Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Farm to Table

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Meg McDonald, Katie Heimsath, and Laura Bonilla in the toddler Dragonfly classroom. Their class was showing interest in animals and food so they decided to learn about how food comes from the farm to their table. I joined their class for a special visit with the head chef at the National Museum of American History. Below you will find a reflection from Meg, Katie, and Laura and images from their visit.

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What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

Our unit was on food; we talked about different kinds of food and the different places that it came from. The children were familiar with lots of fruits and vegetables, so this was a great way to reinforce that knowledge while integrating and exploring the places we get our food from, like a farm, a store or a kitchen.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We chose to visit the kitchens at American History to show an example of a type of kitchen. As an added bonus, we knew that Chef William would make a pizza for us! Our class loves pizza.

 

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

Visiting the kitchens at the Museum of American History was a fantastic real life example of where we can get our food. Our class is familiar with their kitchens at home and the kitchen at our school, but we thought it would be an exciting experience to see a bigger kitchen with a walk-in refrigerator, a huge stove, and a pizza oven. They were able to see familiar objects in a different context and larger scale. We were also able to take a short peek at the chefs making our pizza. We hoped the children would walk away seeing a new example of where food comes from.

 

What was most successful about your lesson? How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic? What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

The walk-in refrigerator was a huge hit. The previous Monday we had hands on exploration of lots of vegetables which our Dragonflies immediately recognized in the refrigerator.

In terms of logistics and preparation, the visit went very smoothly. Our class was eager and excited and had a great time. Chef William was a great host and was very flexible and amenable to having such a young audience in the kitchens.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic? What was challenging regarding logistics?  What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Our class absolutely loved seeing a new and exciting space. This may have been our downfall though, as the connection to our lunch may have been lost. There was just so much to see! In the future, we could have made the visit focus on something a little more specific, like the pizza oven.

Here are a few images from their unit on farm to table:DSCN4198As a way to conclude their unit and talk about food once it reaches a kitchen, the team thought it would be great to meet with a chef and who better than the chef in charge of the food at the American History Museum. The head chef very graciously offered to show the group around their kitchen to see where they serve and prepare the food for all the people in the museum.
DSCN4207The chef began by showing the group the MANY ovens, huge stand mixers, and all the chefs that it takes to prepare the food.

DSCN4211The children loved seeing the huge ice machines. 
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The chef explained to the children that they use a huge refrigerator to help store and keep the food fresh until they can prepare it to serve to the visitors.DSCN4222 DSCN4223After the tour and seeing the different ingredients needed to make a meal, the chef prepared some food for the children to sample. A perfect ending and a great way to connect the American History Museum’s great big kitchen to the familiar experience of eating pizza.
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The last stop was a visit to the kitchen’s industrial dishwasher, so the children could observe how their dishes are cleaned after they are used. Each child had a turn putting a cup on the conveyor belt. They were so excited to watch their cup come out the other side!

As Meg, Katie, and Laura finished up their unit on farm to table, the children gained plenty of great ideas about food preparation in all different types of kitchens. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on farm to table! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature: Art Enrichment Explores Andy Goldsworthy

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Carolyn Eby, our art enrichment educator. Carolyn has the pleasure of working with all the children in our school on age appropriate and creative art projects. Today I joined Carolyn in the two year old Firefly classroom. This group was learning all about the Arctic so Carolyn decided to do an Andy Goldsworthy’s inspired ice sculpture lesson. Below you will find a reflection and images from Carolyn’s lesson.
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Teacher Feature

What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

The Fireflies have been studying Arctic habitats, which led me to the idea of working with snow or ice. I really enjoy taking the topics that students are working on in their classrooms and try to further their experience with that topic. For this topic I knew I wanted to work with ice and snow (since we have an abundance of these materials in DC right now), something that people do not usually associate with art making. Thinking of artists who work with ice or snow as a medium I knew I had to do something related to Andy Goldsworthy!

Why and how did you choose the visit?

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist that I think inspires both the young and old to go out in nature and play.  Unfortunately, most of his work is impermanent so there was not an ice sculpture I could take the Fireflies to visit. I did however bring to the classroom several laminated copies of his works such as “Ice Arch”, “Stacked Ice”, “Touching North”, and “Icicles” . We took some time looking at each picture closely and noticed different elements of his photos such as shapes, weather, and placement of his sculptures. If I were to continue working with Andy Goldsworthy I would consider going to visit his piece in the National Gallery of Art entitled “Roof”.

