10 Things You Can Do Right Now with Your Child While Cooking

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Making dinner or lunch? Why not include your child in the process! Cooking with your child is a fun way to work on math, fine motor, and gross motor skills. It also allows them to invest in the meal they are about to eat. Here are a few ways to make the experience extra child friendly:

  1. Re-write the Recipe: Go over the recipe you are going to make with your child. If 1possible, add images/drawings of the ingredients needed. Give your child a chance to “write” their own version of the recipe on a separate sheet. Going through this process helps your child build on their understanding of sequencing. Use “first….then…” phrases.
  2. Measure: This is an excellent way to work on math skills. Working with more than one child? Divide up measurements to smaller units to allow for more participation.
  3. Pour: This is a big milestone in a child’s development and requires a lot of practice. If you are worried about a big mess, place a plastic bin lid or plastic table cloth on the floor to create a pouring station.1
  4. Mix: Mixing is a great gross motor activity. Sing a song or count while mixing! If items are spilling out of the bowl, transfer a small portion to another bowl for your child to mix.
  5. Cut: Provide your child with a very blunt knife or a spoon to cut up soft items such as butter or bananas. While not all recipes include a child friendly item to cut, consider providing them with an item to cut that can be served as a side dish/appetizer. They will enjoy mimicking the way that you cut the tougher items.
  6. Cook: Baking, boiling, toasting, grilling, etc. is the magical transformation and the scientific part of cooking. While these steps of the process are the most dangerous for your child, they are also some of the most exciting. Allow your child to observe and “check on food” from a safe distance.2
  7. Serve: Serving the food is a great way to practice their balance and to develop upper arm strength!
  8. Share: Children are working hard on practicing this important social skill. Having them share the food over which they feel ownership provides great practice!
  9. Talk about Nutrition: Sometimes this conversation gets lost in the shuffle and excitement of the cooking process. Take a little extra time to explain to your child why we need different ingredients to make a nutritious and well balanced meal. Work with your child to sort each item on their plate into the different food pyramid categories (grains, fruits, veggies, proteins, etc.)
  10. Wash/Clean up: Ask your child to help clear the table and help with the dishes. Washing the dishes is a fun water play activity! Not ready to have them work at the sink with breakables? Fill a small tub with soapy water for them to wash a selected set of dishes!

Have fun cooking traditions or tips to share? We would love to hear them!

 

 

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. 

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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!

Japan Round Up

Japan Round Up

 

At SEEC, we use an emergent curriculum, so we are always observing our students and taking note of their interests and questions. It came as no surprise to our teachers when their classes began to show interest in Japan. Even with the cold spring temperatures, Washington, D.C. was abuzz with cherry blossom excitement in March and April. Couple that energy with the Hirshhorn’s exhibit of the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, and the children began to take real notice and make inquiries.

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Our PreK class students are making their mark in Kusama’s Obliteration Room.

One of our toddler classes and one of our preschool classes each embarked on a unit featuring Japan. If you haven’t already, take a look at the toddler Teacher Feature on karaoke and the preschool Feature on Japan’s Children’s Day.  Below are some of the highlights from their explorations.

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The PreK class got some fresh air and enjoyed an early glimpse of the cherry blossoms. Their teacher, John Fuller, taught them a traditional Japanese folk song entitled, Sakura. The song describes the blossoms in the spring.

 

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Mr. Fuller took them to the Natural History Museum’s solar system galleries and shared the folktale, The Rabbit in the Moon.

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Since the Freer Gallery of Art was closed for renovations, Krystiana Kaminski took the PreK class over to the National Gallery of Art where they explored kimonos, Japanese art, by looking at Alfred Maurer’s Young Woman in a Kimono.

While our PreK was busy with their unit, out toddlers were also exploring Japan. One of their teachers had recently traveled to Japan, so it was a particularly rich experience as she was able to share her personal experiences.

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The toddlers got busy making their own veggie sushi. This activity blended new content with sensory exploration and fine motor skill development.

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After looking at Japanese ink wash landscapes, the children headed outdoors to create their own  masterpieces.

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The toddler’s lesson on tea included a classroom component in which they were able to observe one method of tea preparation. They concluded the experience on our art studio with our art educator who had them explore the physical and visual properties of tea through painting.

