10 Ways to Make Dinner Time Less Challenging

Picky eater? Feel like you’ve tried it all? We get it! Here a few things that have helped us at SEEC make meal times go a little smoother.

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  1. Dress up

Try a themed meal. Everyone comes dressed in a costume, a fancy (washable) outfit, or even pajamas. This will make dinner feel like a fun family event instead of the ultimate stand-off. Your child will look forward to showing off their special duds at the table and shift their focus away from the normal ultimate stand-off they are prepared for and maybe even try the meal.

  1. Sing a song to set the mood

Getting your child to the table can often be half the battle. At SEEC, we all eat together as a group. Once everyone is seated we sing a song to signify it is time to eat. It has become a favorite event for the children at SEEC and there are often tears if a child doesn’t get to participate in this part of the day.

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  1. Try-it-bite

At this point, almost everyone has used the “try-it-bite” with their child. However, it shouldn’t only be required of the kids, adults at the table should model the same behavior by putting a “try-it-bite” of something on their own plate. Then organize a unified “try-it” moment during the dinner. We all have our preferences so if a child has tried something before and claimed they don’t like it, it is possible that it’s true. Taste buds change over time but forcing them to try an item again shortly after they have declared their preference can feel like you are not listening and respecting their words.

  1. Serve Themselves

An important milestone is when a child can pour without spilling and feed themselves with utensils. Why not give them a chance to practice at dinner? Instead of plating their food, allow your child to dish up their own meal. This way they can decide how much to put on their plate. When a child declares they are done, but there is food still left on their plate, remind them that they chose to put that amount on their plate and should try to finish what they have taken.

  1. Clear Transitions

No one, not even adults, like to be ripped away from their current activity or to go straight to a seated meal before having a little time to transition. Be sure there is time for your child to decompress between preschool, daycare, or whatever previous activity they were a part of. Provide them with warnings so that they can begin to prepare for the transition to dinner. At SEEC we give children a five-minute warning and ask them to repeat it back to us. They might not tell time or understand exactly how long five minutes is, but they understand that soon they will stop with one activity and move to the next. If your child needs a more concrete way to understand the passing of time try a sand timer. You can get them in a variety of time lengths and it’s a great visual representation of the passing of time.

  1. Reflection and Sticker Chart

Having especially difficult meal times or having trouble getting your child to eat anything at all? Try a sticker chart. Sit down with your child and ask them to reflect on how they thought the meal went. Provide a smiley or similar sticker and if you both agree the meal went well (you can decide what this means since it will be different for every family) they get to add the sticker to the chart. You can even provide a small reward for a week full of successful meals (this could be something as easy as an extra book bed at bedtime!).

  1. Food Presentation

The way a child responds to food could not only be based on taste but on texture and shape. If you are getting the “it looks weird” face try mashing or pureeing the item so that it takes on a form similar to something they do like. Even as adults we respond to how something looks or feels as we eat.

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  1. Keep it Fun

When someone says you have to do something, most of our initial reactions are to dig in or push back. Children are the same. If you take the pressure off the meal and keep things light, the meal will be much more enjoyable for everyone. Children have a wonderful ability to read a mood and then reflect it back. Just remember, if you are frustrated they will be too.

  1. Take Bites like an Animal

Make eating into a game. Does your child have a favorite animal? Are they really into trucks? Why not ask them to take small mouse bites to try a new food or pretend they are a backhoe shoveling up a big bite!

  1. New Eating Tools

Try mixing up the eating implement as it will make eating more fun. Try chopsticks or even a spork. The novel aspect of the eating tool will make it exciting for your child to use it to eat. It also has the added benefit of providing your child with additional fine motor practice!


Have other tricks that work for your family? Please share!


Play: Getting Dirty

Pollinators Event_PlantingOver the weekend SEEC hosted a program about pollinators for the National Museum of Natural History. Included in our offerings was a planting station. I wanted children to think beyond the pretty butterflies they see outside and connect how pollination impacts our everyday lives. I was excited when I was given the green light to include real dirt as part of our activities but I’ll admit to being concerned about how caregivers would respond to their children getting dirty.