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

There are so many things that I, as a teacher and an artist, admire about Andy Goldsworthy’s work. For one, his work exemplifies patience, which is a virtue I think is really important to making art, and also everyday life. The students who wanted to build really had to take time to balance the cubes and try to stick them together. I also really enjoy that Andy is both a sculptor and photographer, and it was so much fun introducing photography as an art form to the Fireflies. I don’t think any of them had ever seen, let alone touched, a point and shoot camera with a viewfinder!

What was most successful about your lesson?

The students really enjoyed watching how the watercolor paint interacted with their ice. Their interest was strong in watching how the ice would melt and change consistency with the paint. At first the paint froze against the ice, but eventually it became a fun soup to mix!

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

The Fireflies and I have continued working on their exploration of the Arctic habitat since this Goldsworthy lesson. After looking at and working with ice as a material we have moved on to snow. This week we looked at the treks that are left in the snow after humans and animals pass. We worked on making a landscape of snow and animal prints!

What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

It is really tough to find a good container to prepare sheets of ice in, so I ended up using the lids from buckets we use to keep toys in our classrooms. It took me quite some time to prepare the ice cubes and sheets of ice with the freezer space available, but in the end it worked out great! We also have a freezer very close to the classroom so I was lucky enough to keep it freezing until I was done explaining what we were going to do that day. It was fun to bring a material that they have found outside on the playground inside to the classroom where they were more free to explore the ice without all the winter layers. With that said, I think it was also a good move to have a huge pile of towels ready, both on and under the table to ensure no slips or boo boos!

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

It would have been a blast to take the Fireflies outdoors and have them work just like Andy Goldsworthy does, in the cold. But I knew that it would not be as comfortable, and not as much exploration would be able to take place. It is possible that sometime soon we will try this lesson again on the playground and compare and contrast the two times. Next time it would also be great to have some old film cameras to pass around during circle time to explore.

What was challenging regarding logistics?

I was expecting the ice to do a little bit more sticking with the use of the liquid watercolors (I was hoping it would sort of act as an ice adhesive).  I was hoping that the Fireflies could make more three dimensional work with the cubes, but they had fun regardless and their sheets of ice looked fascinating!

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

I think it is better to be over prepared than under prepared for this lesson. I mean this in the sense that I made a huge batch of colored ice cubes, regular ice cubes, and ice sheets. This stuff can be temperamental and you definitely want to have a backup if one of the sheets didn’t freeze entirely or broke en-route to the classroom. I was also very cautious about keeping ice on the table and making sure we had a huge pile of towels as a backup.

Here are a few images from her unit on Andy Goldsworthy:DSCN4508Since the class was already learning about the Arctic, Carolyn began her lesson by selecting a book from their classroom. That way the children could make a quick connection to their topic of study and the exploration Carolyn would be introducing.DSCN4540Carolyn introduced the group to Andy Goldsworthy by showing them images of his ice sculptures. She explained that Andy makes things out of things found in nature and the class took a few minutes to think of some things that he might like to create with. Carolyn then went on to explain that unfortunately Andy’s sculptures do not last forever so he takes pictures of his art so that lots of people can see it and record his project. DSCN4544After learning about Andy, Carolyn said that today they were going to make their own ice sculptures. She also bought a small disposable camera for the group to use to photograph their own ice sculptures.

DSCN4506Carolyn cut egg cartons to use as liquid water color containers!DSCN4564Each child was provided with a tray of ice, paint ice cubes and a paint brush. They were encouraged to paint with the liquid water colors and build with the ice cubes. DSCN4579DSCN4584DSCN4587As you can see, this project was a huge hit! The children spent nearly 30 min on their project.DSCN4596

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Once a child indicated they were finished, Carolyn gave them a quick camera tutorial and the child took a photo of their sculpture. I can’t wait to see their images!

Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from Carolyn! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature: Infant Classroom Explores Chanukah

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Logan Crowley, Jill Manasco, and Ashlee Smith in the infant Duckling classroom. Our teachers were once again inspired by the changing environment and the events their children would soon experience so they decided to learn about winter holidays.  I joined their class for a lesson led by Logan on Chanukah. Below you will find a reflection from Logan, Jill, and Ashlee and images from Logan’s lesson.
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What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

We had recently come off a month-long study of music and decided to spend a couple of weeks focusing on winter holidays as a transitional theme. Having a more straightforward theme gave us the opportunity to spend some time observing the kids to see what we may want to explore next. This specific theme also helped us to bridge connections between school and our children’s family traditions, as well as an opportunity to explore cultures other than their own. During this particular week, we were exploring Chanukah and also using that topic as an opportunity to explore properties of light.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

The menorah is a staple of Chanukah and tied in well with the exploration of light as well as it’s lit with either candles or bulbs, in the case of the White House menorah. The menorah is also very large and since our kids are still riding in buggies, I wanted something that they would be able to observe easily. Finally, we were having unseasonably warm weather so it was a perfect time for a nice long walk.

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

In teaching infants, my primary goal is to give them a break from the classroom and provide them with an experience that is interesting and meaningful to them. Anything else is pretty much gravy. In this case, my hope was to also give them exposure to the concept of the menorah and the traditions that many observe during Chanukah.

What was most successful about your lesson?

We made it there and back without anyone falling apart! I think the most successful part was how much they seemed to enjoy the experience in general. It is always a toss-up when we stop the buggies, because if we have chosen something that doesn’t engage them, they become restless very quickly. In this case, they spent a long time observing the menorah. I think having some tangible objects helped maintain their interest- namely sensory bags with pictures of menorahs inside them and a short board book about Chanukah. They spent a decent amount of time manipulating the sensory bags and many of them showed a lot of interest in the book, smiling or pointing as I showed them the pictures.

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

We successfully got out of the classroom and got some much-needed fresh air. The kids also became increasingly interested in our Chanukah books throughout the week. Children, especially infants, love familiarity so the experiences we planned for them, including our visit to the White House menorah, were planned to help them to gain familiarity with menorahs and Chanukah and increased their interest in looking at related materials.

What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

I was really glad I did the sensory bags. They were somewhat of a last minute addition and I think they helped some of the kids who may otherwise have gotten restless quickly to spend time engaging and more thoroughly enjoy the outing.

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

I’m not sure, honestly, I felt it all went pretty well. I might have come into it with a more solid concept of what I wanted to say or a wider variety of manipulatives for them to engage with. I also may have brought a blanket and taken them out of the buggy to give them a bit more freedom of movement.

What was challenging regarding logistics?

We did not have any major logistical challenges other than just getting them out the door, I purposely kept the lesson pretty simple since I knew they may already be tired from the long ride.

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

Think about what interests your kids the most and plan around that. Since this is an object they cannot touch, bring something tangible for them to interact with. And of course, something I constantly remind myself of, it’s okay to throw your plans to the wind and improvise if something just doesn’t work.

Here are a few images from their unit on Chanukah:

DSCN4373Logan, Ashlee, and Jill bundled up their group and headed straight to the National Menorah in front of the White House.
DSCN4399The Menorah is located in the grassy space in front of the White House and set back from the road. So it’s location and size, make it an ideal spot to learn about Chanukah traditions.
DSCN4383Once the group was settled in front of the menorah, Logan provided the children with sensory bags filled with blue water,silver sparkles, and images of the menorah. The teachers then began pointing out the different parts of the menorah and matching them to the images in their hands.DSCN4390 Logan then read the group, My First Chanukah  by Tomie dePaola. 
DSCN4406 DSCN4420Logan also brought along a bag of dreidels and menorah for the children to explore.

Logan, Ashlee, and Jill finished up their unit on Chanukah and started exploring Arctic Animals. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on Chanukah! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Winter

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Melinda Bernsdorf, Meredith Osborne, and Megan Gallagher in the Toucan toddler classroom.  Inspired by their change of clothing and season, the teachers decided to focus on winter. I was able to join their class for a lesson led by Melinda. She decided to focus on showing the children the different ways animals stay warm in nature. Below you will find a reflection from Melinda, Meredith, and Megan and images from Melinda’s lesson.
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What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?
This lesson was the beginning of a week in which we were exploring how to keep warm during winter. We had recently finished a unit on senses and wanted to expand the skills we were building to focus on more specific questions. Besides being seasonal, talking about how to dress during winter fits the daily needs of our students. As the weather turns colder, we spend more time in the classroom getting ready to head outside. We have noticed that this can lead to some frustrating transitions, and saw an opportunity to explore connections between our physical needs and those needs of something well-loved by our class this year, animals.