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The toddlers had the opportunity to learn about the unique Japanese tradition of  Kintsugi or repairing broken pottery with lacquer, often mixed with gold. This art activity encouraged careful looking and provided them with a creative and open-ended art project.

Technology at SEEC

These days, technology is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. If we look at Forbes’ list of billionaires, one is struck by a preponderance of tech-savvy figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and of course Bill Gates. It is no surprise that technology is now part of almost every facet of our lives, including education.  For those of you who were born in the 70’s and 80’s, you can probably remember lugging home a stack of books and covering them with paper bags. These days, things have changed. As a parent of two, I can’t think of a single instance when my children brought home a text book. For many of America’s schools the text book has been supplanted by tech (it bears noting that this is likely not the case for all schools, and that broader access to technology could help contribute to closing the achievement gap.[i]).  It begs the question, how is tech being used within the educational landscape? And, as both educator and parent, how do I discern between what is worthwhile and what is not?

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This question is even further muddied when one considers the early childhood audience. The American Association of Pediatrics writes:

For children younger than 2 years, evidence for benefits of media is still limited, adult interaction with the child during media use is crucial, and there continues to be evidence of harm from excessive digital media use, as described later in this statement. [ii]

For preschoolers, AAP states there is some evidence that well-produced apps can help children build literacy skills. The dilemma is that not all apps are created equal, and many of the products categorized today as “educational” do not adhere to strong educational standards. Moreover, many of these apps do not take into consideration one of the most important factors in successful early tech experiences – interactivity. Adult interaction with a child while using technology can make a significant difference in whether a tech experience provides any benefits for young children.[iii]  Having an adult present AND engaged in the activity has many added benefits. Adults can enhance the experience in a variety of ways. For example, they can narrate the experience, thus building vocabulary and helping the child process the information. They can model how to use the device and application, they can model a growth mindset, and they can help children practice executive function skills like patience and problem-solving. Adults can also ask meaningful questions that reflect the child’s interests, and that are open-ended to allow practice in critical thinking. Ultimately, having the adult present can tailor the experience for the child and turn a passive exercise into an active one.

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This PreK-3 class considers the height of Mayan pyramids using a combo of tech, literature, inquiry, and objects.

Similarly, making tech part of a well-balanced activity “diet” makes it more likely to be effective.[iv] Young children require a variety of experiences to facilitate their growth and development. At SEEC, our educational approach is varied. Our classrooms incorporate a variety of pedagogical approaches that meet the child where he/she is: object-based, STEM, play, inquiry, Reggio-inspired, tactile, experiential. For us, adding tech is a natural extension of these approaches, one that almost always includes an educator and is a part of a much larger whole.

As educators, we have especially welcomed the inclusion of videos and recordings. Having such resources available while in a museum setting have proven invaluable. Now when we go to the bird hall at the Natural History Museum, we don’t just look at the birds and feel examples of feathers, we also listen to different bird calls. Or when we head over to see the Freer and Sackler’s Shiva Nataraja, we can also show children videos of contemporary religious festivals in India. Our iPads are also tools for STEM learning. In an ideal world, educators have the time and resources to set up an experiment like, ‘what floats and what sinks?’. But what if you have a question like, “Do polar bears communicate?”  Technology can help us answer that question in a way that is robust and concrete – both particularly important for young learners. For example, when preparing a lesson on this very topic I came across this resource that plays the different sounds polar bears make.

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Those teachers aren’t ON their phones, they are USING their phones so their infant class can listen to Michael Jackson.

Finally, the very acts of asking questions and searching for answers are ones that are particularly important to SEEC. When we use an emergent curriculum, we pay particularly close attention to what our students are doing and asking. With access to tech, we are able to take their questions and explore answers in a multi-dimensional way. We can model for children the choices we make in using reliable sources, how to collect and synthesize information, and most importantly, we can demonstrate that we, the educators, don’t have all the answers.

Our hope is that in coming months, we will continue to collect information about how tech is being used in our classrooms and share that with our audiences. As always, we are welcome your input and ideas too.

