Children are Citizens
On April 25, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art several DC schools, including SEEC, and Harvard’s Project Zero celebrated the launch of a book authored by over 300 students. The book was the result of a research and professional development project entitled: Children are Citizens: Children and Teachers Collaborating across Washington, D.C. The premise of this project is the belief that children are as much part of the community as their adult counterparts. They should not only be able to voice their opinions, but also participate in their community. Through their participation children will learn to see other’s points of view, work together, and understand how we are all interconnected, thus creating an informed and thoughtful citizenry who will become active participants in our democracy. To learn more about Project Zero and this collaboration visit here.
The first phase of the project entailed some thoughtful discovery. Children and teachers had several conversations about what they thought of their city, what they would like to change, important people and places. The second phase culminated in a book where SEEC students focused on their relationship with the museums on the National Mall.
What made you want to participate in this project?
I thought the idea was great—getting children thinking more deeply about how they interact with both our SEEC community and the community around them. This was a great opportunity to reinforce what we already know about the city and expand our knowledge even more.
Describe the process in your classroom.
We used several different methods for collecting the children’s ideas. I would present a topic for the children to write about in their daily journals. We would then discuss in a morning meeting what they wrote about and I would take note of their answers. We also held discussions about our DC community and I would record their answers for further use. Once the book project became clear, we started exploring the museums more and focusing on big questions like what children visiting DC should see, why the museum was important and how to locate the museums.
Outline how this project was implemented in your classroom?
We would have small class discussions, both teacher and child led. We would brainstorm what we thought was important about the museums and what additional things children should see when coming to DC. We talked about what problems DC had, for example, traffic. The children would also talk about the issues in dramatic play and I would take notes. We would also visit the museums and discuss what to put in the book for others to learn.
How did the professional development help or change your ideas of how to teach or connect children to the city in which they live.
It was great to meet other educators from various schools around DC and have discussions about how their children responded to our study of “children as citizens.” It was interesting to see that even though we taught different age groups and came from various schools, our students had similar responses to our community. It was also great to see how children and adults share similar concerns about their community including the traffic. Students were upset about how drivers don’t follow the laws and how long they have to wait. We had a discussion about what could be done to improve this problem. Being able to connect with the children on issues they feel are important was wonderful.
The project seems to emphasize collaborations and discussion, is there a conversation you had among your students that really stands out?
One that really stood out was when we were in the Smithsonian Castle talking about who the book’s audience would be. We also talked about what role the children would have in creating the book. What I found interesting was the children weren’t so much interested in being the authors or illustrators of the book, but rather more in how they could present the book to others. They wanted to make a play in the Baird Auditorium to present the book to the kids and parents. They were assigning roles and how they should also video tape the show to present to others who couldn’t come. It was also notable that they were concerned about individuals who couldn’t read or understand the book. We discussed adding pictures and translating the book into other languages, even having a braille version. It was really neat to see how they were thinking outside the box and being considerate of others.
The children’s view of DC changed as we talked more about what our DC community is and who belongs to it. We were very excited when we collaborated with School Within a School and their first grade class for a project. SEEC kids were excited to be tour guides to SWS and show them some of their “secrets” to Natural History. We showed them places you might not have the opportunity to see on a field trip. In return, SWS showed SEEC two great paintings in NGA and did a play for us. We then worked together to create our own ideas about how a museum should look and what it should have in it. This was a great collaboration and the children were asking to be able to do it again. The children really liked being able to connect with others in our community. They have also become more aware about what is going on around them and what they see on their everyday museum visits.
What was one of your more challenging moments during the process?
It took a little while to figure out that we wanted to work on a book with the schools from around DC. Until we actually chose the topic, it was a little difficult to go into the classroom and lead a discussion with the children. However, it was great to be able to talk with all the teachers and the project leaders about questions we wanted to pose to the children and about the final outcome.
What was one of the most rewarding moments during the process?
One of the most rewarding moments was our discussion in the Smithsonian Castle about who the book was for. It was great to see how the children were thinking about all children who would read the book and their general concern about how those who couldn’t read or know the language, would be able to understand the book. This discussion began with a single teacher prompt followed by almost 45 minutes of children-led discussion. The children were in the zone and excited about the book and how they were going to be a part of it. It was great to be able to share their compassion and understanding for others.
Is there anything you would like to add?
It was a fun project overall and it was nice to see what the children’s understanding of our community is. It was also fun to see how they would follow up with some of our conversations in their dramatic play, for example, making roads with big blocks and the zoo complete with roads to it and food for the animals. The children were also excited about making a tour guide book to our museum as well. Overall, the children responded well to the project and had a good time.