Empowering Young Conservationists

 

If you’ve ever driven or walked down Constitution Avenue in Washington DC, you probably have seen the larger than life Albert Einstein sculpture lounging on a bench.  But have you ever been in the building behind Einstein?  That building is home to the National Academy of Sciences, a non-profit organization of the country’s leading scientists.  Not only is it a place for the members to gather, but through the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences, the site also hosts rotating art exhibits that explore the intersection of culture and science that are open to the public.

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Greenland Sea by Diane Tuft

Diane Tuft’s The Arctic Melt: Images of a Disappearing Landscape is one such exhibit that is currently on display at the National Academy of Sciences.  A recent Washington Post article describes her Arctic landscape photographs as vivid in color, yet also notes that, “these glimpses of an unfrozen North, some of them shot from an airplane or a helicopter, are also ominous. Discharged from glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets, that picturesque water is headed this way.”

Tuft’s Arctic Landscape exhibit will be the focal point of an upcoming family day that SEEC is leading at the National Academy of Sciences on February 10th. We are excited about facilitating this topic despite the fact that some might say the concept of global warming is too complex, depressing, and scary to explore with young children. After all, they are topics that can be difficult for adults to fully comprehend.  So why create a family day around this exhibit and topic? While we do not expect to put a stop to global warming in just one day, we believe that exploring the Arctic landscape, climate change, and conservation with young children will foster a sense of environmentalism among the next generation.

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Melt Water by Diane Tuft

During the family day, children will be able to explore the landscape of the Arctic through literacy, art, dramatic play, sensory experiences, and experimentation.  By interacting with the Arctic environment, children will foster an understanding and love for the Arctic environment and those creatures living in it.  Research has shown that the more time a child spends in nature or exploring a natural landscape, the more empathetic they are towards that habitat and its inhabitants.  Developing this empathy for the natural world and its creatures leads to a strong interest in conservation that lasts through adulthood.

The family day will also feature an experiment that illustrates the consequences of climate change in the Arctic.  Through the demonstration children will begin to form an understanding of climate change, and how it effects are world.  While we want to educate children on climate change, we will also be focusing on conservation, so that children leave the family day feeling empowered to help make a positive change in the world. As Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” We aim for children to feel a sense of control that they too impact the world, and can make that impact positive.  After exploring the Arctic habitat and learning about climate change, we will have an activity that encourages families to think together about what steps they can take, large or small, to positively impact our world.

Empower your young conservationists by coming to the National Academy of Sciences on February 10th!  Get more information and register here!

Teacher Feature: Three-Year-Old Class Explores Wrecking Balls

This week’s Teacher Feature highlights a three-year-old class’ exploration of wrecking balls at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  The teachers, Amy Schoolcraft and Connie Giles, noticed a strong interest among the children in construction, so decided to start with demolition.  This lesson included play, art, observation, connection to objects, literacy, and problem solving.  Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from the teachers. 

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We noticed that our class was often playing games such as building with blocks, digging mounds of dirt, and finding inventive ways to create structures on the playground. So when thinking about what our next topic of study should be, it was an easy decision to explore construction. We hope that through this unit our class will have a deeper understanding of construction and demolition, including the various jobs, tools, and equipment needed. We also hope this unit will provide great opportunities to learn about safety, teamwork, and problem solving.

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On their way to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the class stopped several times to observe construction taking place around the National Mall.  Amy and Connie asked children guiding questions such as, “What is that?” and “Where do you think he’s going?” The children excitedly described the tall cherry picker and safety equipment they saw.

There is no better way to engage with a topic than to have first-hand experience with it. We were lucky to come across some big machines and workers on our way to our museum visit, and it was a great opportunity to get us thinking about construction vehicles. By taking the time to notice construction tools and machines on our walk, the kids were able to build context and gain a greater understanding of large machines as they observed how they move, who uses them, and for what kind of jobs big machines can be used.

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When the class arrived at the museum, Amy reminded the children of “The Three Little Pigs” story, which they had read the week before, to see how the pigs constructed their houses.  She continued, “But this week, we’re going to learn about what the Big Bad Wolf was doing – demolition!”  The class decided to try to push over the museum, just like the Big Bad Wolf knocked over the pigs houses.  Although they tried with more and more classmates, none of their efforts were successful.  As they were trying, some children commented, “It’s concrete. It’s too hard”; “My arms aren’t strong enough”; and “This is hard!”