[i] “Technology Can Improve Achievement Gaps, Improve Learning.” Stanford Graduate School of Education. Stanford University, September 10, 2014. Web. July 3, 2017.

https://ed.stanford.edu/news/technology-can-close-achievement-gaps-and-improve-learning-outcomes

[ii] “Media and Young Minds.” AAP News. American Association of Pediatrics, November 2016. Web. July 3, 2017.

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591

[iii]  “Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners.” Office of Educational Technology. U.S. Department of Education, Web. July 3, 2017.

https://tech.ed.gov/earlylearning/principles/

[iv]  “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.” National Association for the Education of Young Children, Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning, and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Web. July 3, 2017. p.7

http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/PS_technology_WEB.pdf

Teacher Feature: PreK Class Explores Kodomo No Hi, Japan’s Children’s Day

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Krystiana Kaminski and John Fuller of the four-year-old Cinnamon Bear classroom.  The class had just finished a long unit on the performing arts, and noticing the children’s interest in the emerging cherry blossom blooms, and Kusama’s exhibit at the Hirshhorn (an artist from Japan), decided to spend some time learning about Japan.  I joined them for a visit to the National Gallery of Art where they looked closely at an artwork that Robert Rauschenberg created while spending time in Japan.  They connected this piece to the Japanese holiday, Kodomo No Hi, or Children’s Day.  Below you will find images and descriptions of the lesson, and a reflection from Krystiana.

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Here are a few images from their lesson on Kodomo No Hi:

2.jpgThe class began their morning by walking to the National Gallery of Art.  Along the way they spotted cherry blossom blooms that were just starting to emerge around the city.

SEECstorie.com.pngOnce inside the museum, the class found Robert Rauschenberg’s Wall-Eyed Carp/ROCI JAPAN.  They read a book that one of SEEC’s educators created to give some background about Rauschenberg’s artistic life, including his international art project, Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI).  ROCI allowed Rauschenberg to travel around the world, meeting with other artists, learning about their culture and how they made art.  This piece that the class visited is an artwork Rauschenberg created while in Japan.

1After reading the book, Krystiana asked the children to look carefully at the artwork, and make observations about what they saw.  The children sat for a minute silently looking and then began sharing observations.  Krystiana went down the line and asked each child to share something they observed.  One child noticed an area on the painting that looked like lightening, another observed that there might be tissue paper on the artwork because there were lines that looked wrinkled.  The class also noticed green blobs, a map, a crane, photos, and a big fish.

SEECstories.com (37)Krystiana congratulated the class on their concentration and thoughtful observations.  She explained that the fish is a carp, which is seen often during a holiday in Japan – Children’s Day or Kodomo No Hi, which celebrates how wonderful children are.  She read a section of All About Japan by Willamarie Moore, and illustrated by Kazumi Wilds to learn more about Kodomo No Hi.  She let the children know that if they wanted to learn more about Japan, they could look in the books that afternoon in the classroom.

3Next, Krystiana explained that the big carp on the artwork was in fact a big carp kite, and she brought out a carp kite that she had made herself.  She asked the children why they thought carp might be important to this holiday.  The children had lots of ideas including, “they have scales, and because you catch them and it’s yummy”, and “because it’s [Japan] is an island and there’s lots of fish around”.  Krystiana explained that when carp travel in the water, they go up stream and it takes a lot of power and speed to swim against the flowing water.  She said that the carp have to have lots of perseverance to keep trying even when it’s hard.  She went on to say that these traits (bravery, strength, and perseverance) are what families want their children to have, which is why carp are a symbol of Kodomo No Hi.  The children discussed and agreed that their families wanted them to have these traits.  They also discussed what else their families wanted for them.

SEECstories.com (36)Back in the classroom, Krystiana set out the books that she had brought to the museum and encouraged the children to do their own research to learn more. Many of the children sat with the books, looking through them and asking questions of their peers and teachers.

 

They also made their own carp kites like the large one that they had seen on the artwork. First they chose a large sheet of colored construction paper, and folded it in half lengthwise.  Next they colored the paper in any way they liked.  Then, they chose colored tissue paper and taped it to the construction paper.

 

Krystiana then rolled the papers together and stapled them.  Finally, the children chose colored string to attach to the carp, and added eyes and any last touches.  The children hung up their carp in the classroom so they could look at one another’s and share them with their families.  Some children even named their artwork.   For example, one child said, “this is my ‘Four-Eyed Carp'”.

