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College Student Experiences

College Student Experiences at Wimpfheimer Nursery School

As a laboratory school for Vassar College and our surrounding educational community, the learning and personal experiences of our college students are an important part of our mission. To share the flavor of their time at Wimpfheimer, and to provide a window into our school through their eyes, a faculty member collected narratives from his students. These are their reflections.

Summary of Comments by Topic

The most frequently mentioned benefit of the Wimpfheimer was the opportunity to observe directly what was being written about in texts and talked about in class:

  • "I was able to experience some of what we talked about first hand."
  • "A more hands on approach is always useful."

Students saw the benefits of this direct approach to their learning:

  • "The themes that I observed were ones that I most remember about developmental psychology because I actually saw them in action."
  • "My time in Wimpfheimer is one of the most vivid memories I have of this (or any) class."

Some students also mentioned benefits of observation for critical thinking about the course:

  • "Writing papers based on the research forced me to think about and conceptualize real-life experiences."
  • "I remember instances when the incidents that I observed at the school were inconsistent with the theories that I had learned about in class. In my opinion, any developmental theory needs to be tested with real-life experience since the realms of theory and practical reality are, in many cases, disparate."

A number of students commented about the educational approach at the school:

  • "I learned that each activity laid out for them to participate in was designed to fine-tune these skills that children are developing at various stages in their mental and physical growth."
  • "The third way that I think Wimpfheimer has helped me is by providing a model for true progressive education."
  • "I was especially impressed by the school's progressive gender philosophy and its focus on child-centered education."

A few students commented on the contribution of the Wimpfheimer to the joy of learning, and to their Vassar experience:

  • "It felt nice to get out of the textbook and into the actual work of observing."
  • "I imagine that very few students look forward to studying as much as those who have the opportunity to do so at Wimpfheimer."
  • "For me, Vassar wouldn't have been Vassar without Wimpfheimer"

Brief Narratives of College Student Experiences At Wimpfheimer

I have very much enjoyed working at Wimpfheimer. I have been a work-study student, a 237 intern and I have done research there for Psyc 239. I learned a lot about child development, and also about early childhood education. I can honestly say that Psyc. 237 was one of the most informative classes I've ever taken. I learned how to plan and teach developmentally appropriate lessons in an early childhood setting. Being able to work in the nursery school, and practice what I had learned was an important component of my education.

– Vassar senior '06

While taking Developmental Psychology I got the opportunity to observe at the Wimpfheimer nursery school. I think that these observations added a lot to my understanding for that class because I was able to experience some of what we talked about first hand. Being able to observe at the nursery school really clarified some of the terms and methods of learning that children go through in such areas as language acquisition, social interactions, etc. Without the opportunity to observe some of the concepts crucial to Developmental Psych would have been less clear.

– Vassar sophomore '08

I did two observations at the nursery school and I enjoyed both of them. I thought that doing the observations really added to the class because I got to actually some of the things we were learning in action. Now that I think about it, that was my favorite part of the Developmental Psychology class.

– Vassar sophomore '08

I am a junior, -Class of '07 and took developmental psychology with you. I did observations of the kindergarten classrooms and had absolutely no idea how extensive the facility actually was. I was able to control eight different microphones to focus on particular conversations at tables and through the one-way mirror observed the children pretending to be different super-heroes. The experience was absolutely incredible and I think invaluable to the course itself. Writing papers based on the research forced me to think about and conceptualize real-life experiences along with the issue of privacy and anonymity of the students. I was allowed to reveal their ages (mostly used for relative comparisons) and changed their names in the paper. I have also discussed with a former roommate and close friend who is currently in your research methods class, the benefits of the classroom (she has been doing contact and video-recordings) and how lucky we are to have a facility like that here at Vassar. It truly helped me to fully understand issues we discussed in context and the experience was memorable. We went through an extensive prep class beforehand and got handouts with rules to follow so that no one misused or abused the privilege or equipment. I absolutely loved doing the research at Wimpfheimer--yours has been the only class I have taken that has used it but when talking to potential psych majors about the experience, they want to take developmental psych because of the resources we have available to us.

