The Early Childhood Education program was established in 1968 as the Child Care Program. The first classes were held in Our Lady`s Immaculate Heart Parish in Ankeny. After two years the program moved to the lower campus on the Ankeny Campus in an area that included classes, a laboratory school and observation room and an outdoor and fenced play yard. In 1986 the program moved into newly remodeled facilities in building 9 on the Upper Ankeny Campus. This move increased both the space in the lab and the outdoor play yard.
Joan Clary was the first program chair. Mary Leffler was the first faculty member and assumed the role of program chair when Joan Clarey left the program. Linda Carson, Judy Koepsell Dally, Mary Doidge and Katy Allen were later employed as teachers/program chairs in the program.
The program began as a 4-quarter child care curriculum designed to prepare graduates for positions in nursery schools, day care centers, as teacher assistants, and in public facilities and private homes for children. Initially the program operated a half-day laboratory nursery for the purpose of practical application of classroom concepts, and in 1969 the lab school was licensed by the state of Iowa as strictly a preschool program. Over the years the program added a three-term diploma option and a five-term Associate in Science degree. Students who have the AS Degree are qualified to be a child care center administrator or to continue their education at a four-year institution. In 1975 DMACC recognized that the need for full day care for students and staff at the college was a prime concern. By 1982, the original half-day nursery school evolved into a full-day child care center for staff and students of DMACC. In addition to the on-campus laboratory experience, students have continually been placed in practicum sites in surrounding communities.
In 1986 the program received a federal grant to provide Child Development Associate Credential (CDA) training for family day care home providers. DMACC still provides opportunities for students working in center or home-based programs and seeking the CDA to attend classes as a cohort. Students throughout service area attend. In 2009, the program added a 13-credit Certificate of Specialization, designed to align with the required educational components of the CDA.
In 1989, the Center received its first National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation, which required that the Center meet a rigorous set of Early Childhood Education program standards. Only 8% of all preschool and early childhood programs in the country receive NAEYC accreditation, and DMACC has maintained Center accreditation for 23 years.
In 2000 the Child Development Program became the Early Childhood Education Program. The title change and curriculum changes were made to be consistent with changes in the field as well as changes in the four-year child care degree curricula. In 2003 the program scheduled most child care classes at the Urban Campus (except for the child care practicum) to allow working students to enroll and still continue their full time employment. Today, the complete certificate program is offered at both the Urban and West campuses in the evening, and online. Community partnerships make it possible to offer lab options at locations convenient for students. Diploma and AS programs continue to be available at the Ankeny campus.
The Child Development Center outdoor play space was remodeled in the spring of 2000. The space incorporates natural elements, paths, a variety of surfaces, open space, and multiple equipment stations to support children's learning and exploration in an outdoor environment.
When building 9 was renovated during 2008-2009, the current Child Development Center added a new classroom space appropriate for infants and toddlers, and the ECE classroom was moved to the east end of building 9, locating it conveniently near the center and adding to the cohesiveness of the ECE program.
In 2009, the Early Childhood Program joined with several other Iowa Community Colleges to offer a common core of eight early childhood courses (24 credits) designed to be consistent across early childhood programs at Iowa's Community Colleges. These core classes are part of all three ECE degree programs available at DMACC.