The kids really enjoyed using a familiar story, “The Three Little Pigs”, to learn about construction materials in a previous lesson. By connecting our demolition lesson to the Big Bad Wolf, we hoped to capitalize on their love of the story as we built upon their understanding of construction while also creating a mental image of what demolition is.

As an introduction to demolition, I wanted them to understand how strong buildings are and why a large machine is necessary to knock a building down. What better way to gain a more concrete (pardon the pun) understanding of these concepts than to use our muscles and experiment in knocking a building down ourselves? This activity was an opportunity to work together, problem solve, have a little fun, and give them a chance to get extra energy out in a purposeful way.

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The class decided that knocking a building over with just their bodies was way too hard, and that in order to do it, strong tools are needed.  For example, as one child said, “Like a strong drill to knock it down!”  Amy explained that sometimes smaller tools work, but for big buildings, you need a very large tool, called a wrecking ball.  She brought out a toy construction truck as an example and said that the first thing they would need in order to build their wrecking ball is a boom – the long, strong part that allows a wrecking ball to swing.  The class decided to look around the museum for something they could use as a boom.

I wanted the class to be looking for a sculpture that looked like a wrecking crane’s boom. Boom was a new term for them and by exploring the parts of a toy, they were able to identify and label a boom in a very tangible way.

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After some searching, the children spotted Kenneth Snelson’s Needle Tower and felt that it was long and strong enough to be the boom for their wrecking ball.

I chose this sculpture because of its resemblance to a wrecking ball boom. Its size and shape helped to build the perspective of how large a wrecking ball crane is.  Also its safe and open location gave us an opportunity to explore the sculpture from different perspectives.

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After finding their boom, the class continued to build their pretend wrecking ball out of the truck, and noticed that they would need to attach a string or chain from the boom to the wrecking ball.

I wanted the kids to think critically about how the wrecking ball would work. By posing the problem of how to attach the wrecking ball to the boom, they began to generate ideas from using a string, to jump ropes, and eventually a chain.

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After discussing the parts of the wrecking ball using the toy, the children set to work creating a wrecking ball with their bodies and objects.  First, a child laid down on the ground to be the foundation of the truck.  Another child was at the front of the foundation acting as the person in the truck cab, controlling the movements of the boom and wrecking ball.  Two children acted as the boom by holding the wrecking ball attached to a pulley and rope. The goal was to knock over the building (made of recycled yogurt containers), and the children had to figure out how to move the wrecking ball in order to achieve this.

As a way to apply what we learned about the parts of a wrecking ball crane, we took turns acting out the parts of a wrecking ball working together to knock down a “building”. However, it felt like the activity was getting a bit chaotic and they appeared to be missing the idea that the ball needed to hit the building instead of their hands or feet. In hind sight, shortening the chain, simplifying each kid’s role, and adding a demonstration would have been helpful.

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To round out the lesson, Amy read Bam, Bam, Bam by Eve Merriam, which had simple words, and large images of a wrecking ball that connected to the lesson.  Then she used an iPad to show a video of a wrecking ball in action.  The children commented on how loud it was.  Amy pointed out how much dust and dirt rises during a demolition and how water is used to control it.

I chose this book because the rhythm and rhyme make it a fun and easy read but also because it had clear illustrations of the different parts of a wrecking ball and its job. The video we watched helped our class to see and hear a wrecking ball at work. It inspired a great discussion about some of the draw backs of using a wrecking ball, such as the noise and dust, which are two reasons why they are now rarely used on construction sites. In our classroom, we use technology to help bring a topic to life. Although I feel that teachers need to careful not to use technology as a substitute for hands-on experiences, it can be a great resource for exploring new ideas, initiating discussions, and building observations and insights about a topic.

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Before heading back to school, the children ran around the sculpture getting a closer look.  They noticed the silver color and the cables holding it up.  They even lay underneath the sculpture observing the shapes from a new perspective.