– Vassar junior, '07

I have done observations there for a couple of classes, and I think it added a lot. Besides being very interesting experiences, a more hands on approach is always useful to help you grasp the material.

– Vassar junior '07

I did observations of the Kindergarten and toddler classrooms for Psychology 231. I found these observations to be extremely helpful and relevant to the curriculum. The themes that I observed were ones that I most remember about developmental psychology because I actually saw them in action.

– Vassar sophomore '08

I did two or three direct observations in Wimpfheimer for your Developmental Psychology class. I feel that the real-world experience definitely added to the class, and helped me gain perspective on the developmental constructs we were studying. I wouldn't go as far as to say the experience was indispensable, but it was certainly useful. My time in Wimpfheimer is one of the most vivid memories I have of this (or any) class.

– Vassar junior, '07

my freshman year i did work-study as a teacher's assistant in the kindergarten classroom at Wimpfheimer. my sophomore year i observed there on multiple occasions for your class. i think the presence of a lab school on vassar's campus is invaluable, both for the college students and the children who attend the school. i was especially impressed by the school's progressive gender philosophy and its focus on child-centered education. as an elementary education major, it was truly valuable for me to see progressive education in action. and it was a lot of fun!

– Vassar junior '07

I worked with the Wimpfheimer Nursery School many times over my four years of study at Vassar. I did observation of, both in and out of the booth, and direct contact research with the students at the nursery school. Two classes, Introduction to Developmental Psychology (Mena Kim) and Research Methods in Developmental Psychology (Nicholas DeLeeuw) and a research project with Jennifer Ma allowed me to spend time at the nursery school. I also was able to interview the Director of the nursery school for a final project in my Developmental Psychology Senior Seminar (Carolyn Palmer).

The opportunity to perform direct observations and research that Vassar offers its students and professors is a unique asset. I think that the nursery school definitely gave me the chance to really apply and observe for myself some of the classic research theories on child development. For me, even more interaction with the nursery school would have been useful for my understanding of developmental and school psychology. The fact that we have these students in our own backyard in a research nursery school could be a great tool for our faculty and student research. I particularly remember that the chance to interview the director on issues of child birth for a final project, was extremely helpful and she offered such insight on the topic. Her words taught me a great deal about the issue that I would not have been able to find in a book.

– Vassar senior '05

I've worked as a classroom assistant at Wimpfheimer. As opposed to other work study positions, I really felt like I was helping at a place that needed me. Working with children is an invaluable experience and a healthy break in our hectic lives as college students.

At Wimpfheimer, I've also done observation for a Developmental psychology course. It is important to actually spend time with children and witness the stages of development we were studying. At such a small college, we are lucky to have this opportunity so close by.

– Vassar junior '07

The research I have done at Wimpfheimer has been limited to observational studies while taking a class on developmental psychology. The class was unique in that it was one of the few times I was given the opportunity to see how certain concepts I was learning in class actually worked in real life. This was a tremendous help in making what I was being taught tangible. Whether it is an abstract theory or just a basic notion, using the observations helped give me a practical and real basis from which to learn developmental psychology.

– Vassar junior, '07

I have been working at the nursery for the past two years doing everything from work study, to observation, to research. As a laboratory school, the nursery is indispensable. Especially in developmental research, it makes a world of difference for students to have hands-on interaction with the kids, acquire the spontaneity necessary to improvise in research studies and other skills that other research students without this opportunity will never even know exist. And in my experience, the kids have always had just as much fun with us as we have with them.

As a work study student, the intelligence level of these kids never ceases to amaze me and i strongly belief this can be attributed to past psychology research on which the nursery bases its teaching/learning approaches.

