An innovative learning experience for HWS students at Rochester’s Strong National Museum of Play is the focus of a recent article by Associate Professor of Psychology Julie Newman Kingery. Published in the journal Psychology Learning and Teaching’s July 2018 issue, the article is titled “Active Learning in a Child Psychology Course: Observing Play Behavior at a Children’s Museum.”
The article describes a learning technique Kingery used in her “Child Psychology” class with 30 students who traveled to Strong Museum in Rochester to witness children at play. The event helped the students to better understand the role of play in children’s development and witness the ways in which play behavior varies with age. A comparisson group of 31 students, meanwhile, participated in classroom activities but did not attend the trip.
Through play, Kingery writes, children expand their language and communication abilities and perform other essential learning tasks like practicing memory skills. Her students learn this in the classroom, but studies have shown that active, experiential learning—such as field trips—help students retain even more of their subject matter.
“I received an innovative teaching grant from HWS’ Center for Teaching and Learning to cover the cost of the trip,” says Kingery. “With guidance from the members of a faculty grant group I participated in, I developed a museum observation sheet, assignment, pre- and post-knowledge assessment and prompts for a reflection paper for those who attended.”
Armed with these materials, the participating students visited three of Strong’s child-friendly, hands-on exhibits. Kingery instructed them to observe a variety of play functions, like numerical and spatial concepts, and attention and problem-solving. Later, each student completed a short response paper to reflect on the functions of play they observed.
Comparing the trip group with the group that did not visit Strong, Kingery found that the students who went on the trip “… exhibited significantly greater improvement on the knowledge assessment from pre to post than students who did not go on the trip.”
Kingery quotes several students in the article who spoke positively of the Strong Museum experience. “I learned that play is not simply about children running around and having fun but also incorporates learning and a list of benefits including social development,” says one HWS student.
Kingery hopes to incorporate a return visit to the Strong Museum when she teaches the class next spring. She frequently incorporates visits to local preschools and after-school programs for her students, and brings infants and toddlers into class for a live observation activity. “It is these kinds of experiences that help course material really come alive and create significant learning opportunities for students,” Kingery says.