As a mom, I didn’t think twice about my girls getting dirty. But awhile after I started working at SEEC, a colleague gently reminded me that I should not assume that all caregivers felt the same as me. Since then, I always put out smocks and kept wipes nearby. I also try to provide a variety of options for play so that caregivers and children have a choice in the type of activities in which they engaged.mud, gardening, touching dirt,

While we want to be respectful of caregivers and their feelings, SEEC also feels it is important to share the benefits of play and especially playing in dirt. If we can share information with caregivers in a thoughtful manner, we hope to educate them about our methodology without making them feel like their perspective doesn’t matter.

So what are the benefits of getting dirty? For one, getting your hands into the dirt can be great sensory input. Many children delight in the feeling as dirt falls through their hands. This input allows them to relax and engage in their environment naturally. Playing in the dirt also offers children infinite imaginative possibilities. I know many of us have memories of making mud pies outside – dirt and nature can supply so many opportunities for play.  Getting dirty also allows a child to connect with nature and these early experiences provides a foundation for a future appreciation and connection to the environment. Not only does playing in the dirt help child develop a conservationist attitude, it also encourages their sense of exploration and wonder. (Read more about the benefits of nature play.) There is also evidence that dirt can be good for us and actually strengthen your child’s immune system.

mud box, dirt, playIn the end, I was pleased that so many caregivers embraced our planting activity. Even though we were inside, many families embraced the experience. My personal highlights were an older child who reveled in the feeling of placing the dirt on her lap and a toddler who focused for close to 20 minutes on moving the dirt out of the container and onto the tarp.  I so enjoyed watching how they both engaged with this playful work.

As we come up on our seminar about Play: Engaging Young Learners in Object Rich Environments, we wanted to take the opportunity to look at how our classes are playing with dirt.  As always, we would love to hear your dirt stories too.

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Look what I found!!

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Testing it out, is this something I want to play with?

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Add a toy and the possibilities multiply!

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Exploring the dirt after a rain adds a new element to the play!

Summer Museum Highlights for Families

Summer is here and it’s the perfect time to head downtown and explore the museums with your family! There are many exhibits and events throughout the summer that will engage your family while learning something new.

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No Spectators: Art of Burning Man at the Renwick Gallery

Renwick Gallery’s current exhibition, No Spectators: Art of Burning Man shares many whimsical artworks from the annual Burning Man art festival. From moving mushrooms to scintillating shadows, there is sure to be something that your family will find fascinating. There’s also a fairly unique aspect of this show compared to most museum exhibitions – visitors are allowed to touch most of the artworks.

Extend It: Play with color, light and shadows! With a flashlight, create shadows with various objects. What objects make the most interesting shadows? If your child is older, cut paper into various shapes and see what shadows they create.

Alexander Hamilton: Soldier, Secretary, Icon at the National Postal Museum

If you have any Hamilton fans at home, then this exhibit is for you. The exhibit, on view until March 3, 2019, features original letters written by Alexander Hamilton. While you’re at the National Postal Museum, check out their permanent exhibit, Moving the Mail which highlights different vehicles that have carried the mail over the years.

Extend It: Practice writing letters of your own and mailing them! Choose a family member or friend (near or far) and write a letter to them. If your child is pre-literate, encourage them to draw a picture or dictate a letter. Choose a stamp, and deliver it to a local post office or mailbox together.


Blind Whino Southwest Arts Club

The Blind Whino Southwest Arts Club is an arts and cultural nonprofit located in South West DC. Originally a church, their building is completely painted by artist, Hense, whose colorful murals are perfect to spot colors, lines and shapes. Blind Whino also has an art annex with rotating exhibitions that are open to the public on Wednesdays from 4 PM to 8 PM and on Saturdays from 12 PM to 6 PM. Be sure to stop by before July first to see Le Bon Voyage: Across teh Omo Valley and take in the portraits, homes, and culture of the Surma people.

