Siskin Early Learning Center Chattanooga Siskin Early Learning Center Chattanooga

Siskin Early Learning Center

Learning Together

Siskin Children’s Institute has operated the Siskin Early Learning Center for more than 70 years.

The center educates children with special needs and developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders, as well as typically developing children in an inclusive environment where children learn and play together.

For Parents

Engagement Model

The Siskin Early Learning Center has over 12 classrooms which incorporate the Engagement Classroom Model that utilizes incidental teaching, zone defense scheduling, and integrated therapy into the child’s day.

Learn more about the Siskin model in our Q&A video from Julie Mickel, Director of the Siskin Early Learning Center.

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Siskin Early Learning Center Q&A

Who do you serve in the Early Learning Centers at Siskin Children’s Institute?

The Siskin Early Learning Center has been serving the Chattanooga community for over 50 years. We serve children with special needs and developmental disabilities as well as typically developing children.

What makes the Early Learning Centers unique?

Quality early childcare is low child-teacher ratios, using developmentally appropriate practices, sparking their curiosity through intentional learning as well as being play-based. The Early Learning Centers use assessments all year long, so we are measuring their progress all year long. We offer many resources for our families and offer our staff specialized training in strategies, implementation, etc.

Why is inclusion important to Siskin Early Learning Center?

Inclusion benefits all children both typically developing and children with special needs. The benefits of inclusion for children with special needs is peer modeling, so the children will learn from others. The training is specialized, so that will benefit all children. The typically developing children will learn about respect, empathy, and differences. At Siskin Early Learning Center, we develop meaningful relationships between all of the children.

What is Engagement Classroom Model?

The Engagement Classroom Model that we implement is three things:
1. Increasing a child’s engagement
2. Increasing a child’s independence
3. Increasing the child’s social interactions
These three things allows a child to be successful now and later in life. We use the terms incidental or intentional teaching, so even though we are play-based, learning is very intentional and we are taking those teachable moments and the teachers are expanding on it. The teachers utilize zone-defense that allows the classroom to stay organized and learning is taking place. The Engagement Classroom Model also decreases those transition/wait times. So, for example when you line up to go to the playground, there can be a lot of wait time, but with this engagement model, our staff has strategies to decrease that wait time making transitions easier for the children.
We also implement integrated therapy, which allows the therapists to go inside the classroom and work with the staff members, so the staff members are imbedding interventions all day within all the routines. So, they are getting interventions 8x greater than if they were receiving specialized services only 2x a week.

How do you incorporate the Reggio Emilia Approach and the Project Approach into your classrooms?

We also provide a Reggio Emilia Model which is an approach founded in Italy that allows the environment to play a large part in learning for children. The environment is the third teacher, so our teachers have brought in a lot of natural components and open-ended materials that encourage the children to use their imaginations and helps with problem-solving skills. We also implement the Project Approach that focuses on the interests of the children. For example, a child might find a spider out of the playground, so the teacher could bring that spider inside and allow the class to research about spiders, study the spider, what is a spider’s habitat, etc. The teacher can use this approach and expand on it, so it’s more meaningful and more interactive that works on critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

About Siskin Early Learning Center

  • Low teacher-student ratios
  • Highly trained teachers and staff
  • An integrated teaching model with related services support provided as indicated within the context of natural routines
  • Full-time nurse on staff
  • Every moment is an intentional teaching opportunity
  • Children learn in a predictable, loving, and safe environment
  • Children of all abilities grow and develop to their full potential by engaging in developmentally appropriate activities, being exposed to multiple instructional approaches, interacting with peers, and developing relationships in and inclusive environment
  • Children learn through engaging play that encourages curiosity, exploration, investigation and discovery.

Learn About Child Care Payment Assistance

Accreditations & Certifications

Siskin Early Learning Centers are licensed by the Department of Human Services. We adhere to the stringent guidelines set forth by DHS in order to provide quality care. Our staff implement best practice methodologies in the classrooms to provide the highest standard of early child care. Our main campus is also licensed by the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD).

Siskin Early Learning Center is funded through Siskin Children’s Institute.

Contact Siskin Early Learning Center

Siskin Library Catalog


Our free lending library is a place where families and professionals can find current resources on parenting and educating children with special needs. The library houses a growing collection of more than 5,000 books, DVDs, videos and periodicals on child development and disability-related topics. Our staff can help you research a topic, select the right books, browse our library catalog or use one of our computer work stations.


Library Catalog