Education Director: Betsy McArdle

IMG_1396Education director Betsy McArdle learned about Children’s Discovery Center while researching schools for her own daughter.

“It was the overall feel and commitment to an inquiry-based learning model that led us to immediately enroll our daughter,” she says. Since then, she’s watched the center grow and evolve.

“The environment was always so welcoming, so when there was an opportunity for me to become a part of the team, I jumped on it!”  A public school educator for 12 years, Betsy has worked in general, special education and administration settings in four different states. An early childhood educator for Ohio’s Lakota Local School District, she was part of a team that visited Italy to gain experience with the Reggio framework.

“It was the start of a journey to learn these practices and strive to implement inquiry-based learning into every learning environment I was a part of, including with my own children. The encouragement of students to become investigators, risk-takers and communicators is why I’m so invested in growing this approach.”

In her new position, Betsy ensures lesson plans support state standards and incorporates National Association for the Education of Young Children best practices and behavior management strategies.

“I collaborate with teachers to plan Reggio-inspired projects and aid in creating aesthetically pleasing learning environments. In the classroom, I coach and model teaching techniques. I’m involved with both the Mt. Pleasant and Ohio campuses, so I share plans and ideas from center to center.”

With two children now attending the center, she is thrilled with the care, love and support they receive.

Exploring Pumpkins Inside and Out: Pre-Toddler D

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.50.51 PMThe children explored with pumpkins in many different ways. They explored through their sense of touch by feeling the outside and insides of a pumpkin. They smelled the inside of the pumpkin. They even painted with pumpkins and orange paint. They used their curiosity while exploring and I learned a lot about how they use their minds to explore.

I placed pumpkins of different sizes around the classroom. Some children sat on the pumpkins while others rolled them across the floor. One child collected pumpkins by placing them one at a time into a basket, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. A few toddlers picked up a small pumpkin and dropped it on the floor as if it was a ball. Some kicked and banged the pumpkins on the table. While exploring the inside of the pumpkin, the children were skeptical at first. They didn’t seem interested until one child walked over to look at the pumpkin with curiosity. Quietly observing, I wondered what would happen next. They all started peering into the pumpkin, putting their hands inside. They discovered pumpkin seeds and began to pick the seeds from the squishy flesh.

The children also painted pumpkins on paper using paintbrushes and fingers. I placed pumpkins on the table to remind them how a pumpkin looks. It allowed them to visually connect the color and shape of their drawings with the actual pumpkin.

Clay Project

Clay (1)Ms. Jen’s class took inspiration from the book, Poking, Pinching, & Pretending: Documenting Toddlers’ Explorations with Clay by Lella Gandini, which provided plenty of ideas for exploring clay. “Sensory activities like this open up a whole new world for children in this phase of development. We had so much fun!” says Ms. Jen.

Before introducing the children to clay, Ms. Jen gave them opportunities to experience using other media including markers, paint, blocks and playdough.

“Watching the children explore the physical properties of clay through mouthing, smelling, scraping, patting and banging was unforgettable! We started with a big block. As you can see in the photos, the children were scraping it with their fingers and then exploring the pieces they’d scraped away. They also explored the weight of the clay,” says Ms. Jen.

“Heavy!” Bodie said with excitement.

Jen Dickson – Toddler B/Department Coordinator

IMG_0881 (1)Observing and listening to children before teaching them something they might learn on their own is key for Ms. Jen Dickson.

“That’s why the Reggio philosophy was very intriguing to me,” says Ms. Jen, adding that she finds working in the toddler room “an exhilarating experience. These children have so much energy and absorb information so quickly. I love seeing the rapid progress they make daily.”

A native of Clayton in upstate New York in the Thousands Islands region, Ms. Jen has lived in Charleston for 12 years along with her better half, Frank, and pup named Dublin. She is Resources of Infant Educarers (RIE)-certified, and one of her favorite activities is guiding her students during social interactions.

“The insight that the Reggio philosophy provides, particularly at this age, is fascinating. There are so many developmental milestones that we, as teachers, are experiencing with the children.”

Erin Mitchell: Toddler-D Head Teacher and Coordinator

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Ms. Erin has always enjoyed working with children. While earning her degree in human development and family studies and studying child development, she realized how important education is for children in the earliest stages of life. “I noticed that CDC genuinely cared for the education of each child and I wanted to be a part of the team.”

Previously a teacher with Children’s Discovery Center in Ohio, Ms. Erin moved to Charleston to help spread the Reggio Emilia philosophy. “I’ve enjoyed meeting all of the children and parents and have felt incredibly welcomed and appreciated by all,” she says.

A native of Toledo, Ms. Erin really enjoys the hands-on learning in the classroom. “The children are encouraged to explore with a variety of materials and it’s exciting to watch them grow and learn to use them in so many different ways.”

Reading stories to her classroom is a highlight. “The older toddlers are at such a fun age, and really enjoy storytelling. I love being animated, seeing the children’s reactions to certain events and hearing the questions and response they come up with to the stories I read,” she says.

Ms. Erin enjoys running outside, going to the beach, reading, listening to music and playing with her cat, Frank. She also plays the ukulele!

Drawing Project

CDC Drawing

Drawing or “mark making” is one of the “languages” we mean when we talk about the “100 Languages of Reggio.” It is a natural means of expression, similar to the spoken language. Psychologist, Howard Gardner, saw an “emerging consensus that the children’s earliest marks result from ‘enthusiastic movement — banging, swooping, pulling.'” He describes it as a “heated frenzy of scribbling.” This is what I find when I offer markers and whiteboards to my students.