Extend It: Take a photo of your house or another familiar building. Print it out and trace the outline on a piece of construction paper. Encourage your child to paint your house’s outline in anyway they wish.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival 

Head to the Mall between June 27 and July 8 (closed July 2 and 3) for the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year, the cultures of Armenia and Catalonia will be celebrated through performances, talks, workshops, and more! Check the schedule for specific times of various activities such as weaving carpets, making clay jewelry, and creating mosaic street art.

Bound to Amaze at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

You and your family will see books in a whole new light after visiting this exhibit, which opens July 20. The show features books that are more sculptural in design than average books.

Extend It: Create your own uniquely designed book. Use one of the techniques showcased in the exhibit, such as curling or pleating, to make your book one of a kind.

Endangered: From Glaciers to Reefs at the National Academy of Sciences

The Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences exhibit explores the relationship between art and science. Opening on August 15, Endangered: From Glaciers to Reefs will feature paintings and photographs by Diane Burko that document climate change.

Extend It: Gain an appreciation and respect for the glacier and coral reef environments by reading stories about animals that live in each (for example, North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson or On Kiki’s Reef by Carol L. Malnor), or researching more information about them. Look online to see what steps you can take to help these environments and make a family plan to implement one thing that will help the Earth.


Celebrating Play

In anticipation of this year’s Play: Engaging Children in Object Rich Environments  seminar, we spent this past week exploring the all-important concept of play. We delved into why play is important for children, and adults too. We thought about the many different types of play, and how play can be incorporated into structured experiences to make learning more meaningful and engaging.

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Importance of Play

While some caregivers, school administrators, and policy makers are skeptical that a play-based curriculum can achieve academic learning, the educators who utilize play to teach developmental skills and content (listen to SEEC educators Melinda Bernsdorf and Erica Collins reflect on their use of play during an episode of Teacher Truths) can attest to the power of play in a child’s learning.

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Adult Play

Play isn’t just important for children! With the advent and popularity of escape rooms, city scavenger hunts, sip and paints, social sports leagues, trivia nights, adult coloring books, and more, it seems that adults are embracing their need for play. Peter Gray, researcher at Boston College, likens a person’s need for play to their need for sleep; our minds and bodies will notice if we aren’t getting enough play.  Taking time out of the day to engage in playful activities, in which we lose track of time, is essential to our well-being. With this in mind, our SEEC faculty participated in a survey to see how we play when not at work.

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Types of Play

As evidenced by the survey above, everyone has different preferences for the type of play they enjoy. Some children (and adults) gravitate towards solo play, while others prefer to play with a group. Being outside and playing in nature is favored by some, and others prefer construction play indoors. Some love to get messy and really dive into sensory play, while some choose to participate in dramatic play, and still others will always engage in physical play. No matter what type of play children choose to engage in, we know that it’s all important to a child’s development.  At SEEC, we recognize that every child learns in their own unique way, and thus, we offer many play opportunities for every type of learner, so that all children will find an activity that speaks to them. For example, during a family workshop on sculptures, the educators provided varied play opportunities to provide context for the concept, while allowing something for every child, no matter their preferred way of learning.

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Playful Teaching

Unstructured, child-directed play is very important to a child’s development, and should be part of every child’s day. However, adult-facilitated, playful learning experiences make learning more meaningful and engaging for young children. Abstract concepts can become concrete through play, while children also build important developmental skills such as social competence. At SEEC, we incorporate play into lessons, encouraging children to be an active participant in their own learning. Whether they are learning about the anatomy of a sea star by becoming one, pretending to eat like a duck to learn about a duck’s life, becoming the parts of a wrecking ball,  or pretending to row a crew boat after learning about all its parts, our children and educators engage in play in the museums and community every day to bring concepts to life.

Want to learn more through playing with colleagues at the Smithsonian? Join us for our Play seminar on July 9 and 10!

Family Day Celebration


As believers in building a robust community, each year we take time to celebrate our community by hosting a Family Day where we invite families from our Smithsonian Early Explorers Program and our Family Workshop Members. These groups vary from the families who see each other everyday as part of the school at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. The idea of gathering this group together and celebrating our personal connections is simple, but frequently overlooked in our busy society. We have found that these Family Day events are one of the best ways to create deeper connections among our families and are crucial to the success of our programs.

