Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores Natural Wonders

This week’s teacher feature highlights a lesson from toddler teachers Lauren Bundy, Katherine Custer, and Emily Romig on natural wonders. The class went to the National Gallery of Art to look at nineteenth century American landscapes. In these painting the class was able to identify and think about natural wonders such as mountains, rivers, and waterfalls. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as a reflection from the teachers. 

Cover Photo

Here are a few images from their lesson on Natural Wonders:

SEECstories.comTo start the day, Katherine sat down with the class during snack to have an informal discussion. She started the discussion by asking, “Who is not in class today?” The class listed a couple of children who had not yet arrived and then turned their attention to the fact that one of their teachers, Lauren, was not there. Katherine explained that Lauren was in Asia on a trip and pulled out an atlas for the class to look at and learn more about Asia. The class was able to look at maps and pictures of the natural wonders in Asia.

SEECstories.com (1)After snack, the toddler class sat down for a more formal learning experience. To start the circle, Katherine sang hello to each child and gave each child the opportunity to talk to the group about something that they were wearing that day.

SEECstories.com (2)During circle, the toddler class used technology and books to look at examples of natural wonders. The class looked at images of rivers, mountains, and streams. After looking at the images, the toddler teachers explained that the class was going to visit the National Gallery of Art and look for paintings of some of these natural wonders.

SEECstories.cAt the National Gallery of Art the class stopped to look at Mount Corcoran by Albert Bierstadt as a group. The class saw different things in this painting including “water”, “mountains”, and even “volcanoes”.  After a few minutes of observing the painting, the class moved on to other galleries.

SEECstories.c (1)As the teachers walked through the galleries, they were able to have more individualized discussions about the natural wonders depicted in the paintings. The teachers followed the children’s interests by walking closer to the paintings that the children pointed to. Katherine and Emily used a stream of consciousness technique to describe all the things they saw in the paintings, which introduced many new words to the toddlers.

SEECstories.c (2)After exiting the National Gallery of Art, the class found a shady spot by a fountain to read the book How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. It is a story about traveling around the world to collect items for an apple pie.

SEECstories.c (3)Reading the book outside allowed the children more freedom in their movements. Some children even chose to stand up to get a closer look at the book. The class thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the around-the-world adventure.

A reflection from Katherine:

This year, our toddler class has explored many topics and we just recently began a new unit on exploring the outdoors. We developed this idea from some emerging interests we saw in the class. For example, on our outings around the National Mall, our toddlers began observing more about their surroundings and even started to use familiar landmarks to help them navigate. We also noted their curiosity in a small gardening lesson we had done a couple weeks prior. I’ve discovered that for our class of young children, lessons seem to be absorbed best when they can find ways to relate the topic back to themselves or create a memorable experience with it. We began our new unit on exploration by talking about maps and discussing where we live and places we have traveled to. In an effort to personalize the lesson, I wanted to share somewhere special to me – the American West. Not only have I visited there and have personal accounts to share, I also love the late 19th century paintings of these landscapes and the way they are displayed. I wanted to try to incorporate these paintings into our lesson as visuals for unique land features that can be found in the outdoors. On a different level, I liked the idea of using these paintings for a similar purpose to their original function – showing Americans on the East Coast the beauties of the American West.

In the classroom, we began by looking at photos of some common land features, such as mountains, waterfalls, rivers, forests and deserts. Some of the children already knew the words for these things, while others seemed to be learning them for the first time. When we arrived at the National Gallery of Art, they were very excited and energized by the large-scale paintings. We initially stopped at Albert Bierstadt’s Mount Corcoran, but I could tell we would need a bigger space to keep the class engaged and also to diversify our scenery. We walked to a larger gallery with many similar paintings and took a seat on the floor.

It can sometimes be challenging to engage toddlers in lessons that are purely two-dimensional, so I tried to pay special attention to the things they were noticing on their own in the paintings to affirm their sense of curiosity. This age group enjoys identifying what they see, and these paintings, which are realistic in nature, allowed them to do just that, as we observed the works in the gallery. They wanted to label everything they saw, including their new words (“mountain”, “river”, “forest”, “waterfall”) and living things, such as animals and people.

When our students became too wiggly for the indoors, we moved outside to a large water fountain where I had them sit while we read a book. My hope was that the water feature outside would provide both a tangible connection for them to a waterfall painting we had seen and a break from looking at the landscape paintings. We read a book called How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. The book covered many different countries with different landscapes and resources that gave us a diverse understanding of the outdoors. They were able to draw parallels between landscapes they saw in the book and the things we had already seen and discussed in the galleries.

We faced a few obstacles throughout the course of our lesson and during the field trip that provided some opportune learning moments for me as a teacher. My biggest takeaway was that I should be looking for more ways to engage and hold attention while in the galleries. In hindsight, I should have provided some kind of sit-upon for our students in the gallery to create a physical indicator of what their bodies should be doing while we were in the space. Throughout our discussion, we struggled with wandering around and with containing our energy. I also would have liked to provide some kind of three-dimensional object for the children to hold while we talked to help channel their attention to our topic of conversation – perhaps an object from nature, such as a rock or leaf.

Keep an eye out for the Round Up on explorers to learn more about this unit and for ideas on how to do an explorers theme in your toddler classroom!