Family, Love, Traditions – SEEC Quotes

Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center Family Quotes.jpg

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 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




Do Yes or No Questions Have a Place in the Classroom

Preschool, questions, yes no, books

Newly Verbal: Creating a Responsive Environment:

While yes and no questions are often criticized for shutting down dialogue and limiting possible answers, we have found that there is the potential for these types of questions to do the exact opposite. For the newest speakers, answering yes or no questions gives them the opportunity to say what is on their minds without being limited by their small vocabulary. Children’s ability to understand language, their receptive language, develops before their ability to fully speak. Educators can ask complex questions which the children can comprehend but do not have the ability to answer.

Yet, young children want to be part of the conversation; they want for their voices to be heard and to have the potential to impact the discussion. Asking yes or no questions can give children the ability to enter the conversation. A skilled educator can ask a question that has a definitive answer but respond in such a way that allows for responsive conversation to occur. Take this example from our toddler room:

Educator: “Where are the cockatoos?”

Toddler: Points to a cockatoo

Educator: “Where’s the other cockatoo?”

Toddler: Points to an owl

Educator: “Oh that’s an owl”

Toddler: Points to the owl

Educator: “Owl”

Toddler: Points to a different owl

Educator: “Owl”

Toddler: Points to an owl again

Educator: “Owl”

Educator: “Owl. Hoo Hoo”

Toddler: Smiles and attempts to make “Hoo” sound

While the educator started by asking a closed question, she was flexible when accepting the toddler’s response. After confirming that the child wanted to discuss owls, rather than cockatoos, she responded in a manner that showed that she valued the child’s voice. In the end, both educator and child were able to communicate about the sounds owls make. This conversation began by asking a question with a correct and definitive answer, but rather than limiting the discussion, it actually served as an invitation for the toddler to join and shape the conversation.

Preschool, questions, yes no, books (1)

Test Knowledge:

Using questions with definitive answers to check knowledge can actually lead to a deeper and more meaningful conversation. At the beginning of the conversation or when new information is introduced it can be helpful to take a pause and ask a yes or no question to make sure that the class is processing the information correctly. This lets the educator know if they need to provide more or less context before moving on. While we believe that the best way to learn is to discover and create meaning, it can be helpful to do a quick and simple check of knowledge by asking yes or no questions.

At SEEC, we try to be careful when doing this check for knowledge. We do not want to make children feel as though they are wrong, incorrect, or that their voice does not matter. So we use specific phrases such as the ones below:

I see why you might think …

“I see why you might think that the whale is a shark, but the blue whale is much larger than a shark. Let’s take a closer look and see.”

That can be confusing …

“The letters b and d can be confusing. They have similar shapes with a long line and a half circle, but they point in different directions.”

Oh that reminds you of …

“Oh, hockey reminds you of soccer? I can see why. Both are team sports, but hockey is played on ice and soccer is played on a field. Let’s see if we can spot other differences together.”

In general, our goal in testing knowledge is not to correct, but rather to explain more or in different ways so that the children have an understanding of the basic principles before moving on.

Preschool, questions, yes no, excitement


Young children who are new talkers love saying yes or no. They will emphatically shake their head up and down while saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” or they will stomp their foot on the ground while declaring “No!” Asking yes or no questions with a group of toddlers can be a great way to get the class excited about something.

There can also be a social element to asking yes or no questions that can be particularly powerful for young children who are also developing a growing awareness of their peers. They like watching and copying other children. Educators can harness this by asking yes or no questions to the group and then encouraging the class to become excited about the choice as a group.

While there is certainly good reason for valuing open-ended questions, it is our experience that questions with a definitive answer have a place, especially in the early childhood classroom. Ultimately though, these questions must be responded to in a way that acknowledges the child’s interest and leads to further exploration and thus, understanding.

SEEC will be hosting an educator workshop entitled Fostering Wonder on January 17th.