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One of the key components of our Family Day is to highlight the different museums on the National Mall, which we consider to be vital to how we learn. To do this, we organized playful stations that represent the various places that we visited in the hope that they would spark memories and encourage families to discuss their past experiences. For example, we taped bear prints to the ground and added bamboo block to represent the time the class visited the Smithsonian National Zoo and learned about bears. We also put out a toy train set to represent “America on the Move” at National Museum of American History, which is a favorite exhibition.

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In addition to carefully curating stations that were meant to spark reflections, we encourage causal discussions by having a calm and relaxed atmosphere. We have child-friendly snacks for families to eat and as families ate their snacks they naturally engaged in conversations. Throughout our Family Day, caregivers were able to build deep connections while discussing their families and their hopes, fears, and excitement about the upcoming year. In order to thrive, families need the opportunity to have these types of discussions with each other.

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Raising young children can be challenging and having a supportive community can help ease these stresses. Over the years, the way we think and define community has shifted and changed, and these changes do not always benefit the family. With this in mind, we take the time and effort to create a space where caregivers and families of all types can come together and feel supported by each other.

These family events take time and effort to plan but are well worth it! Community is one of the cornerstones of our programs and we know that communities need to be nurtured in order to grow. Family Day celebrations are one of the many ways that we try to foster a special and unique community and we are so excited that this Family Day was a success. We are already looking forward to future Family Day celebrations!

10 Things You Can Do Right Now in the Car


Stuck in traffic? On a road trip? Or just having a rough morning commute? Here are 10 things you can do right now with your child in the car to help pass the time!


  1. Sing

This is always a fun way to pass the time but don’t let them sing alone! Join in on the fun! This will help your child engage with the song longer. You can also make singing a game by trying to match the volume of the song. For example, turn it down really low and suggest that you whisper sing.

  1. Listen to a Book on Tape or Podcast

When singing doesn’t work, try a book on tape or a podcast. We have seen firsthand at SEEC how engaged children are when listening to an audio book. There are a lot of great free options out there, inclduing audio books from your local library that you can check out directly onto your device.

  1. Mystery Bag Object

Pass your child a bag full of miscellaneous items. Tell them to stick their hand into the bag without peaking and describe what they are feeling. Work together to try and guess what the item is.

  1. Zip and Button a Coat

Make car time a productive learning opportunity by having your child practice their fine motor skills on their jacket buttons and zippers. Other people in the car? Let them work on those coats too!

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  1. Take Photos

Pass your child your phone so they can take photos of their journey. It is a great way to pass time and also provides you with their view of the world (this activity is best done with a second non-driving adult in the car to ensure phone or camera safety).

  1. Start a Band

Do you have a water bottle? Pens? Or anything that can shake or rattle? Then you have a band! Let your child use a pen to tap on different surfaces and create their own “drum.” Fill an empty water bottle with paper clips or other small items and convert it into a shaker!


  1. Draw

No paper? No problem. This is a great chance to let your child explore drawing on new and different materials. An old map, napkin, or even a paper grocery bag can make a great drawing surface! Be sure to keep an eye on your child to make sure their pen doesn’t wander too far!

  1. 5 Question Game

A condensed version of 20 questions is a great way to engage your child. Have them think of something and then use 5 descriptive questions to try to guess what it is. Then switch!

  1. Balance Game

Pass your child an unbreakable object and ask them to balance it on their leg, knee, hand, head, etc. Time them to see how long they can balance each item. This is a great way to invite your child to sit still even if it is just for a few seconds.

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  1. Stop

When all else fails. Stop. It may take you a little longer to get to your destination but letting your child out of the seat to do some moving may help the ride go much smoother. If possible, find a safe place to park and do some running around the car or jumping jacks! To encourage them back into their seat make it a game to see who can get in the car first.

Have other ideas? Please share!