Because of our many opportunities to experiment with and develop mark making as a means of expression, one of my students, Coleman (pictured left), is at the point where his drawing has meaning to him and he is expressing it to me! For more pictures of our students drawing, check out our Facebook album.

Our Featured Project – Water Play

Featured ProjectThroughout May, the Pre-Toddler B class completed a unit on plants and soil. During this unit of study, I noticed the children were most intrigued when water was incorporated into activities. Whether it was watering the plants in the Pre-Toddler garden, mixing soil and water to make “mud pies” or just washing their hands, the children loved splashing around in water.

Therefore, in June, I initiated a unit on “water play.” I hadn’t realized how many opportunities water would provide for extended learning and discovery in all developmental areas. Water play encouraged the children’s physical development and hand/eye coordination (pouring), strengthened their fine motor skills (squeezing water bottles), and encouraged their social and emotional development (learning how to work and cooperate with one another). The children learned basic math concepts and words such as more, less, empty and full.

One of the highlights was exploring the water spigot outside the school building. I demonstrated how to turn the spigot on and off, and then gave each child a plastic cup so they could practice filling and pouring from it. Now each time the children see a spigot by the playground, they immediately run to it and try turning it on and off.

Featured Project by Caroline Zomer: Water Play

Featured Teacher: Caroline Zomer

Featured TeacherWhat interested Ms. Caroline about teaching at CDC was the Reggio Emilia philosophy presented in a Christian environment. “Prior to CDC, I knew very little about the Reggio Emilia philosophy, but after researching both the philosophy and CDC’s organization, I knew this was a company I wanted to work for,” she says.

The Charleston-native and University of South Carolina graduate embraces the replacement of a rigid and specific “curriculum” with one that’s fluid and accommodating, based on the children’s interests and the knowledge they obtain through their own discoveries in the natural environment. Yet the routine of “morning meetings” is a favorite: “They provide daily opportunities for the children to develop and enhance their language and literacy, greeting, listening, responding and problem-solving skills,” Ms. Caroline says.

Her biggest reward is the relationships she establishes with both the children and their families. “It’s truly rewarding to see children and their families acknowledge the role I played in their child’s development.” Ms. Caroline loves Gamecock football and being outside and near water. She credits her dad with her success. “He has played both the father and mother role in my life, and has made many sacrifices to ensure I became a well-rounded adult.”

Update from the Children’s Discovery Center Atelier

Dear Parents,

End of Year Art

There are several updates that I’d like to share with you as we begin the new year!

First of all, let me review some of our projects and concepts from the end of 2013.

As the Pre-K children focused their interests on treasure and pirates, and the Preschoolers were exploring nature, I was able to teach them about radial symmetry and color temperature.

The students in the Pre-K class were really creative in making their own treasure out of a wide range of found materials. With their pieces of treasure, they created a mosaic in air-dry clay with radial symmetry as their direction for design, starting in the middle and then working their way outward. Then their treasure collections were painted with gold glitter to make them extra shiny!

End of Year ArtWhile still working through their Pirate project, I was able to introduce printmaking techniques to the Pre-K class. There had been a lot of conversation about treasure maps, so we observed a variety of examples and came up with a plan to create maps for themselves. They observed water, a compass, creatures in the water, an island, and of course an X to mark the spot. Students were given Styrofoam “linoleum plates” that could be “carved” with the pencil lines. They drew (carved) their islands and then using a breyer to roll on their ink, printed their islands onto their maps. The children truly paid close attention to detail while working on this project.

End of Year ArtAs the Pre-K class transitioned to their Christmas project, I took the opportunity to focus on color temperature and observational still life drawings. Students enjoyed picking out a still life of warm colors (reds, oranges and yellows) and cool colors (greens, blues and purples). One of my favorite techniques for young children is drawing with oil pastels and then painting over them with watercolors. The oil pastel lines resist the water and pop through the paint.

The Preschoolers explored color temperature as we looked at the weather and created a wall-hanging, linking cool and warm colored weather collages with a rainbow of pipe-cleaners.End of Year Art Using tissue paper and glue to cover their papers, students then added oil pastels over the textured surface to create the illusion of heat and rain drops. Some students even found random small objects around the atelier to add as a “big rain drop.”

I was able to enjoy some printmaking with the preschoolers as well – covering the bottoms of muffin tins and bubble wrap with paint. Students printed monoprints one week and then added embellishments around the graphic circles, referring to the radial symmetry of flowers.

Year End ArtLastly, we had lots of fun creating Christmas ornaments out of model magic, cookie cutters, burlap and glitter!

And of course everyone contributed to the group projects preparing for the Christmas program. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were beautifully created using a wide range of materials! The students LOVE a free for all in the atelier with glue, markers, glitter, scissors, fabric, you name it!

With all of this reflection on a wonderful first semester in the atelier, it is with heavy heart that I must leave my teaching position at CDC to focus my creative energies elsewhere. As a working artist myself, it has become clear that I need more time in my own studio for the time being.

Your children have been precious, energetic, passionate blessings to me (and my entire family) since August. I have loved every minute of time spent with them, watching their creative energies flow into beautiful, imaginative little masterpieces.

Year End ArtThankfully, my son Wesley will continue to attend CDC and I will remain a part of the family at this unique and wonderful school. I look forward to following the children’s progress through the rest of this year and am thrilled to pass the atelierista torch onto a dear friend of mine, Amy Sargent. Majoring in sculpture in college, having countless years experience in various children’s ministries, an artist husband and three precious little girls, Amy will surely be an AMAZING blessing to your children’s artistic education at CDC.

God bless you and your families,

Beth Williams

View some more of our art fun in our facebook album!