Please join us to think more about questions and curiosity in the early childhood classroom.





Inquiry Tools

A few years ago several of my three-year-old students asked me a question, and I responded, “How could we find the answer to your question?” They stared at me and said, “We’re asking you because you’re a teacher, and teachers know everything!” While flattering, I had to tell them that I most certainly do not know everything. Instead, there are many other ways in which we can seek the answers to our questions. This moment illustrates the importance of directly teaching children the skills, even as young children, to find the answers to their wonders.

At SEEC, we define inquiry as asking questions, but also as the process to find the answers. In order to ask effective questions and have the tools to seek answers, children must be curious, know how to observe, describe, make connections, and communicate. From infants to kindergarten, our classes foster these skills to ensure our children leave our school with a love of learning, a ferocious curiosity and the ability to find the answers to their questions.

Recently, one of our four-year-old classes, led by Will Kuehnle and Jessie Miller, spent some time discussing what it means to be curious, and what tools could help them explore their curiosities.


To begin their experience they went to the National Gallery of Art to see The Thinker (Le Penseur) by Auguste Rodin. They looked at the sculpture and pondered how its body language depicted thinking. They even tried to pose themselves.


Next, they discussed four tools to use when we have a question: asking an expert, observing, reading a book, and/or going to a museum. After discussing these inquiry tools in the gallery, the class headed outside to the National Mall to make these ideas more concrete through play.


The children got into groups and went through stations, each representing one of the inquiry tools they previously identified. At the “Ask the Expert” station, the children dressed up and pretended to be experts on different topics. One child would ask a question while the other child listened. The conversation would continue back and forth while one child spoke and the other waited and responded. The teacher could step in and model this for the children as well as praise them when waited for their turn to speak. This was a great opportunity for the children to practice patience and listening.


At the “Observe” station, children observed what they saw on the Mall and recorded these thoughts through writing and drawing. This was an open-ended activity that allowed the children the freedom to observe anything in their surroundings. It gave the teachers a glimpse into what the children find most interesting and, since SEEC uses an emergent curriculum, will serve as a guide for possible future topics for the class


The “Read a Book” station contained several books where children could flip through and gain knowledge through their reading.


Lastly, the “Go to a Museum” station had blocks for the children to build a museum where they might be able to answer their wonders.



Back at school that afternoon, the class had an opportunity to play at the stations again if they wished.



Recently, during storytime a child asked a question about something in the book. The other children were quick to suggest finding a book on the subject or visiting a museum to find out more information. The teachers have also observed students using language such as “curious” and “inquire” more often in their day-to-day conversations. By spending time practicing listening, vocalizing questions, and exploring how to find answers, the students have built a strong foundation that will serve them as they progress in school and life.

Join us on January 17th to learn more about Fostering Wonder with young children.

SEEC Speak Part 2: Social Emotional Language

Every community, whether it be a neighborhood, family, school, etc., has a unique culture with its own language. Schools typically have common phrases, as it is helpful for children to hear consistent messages from the adults around them. Here at SEEC we call the phrases that are unique to our school “SEEC Speak”, and in a previous post we detailed some of our most common phrases. We’re back with another installment, this time focusing on social emotional language. Developing social emotional skills is a huge undertaking and can often leave children feeling frustrated as they don’t have the language to express their big emotions during a conflict with a peer or adult. At SEEC, we use simple phrases from infancy that build upon one another to give children the skills to problem solve on their own.

Infants – “Space”

For preverbal children, adults narrate and explain the situation to all children. The adults talk about what each child each is doing and how those actions impact the other children. One-year-olds, who are starting to become mobile, often find themselves too close to other children, so we begin teaching them the concept of “space”. While we may use a variety of words to narrate and explain the situation, we will highlight short, simple phrases, such as “space” and often pair them with a physical sign like holding your hand up like a stop sign. One-year-olds soon begin to understand the power of these short, simple phrases and will begin to say and react to “space”, particularly when prompted by an adult.