Teacher Feature: Pre-K Class Explores Treasure

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This week’s Teacher Feature highlights a four-year-old class’ exploration of treasure and pirates at the National Museum of African Art.  Over the past few months, the class, led by Jessie Miller and Will Kuehnle, has been creating a film written and starred in by the children. The teachers created lessons to learn about the aspects of the story that the children wrote. Without spoiling the film too much, pirates who steal treasure was a plot development, so they spent a week exploring pirates and treasure. This particular lesson explored what treasure actually is and how pirates steal it. The lesson included objects, play, literature, and even their puppet friend, Pirate Pete, and challenged their beliefs about treasure and pirates. Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from the teachers. 


On their way to the museum, the class remembered the parts of a ship that they had learned about the previous day. The sail seemed to be of particular interest to the children, and one child even “flew his flag” the whole way to the museum. Before entering the National Museum of African Art, the children noticed Wind Sculpture VII by Yinka Shonibare and commented that it looked like a sail blowing in the wind.

During our walks to and from visits, we like to observe and discuss the environment we are in. It is exciting to see the topics that arise just from looking around! This is also a great time to build upon concepts we have already learned about. For example, when we were crossing the National Mall, some children remembered the time we made and flew our own kites, after learning about the letter “K”. This topic came up moments later when the children spotted Wind Sculpture VII and described how it looked as if it was blowing in the wind like a kite. This helped reinforce previous knowledge and can sometimes bring up new questions we didn’t have before. It is important to address these inquiries when they arise so the child feels his or her thoughts and opinions are valued. Asking questions and knowing how to find the answers is a crucial skill to build at this age and it can guide our lessons and curriculum in new and exciting ways.


Upon entering the Currents: Water exhibit in African Art, Jessie told the class to search for something that looked gold. When the group reached the weights by Akan artists from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the children took some time to look closely at the weights. Jessie narrated what she noticed and wondered about the objects.

When using museum spaces with young children, there are many obstacles that can arise. The objects we decided to visit on this day were small and placed high up from the ground, making it difficult for the children to see. For this reason, I encouraged the class to get close and observe the objects for a few minutes before we sat down for circle time. This gave them a chance to casually chat and ask questions before we began the formal lesson.

Modeling how to do things is an important tool when helping children develop problem-solving skills. When they hear me asking questions and sharing my ideas about the objects, they get a sense of what observation and reflection are. Even basic descriptions such as “that looks like a shell” and “I wonder what that is made of?” give the children a chance to chime in with their ideas and creates a space for them to feel comfortable sharing.

I chose to use the Akan weights for this lesson for a few reasons. When the class decided to make a movie, we brainstormed all of the places we wanted to go and characters we wanted to include. Boats, pirates, and treasure were all topics of interest to the class. I felt it was important to explore these subjects in a realistic way through books, objects, and definitions that the children could understand and relate to. It is common for a child to think a pirate is a person who sails around and steals treasure. One of the big goals of this lesson was to challenge the students’ ideas about who pirates are and have been throughout history. The Akan weights allowed us to have a discussion about what treasure is and the other lesson materials we brought gave us an opportunity to ask the big question “do pirates only steal treasure?”

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After making a seated circle in front of the weights, Jessie asked, “What do you think these objects are?” Responses included, “they’re treasure from a chest” and “it’s animals that are now dead and someone painted them.” Jessie thanked the children for sharing their predictions and observations, and said they would talk more deeply about the weights in a few minutes. 

Although it is important to address questions that arise organically in the moment, it is also beneficial to let children have time to think about and reflect on things they are curious about before handing them an answer. After we shared some of our questions, we dove into the lesson with a variety of other materials. This left the kids curious about the unfamiliar objects we had observed and challenged them to try to figure out what they were as we navigated through the lesson. Throughout our circle time, you could see them start to make connections and by the time we brought our attention back to the museum objects, they had even more ideas and questions.


Jessie brought out a world map, and the class reviewed the directions and continents through the “7 Continents” song. Next, Jessie asked the children to tell her what they knew about pirates. Many children focused on physical characteristics that a pirate might have including an eye patch, a hook or peg leg. One child pointed out that pirates are people who take treasure. Jessie said that pirates don’t have to have a hook, peg leg or eye patch, but they do all steal things. She read the definition of piracy and then read from the book Treasure by Philip Steele to learn about real pirates in the Spanish Main.