– Vassar junior '07

I went to observe for a developmental psych paper. I was in the kindergarten booth. Making actual observations was a really useful experience since psychology is a really interesting subject, but there are always problems with getting a lot of hands on experience. I guess it felt nice to get out of the textbook and into the actual work of observing.

– Vassar senior '06

I am a psychology and education major specializing in developmental psychology. With a focus such as that, it was invaluable to me to have access to Wimpfheimer. I have spent countless hours in Wimpfheimer doing both observations and direct contact research. Being able to observe and work with the students there is both educational and enjoyable, and for Vassar students particularly interested in development or working with children, the experience is a fabulous one. Wimpfheimer allows students in developmental research methods classes to design and run research projects with a minimal amount of hassle and students studying development to gain experience in naturalistic behavior observation. I imagine that very few students look forward to studying as much as those who have the opportunity to do so at Wimpfheimer.

– Vassar senior '06

As a psychology major, I am required to take 4 classes in 4 different areas of the science. One of the classes I have taken is Developmental Psychology. A requirement of the class is 2 observation assignments at Wimpfheimer. This was my favorite part of the class because it allowed me to actually see the concepts and developmental stages presented by several of the psychologists we read about. These assignments were definitely helpful in grasping the concepts and theories I learned in class. It made them more real.

– Vassar junior '07

I did an observation for the Developmental Psychology class. I observed the kindergarten and I found that it was helpful in understanding the concepts from class. Even if I understood the material, it was very illuminating to see the things that we discussed, in action, through watching the children. On a less academic level, it was fun to play the role of a researcher with the one-way mirror, trying to find the locate the certain behaviors while they played. It was definitely a different experience, but I'm glad that I got the chance to get a more "hands-on" approach to the course.

– Vassar junior '07

I've done observations in the 2/3 room, both mixed age rooms, and the kindergarten (in the classroom and in an observation booth both) at Wimpfheimer for intro psych (106), cog sci, developmental psych, teaching math, teaching science, and i feel like maybe teaching reading too... am i forgetting any? I don't know. Ok, then I did direct contact for your research methods class, and this fall i had the honor of working there! So I guess I've had a lot of different contexts at Wimpfheimer. Each time i walk into Wimpfheimer I feel like i learn ridiculous amounts from each simple interaction. Just walking by Wimpfheimer you catch the aura that is love for children and love for children learning.

The first way that I think Wimpfheimer affects Vassar is simply by bringing the presence of children to the campus. I don't know anyone who doesn't at least smile when he/she sees the big red strollers with toddlers or lines of kids walking across campus. For me personally, this reminds me of what I'm doing and why - I want to go to school to learn how to best prepare children to face the world while being proud of who they are as they try their best and hopefully they find the courage change the world. Seeing children on a daily basis, then, is an invaluable motivator for me.

The second way that I think Wimpfheimer affects students like me who are of the Psychology and/or Education field is that we have an incredible opportunity to research methods of teaching or theories of developmental psychology in a safe environment for the children and in a safe environment for us as researchers - at Wimpfheimer the teachers are ALWAYS willing to smile and give a helping hand in our (Vassar students') learning.

The third way that I think Wimpfheimer has helped me is by providing a model for true progressive education. Be it because of the ever increasing number of standards and standardized tests, or because of the ever increasing achievement gap, or any number of things, it can often be overwhelming for a future teacher to think about how it is going to be possible to create a safe, caring learning environment that approaches learning WITH the kids (both about traditional academia and other areas, such as social justice, that are equally important) at THEIR level and still gets the "job" (passing the tests, etc.) done. Being a student at Vassar, however, means that that doubt need not stay in mind long. All one has to do is peek into one of the classrooms at Wimpfheimer and witness first hand that, in fact, it can be done and creating a classroom like this can be very fun for both the students and the teachers!

