Kindergartners and Exhibit Design, Part II

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Kindergarten Exhibit Survey, Pt. 1

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Kindergarten Exhibit Survey, Pt. 2

In our last blog,  we discussed the first part of our experiment with SEEC kindergartners visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Golden Books exhibit.  When we left off, they had just concluded their first visit.  The following week, they went to the museum again and like the previous time, we split them up into small groups of three.  Each group had an adult and walked through the exhibit with an educator and were given a “survey.”  After these were completed in the exhibit, they headed out to a small circle to discuss their observations with another educator.

The Results

1) Look at the other people do they like this exhibit? Visitor Graph
Comments:

  • Looking closely
  • Beautiful
  • Pretty good
  • Really liking it
  • Liked it
  • Enjoying everything
  • Looking at computer
  • Looking at all sorts of books
  • Enjoying it
  • One person was normal, so…so-so
  • Some were in to it, some were not
  • 1 vote for all 5 choices
  • All the people were different

2) Look at the objects; do you like how they are displayed?Objects
Comments:

  • Lots of color, some were dusty
  • Loved them
  • They books were having a good time because they were safe in the glass and no robbers were breaking in
  • Could not see, too tall
  • Pretty good
  • Pretty good, a little bad though because it only showed one page of the book
  • Didn’t like, hard to see

3) Look at the lights; do you like how they are used?
Lights Graph

Comments

  • Dark but good
  • Pretty good
  • 1 vote for Liked
  • Orange, it was ok, and I liked it
  • ok

4) Look at the colors; do you like how they are used?
Colors Graph

Comments

  • The ceiling was green, there were good colors
  • A lot of white

5) Look at the signs, are they helpful?

Signs Graph

Comments

  • Really focused about creation, someone worked very hard

6) Look at the computers; do you like how they were used?

computer Graph

Comments

  • I clicked on two books
  • You could look at the books, I pressed the button and it read the story to us
  • Really cool
  • I touched it
  • I didn’t get to touch it
  • I chose different books, it was awesome, and not too tall
  • I liked pressing buttons
  • Zooming in was cool
  • It shows the books

7)  Look for things you can touch, did they help you enjoy the exhibit?
Touching Graph

Comments

  • Only one thing to touch
  • Touching the computer
  • Computer was just ok
  • I wish there was more stuff to touch, more computers with newer books
  • No touching uhhhhh

Outcomes

I was surprised that they found the lighting and signs appealing.  Like any exhibit featuring paper, it is a dark space, and I assumed that would be unappealing.  Interestingly when the exhibit designer talked to the students during their first visit, he mentioned that the low lighting help protect the books. I wonder if that made a difference.  I also wonder if it was the spotlighting to which they felt drawn.  Despite the overall darkness, light was strategically positioned to make the cases pop. There was minimal distraction.

I was also intrigued by their positive reaction to the signs.  Many in the group are emergent readers and I thought the labels would have been of little or no interest to them.  I wonder if they were responding to the fact that the educators, many of whom were not familiar with the exhibit’s content, used the labels to help add to their conversations.

That they responded positively to the colors and book illustrations was no shock.  Children are naturally drawn to strong, vibrant visuals.  They are also naturally drawn to things they can touch or tinker with.  The opportunity to play with the computer at the end of the exhibit got them very excited and made them notice more about the objects in the cases, encouraging them to revisit objects and think more deeply about some of their conversations.  Interestingly, the computer engaged many of the children, but not all.  Some of them were frustrated  because they weren’t certain how to work it, but I guess usability for young children is another topic entirely!

Although we didn’t measure this in the survey, its important to note that the children responded to the content of the exhibit.  They were familiar with Golden Books and could make connections to the illustrations, many of which depicted children playing.  At SEEC, we encourage our educators to utilize familiar objects or themes when teaching.  Finding this thread can be difficult when considering the often nuanced and complex nature of many exhibits. Still, I would encourage museum staff to consider how they can incorporate familiar elements as a way to engage a young child’s interest in new content.

 

Government Shutdown Blues

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Our family workshops typically run four consecutive weeks. Somewhere around week three, we slip into a sweet spot. The kids are familiar with me as a teacher. I find myself getting hugs and requests to hold hands on our walk to the museums. The parents get comfortable with each other and the framework of the class. Nobody seems to be judging anyone’s parenting and everyone is enjoying time together. During our first fall workshop, Marvelous Museums, we made it to our sweet spot and then had the rug pulled out from under us. SHUTDOWN!!!!

