Michael Lin
Staff Writer

It’s not uncommon to spot little kids running around campus. Before you panic over if it’s family visiting week or wonder why students on orientation look so young, it might be a surprise to find out that there is a children’s center neighboring the UCSB campus.

The Orfalea Children’s Center started in the 1970s due to the rising need for child care for the people in the surrounding areas. It has two sites, one on West Campus, and the other on the opposite side of the Student Resource Building. Today, out of more than 300 children enrolled in the two children centers, 79 percent of the children come from UCSB students, faculty, and staff members.

Annette Muse, the director of both children’s centers, proudly iterates that the children’s center is not merely a daycare. They accept kids starting from three months old up till five years old. There is a program that focuses on a “play-centered curriculum.” She finds that kids learn a good deal about themselves and other people in playing.

The facilities are rich at both sites, and can definitely joggle some childhood memories. Although the one near SRB is considerably smaller, the one on West Campus has in store more than four large classrooms, and each is considerably bigger than a standard college classroom in Girvetz.  There are two playgrounds accompanied by individual swings, and nostalgia-inducing, colorful rock climbing walls.

Even when the sun is out in the open, there is a wooden hut for kids to hide in, and plenty of shadows provided by easily climbable trees. A few wooden fences are also made into potential musical instruments, with bells and chimes attached. A large sandbox area even comes with its own water pump — to satisfy one’s desire to play with dry and wet sand.

Even if you don’t yet have children, there is still a variety of things that you could do for the Orfalea Children’s Center. There are opportunities for work-study, internships, volunteer, or even full-time employment. A student can work at the front desk, directly work with children, or some help with some research projects.

“We hire over 150 students from campus that are teaching assistants here. If they have experience with children, or don’t have experience but like children, then we are constantly hiring, but we do prefer them to be on work study,” explained Muse.

An example of an ongoing project in collaboration UCSB Department of Education is the Gardening Project. The project deals with constructing student-run farms just on the outer fences surrounding the Children’s Center, and the produce grown will then be donated to the Associated Students Food Bank on campus. Along with that, the children get access to said farms under supervision, and they also get their own small garden.

“We want the children to become stewards of our environment and in touch with our planet, because they definitely are going to be the ones that need to take care of it,” says Muse, as part of the vision that led to the Gardening Project. “Children will be able to see college students actually working the farm, and learn about healthy eating, growing food, and all that good stuff.”

So if you are a college student who wishes to experience the wonder that is “children,” but don’t quite have the means to do so, the Orfalea Children’s Center might be a good place to start. Current parents or parents-to-be that wish to utilize this facility are encouraged to call as soon as possible. As Muse admits: “There are always more children than we have space here for.”