Songs are a great way to recall information and the “7 Continents” song is one we like to use every year. Throughout the movie the class was making, we “traveled” to many places throughout the world and consistently used maps and songs to reinforce their understanding of geography and the world around them. A song is also a great way to get the children involved during a lesson and spark their attention.

Definitions are a valuable tool for the students, as well as the teachers. It gives us a topic (sometimes complex) that we then need to break down and try to figure out what it really is. For example, when we read the definition of piracy, it said nothing about eye patches or peg legs like the children had mentioned. This challenged us to look closely at the words used in the definition so we could begin to unpack the true meaning of the word pirate. The definitions also give the class a chance to match the words we are talking about with the written words. We can sound out and point to letters to figure out the words as well. All of this strengthens literacy skills and engages the children in learning new concepts. We also often bring other materials such as books and large printed words we use frequently such directional words, North, South, East, and West. Bringing a white board and sounding out a word as we write it down is another way to get them engaged in the lesson with a literacy activity.


To illustrate what they read in the book about pirates in the Spanish Main, Jessie brought out a toy ship with a Spanish flag, and sailed it across the map in search of gold. She then brought out a pirate ship and asked how pirates could get to the Spanish ship to steal. The children talked about the use of guns, swords, and cannon balls. Jessie explained that the Spanish wouldn’t want their ships attacked, so they would bring lots of smaller boats to protect them called a fleet or convoy.

Using visual aids during lessons helps young children make sense of concepts that might normally be difficult for them to understand. I could describe a boat sailing to Spain and running into pirates, but this information becomes more concrete and accessible to children when they are able to see it. We used our pirate book to enhance their understanding of piracy, but giving them objects they can manipulate and play with gives them a deeper understanding. Many of the objects we use in lessons are from our school and the children have used them before. This creates opportunities for reflection and scaffolding later when they use the same materials during play back in the classroom.

Although it was not the main goal of the lesson, weapons are a part of piracy, so when the subject came up I felt it was important to address it. A weapon is an object. It is only until a person uses this object that it becomes dangerous. By ignoring sensitive topics such as guns and weapons, we leave a child feeling confused and curious about the unknown. In order to navigate safely and efficiently through their world, it is important that children have the tools to keep themselves and those around them safe. Once the children thought more carefully about the idea that the person with the weapon is the one that caused the harm, they began to think about their own opinions on the topic. I expressed to the children that I would never want to hurt anyone so I would not use a weapon in a way that might cause harm to someone. The children responded enthusiastically about feeling the same way. A sensitive subject turned into a teachable moment that left the children feeling empowered rather than confused and fearful.

I think it is important for children to experience every emotion, even if it may feel scary or uncomfortable at times. Feeling these emotions at school allows them to grow and understand themselves in a safe environment. Ignoring sensitive or frightening topics sends a message to the children that you don’t want to talk about something and just perpetuates their fears. We as teachers must educate the children, give them validation that it is ok to feel these emotions, and remind them that they are safe and loved.


The discussion about pirates stealing a ship led to the children talking about treasure, so Jessie asked, “What is treasure?” Responses included gold coins, chocolate coins, jewels, crystals, and anything special. Jessie read the definition of treasure, “something of great value or worth”.  At this point, Jessie refocused the class back to the weights. She explained that they were created by Akan artists from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and pointed these places out on the map. She said that the weights are not actually gold, but copper and were used to weigh gold to decide how much items cost. Jessie shared some objects she brought that were similar to the weights, and showed how gold can be measured against the weights to determine worth.

The children have had some experience with weighing objects, but a scale has not been available to them on a regular basis. Concepts such as weight and value can be difficult for young children to grasp. Using scales is a great way to help make sense of these topics. It is also a tool for math and counting. Although the Akan people would use the weights to measure gold dust, we decided to use coins so the materials were more familiar to the children. Understanding one weight was equal to a certain amount of coins helped them understand what value is, which was part of the definition for treasure. Pirates wanted the treasure because it was considered valuable. This created the question, “can different things be valuable to different people?”, which lead to our discussion about pirates stealing more than just treasure.