I hadn’t planned to let the kids explore the artwork on their own. I typically walk around the sculpture with the kids to point things out and encourage observation. However, with such an open and safe space, it was a perfect opportunity to allow them to experience the artwork in their own way. Before I knew it, they were pointing out the shapes, materials, and experimenting by finding new ways to look at the sculpture. It all happened very organically and the kids had a great time in the process. Our kids are comfortable around artwork and are aware of the rules, such as no wandering away or touching the art, so I did not worry about reviewing the rules with them before setting them loose. While they did a pretty good job, it would have been a good idea to review the rules anyway.

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Back on the playground, Amy set up an art activity where children had turns moving a “wrecking ball” and seeing how the paint hit the paper.

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The children were able to swing the wrecking ball in different ways and saw the result of their efforts on the paper.

I was excited about this art activity. I hadn’t tried it before but I found it on Pinterest and thought it would be a great way to make some “wrecking ball” art and experiment with the way a wrecking ball moves. We used a plastic water bottle with a squeeze glue lid and filed it with paint. We attached the bottle to a table using string and had the kids swing the bottle over a paper to create a design. Unfortunately, this project did not work as well as it had on Pinterest. The paint was too thick and instead of leaving a stream of paint creating a design, dots of paint ended up scattered on the page instead. All in all, the kids had a lot of fun and were still able to experiment in swinging the “wrecking ball”. A colleague suggested that a variation to try in the future would be attaching a paintbrush to swing back and forth instead. I am looking forward to giving it a try.


After learning more about demolition, the class continued their exploration of construction by exploring building materials, safety equipment, planning, tools, and more!  For more ideas, see our construction Pinterest board!

Teacher Feature: Infant Class Explores Farm to Table

This week’s teacher feature highlights one of our infant classes. The teachers in the class, Mallory Messersmith, Morgan Powell, and Rosalie Reyes, were inspired by National Farm to School Month to lead their class on a month-long exploration of food and community. For this outing, the class went to the United States Department of Agriculture Farmers Market to learn about locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Below you will find images from the lesson and reflections from Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie.

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 Preparation:

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The preparation for this outing began well before the day of the visit. The class had spent several weeks exploring local produce before venturing out to the USDA. The teachers, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, educated themselves about National Farm to School Month and did some research of their own.

Rosalie first learned of the National Farm to School Network while attending DC Teacher’s Night: Connecting Teachers with Environmental Education at the United States Botanic Garden. This nation-wide initiative is meant to promote connections between communities and fresh, healthy foods by focusing on educational activities related to agriculture, food, health, and nutrition. After attending the teacher’s night, Rosalie joined the National Farm to School Network and was excited to see resources for early childhood education.

Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were then inspired to create a unit around the idea of farm to school because of the many diverse areas of exploration that the study of fruits and vegetables offered their class, including colors, shapes, and textures. Additionally, they noticed that many of their students were starting to eat new solid foods. They sought to align their lessons in the classroom with the developmental milestones the children were experiencing regarding eating new foods.

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The teachers transformed their classroom for this unit. They carefully thought about how to organize the room to best fit the needs of their students and were excited to create experiences that were conducive for learning.

To begin preparing for their unit, Morgan, Mallory, and Rosalie chose a collection of art prints and  created their own works of art to post throughout their classroom. They paid special consideration to their students’ cubbies where they posted images of fruits and vegetables. Mallory even crocheted fruits and vegetables to add to the classroom. Since many children in their class were actively learning to crawl, the teachers taped images to ground for their class to explore while on the move. They also researched and chose children’s books to add to their classroom collection and brainstormed which produce to highlight with the class.

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The children also took part in the preparations for the outing well before the actual day. As a class they explored fresh fruits and vegetables. They often started with the whole produce and then began cutting and breaking them apart to see what was inside. The process of exploring the fruits and vegetables quickly became a sensory experience for the infants as they touched, smelled, heard, and even tasted the various produce.

The class explored most of the produce using sight, touch, smell, and sound. The children were able to use their sense of taste when interacting with the avocados and strawberries for a more immersive experience. For both strawberries and avocados, the children looked at and touched images of the produce. They then compared the images to the real produce before and after it was cut up. Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie believed that it was important for the children to be able to make connections between the whole product, which the children do not always see, and the cut up portions that the children regularly eat at snack time. To finish the experience, the class had the opportunity to sample! The strawberries were a big hit, but many students were a little more cautious about the avocado. This immersive, multisensory experience left the children with a greater understanding of the food that they eat.