Toddlers – “Me next”; “In hands”; “Check on body”

As toddlers’ ability to speak increases, new social-emotional phrases are introduced. Adults can empower toddlers to verbally state their own wants and needs. The phrase “me next” helps the child explain to another child that they would like a turn next. Some adults are bothered by the fact that “me next” is not grammatically correct, but these short phrases are the clearest to the children and are often all the toddler is capable of saying. A longer phrase may be too complicated and force the toddlers to resort to acting physically rather than using their newly acquired language.

Toddlers need a way to differentiate what objects are being used by others and what objects are free to be played with. For these young children, we keep things simple by teaching them “in hands”. If an object or toy is in a child’s hands that means that they are using it and another child cannot take it. This clear phrasing helps empower young children and decreases confusion.

One way that we build empathy in young children is by highlighting how a child is feeling and then working with other children to come up with ways that might make that child feel better. For example, if a child is hurt, another child might “check on their body” by gently patting the hurt child. “Checking on bodies” is a simple and effective way to help another child feel better.

Twos – “My hands”; “I don’t like that”; “Stop that”

Two-year-olds love saying and practicing our “SEEC Speak” phrases. They understand the power and usefulness of these phrases but struggle to say them in the moment when emotions are heightened. It is helpful for them to practice “SEEC Speak” phrases when pretending. Acting out scenarios helps them to learn and say our phrases. While practicing phrases like “in my hands”, “I don’t like that”, and “stop that”, two-year-olds will often add in nonverbal cues to help their peers understand them. They may shake their head to imply “no” or they may speak in a strong, authoritative voice, all of which helps to make their message clearer to their peers. While two-year-olds will often struggle to say these phrases without adult help in the heat of the moment, practicing these phrases helps them to develop their social-emotional skills.

Threes – “No, thank you”; “Stop”; “That hurts my body”

Sometimes adults underestimate a child’s ability to communicate when they are preverbal, and then overestimate a child’s ability to use words once they can talk, especially when experiencing big emotions such as frustration or anger.  While three-year-olds have many words, it is still useful to give them a specific prompt when they are upset, other than “use your words” as they might not know what words to use. Our threes often use “no, thank you” or “stop” when peers do something they do not like, or “that hurts my body” when play turns too rough.

Fours – “I don’t like it when…”, “That hurts my feelings”

In preschool, children are better able to articulate their feelings to peers and adults. When very upset, a child may only manage to say, “I don’t like that” or “stop”, however many will follow up that statement by explaining what it is they do not like. This is helpful for the other child, as sometimes children can be confused as to what behavior is bothering someone else.

Kindergarten – “What can I do to make you feel better?”

By the time children reach kindergarten, they’re able to effectively reflect on their actions that may have hurt a peer’s body or feelings, and help make the situation better. Our kindergartners often use the phrase, “How can I make you feel better?” when they apologize to a peer. This is more concrete than a simple, “I’m sorry” and allows both children to have a conversation about the situation resulting in action. I recently overheard the following conversation:

Child 1 was running on the playground and accidentally ran into child 2 who hit his head on the fence.

Child 2: Why did you do that?

Child 1: I’m sorry, it was an accident. What can I do to make you feel better?

Child 2: Don’t run so fast next time when we’re coming onto the playground.

Child 1: Okay.

They ended their exchange with a hug, and while child 2’s head still hurt, he clearly felt that he had been heard and an effort had been made to make him feel better.

What phrases do you use with young children to support their social emotional growth?

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Class Explores Butterfly Wings

This weeks’ teacher feature shows how one of SEEC’s two-year-old classes were inspired by Oscar de la Renta’s Ikats in the To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia exhibition at the Freer|Sackler Galleries. Educators Brittany Leavitt, Brittany Brown, and Melinda Bernsdorf used these iconic ikats to facilitate a learning experience that focused on the colors, patterns, and symmetry that can be seen in both butterfly wings and these dyed fabrics. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as reflections from the educators.  

