Woodbury School Observation at The Strong National Museum of Play

We are an extremely fortunate city. We not only have an amazing National Museum of Play, but a Reggio inspired preschool/early kindergarten is located at the heart of this museum.

I had the great privilege to observe the Early Kindergarten class (ages 4-5) at the Woodbury School this month. I am also fortunate enough to meet with these amazing teachers once a month at a local Reggio Emilia Study Group. I’m realizing more and more how fortunate we are to have educators who faithfully gather to discuss, reflect, learn and inspire all things Reggio together.

The director of the Woodbury School, Debbie McCoy and the classroom teachers know about our Reggio Emilia Inspired Homeschool Group.  They graciously agreed to allow me to visit a class and observe.  My goals for this observation were the following:

  • How children enter the classroom.
  • What does their Circle Time/Meeting Time look, feel and sound like?
  • Transitions: How the children transition from different play activities and/or routines
  • Documentation: How teachers document structured and unstructured play
  • PLAY! What are these kids into? How do they play? They are about a year older than the oldest kids in our group and play looks very different at different developmental stages.  Plus, I was just curious what their interests are at this time.
  • Closure: How do the children end their day together?

Entering the classroom

The children seemed quite accustomed to their routine. They knew where to put their belongings, sign in and which areas of play were “open” or accessible. Teachers had a giant birthday card on one table for children to sign. Another table had blank pieces of paper with writing utensils and alphabet stickers.  A few students requested some water for the water bin, put on smocks and “splashed” right in!

Teachers immediately engaged with the children’s play.  They got down at their level to ask questions and take notes.  One teacher helped students finish and/or elaborate their stories through writing and illustrations. I’ve been informed beforehand that this class has been working on what the Woodbury Preschool calls, Story Workshop.  The students develop stories of all kinds from various sources of inspiration.  I had the chance to flip through a binder of their collected stories.  Teachers typed out the student’s words and the student illustrated a corresponding picture to go with the story.  I also had a chance to read the children’s dialogue through teacher observation in the binder.  I saw photographs of the children building a structure out of blocks they called a Space Ship. Space Ships became a popular theme in their pretend play. I also know from our study group, that teachers video record the children acting out their stories to enhance reflections and discussion among the children.  

A gentle sounding chime was heard, Ding! The children seemed very familiar with the chime and understood it’s meaning.  They do a quick clean up and gather at the rug for “Afternoon Meeting.”

  • One child lolly gaged and a teacher gently said, “Can you help me find a spot?”
  • Children sang a Hello Song to greet one another. They also introduced me to the group.
  • “Big News!” The teacher leading the meeting asked the children about any “Big News.”  There were a couple birthdays over the weekend that were announced.  We not only sang Happy Birthday as a group to the children, but a Wishing Stone was introduced.  A beautiful glittering river stone was passed around to each child and was given to the birthday child last.  The children were instructed to silently put a wish into the stone for the birthday child.  They can do it by rubbing it, or putting it up to their forehead.

The birthday child received this special stone and was excited to discover that she could keep it!

  • After this special ritual, the children were introduced play choices for the day and told to first listen to them, think about them and then choose which they’d like to do.

“I’m looking for Builders…” One teacher briefly explained what the children would explore with blocks.  “I’ll be using a new Art Tool and a new shape in the classroom…” said another teacher. The third group of children were finishing up their stories in Story Workshop which took place in the Atelier.

I stayed in the classroom.  Authentic pictures of pixel artwork were shown to the children. Then a dot painting tool was introduced.  Children were gently told to take “watching and listening turns” as the teacher modeled the use of the tool. Then they were encouraged to freely create! “What do you want to make?” A boy immediately responded, “Angry birds!”

“What shape is it?” the teacher asked.

“Lots of different ones.  One is a circle,” a child responded.

“What shape is Angry Bird’s beak?” prompted the teacher.

“Pointy!” He responded.

“Like a triangle?” the teacher asked.

“Yeah,” the child said as he started using the dot painter.

Another child began to pound the dot tool causing splats of paint. The teacher gently intervened by commenting, “How did I make the dots again? Watch what happens when I do this (she slams the dot marker down on the table). We want to be gentle.”

I made my way to the Story Workshop group in the Atelier.  As the teacher worked one on one with children on their stories, other children either worked on their illustrations or let their imaginations run free  in a large wooden box.  One child showed me a book they read called, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.  The teacher re-read the children’s stories and scribed words of new stories.

When I returned to the classroom, a few children seemed to be playing restaurant.  As the teacher observed, she said, “It sounds like you are a waitress.  Are you a waitress? Can I show you what you’d like to use?” Then she grabbed a small notebook for the child to use to enhance her pretend play.  I observed another child independently writing and then putting a note in a friend’s mailbox.  She matched her name using a class-made ring of names with student portraits that seemed to be used to help children identify classmate’s names and faces.

A gentle chime of a bell was rung for a 5 minute warning before clean up and snack prep.  After clean up, children gathered at the rug first with one teacher while 2 other teachers prepared the tables for snack.  The teacher at the rug lead an engaging activity to slowly transition the children one by one to the tables.  She had a paper bag with a musical note on it and said, “Old MacDonald had a band…and in his band he had a…” She pulled out a picture of an instrument on it for children to identify and sing the sound it makes.  During this transition activity, she called children to wash up for snack one or two at a time.  One child ran and a teacher said, “Show me your safest feet.” While children ate their snack, they listened to a story read aloud by one of the teachers.  She not only read the story, but walked around while reading for children to see the beautiful illustrations.

After snack, I joined the children for outdoor play.  They seemed to have a blast in the snow with each other! They not only came up with games, but built forts with sticks, dug in the snow and simply fell into the snow with big smiles on their faces.  One child was having difficulty joining in the play.  Teachers offered her ideas and modeled language to help her join in on the fun.  She tried out pretending to be an animal, but quickly seemed more comfortable observing her classmates play while standing close to the teacher.

I walked back inside with the children and thanked them for such a nice day.  This concluded my observation at Woodbury School.  Overall, I could sense the comfort and warmth of the community of learners these teachers created.  The atmosphere was bright, engaging, colorful, peaceful and safe… a safe place to play, take risks, learn and grow together.

A tree covered with “snow” in the classroom!
Nice sized easels where students can not only paint, but be inspired by the photographs of snow and snowflakes displayed in the center.
This table encourages children to write. You’ll find notebooks, cards, stationary, post-its, stencils, classmates names and an ABC chart that encourages letter/sound relationships.
Notice how this felt board is very open-ended for any story to occur!
This picture showcases the current interests observed and documented from three different classes.
Not only blocks in the block center, but books about construction and paper to encourage blueprints and drawings… a literacy-rich block area indeed!
A beautiful wooden and very large yet simple doll house allows for more imagination and creativity. There’s also enough space for more than one child to play here.
A simple yet large wooden kitchen has labeled cabinets with photographs and words to help children know where materials are kept… also encourages word identification in print.
Look at all of the fun loose parts in the Atelier! Snowmen creations are displayed on top of mirrors. Lovely!

2 thoughts on “Woodbury School Observation at The Strong National Museum of Play

  1. We will be visiting The Strong’s pre-school this month. 45 of us have taken the trip to Buffalo to visit the Elmwood-Franklin Reggio-inspired school. It was beyond wonderful. Free play is so important!


    1. A few teachers from Elmwood Franklin presented at one of our Reggio study group meetings after attending a conference. I really enjoyed hearing how they transformed their early childhood program! Glad you got to visit! I bet it was inspirational.


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