The teachers also combined this multisensory teaching approach with thinking routines including See, Think, Wonder to encourage curiosity and new understandings. Since many of their infants were preverbal, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie would verbalize out loud the different things that they saw, thought, and wondered while the children in their class were exploring the various fruits and vegetables. The teachers were careful to keep in mind that this might be the first time that their class had been exposed to many of the images and objects and allowed time for the infants to experience and make discoveries. One particularly fun lesson that built upon the multisensory and thinking routine approaches, was when the infants were exploring the red cabbage. As the children were bending, breaking, smelling, and feeling the texture of the cabbage, Morgan began to read Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. As she read, she asked questions about the colors, textures, and sounds that the class heard when they were peeling the leaves of the cabbage.

Lesson Implementation:

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The USDA holds a Farmers Market on Fridays throughout the spring, summer, and early fall. SEEC classes regularly visit to see the produce, buy snacks, and enjoy sitting on the grassy lawn.

Mallory, Morgan and Rosalie chose to visit the USDA’s farmers market in part because of its accessibility, since it is just off the National Mall and not far from their classroom. They also wanted to embrace the community aspects of the visit, as the farmers market is a great place for people to gather. This community space has picnic blankets and open space for people (including this class) to sit, gather, and reflect on the experience of being at the farmers market. It was a perfect fit for this lesson because it encouraged the children to make connections between the familiar foods that the class eats every day and the less familiar, whole, unprocessed, muddy foods that they saw at the market. Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie brought objects with them to enhance this community visit, including soft and hard toy fruits and vegetables and a board book to read to the group.

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As the class approached the farmers market, they paused at the People’s Garden. This small urban garden in the heart of Washington, DC expanded the children’s experiences in and understanding of the city that they live in.

 At SEEC, teachers regularly take their classes on museum visits where they connect ideas that they are learning about in the classroom with museum objects. They often extend their lessons beyond the museum doors while still using the same techniques that they used on the community visits.

When asked to explain why it is important to take infants on community and museum visits, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie cited this quotation:

 “Our connections to the people, animals, and plants around us make us who we are. Humans are not a solitary species; we need one another to survive. In the same way that children need opportunities to get to know the natural world so that they can develop a strong relationship with it, they need that same opportunity to connect with the human and human-made community that they are a part of. When children develop a strong relationship with their community at an early age, they grow up knowing and feeling a strong sense of belonging.”

Source: https://shelburnefarms.org/sites/default/files/cultivatingjoywonder_all_smaller.pdf

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Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie encouraged their class to touch and explore the dirt when they noticed that their class was interested in it. Some teachers and caregivers might be hesitant to encourage their young children to play in dirt, but at SEEC we believe it is a vital part of learning.

While strolling through the People’s Garden, the class paused for a moment and reached to grab handfuls of soil. This part of the lesson was actually completely spontaneous! The teachers noticed students pointing towards the ground and saw it as an opportunity to follow their curiosity and facilitate hands-on learning. Through these early experiences with soil, children learn that soil is a living system full of healthy and fascinating relationships. The educators were also able to connect back to soil later during the visit by pointing out dirt on some of the produce the children were examining at the Farmers Market.

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As the class passed through the booths at the farmers market, they paused to examine some produce like this butternut squash.

While exploring the butternut squash, the children not only touched the smooth sides, but also noticed how the textures of the squash changed as Rosalie rotated it. When she turned the squash on its side, the children immediately reached out to touch the small, dry area of the squash. Even though the children could not talk yet, the teachers, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, were able to follow each child’s nonverbal cues. The teachers paid special attention to the things the children were pointing to, the changes in their facial expressions, and their use of sign language. In fact, throughout the lesson the children regularly signed “more” as they moved from one booth to another, signaling that they wanted to explore different types of produce. When the children signed “more”, it helped Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie know that the children were enjoying their visit and wanted to continue.

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As they walked, the class continued their sensory exploration by touching smooth red peppers, bumps on an acorn squash, and the rough stems of a pumpkin. Both students and teachers seemed to believe that their trip to the USDA’s Farmers Market was a huge success.

Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were so excited to take their class to the farmers market because this was their first trip outside as a group! The teachers had spent the month hoping that they could visit the farmers market for this unit and on the last Friday of the month they were able to make it work! Even the journey to the Market was exciting for the students; they experienced the sights and sounds of a beautiful autumn day outside in Washington, DC. The class noticed squirrels, fall foliage, and insects on the trip across the National Mall. Once the class arrived at the market, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were happy to see their students so engaged with a variety of produce. They also embraced the unplanned moments, including feeling the dirt and meeting a big, fluffy dog which made their outing extra special.

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The class gathered on a blanket to play with toys from the classroom and explore produce that they had bought from the farmers market. A major component of this time was Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie singing various songs.

After the visit to the vendors at the market, the class gathered on the grass near the market. As part of the Friday Farmers market, the grassy area has lawn games set up as well as communal picnic blankets, which the class used for their outdoor story time. The teachers made sure that each child was engaged by offering them toys from the classroom and produce that they had recently purchased from the market.

Once everyone was settled in, the class looked at some pages in a book and sang a variety of songs. They sang a variety of autumnal songs that the music teacher, Ms. Allison, had introduced to the class during October. One song was about a pumpkin, big and round; another song was about autumn leaves falling down. They sang the pumpkin song as the children touched the pumpkin. As children began venturing off their blanket and started to explore the leaves they found on the ground, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie sang the autumn leaves song. It was clear that the children enjoyed the songs as they rocked their bodies to the beat and even clapped along.

Reflection:

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While the group was engaged singing and looking at books, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie encouraged individual exploration. This child discovered that he could lift the pumpkin by its stem as the class sang the song “Orange Pumpkin – Big and Round”.

Since their class is composed of young children, much of the beginning of the year is focused on learning and supporting each individual child’s feeding and resting schedule. This complicates finding time to go on outings. However, when the opportunity arises to go on a trip, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, jump on it, as they know the benefits of getting their class out of the classroom for experiential learning.

When thinking about what the class could have done differently, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie thought it would have been nice to bring food for their class to eat while on the picnic blankets. They explained that bringing food to taste would have enhanced their class’ experience beyond seeing and feeling by adding the sense of taste.

After the visit, the class continued to build upon what they had experienced that day. The children decorated canvas bags which would be perfect to take to the Farmers Market for shopping. To decorate, the children mixed and splattered paint with their hands, feet, and brushes. At the end of October, the bags were sent home with a small gourd inside. It was a great way to finish off the month!

 

Family, Love, Traditions – SEEC Quotes

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While we do our best to document and accurately share what happens at our school, we recognize that when we share the children’s perspective it’s still through our adult voices. In an effort to capture the children’s unadulterated voices we decided to try out a new type of blog entitled, “SEEC Quotes”. For the first installment, we focused on family, love, and traditions.  Any names included have been changed. Enjoy!

Who do you love?

 

3-year-old: “Dog, and mom, and dad.”
Me: “Anybody else, do you love anybody else?”
3-year-old: “Levi (friend).”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Mark.”
Me: “Who is Mark?”
3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”

2-year-old: “My mommy and daddy and Mina.”
Me: “Your mommy and daddy and Mina? Who’s Mina?”
2-year-old: “A baby.”

Other quotes:

3-year-old: “My mommy.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “My daddy.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Mark.”
Me: “Who is Mark?”
3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”

“My friends and whole family.” – 6-year-old

“My family and my teachers and my friends and my cousin and my grandma and grandpa. I love them so much I don’t even want them to die.” – 5-year-old

“My family…I think that’s maybe all…maybe my friends too.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “My mom and dad and sister.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Myself!”

“I love my mamma, my dada, my puppies.” – 2-year-old

“The kitties the most…except they got me right there..one got me right there (showing cut on hand).” – 3-year-old

Who loves you?

 

5-year-old: “My friends and whole family.”
Me: “What about your teachers?”
5-year-old: “Oh, I love my teachers.”
5-year-old: “I love my cousins.”
Me: “Do you think your teachers love you?”
5-year-old: “Oh yea!”
5-year-old: “They always love you, even when they die.  They will still love you. They’ll always love you.”
5-year-old: “No matter what.”