SEECstories.com (38).pngA few weeks later, the class revisited their kites, and took them out to fly on a particularly windy day!

A reflection from Krystiana: 

What were your topics of exploration?

We did a two week exploration of Japanese culture, food, art, and people.

How did this topic emerge? What inspired you/how did you decide to explore this topic?

We had just finished a long unit on performing arts and were beginning the process of figuring out what our next topic would be. As a school using emergent curriculum we base our units on the children’s interests. The children had been learning about Yayoi Kusama in art class, and were very excited about our upcoming trip to see her work at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The cherry blossoms had also just begun to bloom so we thought doing a short unit on Japan would be a good idea.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

The carp-shaped koinobori flag is an important symbol of the Children’s Day festival in Japan, and is a prominent part of this piece. The piece is also large and vibrant, which I thought would be visually appealing to the children.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

There were two main things I wanted them to take away from the lesson. The first, was the story of why the carp was chosen to represent Children’s Day.  The carp is meant to symbolize strength, courage, and perseverance as the carp has to fight the current to swim upstream. I wanted the children to make a connection to their own home life in how their parents want them to grow up to be brave and strong, and parents in Japan want the same for their children. I also wanted to connect to a previous lesson on perseverance and how important that is in our everyday life. The second objective I had was in relation to the other small photos that were on the piece. I brought some books with me and wanted to encourage the children to use them as resources later in the classroom to answer questions about other things they might see in the piece.

How did you prepare yourself for this lesson (did you know about this topic beforehand or did you have to research)?

I spent a few years in Japan as a child, so I was familiar with some aspects of Japanese culture. I did do more research into the symbolism of the toys, food, and games that are part of the Children’s Day celebration and tried to include some of them in the lesson.

What was most effective about your lesson?

The children loved the piece and were very enthusiastic about using their “eagle eyes” to point out little details they noticed. I brought a koinobori that I had made and used it while I talked about how challenging it must be to have to swim up a river. The children made some interesting connections about how they were strong just like the carp. We also had an interesting discussion about their families and all the things their parents want for them.

How did the lesson reach your objectives and expand the topic?

I think most of them made the connection to how just like the carp, they too can persevere in their everyday life. I think the more challenging connection was in relation to how families in Japan want the same things as our families do. I believe a few children made that connection, and during the rest of the unit we tried to continue to touch on some of the similarities we all share.

Were there aspects of your lesson that were ineffective? If so, was that okay?

I think I may have tried to do a little too much in the lesson. Between making observations about the piece, reading a book on the artist, talking about the story of the carp, and talking about the books we can use for research, I lost some children’s attention. Though for the most part, the children were interested and participated well during the lesson.

What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

The children liked the carp kite I made and were excited that they would get the chance to make their own later. They also seemed interested to get a chance to do some research about Japan on their own.

If there were any challenges regarding logistics, what were they and how did you deal with them?

There was a line on the floor in front of the artwork that I had them all sit on. While it did help them sit down easier, it made it harder for the children on the ends to see and hear. In the future I would stick to making a half circle around the artwork instead.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic?

I needed to tighten the lesson and make it more focused.  At this age their attention spans are short and I would have liked to make the take-aways more clear and concise. Also, I think they may have benefited from a hands-on activity. Next time I may have them add body parts to the carp kite I made, or use their own bodies to try to swim upstream a river while in the museum gallery.

What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Make sure you have a clear idea of exactly what you want the children to take away from the lesson and have more hands-on activities.

After this lesson has your thinking changed?

I love learning about different cultures and I hope I sparked the children’s curiosity to learn more as well.

How did you follow this lesson (what topics were explored)?

We made koinobori and took them out on the National Mall to fly a few weeks later! We also learned about how the cherry blossoms were a gift to the United States from Japan and played games under the cherry blossom trees. During the unit, the children ended up loving the book, Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan by Eric A Kimmel.  In the book there’s was a line about finding strength in stillness that resonated with them. We used it as a calm down tool for many weeks. The children would sit with their legs crossed, take deep breaths and find their inner samurai. It was pretty awesome!


The Cinnamon Bears continued to explore Japan for another week before launching into a new unit. Stay tuned for the Japan Round Up for more ideas from their unit!

