Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center

Early Childhood and Family Studies


The Early Childhood and Family Studies (ECFS) major is designed to give students the opportunity to study early childhood development, early learning, and family studies from a variety of perspectives across a range of disciplines. Students select one of two pathways in the major—the Core or Teaching and Learning. Students who select the Core ECFS major are interested in careers in aspects of early learning such as social work, policy, public health, nursing, infant mental health, and occupational therapy. Students interested in Teaching and Learning are often interested in pursuing teacher certification in a post-baccalaureate or graduate level program; they take all courses from the Core, plus additional courses designed to give them training and experience working in classrooms.

The Core

Students from the Core major will volunteer organizations that work with children and families in community, policy/advocacy, or health related settings for approximately 25 hours over the course of one quarter, with the option to extend their experience into additional quarters with permission of the service learning partner. Our priority is for students to work in settings that support children and families from a variety of professional perspectives. Ideally students will work on everyday tasks and/or special projects identified by their community partner that will be of service to their host classroom/organization. Through this work, students gain exposure to ways of supporting optimal child development in settings in classrooms and the communities that surround them. Students from the Core may also ask to complete informational interviews and/or program observations to fulfill course assignments; these extra activities should be done in addition to the 2-5 hours a week they serve as volunteers with your organization.

Teaching and Learning

Students from the Teaching and Learning option will volunteer as a classroom assistant (ideally in one preschool or kindergarten/primary grade classroom) for approximately 75 hours over the course of two or three academic quarters. Most students will begin in mid-October and continue through early June, though others may condense this work into an October to March or January to June format in order to balance other academic and personal commitments. Students are responsible for communicating with their partner teachers about their anticipated time-line and subsequent changes to their plans.

Our priority is for all students in the major to work in classrooms that serve low-income/high-need populations. Ideally students can fill gaps in classroom coverage or work intensively on special projects in order to be of service to their host classroom/organization. In return, students gain exposure to professional staff with training in child development and have the opportunity to assist in the implementation of lesson plans as they build trust with their lead teacher. Between January and June, students in the Teaching and Learning option will also have assignments that require child observation and assessment via video or narrative, and will be required to lead small group activities with children in the classroom. These assignments should be done in accordance with your organization’s child privacy policies, and in addition to the 2-5 hours a week they serve as classroom volunteers.

Organization Responsibilities

We ask that your organization develop specific focused and structured positions for students (following the broad expectations outlined above) to pursue in tandem with their coursework at the university. The Carlson Center will work collaboratively with you and ECFS faculty/instructors to make the best match between project proposals, courses, and students.

To ensure that both the organization and the student reap the full benefit of the service-learning relationship there are a few specific responsibilities that we ask community based organizations to meet throughout the academic year:

  • As part of the orientation, students are asked to complete a Learning Contract that articulates the shared goals of the service learning experience as negotiated with you. Your signature on this Contract at the end of the quarter will indicate that students have successfully completed the hours and responsibilities as discussed with you.
  • Feedback on student progress is essential to the learning process. While we hope there are lots of informal opportunities for folks at your organization to provide feedback to ECFS students, we also ask for quarterly evaluations and verification of hours completed through an online system hosted by the Carlson Center. There may also be periodic requests for your feedback via email, phone, or occasional visits to the organization by instructors or Carlson Center staff.
  • Most undergraduate students benefit from a structured service experience. We want to offer students the chance to grow their skills while meeting your organization’s needs, and a position description with clear goals and outcomes is a great start!
  • Service-learning experiences offer students the chance to understand theoretical concepts in a real-world context. Comprehensive orientation to the work of your organization, how your organization fits in the big picture of the field of early learning, and clear guidelines on how students can contribute to the work of your organization are all part of providing this context.
  • Students often use service-learning experiences to test and build new skills; while they are covering large amounts of material in their course-work, they may also have questions about relating their coursework to their work with your organization. Please be responsive to student questions and concerns; clear supervisory relationships and regular check-ins are a great way to make sure students are learning from their service experience with your organization.
  • Our hope is that service-learning helps to set students on a career path in the field of early learning; mentorship from professionals in the field helps students see different career options and demonstrates diverse ways to create an impact in the lives of young children. Be ready to facilitate mentor/teaching relationships between ECFS students and organization staff at multiple levels.
  • Your active participation as a co-educator with students also includes working with the Carlson Center to improve service-learning program coordination and refine course learning goals so that student work benefits early childhood organizations in Washington state!

Getting Started

Some classroom opportunities for students in the Teaching and Learning pathway follow the academic calendar—October to June. However, we develop service-learning partnerships for the Core pathway throughout the year and would love to talk with you about how your organization might participate in the program. If you have a classroom assistant role or project proposal for students from the Early Childhood and Family Studies major, please contact the Carlson Center at or 206.543.4282.

Early Childhood and Family Studies Service-Learning Position Examples

CDSA Volunteer at Beacon Hill Elementary — Community Day School Association (CDSA)

Afternoon Classroom Assistant, Martin Luther King, Jr Elementary — Seattle Public Schools Head Start Program