Why and how did you choose the visit?
The location for the visit was easy to pick. The National Museum of Natural History has a fantastic collection of animals in the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals, including a section focusing on animals of North America that live in the Far North, where it gets very cold. This exhibit space explores different adaptations that northern animals have made in order to comfortably live in these places, such as layers of blubber, thick undercoats, hibernation, burrowing underground, or camouflage to hide from predators.

As a class, we have visited this area of the museum frequently as we really love  animals. The students feel comfortable in this space and recognize their favorite animals. This enables us to move beyond the immediate reaction of surface interest, and go more in depth on a specific subject regarding these animals. Additionally, there is a quiet space directly in front of the animals we wanted to discuss that is well suited for a class of our size to sit and have a lesson. It is a bit out of the way of the main traffic of the museum and is shaped like a little nook, which always helps lessen the surrounding distractions.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)
We wanted to open the conversation with our students about winter clothing. We also wanted to deepen their understanding about adaptations in animals, the ways in which animals are different from each other, and the ways in which animals are similar to people and have similar needs. The idea that fur and blubber are like jackets that animals always wear is a fairly abstract concept that we wanted to make more concrete with as many connections as possible. We also wanted our students to have fun, exciting sensory experiences that engaged their thinking surrounding our discussions. We treated this like a science experiment, helping the students to ask meaningful questions, gather information, and draw conclusions in a natural, unstructured way.

What was most successful about your lesson?
This lesson turned out to have some great moments that we were able to expand on throughout our week on winter clothing. We introduced a new song that got our students excited about winter clothing. We took a song that our student knew well and allowed them to move their bodies (Head Shoulders, Knees and Toes) and wrote new lyrics to fit our lesson. We sang “Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, Scarves and Boots! Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, scarves and boots. Sometimes we even wear snowsuits! Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, Scarves and Boots!” Our students also really enjoyed exploring the ice. At one point, some of the students started bringing some soft animal toys to the ice, letting them also feel the cold. This was a great organic opportunity to talk about the fur and fleece that lambs or bears have and ask thoughtful questions that call for analysis of the information we discussed.

How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?
We were able to talk about all the things we wanted to discuss in a fluid and natural way. The students were engaged and excited about lots of different aspects of the lesson. It set a good foundation for conversations we continued to have with the students and gave them lots of experiences that connected to our topic, giving students chances to process the information in many different ways.
What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?
When visiting museums with toddler students, we try to have very realistic expectations of their abilities and needs. We bring along objects and learning aids that reinforce our message, but that also serve the function of filling a toddlers needs to touch and explore. Each student had a laminated picture of winter clothing or a Far North animal which they were able to hold, feel or stick in their mouth throughout the lesson. Because they were laminated, they were easily wiped down and used throughout the week as we revisited this topic. I also brought adult sized scarves, hats, and mittens made of animals fibers the students could put on to illustrate the idea that fur and fleece keeps warm air close to animal bodies, just as jackets and scarves keep warm air close to people’s’ bodies. One scarf, made out of buffalo fleece was especially cozy!
The students had multiple chances to touch and feel animal fur and fleece. We were able to bring some along to the museum where we could explore these objects while looking at the animals they might have come from. Again, in the classroom they got to explore these objects along with the sensory exploration of ice and cold. It was great that we were able to bring enough of these objects that every student was able to explore them at their own pace and comfort level.
The ice experiment went as smoothly as it did because of preparation. The water was frozen inside of plastic baggies, which allowed the students to see the ice and feel the cold, but kept our objects and students from getting covered in cold water. Each adaptation had its own space so that students could move from object to object, feeling comfortable with the exploration. Some of our students weren’t sure about touching the animal fur, but enjoyed feeling the ice through the fleece or with mittens on. Others loved the feel of the “blubber” bag, made of butter, but didn’t want to put their hand in the gloves.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic?
While we think this lesson went really well for an introduction to a topic, there is always the opportunity to try things another way. In choosing to wrap the ice with the pieces of fur fleece and “blubber,” we were able to let the students have a freer exploration without the necessity of taking turns, but it may have made more of an impact if we had wrapped their hands instead. The contrast of their hands directly touching the ice versus their hands covered in fur not being able to feel the cold may have been more concrete.

