A $500,000 grant from the William and Sheila Konar Foundation will allow the Strong National Museum of Play to increase the number of preschoolers who learn through play by 50 percent.
The grant will assist in the construction of two new classrooms at the museum’s Woodbury Preschool, which currently serves more than 70 children. Construction of the new educational spaces will run concurrent with the museum’s $60 million, 100,000-square-foot expansion, slated for completion in 2020.
“The Strong plays a critical role in our community,” said Howard Konar, a trustee of the William and Sheila Konar Foundation. “Through its Woodbury School, the museum impacts the lives of many students in our region and shares the educational power of play.”
The grant will be used to construct state-of-the-art classrooms and a garden area for the preschool. The rooms will feature large windows for natural light; open areas to allow class discussions and active play; an art studio so kids can express their creativity with paints and sculpture materials; one-way observation windows for parents and teachers; new security features; and a link to a redesigned Woodbury garden, where students will grow herbs and vegetables and learn about healthy eating.
“Woodbury School provides play-based learning in action and showcases the power of play as a learning tool,” said Debbie McCoy, the Strong’s assistant vice president for education. “Each year thousands of educators and college and university students take part in educational programs that use Woodbury School observation and documentation to learn about various aspects of playful learning. These inspire their own practices and spread these ideas to other classrooms around the region.”
The Woodbury School—named for museum founder Margaret Woodbury—opened in 2005. The school serves children aged three to five and is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, which encourages play and student-driven learning, McCoy said.
“The approach also sees the learning environment as crucial to the educational experience, almost another teacher of sorts, and these new spaces will help facilitate the exploration of the children’s interest,” she explained.
Children at the Woodbury Preschool are guided by their own interests, enabling them to learn and develop in playful activities set among engaging, dynamic, hands-on exhibits at the Strong. Through play, children have experiences that introduce them to the larger world, help them develop trust with peers and adults outside their family and build their confidence and self-reliance.
Teachers and students work together to plan the curriculum and create projects, under the Reggio Emilia approach, and at the Woodbury School, small and large group activities involve art, music, cooperative games, movement, pre-reading, math and other age-appropriate experiences.
The school features small classes, which allow children to build confidence as they explore the world. Specially designed classrooms serve as home base for the kids and are set apart from the museum galleries. But the children also experience the colorful, imaginative museum spaces including Reading Adventureland, Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden and other interactive exhibits. Parents also are encouraged to visit classrooms and be involved in class projects.
The school is private, but offers scholarships that cover half or all of the tuition for some students each year based on family income, McCoy said.
“We’re proud to help the Strong expand its learning space and extend its reach so that more children in our community, including those with financial need, can benefit from attending Woodbury School,” Konar said.
McCoy said the Strong opened the school because it wanted to provide area students a school that demonstrates the many ways that play can support learning and development, “putting our museum mission into action.”
The William & Sheila Konar Foundation is a private grant-making entity founded in 1982. The foundation supports programs, institutions and organizations in Rochester and elsewhere, guided by the philanthropic goals of its founders.
“The generosity of the William and Sheila Konar Foundation will have a lasting impact on students, parents, teachers and other educators in the Rochester community,” McCoy said.
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