Teacher Feature: Four Year Old Classroom Explores Rowing and Crew

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Jessie Miller and Will Kuehnle of the four-year-old Honey Bear classroom!  After showing an interest in games and physical play, Will and Jessie decided to embark on an exploration of sports.  They began by learning about the important traits of athlete, including teamwork, integrity, and persistence.   They continued their unit by delving into a different sport each week.  On this particular day, the class was learning about crew and rowing at the National Gallery of Art.  Below you will find images and descriptions of the lesson, and a reflection from Jessie.

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Here are a few images from their lesson on rowing and crew:9On their walk to the museum, the children pretended that their line formation was a boat.  Jessie reviewed the parts of a boat by asking the children to raise their hand if they were they were on the starboard, port, bow, or stern.

12Once they got to their destination, the National Gallery of Art, Jessie showed the children a print of the painting that they would be looking for inside.  She also told the class that the painting was located in Gallery 68, and to keep a lookout for that number.  Given this information the class went inside with a purpose, and excitedly looked for the painting, noticing the gallery numbers.10When they found the painting, The Biglin Brothers Racing by Thomas Eakins, they sat down and reviewed what they had learned about boats so far.  They remembered learning about parts of a boat and buoyancy.  Next they looked more closely at the painting and noticed two people in a boat.  The children enthusiastically shared memories of times they have been on or near a boat.  Jessie explained that this boat is used for a sport called crew, where teammates work together to row their boat in a race.

8Jessie shared that she was on a crew team when she was in college, and her job was that of a coxswain, the teammate who helps to steer the boat by shouting out directions and controlling the rudder. Jessie made a pretend rudder using yarn, cardboard and a basket, and she explained how each part was used to steer the boat.

5Then it was time to practice rowing!  Of course, Jessie couldn’t bring a boat into the gallery, but she brought items from the classroom that represented the parts of the crew boat to simulate the experience of rowing.  She took out the items one at a time and explained them:  The mat was to represent the water (and to ensure that the floor of the gallery would not be damaged).  A scooter acted as the seat in a crew boat that is on wheels so it can smoothly glide back as the teammate rows.  Next came blocks with shoes attached, which simulated the footplate – where crew members put their feet so that they are secure in the boat as they row.  Last came the oar, which Jessie had made out of cardboard. She took a turn on their constructed boat showing how a crew member rows the boat highlighting the importance of using your brain, muscles, balance, and teamwork.

7Then some of the children got a turn!  They put their feet in the boat shoes, and practiced sliding back and forth.

4They used their muscles to pull the oar back as they pushed with their feet.  Through this simulation, the children were able to apply their observations of the painting to something concrete, which deepened their understanding of the concept and sparked excitement for the topic.  Due to time, only two children tried the boat in the gallery, but Jessie assured the class that they would all have a turn that afternoon back in the classroom.

1To end their circle, Jessie  read a page from G is for Gold Medal: An Olympics Alphabet by Brad Herzog about a young boy in the 1900 Olympics who won an Olympic medal for crew.

3To conclude the lesson the children shared observations and asked lingering questions.  They wondered where the life jackets were on the crew members, and noticed other paintings around the gallery of boats.  They were curious to know more about these paintings, and Will honored their inquiries by reading the labels out loud, and sharing his own observations.

SEECstories.com (34)That afternoon, the children continued to explore rowing and crew by playing with the objects Jessie had created.  They enacted the painting they had seen that morning by having two crew members on the boat, and they added a coxswain at the front who helped steer the boat with instructions.

SEECstories.com (35)They also cheered on the US crew team team as they excitedly watched crew races from the Olympics on Jessie’s laptop.

A reflection from Jessie:

The Honey Bear teachers observed that the students gravitated towards games and play with a lot of physical movement. This led to our exploration of sports! We first focused on three tools an athlete needs when playing a sport including teamwork, persistence, and integrity. Afterwards, the Honey Bears began learning about some specific sports and how these tools are used in each. This lesson was done during our week about crew. I was inspired to teach them about this water sport because I was a coxswain for five years when I was in school. I was able to bring my previous knowledge, as well as enthusiasm, into the activities and lessons. I chose to take the Honey Bears to the painting The Biglin Brothers Racing by Thomas Eakins at the National Gallery of Art because it shows a clear picture of crew in action. The gallery is conducive for a lesson because it is usually quiet and has enough space for us to do a floor activity.

The objectives of the lesson were to scaffold the information we learned about boats that week, explore and learn new concepts involving a sport many of the students were not familiar with, and strengthen gross motor development with hands-on recreations of the rowing. Already having a vast knowledge on the subject allowed me to focus on the objectives and gathering of materials for the lesson rather than having to research the topic first. I see this as a benefit because I could spend more time going over the lesson itself as well as answer many of the children’s questions in the moment. My passion and excitement for the topic was also a benefit because the children could see my enthusiasm and therefore, become more interested themselves. I was pleasantly surprised to see how engaged and curious the children were about the topic.

I think the most effective part of my lesson was the ability to recreate the rowing in the museum. Being able to observe the crew painting, discuss the topic and then immediately role play the sport, gave the children multiple avenues to learn about a new subject. I believe the lesson reached and even surpassed the objectives I had set. The children were excited to share the previous information they had learned about boats such as where the bow, stern, hull, starboard, and port were located. They were also able to get first-hand experience with crew rowing by observing and discussing the painting, watching myself and a few of the students row in the museum, and practicing this sport on their own back in the classroom. To give the children even more exposure to the sport, we watched video clips of crew boats racing in the Olympics. This allowed them to see what they had been practicing in real life. They were all chanting “USA! USA!” as the boat representing the United States neared the finish line.

Although this variety of exposure to a sport helped the Honey Bears learn about a new topic, it is still not exactly the same as the real thing. It would have been helpful to have some of the real equipment rowers use and see an actual crew boat in real life. However, I will say it is much more beneficial for the children to be able to touch and actually use the objects to recreate the sport rather than just observing them in a museum, whether that is in a painting or inside a glass case. I believe this part of my lesson was successful even though there were a lot of materials to bring out and use.  I was also surprised to see how they calmly accepted the fact that only a few of them would be able to practice in the museum. Allowing each child to get a turn to row during the lesson would have taken too long and the children who wanted a turn back at school were given that opportunity.

The National Gallery of Art West Building is made up of quiet spaces that do not include things for children to explore through their sense of touch, as it is all visual. Therefore, we needed to make sure in advance that the rowing activity would be allowed in the space. We made sure to let the security know what our plan was, and use the materials in a way that were safe for the museum and its collections. We used a mat on the floor underneath the scooter so there would be no noise or scratches, and we had children practice one at a time with adult supervision. The children were able to practice back in the classroom two at a time, but I would have liked to build more oars and recreate an eight person boat with a coxswain and pretend we were participating in an actual regatta. I would have also liked to take the children down to the Potomac River in search of a real crew boat in action. I would recommend adding another week of exploration on this topic. The first week could be spent solely focusing on boats, buoyancy, and other nautical terms. The second week could be about crew rowing specifically.

After building on both topics and seeing how engaged the children were in the videos of Olympic racing, we are going to explore the Olympic games and see where this next topic takes us!



Be sure to check back soon for the Honey Bear’s Sports Round Up, which will provide a fuller picture of their unit, ideas on how to take a closer look at athlete’s tools, and specific sports in the classroom and the community.  For more ideas now, check out our Sports Pinterest board!