Cover Photo


Eggs, Chicks, InsectsAt SEEC, our faculty uses an emergent curriculum, which means they follow the interests of the children to create units and lesson plans. They were able to connect the class’s interest in various topics including eggs, frogs, and bugs by exploring the life cycle of the butterfly.

We were inspired to teach this lesson because of our class’s interest in the metamorphosis of frogs and other things that grow from eggs. Additionally, our class was really into finding insects including worms and potato bugs on the playground. We decided to explore their interest more by getting a butterfly kit for the classroom.

Butterfly Review

Brittany Leavitt began the day by gathering the group and led the class in a discussion about the butterfly. She began by reviewing previous topics on butterflies, including the number of wings butterflies have, and by reading Waiting for Wings by Lois Elhert.

After our metamorphosis unit, I decided to spend a week on exploring butterflies. Butterflies can be such a big topic so I wanted to narrow in on just one focus: the wings of a butterfly. We started by breaking down and labeling the parts of the butterfly. Then we started focusing on the butterfly wings. In particular, I wanted my class to understand butterfly wings are a multifaceted tool which are used for both protection and transportation. I also wanted to introduce the idea of symmetry with the wings.

Lesson Implementation:

Ikats ButterfliesThe class’s museum visit began on their walk to the Freer|Sackler Galleries. They were able to weave this walk into their lesson as the class tried to spy butterflies.

As we walked over to the Freer|Sackler Galleries, I had my class turn on their “spy eyes” to look for butterflies in the gardens. We had the chance to observe a butterfly on a flower. While looking at it, we revisited the topic of butterfly wings and talked about the butterfly’s bright colors and camouflage.

Anytime they spotted a butterfly on a flower or in the air, I would ask, “What do you think the butterfly is doing?” or “Where do you think it’s traveling?” These are great, simple questions that help to start a conversation. I was sure to ask questions that prompted critical thinking and creativity without being overwhelming for the two and three-year-olds in my class. In general, this walk was a great way to refresh the key words and topics we were going over throughout the week.

Copy of Ikats ButterfliesThe class gathered around the Oscar de la Renta designs. The class looked closely at the textiles and discussed the colors and patterns that they saw.

I chose to visit the Ikats from Central Asia because of its parallels to the symmetry, color, and patterns of the butterfly wing. When we entered the gallery, we took a few minutes for each child to look closely at the ikats. Then we began describing the ikats with words. As the class described the ikats, I noted that the pattern on some ikats was symmetrical. The class worked together to define symmetrical and then related it to butterfly wings. We concluded our time in the gallery by singing the fingerplay song “Butterflies”.

Butterfly wings, songs

After visiting the galleries, the class went outside to the Haupt Garden and continued to explore butterfly wings. Brittany handed out paper butterflies that the class had previously created so they could continue to observe the symmetry of the butterfly wings.

I brought butterflies that the class made earlier in the week and continued our discussion on symmetry. We did a three step process to help us further understand symmetry.  First we looked at our butterfly creations as a whole. Then we folded the butterfly wings like we were closing a book. We followed this up by observing how both sides of the wings look the same.


Butterfly artThe class loved being outside and singing about butterfly wings. They were able to play with and further explore butterflies that they previously created.

To extend this in the classroom, we played a simple symmetry puzzle that I created by printing off large pictures of butterflies and cutting them in half. We also used paint to create our own butterfly patterns.

reflection butterflyOn the walk back, the class went through the Pollinator Garden. As they walked the teachers engaged the class in casual conversations about which plants the butterflies might prefer.

For teachers who want to try out this lesson, I recommend creating a small pollinator garden if you have space in your outdoor area. You can buy butterfly kits online. They are a great way to watch the stages in the classroom. You can later on do a special butterfly release.