What was challenging regarding logistics?
Although it was early December here in Washington D.C., a time we would usually be wearing coats and hats outside every day, this December it was still really warm and we barely put on sweaters to go outside the entire week! It was a much more difficult concept to approach when our students didn’t really have a frame of reference for what it felt like to be cold outside. Because of their age, this is the first winter in which they have any agency over being warm or cold while outside due to the way they dress themselves.

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

While the museum aspect of this lesson was exciting and gave the students a great perspective on the size of the animals and the way they might look in their habitats, this lesson can certainly be accomplished in a more traditional classroom setting. Pictures of animals, books displaying animal winter activities, and larger pieces of fur (or even faux fur if necessary) can be used in the classroom to explore this topic. The ice experiment could be a great activity in a group of winter centers as well. We had out winter dress-up and a small tent covered in blankets to act as a hibernation cave, and these helped to control the flow of traffic in the room, so as to naturally limit the number of students that wanted to be at the ice experiment table.

Here are a few images from their unit on winter:

DSCN4256The class headed straight to the National Museum of Natural History to start exploring their topic! They first stopped in the Icelandic photo exhibition to find some cold environments. These two are pretending to shiver from being in the ice landscape behind them.

DSCN4265Their next stop was animals of North America in the Mammal Hall.
DSCN4268Melinda brought along photos of winter clothing and animals for the children to hold in the gallery, DSCN4274She also brought along animal fur that corresponded to the animals in the exhibits. She explained that animals have different ways to keep themselves warm and safe in the winter.

DSCN4288Melinda then explained that people don’t have fur to keep them warm so we have to get dressed for the winter instead. She got dressed in winter attire and proceeded to sing a winter clothing version of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” (lyrics above). 
DSCN4293The children then took turns trying on different winter clothing items. Melinda included some clothing that mimicked fur or were made from the wool/fur of animals so that the children could feel how warm these animals are kept by their skin. 
DSCN4315 DSCN4329When they got back to the classroom, Melinda had several bowls on the table with large blocks of ice. She then covered each block with a different material: butter bags to mimic blubber, wool, and fur. This gave the children the opportunity to feel the cold and how these materials can protect them from it. One child also tried wearing a wool glove to touch the cold butter.  DSCN4346One little girl brought a stuffed wolf to the table because she had matched the fur in the bowl to the animal.
DSCN4363This lesson inspired lots of curiosity and provided many different interactions between the children and teachers!

Melinda, Meredith, and Megan finished up their unit on winter and started exploring transportation. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on winter! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Fall

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Javasia Finney, Shawna Williams, and Stephanie Jimenez in the Penguin classroom. These teachers decided on fall as their next unit because their children were noticing the changing season in their everyday lives.  I joined their class for a lesson led by Javasia that concluded their fall unit. Below you will find a reflection from Javasia, Shawna, and Stephanie and images from Javasia’s lesson.
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What were your topics of exploration?  Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

During the month of October the Penguins learned about and explored the beautiful season of fall.  We chose this topic because the Penguins were starting to notice the leaves changing colors and falling off the trees. We wanted the children to experience learning about fall with sensory experiments.  While learning about fall we spent some time covering the following topics:

  • foods
  • colors
  • clothing
  • weather
  • leaves
  • holidays
  • changes in outdoor environment

Why and how did you choose the visit?

The day of our teacher feature was actually our last day learning about fall.  For our last day covering this topic we had the Penguins make a large collage using several different materials that had different textures.  They used paint, glue, acorns, glitter, pumpkins seeds, pictures, and leaves. Our collage included all the different topics they learned about. Then I thought it would be a great idea to go visit the National Museum of the American Indian.  On the third floor they have a large painting “The Maidu Creation Story” by Harry Fonseca.  I chose this painting because it has fall colors and reminds me of a fall scene or fall collage.  I had the Penguins sit in front of the painting and we analyzed and made observations about it.  We also shared the fall inspired objects we saw in the painting.