The last, and most recent, way that Wimpfheimer has positively shaped my experience at Vassar has been by providing me with direct experience in trying to implement my teaching philosophies under the helpful aid of the head teachers in the rooms. I so enjoyed the weeks that I got to work in the center room this semester. Even if they were little tricks like thinking ahead to suggest everyone takes five marbles to avoid conflict or big tricks, you know, like orchestrating a scaffolded curriculum that ensures that children will explore and learn at their own rate but still learn all that they need to know (no biggie right?), I learned so much from watching the teachers in my room and trying to follow their example. The experience that I gained in those few weeks will be invaluable to me as I continue on my own teaching track.

So if you're asking if Wimpfheimer had an impact on my time at Vassar, I would say that, for me, Vassar wouldn't have been Vassar without Wimpfheimer, and the time that I have been lucky enough to spend in the school could not have been replaced by a better experience. Thank you!

– Vassar junior '07

I have been at the Wimpfheimer several times during my Vassar career for class requirements. Both in observation and direct contact experiences, I feel that classroom concepts were enhanced and clarified by my time at Wimpfheimer. Seeing is believing.

– Vassar senior '06

What I really liked about Wimpfheimer, both with doing my work study there and with doing observations for my principles of development class was that I got to work in mixed age classrooms. This gave me a chance to really see the different stages of development that children go through with their language and their social skills and behaviors. Before learning about developmental psychology, I would have thought that the activities at Wimpfheimer were just to keep the children entertained, but I learned that each activity laid out for them to participate in was designed to fine-tune these skills that children are developing at various stages in their mental and physical growth. Working at Wimpfheimer also gave me great insight on the ways in which one should interact with young children in order to foster and encourage independence and creativity.

– Vassar junior, '07

I had to complete observation papers for a developmental psychology class, and I used the information that I derived from my observations at the school to write these papers. I felt that the school played an extremely useful role in my educational experience because it served as a testing ground for the theories that I had learned about in class. I think that it was especially useful in sparking critical thinking, which Vassar emphasizes. I remember instances when the incidents that I observed at the school were inconsistent with the theories that I had learned about in class. In my opinion, any developmental theory needs to be tested with real-life experience since the realms of theory and practical reality are, in many cases, disparate.

– Vassar senior '06

I found working at Wimpfheimer to be a rewarding experience. During familiarization, I spoke with the children about their Halloween costume or their pets and found myself reflecting on what life was like at such an age. When conducting studies at Wimpfheimer, one gets a better idea of how difficult it can be to design a study that involves young participants. This is quite useful as it keeps one mindful of the special concerns involved with children. One is forced to develop analytical skills in order to better respond to these concerns while simultaneously striving to reach the goals of a given study. I hope to continue working at Wimpfheimer, as I find it to be a valuable resource for the development of students as researchers.

– Vassar junior '07

I observed several times at Wimpfheimer, and also conducted (with my class)a simple study on children's books (on gender roles) with my Developmental Research Methods class. The most insightful aspect of the work done at Wimpfheimer was the fact that I saw our class work applied to a "real world" setting. In short, it brought our theories outside of the classroom and put them into practice. The observation time also provided an inconspicuous way in which to simply naturally observe children at different developmental stages, without them knowing we were there. Transcribing their interactions illustrated patterns of different age groups. The study then allowed us to interact with those children that we had watched and observe differences/similarities in behavior while we conducted our study. The time at Wimpfheimer was very valuable.

– Vassar senior '06

I did observation at Wimpfheimer last year during the Principles of Development class. It was very useful for me to see the theories we learned about in the classroom being played out by the children in the nursery school. It was very rewarding to be able to observe the children then study the observations and other articles so much that a larger theory and pattern emerged. When you can see the same behavior that the original developmental psychologists saw while formulating their theories, you can understand those theories much better.

– Vassar sophomore, '08

I had the opportunity to visit the Wimpfheimer School twice last year for my Principles of Development Psychology course. During my visits, I got to experience real life examples of our class work. Observing and interacting with the children helped my further research into the field and provided me with a better understanding of applicable class concepts. I really enjoyed going to the Wimpfheimer to do research. It was an important academic experience for me to do my first observational research studies as a psychology major. I believe that allowing college students to visit the school is very beneficial to their studies.