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Karaoke

Today’s Teacher Feature highlights the Dragonflies, a toddler class. The teachers, Lauren Bundy, Katherine Custer, and Emily Romig choose to explore karaoke. The class visited David Hockney’s Snail Space at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and later that afternoon had a karaoke party in their classroom. See below for pictures highlighting the lesson and for a reflection from the teachers.

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The teachers knew that they wanted to teach their class about karaoke but were initially unable to think of an object that would help support their lesson. They thought about seeing a microphone as an object but decided that simply seeing a microphone might not provide the type of experience that they were hoping for their class. After brainstorming, the teachers decided to bring their toddler class to see David Hockney’s Snail Space at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The teachers believed that they could use the light, colors, intimacy of space, and stage like atmosphere to draw connections to karaoke.

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The teachers did not ignore the importance of a microphone for karaoke. Lauren Bundy choose to bring a microphone as an object to explore while the class was experiencing Snail Space. Lauren gave each child in her class the opportunity to speak into the microphone and hear how their voice changed.

SEECstories.com (2)Light was another topic that the teachers were hoping to explore with their class since karaoke performances often involve a light show. As part of the instillation of Snail Space color changing lights are projected onto the two canvas’ and floor space design. In addition to experiencing the light that is part of the performance of Snail Space, the teachers brought battery powered tea lights to allow the children to explore and manipulate their own light.

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While experiencing Snail Space, the toddler teachers sang some of their class’s favorite songs and used the stage like atmosphere of the installation to discuss the experience of performing karaoke.

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Back in their classroom, the toddlers were able to put on their own karaoke show. The teachers transformed their classroom by setting up an overhead projector as a spotlight and used a color changing light. They used speakers to play their class’s favorite tunes and gave the children a chance to perform with a microphone.

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While experiencing karaoke, the toddlers also participated in social-emotional learning. There was only one microphone which meant that the toddlers had to practice taking turns. In order to help facilitate taking turns, the Dragonfly teachers gave the children verbal and nonverbal warnings to help the children be more fully aware of when their turn was over.SEECstories.com (6)

The Dragonflies karaoke party was tons of fun! Each child was able to experience the joy of choosing their favorite song and performing it in front of their friends.

Reflections from Lauren:

How did this topic emerge?

After a week of lessons that involved visiting Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn Museum and picnicking under the blossoming cherry trees by the Tidal Basin, a theme started to emerge that would become our next unit of study: Japan! We were excited about the topic because learning about another country can offer our toddlers a great variety of experiences to explore. So far, we have ventured into topics such as sushi, tea, koinobori (carp streamers), ink wash art, and now karaoke! We had a hunch that the Dragonflies would be interested in karaoke because they dance and sing all the time in the class – with or without music.

What topics were explored?

Our learning objectives were to talk about how karaoke originated from Japan and how it can not only be an exciting activity but a way to unwind as well. The week before, we had taught the Dragonflies about rock gardens, raking sand, and plants. We talked about how these activities could be “relaxing” and that idea really stuck with the Dragonflies. They would start to talk about how they “relaxed” at home by looking at a “book” or sitting in a “rocking chair.” Since this idea of finding a way to emotionally wind down had already permeated the class, we were able to connect it to the topic of karaoke.

To connect this topic to Japanese karaoke, we talked about how there are people in Japan who work very hard at their jobs and after a long week, they might perform karaoke with their close friends. We talked about how karaoke is one way to relax after working really hard. When we had our karaoke party with the Dragonflies, we did it at the end of our school day. Since then we have returned to it again and again in the afternoons. The Dragonflies loved karaoke!

How is this a developmentally appropriate practice?

Singing and dancing play an important role in toddler development. It helps the Dragonflies to learn social emotional skills like turn taking and listening to each other. They are learning cognitive skills by noticing the patterns and sequences of songs. They are developing their language skills as they sing new words. And they are also developing their physical skills as they dance to the new music.

What was our museum visit and object?

As for the visit, we decided to see David Hockney’s Snail Space at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We choose this work of art because it gives a sense of space that is meant for a performance. We could have gone the route of visiting an exhibit that featured a microphone, but we decided that the object of a microphone on view might be too small of a feature to warrant enough attention from the toddlers. So why not visit a more immersive space, which is set up almost like a stage, and bring our own microphone?