Teaching this lesson was a great way as teacher to challenge myself to dig deeper into a new topic. I love watching my class become interested in a topic. When presented in a developmentally appropriate way, young children are able to explore and understand incredibly complex topics. For example, my class was able to understand the concepts of symmetry and metamorphosis. They particularly loved the word metamorphosis and would say it frequently with the correct meaning. When I heard them say metamorphosis, it let me know that this topic of butterflies really stuck with them and impacted their view of the world.




Weapon Play in Early Childhood: How to be Developmentally Appropriate and Responsive to Current Events

“Bang, bang. Got you!” Have you ever heard these words on the playground? Even though many adults are uncomfortable with children engaging in weapon play, it happens regardless. Recently, our school has been discussing whether weapon play should be allowed, and if so, with what parameters. As our executive director, Meredith McMahon, put it, we need to consider three key perspectives when making this decision: what is developmentally appropriate for the children, what the expectations are in their future schools, and what is currently happening within our larger society.  Balancing these three considerations and the multiple perspectives of faculty and families has made this a difficult topic to navigate.


Developmental Appropriateness

While it can be jarring for an adult (especially those who have been affected by gun violence, as some of our SEEC community has) to see a child pretend to shoot a peer, children do not have as much life experience as adults and therefore do not fully understand the complexities of weapon play. For example, while school administrators in North Carolina saw a five-year-old turn a stick into a gun and threaten to shoot and kill her classmates, the five-year-old in question saw herself playing an imaginary game in which she pretended to be a castle guard and defended her friends, the king and queen. Children often see their favorite super heroes or movie characters using weapons, both real and imaginary. For a child whose entire lived experience is fodder for their play, it can be hard for them to understand why guns, lightsabers and swords are off limits.

In our experience, simply saying no to all weapon play, especially without an explanation to why it is being disallowed, will do little to stop the play. Instead, children might become more effective at hiding this kind of play. As one faculty member said, “They’re still going to do it, they’re just going to do it behind your back. It takes away from your relationship and ability to guide them through it and lead them to best practices in playing it.”

Research has also shown that there is no correlation between weapon play as a child and later weapon use, but instead is linked to higher social competencies. Weapon play is just one facet of a child’s play and through it children can learn communication and problem-solving skills as well as develop their imaginations. For example, one of our preschool educators shared a recent experience with her class on the playground in which the children were pretending to shoot things. She asked what they were doing and they told her that they were using bubble blasters to trap bugs, specifically mosquitoes. They began going around the playground together looking for bugs and pretending to trap them or blast them away so they wouldn’t get bitten.


Future School Expectations

While we at SEEC can discuss and commit to a stance on weapon play, we recognize that our students will eventually leave SEEC and attend a school whose rules around weapon play will most likely be different. In recent years, many news stories have emerged detailing how young children have been suspended for engaging in weapon play, or simply drawing a weapon to accompany their drawings. We want to ensure we are preparing our students for the next step in their academic career, which means preparing them for expectations in their elementary schools.

As our older children get ready to make this transition, our faculty discusses what they can expect going to a new school; that some rules that they have at SEEC may stay the same, and some may be different. We’ve been including weapon play in this discussion, however one PreK-4 educator expressed concern that a child could leave before these conversations take place (due to a family move, etc.) and that we will not have prepared them fully.


Current Societal Climate

The current climate in the country and world is not something to be taken lightly. As one faculty member pointed out, children hear and see images related to weapon violence through the media, whether it be in passing on the news, the radio or on the cover of newspapers, books, and websites. Mass shootings and police shootings of unarmed citizens are an all too common reality in our country. People of color are disproportionately affected by these killings, making these occurrences not only disturbing, but a social justice issue. At school, we also have active shooter drills, in which the children hear the language “there has been an active shooter reported in the building,” while we practice hiding. To think our children are not absorbing weapon related images is naïve and to ignore how the current state of the country affects them and their future is irresponsible.  At our most recent meeting, several of our team thought broadly saying, “What kind of voice do we want our school to be? Weapon play is important, but we’re impacting these children’s lives every day and I would love our world to be less violent.” Another said, “This is a hard topic without one clear answer, but what are we doing, proactively, to promote peace and foster a culture that values that?”