– Vassar sophomore '08

Along with my Research Methods in Developmental Psych classmates, I interacted with the kids at Wimpfheimer for a study on pretend play (we set up a restaurant for them to play in and we observed) and false belief and humor (we read them stories and asked questions).

Having access to the Wimpfheimer for a class was integral for my learning of the topics in the Research Methods class. Rather than just theorizing and reading others' studies, the Wimpfheimer put psychological principles and hypotheses to practical use. I feel like I have a much greater depth of understanding of developmental psychology because of the live-subject study the Wimpfheimer allowed. I also really enjoyed interacting with the kids--they hardly felt like a sterile, impersonal experiments. I think it is also beneficial for young children to interact with people of all different age groups and I believe they enjoyed the experiments as much as we did. From my experiences this semester, I place a high value on laboratory preschools and hope the Wimpfheimer will continue to allow psychological study.

– Vassar junior '07

I observed the nursery school students on two occasions during my sophomore year for Principles of Development. I spent some time in the observation booth, in the classroom, and outside. I really enjoyed it. I feel it contributed to the class and my education experience at Vassar. It could have had a larger impact, but was not huge emphasis in the class. I could see it having a great impact in higher level, more specialized courses that are able to spend more time on it.

– Vassar junior '07

During my senior year at Vassar I participated in research at the Wimpfheimer school for two of my courses, an introductory developmental psychology course and a seminar in child development, research and observation. Spending time at the Wimpfheimer school was a very creative alternative to the typical book-learning approach taken in the majority of my other courses. it truly made the material we were discussing take lively form to be able to do short and long term observation projects about different themes we were learning about in class. Often times it was observing a counter example of some theory or process we were learning about that allowed me to investigate the literature more deeply and question and analyze the things i was reading about. I personally did not care for sitting behind the glass partition and i always opted for direct observation in the classroom. The teachers were extremely helpful in allowing me to feel comfortable but functionally anonymous in the classroom. My most satisfying academic accomplishment, the completion of a case study with research conducted at Wimpfheimer is an experience that i will always value.

– Vassar senior '05

I have done observation, familiarization, and direct contact research at Wimpfheimer. For my developmental class, our observation there was an excellent way to view the principles we had studied in action. For the research I conducted there, an experiment on the development of stereotype threat in preschool children, we familiarized for almost a month, getting to know the kids, and had a great time playing with them. As they are so used to research being done there, the kids were really excited to come play our games, and not only did we learn a lot from them, but I think, and hope, they had a good time as well.

– Vassar senior '06

I conducted two observation studies at Wimpfheimer during the spring semester of 2005. I watched the youngest group of children play and the middle age group of children to listen for overregularization of grammar. I recorded the conversations of the second group, and watched the children of the first group role-playing. I found both observation experiments very helpful in contributing to my studies in psychology. They were certainly among the most memorable experiences of the methods class I took. I think that kind of hands-on study really brings to life the theories and other experiments we study in class.

– Vassar senior '06

My experiences at Wimpheimer were only with the intro to developmental psych and the research methods class with you. I thought that especially for the research methods class, it was crucial to have the children to observe and analyze. Having and running our own data was important to be able to grasp research methods. I think that the staff is really great about working around and dealing with students, and I also think that with heightened technology in the booths, the experience could be even better!

– Vassar senior '06

I have done observation for Principles of Development at Wimpfheimer, which was a great way to illuminate some concepts that we had learned in class, and see how they play out with actual children. I also spent a few hours a week volunteering as an aide for a four-year-old child with special needs. This was not only an academically rewarding experience (I used my experience to complete a project for Issues in Contemporary Education), but a personally rewarding one as well. I developed a relationship with the student and always looked forward to my time at Wimpfheimer.

– Vassar junior'07