In addition, David Hockney’s Snail Space is an intimate and secluded area compared to the large galleries that we often find ourselves in. We were able to connect the physical space of Snail Space to the tradition of Japanese karaoke. In Japan, it is customary to preform karaoke in a small private room often called a karaoke box in front of your close friends. The intimacy of the actual space in Snail Space draws parallels to what one might experience if they go to a karaoke box in Japan. Since our class were the only people in the space, the Dragonflies had the added bonus of experiencing it with some of their closest friends.

How did the lesson reach the objectives and expand the topic?

We actually had two separate lessons on karaoke that day. One being the museum visit in the morning, the other being the actual karaoke party in the afternoon. At the museum visit we talked about how the art space was like a stage and we asked the Dragonflies about the different colors they saw in the lights. We then gave each Dragonfly a tea light that they could turn on and off and watch it change colors just like in the art piece. We also brought the microphone so the Dragonflies could hear their voices amplified in the space.

There were a few hiccups in the museum visit. The first was that a fire alarm went off in the museum and so we had to exit. (Just to clarify, we were there before the museum actually opened, so the alarm was most likely a test.) Another oops was when one of the Dragonflies dropped their tea light and it rolled onto the art on the other side of the barrier.

At the karaoke party in the afternoon, the Dragonflies had a blast. We turned off the lights, used an overhead projector as a spot light, and then turned on the disco lights. We had compiled a list of the Dragonflies favorite songs with the help of parents. The Dragonflies then took turns singing their favorite song, while the others got to dance to the music.

Top 5 – Fountains in Downtown DC

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It may not be officially summer yet, but are you already looking for a way to beat the heat?  If you’re downtown it can feel like the relief of a swimming pool is far, far away, however, our classes have some favorite hidden gems that we’re going to share with you today!  Whether you’re looking for a cooling mist or a full-on splash session, we’ve got the places for you and your family downtown.

1. Haupt Garden – The Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle is gorgeous no matter what time of year you visit.  Flowers, trees, artwork and more await you in this multi-faceted garden, but come summer time our favorite spot is the Fountain Garden.  Bring along some water toys like a water wheel (our kids love ones like these), or bring something simple like tupperware that young children can enjoy filling and dumping as they please.

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2. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – The fountain in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden provides many opportunities to learn while you’re cooling down.  There are often ducks in this fountain (in fact, they even have a ramp into the fountain that is specifically for the ducks), so bring along a favorite duck story and read it while you observe the real ducks swimming around.  Another exciting feature of this fountain is the jets that start off small, and get bigger and higher before shrinking again.  Observe the jets’ progress with your young one.  Predict what they’ll do next.  And lastly, while you can’t get in the fountain, our classes enjoy dipping their feet in the water to cool down after a long walk.

78Be sure to stop back by in the winter as National Gallery of Art turns its fountain into an ice rink during cold months!

3. German American Friendship Garden – The fountains at the German American Friendship Garden, aren’t big, but it’s a nice spot in between the Washington Monument and the White House with plenty of green space around it.  Plan a picnic in this garden and afterwards cool off in the water.4

4. City Center – While we usually stick around the museums downtown, we also take advantage of spaces and objects in the larger DC community.  One of these spaces is City Center at H and 9th Street NW.  City Center has lots of upscale shopping and restaurants, but it also has a several large fountains with jets of water that spout up from the ground.  Our toddlers especially love this fountain and enjoy splashing amongst the shooting water.

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5. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden – Can you find all the water features around the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden?  They’re quite a few!  In the middle of the building there’s a fountain that grows higher as you watch.  There’s also a smaller fountain right next door in The Livingston Ripley Garden, which was originally allocated for a parking lot, but the garden’s namesake had a vision for this space to become a fragrant garden and succeeded! Walk around smelling the plants, and then stop at the fountain for a refreshing mist.  Finally, there is a small pool of water in the Sculpture Garden located across Jefferson Ave from the main Hirshhorn building.  While you cannot get in and splash, it’s low level allows children to get up close and observe the way the water moves.

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Want to pair a trip to a fountain with a museum visit?  Check out or Water Pinterest Board for water related art and objects around the Smithsonian.