…, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society.  The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential.  The defining features of inclusion… are access, participation, and support.”
  • Developmental Individual-Differences Relationship-Based Approach (DIR®/Floortime) – This model uses a framework that helps clinicians, parents and educators conduct, fully assess, and develop a program tailored to the unique challenges and strengths of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental challenges.  The objectives of the DIR®/Floortimemodel are to build healthy foundations for social, emotional, and intellectual abilities rather than focusing on specific skills and isolated behaviors.  Developed by Stanley Greenspan and Serena Weider, this approach focuses on the central role of emotional development and how it affects and is affected by all other aspects of development. It is based on the idea that every child is a unique individual and that each child’s interactions in relationships and family patterns are key factors in development and growth.
  • The Reggio Emilia Approach – The Italian town of Reggio Emilia has established a worldwide reputation for excellence in early childhood education. Theirs is a socio-constructivist model.  It is influenced by the theory of Lev Vygotsky, which states that children (and adults) co-construct their theories and knowledge through the relationships that they develop with other people, and from their experience of the surrounding environment.   The approach sees each child as a strong and capable central character in her or his own learning.  The approach is distinguished by the important role research plays in learning and teaching.  The expressive arts are central to this approach and there is a unique reciprocal learning relationship between teacher and child. Detailed observation, and documentation of learning and the learning process, takes priority over the final product. Finally, the Reggio model is highlighted by a strong relationship between school and community and a remarkable program for professional development.
  • Multiple Intelligences – First developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardnerthe theory of multiple intelligences holds that rather than just one form of intelligence, one IQ, there are a number of forms of intelligence some of which include verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, interpersonal, musical, etc.  Though Gardner views the various intelligences independently, he sees them as interrelating and complementing each other as individuals solve problems.  For example, for a dancer to excel she needs 1) strong musical intelligence to understand the rhythm and variations of the music, 2) interpersonal intelligence to understand how she can inspire or emotionally move her audience through her movements, and 3) bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to provide her with the agility and coordination to move beautifully.

Services We Offer

The Ben Samuels Children’s Center at Montclair State University provides inclusive early care and learning for approximately 200 children who are between twelve weeks and five years of age. Among its services are child care, early intervention for infants and toddlers, and inclusive special education services for preschoolers. Its forty-five plus professional staff members work closely with faculty members and actively participate in the pre-service development of Montclair State University students by offering guided observations, supervised clinical hours and mentoring.

The Center is a hybrid of child care and education. There are three infant, four toddler and five preschool classes. Most classrooms have between twenty and twenty five percent of children with identified disabilities.

The facility includes two indoor gyms and wide hallways that are used for indoor gross motor play. The large park-like lawn that surrounds the building has four playground equipment areas and plenty of open space.

Among the staff is a music therapist who work with the classroom teaching teams to infuse arts into the classroom curriculum.

Support staff including speech-language specialists, occupational and physical therapists and assistants provide direct service to children/families who attend through their local school district or supported pre-school and consultative support for classroom teams.

The presence of Montclair State University faculty and students further enhances the services provided.

If your child needs these types of services please let us know so that we can best assist you. Therapeutic services are in addition to our childcare.


The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.