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Next, Jessie brought out their puppet friend, Pirate Pete. One of the children asked Pirate Pete what treasure he steals. Pirate Pete brought out some objects including food, clothes, and blankets. Jessie asked the class if these objects look like treasure, and they all gave a resounding, “no!” Jessie explained that pirates love when they find treasure like gold, but often they would steal other things that they needed to live like food and clothing.

If I were to do this lesson again I would split it into two different lessons. There was a lot of material to review, new concepts to learn, and questions to discuss. I liked the idea of asking questions about an object and then coming back to learn about it later in the lesson. However, because there were a lot of concepts and material to cover I would prefer to have two separate lessons on piracy and treasure/value.

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Before leaving the museum, Jessie provided the opportunity for children to share their comments and questions. The first question asked was, “Do pirates kill?” Jessie responded “yes, pirates have killed”, which then prompted Jessie to ask, “Is it a good thing to be a pirate or steal?” The children emphatically said no. Some children shared some connections they made to the lesson, including, “pirates going to another ship is like in the third movie of Star Wars when Luke jumped off his ship to another”, and “cannons are kind of like fur balls in PJ Mask!” One child even said she sees pirates in boats in Old Town Alexandria. Jessie assured her that sometimes people dress up and pretend to be pirates, just like we do sometimes, but they aren’t real pirates.

Lessons can sometimes create more questions than they answer, and I consider this a good thing! It is important for the children to walk away with information they may not have known before but it is also important for them to be curious and want to learn more. During my circles, I like to offer time for comments and questions at the beginning and the end. I use a sign with a picture of a person raising their hand on one side and a line crossed through the same picture on the other side. This indicates to the children when it is time for questions and when it is time for me to talk with no interruptions. This helps us stay on topic during the lesson but still gives the children time to express their thoughts and feelings when the time is appropriate. Allowing questions at the end also allows me to gauge which areas of the lesson they were interested in and what topics they may want to explore more.


To conclude their lesson, Jessie played a movement pirate game with the children. She called two children at a time and showed them a card that showed a pirate movement to perform. The pair of children acted these out as they got back in line to leave the museum.

The teachers in our school community are always willing to share ideas and materials with one another. A different class had been learning about pirates earlier in the year and was gracious enough to let our class borrow some of their materials, including these pirate movement cards.

To transition back to our line, I wanted to incorporate something related to the topic that would get them up and moving their bodies. Because there was so much content during the lesson, using the game as a way of lining up allowed it to be a transition activity rather than lengthening the time the students had to sit and wait.


On the way back to school, Jessie pretended to be a pirate and looked through the spyglass to see if the class was using safe walking feet to cross the street.

We incorporate lots of play throughout our entire day. Any topic can be interesting to a child if you present it in a playful way. It is important for children to have a routine to follow but adding playful moments that they can engage with and connect to helps enhance their learning experience. My students have crossed streets a million times but when you add an exciting new twist like a spyglass watching them and making sure they are ready, it sparks their attention and reinforces their knowledge about a new object we learned about that week.


 Back on the playground, the children used the spyglass in their play. That afternoon the class painted their own “gold nuggets” that will be used as props in their film.

After all of my lessons, I like to have the materials I used out for the children to explore back in the classroom. I gave them the opportunity to create their own spyglass out of paper towel rolls and we collected rocks on the playground to paint gold, silver, and bronze. Later that afternoon, we filmed the pirate scene for our movie. To create our “script” I asked the students what things they wanted to say about boats, pirates, and treasure. Many of the things we had discussed that morning and throughout the week came up. This reinforced all the material we had learned about and then gave them a chance to actually act it out. Now that our movie is finished, the children will have it forever and can always reflect back on the learning experiences they had here at school.

After their week on pirates, the class continued to learn about the other concepts included in their movie such as oceans, rain forests, and Antarctica. They premiered their movie last month to overwhelming acclaim from fellow SEEC children and families.