History of the Preschool Laboratory


The Preschool has a rich history, dating back to the 1920’s when it originally served as a cooperative nursing school to help young mothers develop parenting skills. Over the years, the Program has undergone numerous changes that reflect society’s ever increasing need for high quality programming options for young children. The following timeline demonstrates how the Program has evolved over time.

  • 1971-73:  Under a Hatch grant #1769, a three year longitudinal research program was conducted with a group of 20 three-year-olds.  The purpose of the research was to develop and evaluate a curriculum for young children based on the developmental theory of Jean Piaget.
  • 1975-1980:  Professors Joseph Lawton & Frank Hooper conducted a 5 year longitudinal study comparing the effects of different teaching approaches (Piagetian & Ausubelian) on children’s learning. Children attended one of two morning classes for 3 hours, 8:15 a.m.-11:45 a.m., Monday-ThursdayIn 1980 an optional extended day (11:45-3:15 p.m.) enrollment option was added.
  • 1981-94:  During this period there was increasing demand for longer days, summer programming and programs for toddlers. In 1983, enrollment increased by nearly 50 percent due to the addition of a second preschool classroom and a toddler room for 2-3 year olds. In 1987 a full day option (7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) was added. A summer program was added in 1987. In 1989, the closing time was extended until 5:30 p.m.  In 1992, a second site of the Preschool Lab was opened on the corner of University and Charter (1127 University Avenue) in a leased church space.  A new “flexible schedule” was added to the choice of enrollment options available to parents. 1994 marked the first year of the “Roustabouts,” our school-age summer program for children grades K-3.
  • 1990-96: The focus turned to quality accreditation.  The Preschool achieved national NAEYC accreditation for the first time in 1990 and City of Madison accreditation in 1996.
  • 1997-99:  The second site of the Preschool moved to its present location at 3910 Mineral Point Road in a leased space within the Bethany Methodist Church building. An infant program was added in 1999, which included one classroom for babies (6 weeks-12 months) and one classroom for young toddlers (ages 12-24 months).
  • 2012: The School of Human Ecology completed a renovation and expansion of its 1914 facility, encompassing the Linden Drive Preschool Laboratory site. The larger facility offers expanded teaching and research opportunities, as well as infant care on the central campus.
  • 2015: In January 2015, the SoHE announced plans to combine its two existing preschool laboratory sites into one. The school’s Mineral Point Road location was officially absorbed into the recently expanded Linden Drive location on August 21, 2015. With a 2012 construction to build Nancy Nicholas Hall, the campus-based Linden preschool added an infant care program and also expanded its capacity for the toddler and preschooler programs. Furthermore, the new site is now equipped with cutting-edge technology and space for teaching and research. SoHE officials and campus leadership determined that the creation of one, primary on-campus location allows the School of Human Ecology to best meet its mission of teaching, research, and outreach for faculty and students whose interests are in early child development. The merger will also help keeping tuition reasonable for this one-of-a-kind children’s program with child-teacher ratios that meets the City of Madison high quality standards.