No matter what our final decision may be, our team is committed to creating language around this topic to use with the children (similar to our current “SEEC Speak”). Communicating our reasoning and intentions with families is also imperative to ensure continued open lines of communication as questions and concerns arise. Our book club is also planning to read Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by Gerard Jones for our next meeting to further our understanding on this complex topic.

What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Natural Moments with Literacy

Emergent Literacy_Pete's a Pizza_Playing with Books

It sometimes feels like we are at a cross-roads in education. On one hand, many schools are focused on academic assessments and goals – even in the early years. On the other hand, there is a growing movement to slow down and let kids be kids. Does learning how to read earlier really make a difference? My personal experience suggests that earlier is not necessarily better. My eldest daughter, whom I, admittedly, pushed in preschool to learn the alphabet, is an excellent reader. But my youngest daughter, whom I never pushed, is also an avid reader and has been reading “above grade level” for a couple of years now. As caregivers, it is hard to know what is the right approach. We want the best for our children, but we too feel pressure. We also feel compelled to prepare our children for their next steps. So while many of us, educators and caregivers alike, might not subscribe to the idea the reading earlier is better, we still might feel obligated to help prepare our children for the demands that society and our educational institutes place on them.

At a recent professional development day workshop, we were asked the question of how we address issues of literacy, especially within our emergent curriculum. This question made our team stop and think — not because we don’t consider literacy, but because, we realized, it is embedded naturally into the work we do with children. When we think about literacy, we think about how it supplements the children’s natural curiosity, how it enriches the environment and play, and how it connects to our learning within museums and the community. At SEEC, we are not necessarily teaching children how to read but offering them literacy rich experiences that connect to topics in which they are interested and make sense within their daily routine. As part of our reflection on literacy, we compiled a photo journal of what it looks like in our classrooms.  We look forward to continuing our discussion at our upcoming workshop Emergent Literacy Using Objects.


Words and letters can be seen on almost every element of  our classrooms. We are careful to put signs at children’s eye level even if the children are too young to be able to read them. Children see adults gaining important information from looking at these signs and will often go up to them and try to decode information as well. To make this more developmentally appropriate, we pair the written words with images. These images make the signs and letters more meaningful to the children and helps them to pair words with ideas.

Emergent Literacy_signs with words and pictures_transportation_graphs


Emergent Literacy_signs with words and pictures_bathroom_handwashing



Having a group of young children move from one activity to another always proves to be a challenging time in a classroom. We regularly use games and songs that focus on letters, reading, and literacy to help ease the stress that comes with transitions. As children grow we make these transitional games more challenging to meet their developmental needs. For example, in our two year old classroom each child may try to find the first letter of their name before they leave circle to wash their hands before snack. This game is adapted in the four year old room to trying to find all or most of the letters in their name. This activity helps to keep the group engaged and focused as they prepare to begin a new activity.

Emergent Literacy_letter_transitions_ (1).png


Children learn through play and play has been show to be vital to children’s overall well being. Yet many parents and educators grow concerned that children will not have the opportunity to learn basic academic skills if they spend all their time playing. At SEEC, we integrate play and academic learning by providing opportunities for both to occur simultaneously. For example, if children are pretending that they are at a restaurant, we will put out pads of paper and pencils so the pretend server can write down the order.

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Sensory play also encourages young children to try to pick up and explore new materials. While interacting with these materials, children are strengthening the same muscles and coordination that they will use when holding a pencil and writing.