Other quotes:

“My grammy and pop pop and my aunt.  I know they love me because they always give me lots of hugs when they see me.  And they give me kisses and I already know they love me.” -5-year-old

“My dad.” – 2-year-old

“My mommy, grandmas…I have two grandmas…grandma Susie and grandma Courtney.” – 2-year-old

“My mama and my dada and my puppies.” -2-year-old

Who is your family?

 

5-year-old: “Grammy and pop pop and my sister and my sister.”

Other quotes:

5-year-old: “My mom and my dad…that’s it. That’s my normal family.”
Me: “Who is in your non-normal family?”
5-year-old: “My cousins, my grandma…she’s 92 years old.”

What do you do with your family that’s special or makes you feel happy?

 

“Eat chocolate.” – 3-year-old

“I like to hug my cousins and my family” – 3-years-old

“I like to play frisbee with my dad.” – 3-year-old

“I like to make silly faces at my other cousins.” – 3-year-old

“My family celebrates Christmas and we always go somewhere for Christmas, with my best cousins, my best grandma and grandpa, and my best friends.  We have special food, we invite guests, and we have a special party at the end.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “Going for a walk.”
Me: “Where do you go on walks?”
3-year-old: “Far away.”

Other quotes: 

“We play with blocks. We make a tower.  I like eating.  I eat apples and pears.” – 2-year-old

“Play games, I don’t really have a favorite game, but I like playing the Shopkins game with my grammy and pop pop” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes I go to the driving range.  Sometimes I go to the movie theaters.” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes I spend time with my family at Christmas, I’m going to do that at Christmas, yea I am.  My family members are traveling to us.” – 5-year-old

“Open presents.” – 6-year-old

“We paint, and we celebrate Hanukkah, and we open presents.” – 6-year-old

 

What do you with your family to help others?

 

“My daddy is a superhero and because he has special blood that he gives to people who are super sick.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “Give bags to homeless people.”
Me: “What’s in the bags?”
3-year-old: “Stuff.”
Me: “What’s in the bags, do you know?”
3-year-old: “Love!”
Me: “Love?”
3-year-old: “Yes.”
Me: “How do you put love in a bag?”
3-year-old: “A zip bag!”
Me: “And you put real love in it?”
3-year-old: “Yes!”

Other quotes:

“We give money to charities. We give money to them because they don’t have any homes or anything.” -5-year-old

“Clean up my mom and my dad. Sometimes I set my table. Sometimes I help someone like my grammy and my mommy mostly with setting the table and cleaning up.” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes we give money to homeless people.  We give food to homeless people.” -5-year-old

“We donate and give money, that’s it, and give food, that’s all we do, and we donate other things that I have.” – 5-year-old

 

 

 

Top 5 – DIY Gifts from Kids Edition Take Two

Are you scouring the internet for a gift that your child or students can create to give as a gift for family members?  It’s tough to find something that’s budget friendly, useful, and actually fun and meaningful for children to make.  That’s why we’ve rounded up seven (we just couldn’t keep it to five!) more ideas for exciting DIY gifts that your children will actually enjoy making.  And if these aren’t enough, check out our Top 5 from last year!

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Hand Print Key Chains

How great are these hand print key chains from Grey House Harbor? Not only are they useful, stylish, and personal, they also look like a ton of fun to make! Mix science with art as you watch the shrinky dinks shrink in the oven.

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Paper Plants

Not only are these paper plants from The House that Lars Built beautiful, they require no watering or light!  Grab some paper, markers, scissors, and a box or cup to make these colorful plants.  Children will let their imagination loose as they practice their fine motor skills.

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Suncatchers

Our preschoolers enjoyed making these wintery suncatchers and we’re sure their families will love them too!  To create these colorful creations, open up a sheet of laminating paper (our art educator, Caroyln Eby, suggests taping the paper on the table so it stays open), and decorate it with oil pastels, tissue paper, and glitter glue.  Spice it up further by adding dyed noodles and icicles made from crumpling foil.

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Twig Pencil Holder

These twig pencil holders from the Royal Horticulture Society are easy to make and functional too! Take a nature walk together to gather the twigs while noticing the nature in your neighborhood.  You could even paint the twigs to add a pop of color to a family member’s desk.

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Calendar

If your child is anything like our students at SEEC, they love to make artwork year round.  Save some throughout the year or sit down for a drawing session to make these custom calendars from Martha Stewart. For a more budget friendly version, print out a year calendar from the internet.