Politics aside, I was really disappointed that the continuity of the class was interrupted. Developmentally, pre-K children benefit from consistent and frequent experiences. If you are a parent, think about what happens when your child returns to school/daycare after a vacation. It takes time for them to re-acclimate themselves. For example, there is one boy in my class who found it very difficult to share his thoughts with the group. By the third week, his answers came easily and in much louder and clearer voice. Similarly, by the end of the class the children know the safety routine for walking to the museum. The time is takes us to walk is sometimes cut in half because the children know what is expected of them and are excited to reach their destination. Most of all, there is a camaraderie that is established among everyone, which is easily lost. The shutdown has taken away from the meaning and impact of our family workshop experience and while, in the big picture, it isn’t the end of the world, I can’t help but feel frustrated. After all, it is no easy feat to get families of young children into museums on beautiful fall mornings.

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Discussing what is art at the National Museum of African Art

Of course the children enrolled in SEEC’s lab school are bearing the brunt of the impact. Our workshop attendees come once-a-week, lab school students come everyday, many of whom have been coming everyday for years. Consider the effect on the infants who are transitioning to group care for the first time or the kindergartners who are going to have to make-up this time off. And because most of our students were just settling into their new classrooms, the timing of the shutdown could not have been worse. Students were still busy acquainting themselves with a new environment, new teachers and in many cases, new friends. I know many parents are enjoying their time with their children. But, I also know that students are missing their friends and the familiar framework of their school day.

To counteract these blues, I am posting photos from our recent family workshop as a reminder of what we did accomplish. I am feeling optimistic that we will be able to get back to our job of educating soon.

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A boy and his grandmother explore what the meaning of this object.

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Families work together to look at an object and describe its’ features.

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Careful looking, a child decides which object she wants to learn more about.

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Creating collections from items found on the National Mall and sharing with the class.

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Reading Babar’s Museum of Art

Smithsonian Pre-K Classes

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Acting out a Renaissance Composition

In our first blog, I talked about what the museum education department does at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Just to recap, we have two educators who work specifically with our classes here at the lab school. Our director, Betsy Bowers, heads our professional development efforts (more on that later) and my main responsibility is to promote and coordinate our outreach efforts for families who are not enrolled in the school.

Comparing Jackson Pollock paintings

Comparing Jackson Pollock paintings

With Labor Day in our sights, I thought it was the perfect time to take a look ahead at what we are doing for our community families. Last year, we started offering preschool courses. These courses took place over a four-week period, meeting Saturday mornings. Each course had a theme (more information) and met for two hours. In the first portion of our morning, we would do some sort of introductory activity. This activity ranged from exploring a discovery box featuring cultural objects to comparing two paintings. Almost always these activities were meant to be done independently, meaning child and caretaker working together separate from the teacher. (These classes are very literally family classes, so caretakers play an important role). After our initial work, we would come together in a circle to discuss what they had done. Our discussion led us to an introduction to the museum visit.  

Cary teaching

Using hands-on objects to teach in the galleries

After bathroom breaks and the putting on of coats, we head to the museum for what is typically a 20-30 minute visit to one to two objects. During our visits, we use hands-on objects to engage the children in a multi-sensory experience and inquiry to guide the conversation. Museum educators are likely familiar with these approaches of object-based learning and the inquiry method. For educators who are unfamiliar with these approaches, let me suggest SEEC’s line of professional development seminars and/or MOMA’s inquiry course offered through Coursera (just completed it myself, very informative).

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Freer Gallery of Art
Shiva Nataraja, ca. 990
Chola Dynasty, India
Bronze
Purchase–Margaret and George Haldeman, and Museum funds F2003.2

After our visit, we head back to the classroom where we wrap up with a final project.While it’s most often an art project, I do not limit myself to that platform. This is extremely helpful for two reasons; first, sometimes it is not developmentally appropriate for children to recreate the art they have just seen and second, sometimes it’s not culturally sensitive to recreate the art either. A good example of the first scenario is when I did a lesson on the Renaissance and I wanted to talk about composition. They were not up for the challenge of creating a masterpiece that depicted, balance, dynamism and fluidity. However, they could connect to these concepts by acting out their own birthday party photo and seeing the results. And when we do our class on Hinduism and visit the Freer’s Shiva Nataraja, we opt to look at videos of Bharatnatyam dance, do a sample of mudras and keep a beat with bells on our ankles. All activities are meant to build upon the concepts introduced through the lesson in a way that is interactive and self-directed.

This year we also offering infant and toddler class, so keep an eye out for future blogs about these audiences. In the meantime, let me know what is working for you with young audiences in your museum!

An Intern’s Perspective of SEEC

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Written by: Beth Anne Kadien
Rising senior at Georgetown University – SEEC Summer Intern

I started in January doing behind-the-scenes work for SEEC’s Museum Education department, creating a database for the objects and prints that are used in SEEC classrooms. This summer I continued my internship, but in a more hands-on way. My experiences have been varied and always interesting. Moving from archival work to observing and leading classroom lessons was incredibly rewarding, both in what I had the opportunity to learn, and the witty student commentary. I came home to my roommates each day with a new story about the kids, which I have pared down to a top three favorite things overheard at SEEC:
1. One student looking over at me and asking “Hey, do you wanna put your stuff in my cubby?”
2. Asking a student where a colleague and I should get lunch, with a response of “Well do you girls like toys? Because then you should go to McDonalds.”
3. Receiving a superhero alter ego and superpower from one of the Koalas. “You’d be Star Girl, and your superpower would be shooting penguins out of your hands.”