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Our use of community, museums, and objects is a key component to literacy at SEEC. In some cases, it is as clear-cut as narration for our youngest students. Children who have the opportunity to learn outside the walls of their classroom, also have the chance to expand their own world. As they see things, our educators are there to respond to them and help them build their vocabulary. For our older children, our faculty often finds naturally occurring instances to recognize letters and symbols. For example, reading street signs. We also feel that using the community can help children connect words with real objects and thus, facilitate their understanding. Children learn that the color blue can be a deep, dark blue in a painting at the Hirshhorn and also the light blue they see in the sky. Our community also allows us to explore language and literacy via different perspectives like the one pictured below. In this case, children learned about the artwork of Xu Bing and thought creatively about how to apply language to their own artwork.

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Songs & Emergent Literacy

Drum and LiteracyIf you visit our toddler and twos classes you are bound to hear joyful voices singing songs as they begin their morning routine. The classes sing hello to each student, use songs during their morning circles, and to help ease transitions throughout their day. While a chorus of young voices is undeniably sweet and fun, their singing is helping to set a strong academic foundation by strengthening the children’s pre-literacy skills.

Songs & Vocabulary

When children hear a song, they are exposed to new words. The words that young children hear, whether spoken or sung, are the words that form their vocabulary. The repetitive nature of many song lyrics, combined with the fact that children are likely to hear the same song many times, gives them the opportunity to fully learn new words. Later in their academic lives, this understanding of a variety of words will help with their ability to read and their overall reading comprehension.

Songs, Sounds, Rhymes

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For very young children, listening to songs exposes them to the many different sounds that make up our words. As you sing a song, you emphasize certain sounds and by doing so, you highlight the building blocks of our language. Singing gives the youngest children the opportunity to mimic and communicate with these sounds in a way that is ideal for toddlers. When singing, they are given the freedom to be loud, let their voices ring, and play with sounds. Additionally, a child whose words often slur together or who regularly skips words while speaking is often able to sing a tune in such a way that an adult will know what they are singing. This can hold true even in cases where the adult is not able to understand many of the individual words being sung. Children rely on the sounds they learned while singing when they start sounding out words and when they are developing the ability to read.

As young children develop pre-literacy skills, they begin to have the ability to rhyme. Singing songs such as Willoughby Wallaby Woo, Down by the Bay, and Silly Nilly Name Song allow children to explore rhyming sounds while singing. Pausing before you say the rhyming word can give the children the chance to fill it in, which helps children progress from hearing rhymes to creating their own rhymes. These singing games can provide hours of entertainment while challenging young children to explore sounds and rhymes.

Songs, Symbols, & Letter Recognition

A crucial component of learning to read is recognizing that the letter “m” means the sound “mmm”. In order to learn this, children must first understand the use of symbols, because the letter “m” is a symbol for the sound “mmm”. Children begin recognizing symbols well before they are ready to read and symbol recognition is considered an important pre-literacy skill. While using songs to help children understand letters may seem unlikely, song cards offer the ideal opportunity to pair singing with symbol recognition.

Songs cards are images that are used to represent or be a symbol for a particular songs. For example, an image of a sun might be used to represent Mr. Sun and a star might be used to represent Twinkle, Twinkle.  When using song cards, make sure that image is large, engaging and/or colorful. Also be sure that the images are double sided and laminated for durability. Then dramatically spread the song cards out in the middle of the circle and encourage the class to explore the cards. As they pick up the images, sing the corresponding song. Over time, children will learn that specific images represent their favorite songs and will go out of their way to find these images. Young children love using these song cards because it helps them to communicate what songs they want to sing  without having to come up with the name of the song or even the tune. In essence, song cards help young children to learn about symbols in a way that is appealing to them by helping to fulfill their need to communicate their wants and desires.

Join Us & Learn More

Singing is one of many ways that can help young children develop pre-literacy skills in a way that is developmentally appropriate and intrinsically rewarding. At SEEC, we use books, art, and objects engage young children in literacy. If you are interested in learning more, come to our Emergent Literacy workshop on Thursday, November 29 at 3:30 pm.