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Rock Photo Holder

Create a rock photo holder from Buggy and Buddy that can hold a special photo.  Painting the rock can be enjoyed by any age and putting the beads on the wire builds fine motor skills!

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Homemade Wrapping Paper

Don’t forget to wrap up all these gifts!  Include your child in the wrapping process by providing them large white paper to decorate.   If you’re child is an older infant or toddler, lay out paper and allow them to dance or move on the paper with paint.  If they’re older, provide a variety of ribbon and washi tape that they can use to wrap and practice fine motor skills.

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If you have other ideas for fun DIY gifts that children can make for their families, please comment; we’d love to hear your ideas!  And check out our DIY Gifts from Kids Pinterest board for more ideas!

SEEC Shares: Tiny Sculptures

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At SEEC, one of our core teaching philosophies is using the museums to enhance our lessons and foster curiosity. Upon hearing about a school inside the Smithsonian, many people are excited and want to know more about our practices. Other people react differently, thinking “that’s great, but I will never be able to recreate that in my classroom or at home”. We actively disagree with this assumption and argue that teachers, caregivers, and parents can bring their children out into the community to engage in object based learning. we understand that for some these community visits are not always easy to implement. For this reason, we decided that we should offer ways for parents, caregivers, and teachers to create SEEC-like spaces and activities that do not involve leaving your classroom or house. Our new blog series “SEEC Shares” aims to be a place that anyone working with young children can visit and be inspired to take ideas to mold them to fit their own needs.

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This week’s “SEEC Shares” highlights a class that taught toddlers about sculptures. This particular class was one of our recent Toddler Trailblazers Family Workshops. On the weekends we open our doors to families who come into our classrooms for play-based exploration before heading out on a museum visit with the class. For this Tiny Sculptures lesson, we transformed the classroom to allow for a wide variety of sculpture-based play and then visited Untitled (1976) by Alexander Calder and then Circle I, Circle II, and Circle III by David Smith at the National Gallery of Art. Below you will see some of the many ways that we created experiences to allow the toddler class to explore and create their own sculptures. Hopefully you will find these ideas inspiring.

Classroom & Activities Setup

Straw Sculptures on a Light Table

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For this activity, we put a colander upside down on a light table. The light table helped highlight the holes through which the children could stick the pipe cleaners and straws. As an added feature to the sculpture, we found felt flowers that we had previously made using a die cutting machine and felt.

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Since this was a standing activity, children could freely enter and leave the activity without having to seat themselves in a chair. The freedom of standing can help children tap into their creative side. Additionally, putting the pipe cleaners and straws through the colander holes was challenging and provided children with the opportunity to work on their fine motor skills.

Playdough Creations

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For our playdough station, we used assorted colors of homemade playdough. Often when we first introduce playdough to young children, we do not give them any tools to use. This encourages the children to practice pinching and molding the clay with their fingers, which is crucial to development. For this project, we chose to give the children tools that sculptors would use when working with clay.

Wooden Blocks, Magna-Tiles, and Tegu

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We created a block station that was tucked away in a corner. Children were able to create their own block sculptures without fear of someone knocking it over. Mixing the different types of blocks, including wooden and magna-tiles, allowed the children to create in new and unexpected ways.

 Loose Parts

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At the center of the room was a large station that was composed of loose parts. Before the lesson we gathered blocks of different shapes and sizes. Since blocks that link with one and another are not technically loose parts, we were careful to make sure that none of the blocks in the loose part area connected with one another either through magnets or through linking mechanisms like legos. We also cut up pool noodles, found cardboard tubes of various sizes, and added scarves to our loose part collection.

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To make our loose part area interesting and to hopefully spark creativity, we added materials that we thought the children would never have had a chance to experience before. We filled nylon socks with rice to make a unique form of bean bags and put out a large, white, stretchy tube to manipulate and explore. We also tried to display the loose parts in a way that showed that we valued these pieces without defining what they were or how they should be used.

Found Object Art

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To finish up the classroom part of the class, the toddlers were encouraged to create their own art using colored popsicle sticks, rocks and pebbles, and feathers. This activity allowed the toddlers and parents to reflect on what art is and what defines a sculpture. For this project, no directions were given. Children were able to be inspired purely by the materials and create truly process-based art.