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What I learned, while less entertaining, will have a long-term impact on my career choices. Here it is, the top 3 (okay, really 4) things I learned from SEEC.

1. I am more creative than I thought. One of my proudest accomplishments, making a photo projector out of a shoebox.
I wrote lessons for both SEEC classes and their weekend family workshops, with a range of topics from food to the science of colors and pigments, to transportation. These all seemed incredibly daunting when assigned, but now I know how to better think out-of-the-box so that I can create an age-appropriate and interesting lessons.
2. Even if you think you have enough work, ask for more. One of my extra assignments was helping to write family programming for a partnership with a museum in my hometown of Memphis. It was so worth it!!
3. Be mindful. One thing that is common in the various people I worked with at SEEC is that each employee takes the utmost care in considering others. Museum educators go to great lengths to be a resource to their classroom teachers; teachers know their students’ dietary needs, pet’s names, favorite things, and greatest fears better than I know my own. Each decision made is made with consideration to how it will affect the teachers and students. This is something I greatly admire about SEEC, and it is now a model to which I strive in my on-campus job.
4. Actually the most important thing I learned, is that Splash Day is the greatest day, but you need to remember a change of clothes or else it’s a very cold metro home.
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This summer has been incredibly rewarding, and I am more than grateful for the opportunities SEEC has given me.

Do Museums Make a Difference in Early Learning?

Penguins Engaged w NicoleEvery day our educators here at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC) find ways to use the museums and community to engage young children in deep and meaningful explorations. We know that traditional object-based museums everywhere have taken on the challenge of creating incredible experiences for children under the age of 6 years old. It makes sense, then, that we’ve been thinking a lot about how museums can systematically support the President’s investment in early care and education. As we talk to folks in the field, we’re hearing that we need to pull together and share information. The children’s museum community provides us with an important foundation for this kind of work. If we want decision makers to recognize that all museums are an important resource in preparing children to succeed in school and life, we need proof. Who is doing what? What’s working? Who has research that provides evidence that our efforts are making an impact? Let find out. Tell us what you’re up to and how you know it’s working.

On August 14, the Smithsonian’s Early Learning Collaborative will convene. It would be great to share a few of your highlights as we continue our Smithsonian wide conversation about serving the unique needs of very young audiences. We’ll keep you posted as things proceed!

Building Meaning for Young Children in the Museum

still lifeWhen it comes to teaching young children using the collections along the National Mall, there are some obvious candidates; Wayne Thiebaud’s cakes or traditional still lifes at the National Gallery of Art and the Mammal Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.  But, what about objects that seem less approachable from a young child’s perspective.  Do we forgo teaching about them altogether? And if we do decide to take that leap, how do we approach it?  It’s a question we consider a lot at SEEC and in effort to understand the process a little better, I share this story.

ImageA few months ago, I was teaching a course for children, ages 3-5 on different genres of art; portraiture, landscape, etc.  It occurred to me that the art of the book would be a nice topic to add to the curriculum.  I had for a long time reserved the theme of Islamic art to classes I taught for early elementary-aged children. But, I love the Freer’s collection of Islamic book art and so,  I decided to take the plunge.  Typically I correlate the beauty of the art form with the importance of the Koran in Islamic culture, but with 3-year olds as my target audience, I had to rethink that strategy.  I was plagued by questions: How do I define religion?  How do I explain the meaning of a holy book?  How do I address the topic by respecting different traditions?.  Basically, how do I teach about these objects without overlooking their cultural significance, but in a way that is developmentally appropriate?

The answer was: exposure.  Early learning often takes the form of introducing students to something new.  By simply visiting the Koran pages in the Freer, we were bringing to light a new concept.  To help them understand the unfamiliar, I built on their own knowledge of books.  Before heading to the museum, we looked at classic children’s books and discussed their different features, specifically; text, pictures and the front cover.   I featured a song that helped them remember these and by the time we got to the Freer, the children were able to identify the Koran pages as pages that would be in a book.  They also noticed the writing and easily observed that it was different from the letters we saw in our classroom books.  With a picture of the Arabic and Roman alphabets in hand, we explored the visual differences between them.  For many, the knowledge of more than one alphabet was novel.  They also compared their classroom books and noticed that the illustrations often included people and the Koran pages illuminations did not.   Armed with real flowers and leafs, we explored the similarities between these objects and the Arabesques on the pages of the Koran.  Finally, we looked at examples of book covers and talked about how we had to put the pages together to form a single book.

