Who We Are

Fulfilling the Promise of Childhood
The Child Educational Center is an innovative, nationally-accredited early care and education organization with a pioneering focus on progressive education and outdoor learning.  The CEC’s programs have served as a leader in early childhood education since 1979, and emphasize a commitment to nurturing children’s physical and psychological well-being.  Anchored by our campus in La Canada, CA, which serves as a model outdoor classroom site, the CEC fulfills its mission through

  • Our Children's Programs, and our holistic, research-based approach to early learning,

  • Our professional development services and seminars for educators,

  • Our consulting services and nature-based initiatives, including the renowned Outdoor Classroom Project

  • Our field-building research focused on early childhood education, play, and natural outdoor classrooms

The CEC’s infant, toddler, preschool, and school-age programs support the development of nearly 900 children daily at seven sites in La Canada and Pasadena. 

Our Children's Programs are dedicated to fulfilling the promise of childhood by providing a unique play- and nature-based program that encourages and celebrates children’s development, as well as providing support and education for parents. Our progressive, whole-child educational approach recognizes that a child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical growth develops most successfully from a positive self-concept. Through our research-based programs, the CEC ensures that the needs of each child are met and that their unique gifts and talents are cultivated. This focus on fulfilling the promise of childhood continues to remain our primary directive 40 years after our founding.

The CEC prides itself on providing the highest-quality early care and education to children ages from 2 months to 12 years, including children with special needs, through our four Children’s Programs.

Our Children’s Programs:

Infant-Toddler & Preschool Programs
At our beautiful Oak Grove site in La Cañada, we serve children ages two months to five years. This program has been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC) continually since 1988.

Cooperative Preschool at Caltech
A part-time morning program especially created for children ages two and a half years to five years. Parents in the Cooperative Preschool at Caltech are active members of the teaching team. This program has been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC) since 2018.

School-Age Program
Our School-Age Program serves more than 650 children daily at seven sites in Pasadena and La Cañada before- and after-school, with full-day care available on many school holidays or closures. Our School-Age Program is aligned with standards of the National AfterSchool Association.

Summer Exploration Camp
The CEC’s Summer Exploration Camp offers children 1st grade through 6th grade outdoor fun and adventure in an exciting day camp experience! Camps include Descanso Discoveries, our 10-week Summer Exploration Camp at our Oak Grove and Caltech sites, and after-summer school care for LCUSD (ALF) and PUSD (PEF) summer school attendees.


Creating a Caring Educational Community, Outdoors and In
The CEC's Children's Programs serve as a community for children, parents, staff, and volunteers to support each other in a loving environment. As experienced early childhood educators, we also strive to meet parents’ and families’ individual needs through parenting support and parent education.  Fun fact: A high percentage CEC’s teaching staff have been with the organization for 10 years or longer.

The CEC follows the natural outdoor classroom philosophy in our care and education of young children. Researchers have established that to nurture the whole child, early childhood education needs to follow the fundamental principle that children are learning everywhere and all the time. Instead of developmentally-inappropriate early academics, children need a broad variety of learning experiences and opportunities to grow in areas such as gross and fine motor development, social-emotional development, language development, and creative expression. Mastery of the skills associated with these areas is critical for healthy development as well as later academic success, and requires an educational format that is very different from a traditional elementary classroom. The outdoor classroom evolves from the real needs of children, offers activities that are personally meaningful to them, and fully embraces developmentally-appropriate practices in early care.

In 1994, the CEC began providing consulting services on the design, development and implementation of child care programs through our initiative, the Outdoor Classroom Project.

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Our Five-Year Strategic Plan

In 2016 we adopted a five-year strategic plan for the future growth of the CEC.

Service to Caltech, JPL, & to the Community
The CEC was established at the request of Caltech and JPL in 1979, and continues to maintain service to their employees as a priority.  We also welcome families throughout the San Gabriel Valley and Southern California who have no affiliation with Caltech and JPL.

A Model Program and Training Site
The CEC serves as an internationally-renowned model for developmentally appropriate and play-based programs for children, as well as an observation and training site for child development college students.

Consulting and Educational Outreach
Since its inception, the CEC has maintained a program of educational outreach to child care centers throughout the country, dedicated to improvements in the field of early care and education worldwide. Come visit us! We invite you to visit us and see for yourself what makes us special.

Have more questions? See our FAQs!