We hope that you found this “SEEC Shares” inspirational and are equipped to create your own tiny sculptures activity. For more ideas check out our Pinterest Boards on Toddler and Twos Classroom, Activities from SEEC, Environments, and Learning as a Family.

 

20 Teacher Approved Gifts For The Holidays

Looking for holiday inspiration? Want to give a unique present and need help thinking outside the box? We’ve got you covered. Here are few gift ideas inspired by kid favorites in our classrooms. There are a variety of price points and some of these gifts can easily be picked up during your routine errands.

  1. Library Card

Most public libraries will allow you to open a card in your child’s name. Providing your child with their own card will create a sense of pride and ownership. Bonus: it will also help remind children to take good care of their books.

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  1. Train Ride

Have a transportation obsessed child? Why not take them on a short (or long) ride on a real train!

  1. Locks and Latches Board

These DIY boards are a great way for your child to get some fine motor practice, keep them occupied for hours, and allow them to safely play with latches and switches without risk of harm.

  1. Cooking Tools

Cooking tools that you would find in your own kitchen are often fast favorites for children. These items are particularly popular and safe for kids: spatulas, metal bowls, sifters, whisks, and pans. Keep these in a lower kitchen cabinet so that your child can easily pull them out to “help” you cook dinner!

  1. Linking Blocks

Blocks are wonderful! They allow for all types of gross motor, fine motor, and problem solving skills to develop. Our teachers especially love ones that connect, either by snapping together or sticking together with magnets.

  1. Slime/Playdough

This easy DIY item is always a favorite in any classroom. Children love the sensory experience and teachers love the endless possibilities of this fine motor activity.

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  1. Tunnels

Fun for all ages, tunnels are a great indoor, gross motor play activity. Having trouble making transitions? Use a tunnel as a physical reminder that you are changing from one activity to the next.

  1. Scooter Boards

These flat boards with four wheels can be purchased at a toy store or even a hardware store (they are listed as furniture movers). They require both arm and leg coordination and can be a great inside option for movement.

  1. Drawing Implements

There is nothing quite like a new box of crayons, pencils, or markers to inspire creativity in a young (or old) child.

  1. Water Toys

Make bath time more fun with water “toys” that can be found at the local grocery or hardware store. Some of our favorites include large sponges, funnels, turkey basters and buckets.

  1. Exercise Trampolines

Looking for more big movement activities for indoor play? This is your answer! There are small trampolines made specifically for children that include a bar or you can also use an exercise trampoline. Exercise trampolines usually have covers over the springs but do need some extra adult supervision.

  1. Scarves

Scarves are a wonderful gift that can transform into so many different things for all ages. Have a child that loves to pull wipes or tissues out of the box? Transform an old wipe container by filling it with scarves. Want to spice up your changing table? Hang colorful scarves from the ceiling to keep your child mesmerized through the process. Jazz up a song by including movement with scarves.

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  1. Disposable Cameras

In a world of instant gratification this gift will teach your child patience and the art of film photography! It will also provide you with a look at the world through their eyes.

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  1. Puppet Stages

There are few children who can resist a stage. Promote dramatic play by providing your child with a platform for their performances.

  1. Dress Up Clothes

Let your child’s imagination run wild with dress up clothes. We especially love including clothes from all different professions. When a child acts out scenarios in pretend play they are developing important social and problem solving skills.

  1. Books

Continue to foster your child’s love of reading by giving them new books. Even at a very young age a child is developing pre-reading skills and should be exposed regularly to text even before they are able to read it themselves.

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  1. Tricycles

There is always a mad dash on the playground for tricycles and bicycles. Teachers love them because they require coordination and gross motor strength from the child.

  1. Steps

These could lead to nowhere and still be endless fun for a young, active child. Especially in their toddler years, they are always on the move! This is a great gift to help them safely explore and practice stairs.

  1. Magnifying Glasses

Encourage close looking with this gift! It will give children a new perspective on things they encounter in their everyday lives.

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  1. Seeds

Have a picky eater? A great way to get your child excited about trying their vegetables is to get them started at the beginning of the process. Provide them with some seeds and a small space to garden and see the wonder in their eyes as their plants appear!

Did we forget something? Share your idea in the comments!