It felt like a good lesson, but I still had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t do the subject justice. That was when a colleague reminded me that over the course of their development and education, these children would, hopefully, return to the Freer or another museum and build on their knowledge of the Koran and Islamic art, in general.

ImageCertainly, we see that happening with students enrolled in the SEEC program.  When they pass Henry, the elephant in the Natural History rotunda as babies they are learning to identify him as an elephant.  By the time they are toddlers, they can recreate the sound elephants make and most will be able to show you from where that sound comes.  As they reach the age of two, they can learn more specifics like what Henry eats or where he lives.  By the time they are in the Pre-K program, they have a solid foundation and are ready to explore more complex issues.

Instead of cramming a lot of information into one session, I focused on encouraging parents to return to the galleries on their own.  Letting caretakers know the importance of returning to the same object and seeing it from multiple perspectives became part of all my lessons.  It really sets the stage for multiple exposures over time, that will help children understand the complexities and nuances that are often in contained in just a single object.

CREATING COLLECTIONS WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

Do you have a collection? What do you collect? If you are leaning toward “no”, think again.

On June 14th we ran our day-long seminar for professional development, Creating Collections with Young Children. After establishing soap, tea, buttons, and cooking pots are all valid collections we moved on to the Why?

Why do you collect?   Is it to preserve a memory of a moment? Is it because youwere inexplicably drawn to an item? Is it out of function? Or something you’ve just done for so long you don’t know anymore?   Weather it’s a stack of family photos, a closet of shoes, stickers for scrapbooking, or trinkets from your childhood, they all tell a story.

As humans, collecting is part of our hardwiring. From the days of our hunter-gather ancestors, we still use that natural instinct to process, categorize, and understand our world. The more exposure we have to a concept, the wider our knowledge becomes on that topic. Expanding our mind’s collection of “tree” allows for flexible thinking; it is no longer only a triangle on top of a stick but can flow from a sapling to redwood to a sculpture to a print.

We’ve all discovered the end-of-the-day pockets full of treasures on our toddlers, so we know that the drive to collect it there. They may not be able to explain to us why, but these items chronicle their story.

So how can we use this universal predilection to enhance their learning?   In our seminar we explored a collection on chopsticks, containing prints, text, advertisements, and plenty of hands-on time with the object. We discovered how important is to have a varied collection that presents one idea through multiple entry points. With this basic concept you can use collections to introduce a topic, explore a topic, or expand a topic.

Matisse chat

  • Talking about patterns? Give your students collections of wallpaper and fabric swatches. Throw in Matisse prints and shells to see how they come alive in art or nature.
  • Doing a unit on birds? Sort a collection of feathers, or create a collection of nest materials. Add in Audubon prints and binoculars and magnifying glasses.
  • Interested in the food? Bring in a collection of labels to sort. Top it off with Warhol prints and various containers.

These are just a few way that our wonderfully willing audience of teachers and museum educators brought collections to life. How can you bring collections into your classroom?

Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center – Museum Education

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The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center or SEEC, as it is commonly called, was founded in 1988. It is currently housed in two locations at the National Museum of Natural History and another, at the National Museum of American History.  The school serves children ages 3 months – 6 years and boasts a staff of early childhood educators, art educators, a music educator, a resident scientist and a department of 4 museum educators.

It might seem odd for an early learning center to have a museum education department, but it makes a lot of sense when you consider all that museums have to offer young audiences.   And because of SEEC’s location on the National Mall, it is able to integrate the museum into the fabric of our students’ daily experiences.  Children are naturally curious and museums offer an ideal setting for them to explore, investigate and learn.  Encountering an object helps a child solidify their understanding of a concept and it sparks their imagination.  Whether it’s a trip to the National Zoo to see the snakes, a visit to the Castle to explore architecture or a stop at the Hirshhorn to see examples of modern art, the children are exposed to a variety of disciplines and ideas.

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Pre-K takes a trip to Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to see a statue of Vishnu

So, what do museum educators do here at SEEC?

  • We educate students within SEEC and the larger community – using methods unique to young learners.
  • We are a conduit between our classroom educators and the museums.
  • We maintain and offer resources to support the classroom in the form of hands-on objects, prints and books
  • We provide high quality research and information on objects within the collections and assist our classroom educators in framing that information in a developmentally appropriate way.
  • We plan special programs within SEEC and for museums across the country.
  • We have a unique understanding of museums and early childhood development and combine those perspectives to offer training to early childhood and museum educators.
  • We believe that young children can benefit from museums and we hope to encourage museum professionals to embrace them as an audience.  Similarly, we hope to encourage early childhood educators to see the museum as an informal learning environment for their students.

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    Museum Ed leads Pre-K circle on Vishnu

Our hope is that our blog will open a larger dialogue about early learning and museums.  Please join us and share your thoughts!