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

I wanted the children to be able to describe:

  • What the weather is like in the fall
  • What kind of clothes are worn in the fall
  • What holidays we celebrate in the fall
  • What happens to the leaves in the fall
  • What foods do we eat in the fall
  • What happens to the outdoor environment in the fall

 

 What was most successful about your lesson? How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic? What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

The lesson was successful because by doing so many sensory experiments during this unit the children were truly able to internalize many of our fall topics.  What helped in terms of preparation and logistics was very simple, it was Mother Nature.  By learning about a topic like fall the children are exposed to the changes that come with the season.  It affects their everyday life, i.e. putting on a jacket, going to the farmers market, carving a pumpkin, or celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving.   They can relate to this topic because they can make the connection between nature and their own personal lives.  It is now two months later and every time we go outside they are still pointing out the leaves on the ground.  They tell us stories about the different color leaves near their homes and helping to rake them.  They now realize that this is happening because it is fall.

What could you have differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic? What was challenging regarding logistics? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson? 

Looking back now I think to better achieve our objectives and expand the topic, we could have talked more about the other seasons.  Then we could have made comparisons.

Overall this particular lesson went really well, the only challenging part of the day was getting to the National Museum of the American Indian.  It is a pretty far walk for two year olds, but luckily the weather was nice that day.  If I could make a recommendation for another teacher, I would probably say choose a closer museum with a similar style painting.

Here are a few images from their unit on fall:

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Javasia began the lesson by collecting books, images and objects from throughout their unit. She went through each item reminding the children how the object connected to a lesson earlier in the month. Javasia even invited a friend to model the type of clothing one might wear during the fall.
DSCN4096DSCN4105Then it was time to start collaging all of their materials to create on collective fall mural. The leaves and sticks were collected the day before during a nature walk around the National Mall. Once each child had a turn they headed to the National Museum of the American Indian.
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When they arrived at the National Museum of the American Indian, Javasia read The Museum by Susan Verde. The book talks about the different types of paintings that can be found in a museum. Since this unit fell early in the year, Javasia wanted to spend some time formally introducing the children to the concept of a museum and the art of careful looking.

DSCN4133DSCN4127Javasia selected the Creation Story by Harry Fonsec because the painting not only reminded her of fall but also provided a lot for the children to discover. She invited each child to tell the group what they saw and talk about the painting. The children spent nearly 15 minutes carefully looking! They kept noticing new things and couldn’t wait for their turn to share.

Javasia, Shawna, and Stephanie finished up their unit of fall and started exploring shapes found in architecture. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on fall! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Trains

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring John Fuller, Brittany Brown, and Brittany Leavitt in the Firefly classroom. Their two year old class was all about transportation so they decided to make it their next unit. I joined John for his introduction to trains. Below you will find a reflection from John, Brittany, and Brittany and images from John’s lesson.
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What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

This week the Firefly classroom started a unit on transportation. We began by exploring a favorite subject of most two year olds; trains! We had noticed a definite interest in playing with trains from a number of our children in the classroom, and decided that this would be a good way to introduce the theme of transportation in general. We also were aware of feedback on some of our surveys that were handed out at the beginning of the year that this was a favorite thing to do at home.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We were aware of the John Bull engine from previous visits to the American History museum, and saw how excited our children became when we passed by it. Children at this age seem to have a love for trains in general, but we also noticed a special fascination with the steam engine, and decided to focus on that theme for a while. Since they usually don’t get to see steam engines in their day to day lives, we thought seeing one that was already somewhat familiar would be a good way to kick things off.

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

The day before, and that morning, we had presented a set of picture cards to the children, first with the names of different cars and engines on a train (including the steam engine), and then with the names of different parts of a steam engine (chimney, cowcatcher, wheels, etc…). We had also identified the parts on a model steam engine that the children passed around. Repetition of information in different contexts is a powerful learning tool, so looking at these same parts on a real steam engine was a way to reinforce the vocabulary words the children were learning in a fun new way!

What was most successful about your lesson? How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic? What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

We wanted the children to have fun and continue to learn the parts of the engine, and both of these goals were achieved. It also let the children see that although steam engines may look different (size, shapes and colors), they share the same parts. This helped when we took another trip to American History later in the week. By the time we got to look at paintings of trains the next week at the Museum of American Art, the kids were finding the parts and telling us about them independently!

In terms of logistics, because it was earlier in the week, we tried to make the trip short and sweet. We find that our class is ready for longer, more involved lessons later in the week, and keeping things brief and to the point (at least initially) sets them up for full successful engagement in the experience. We also made sure to bring along the picture cards, so the children could have a central point of reference for the parts/vocabulary words.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic? What was challenging regarding logistics? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Looking back, there are a number of things we could have done to make the visit even more successful. We could have made more cards once the kids had learned the first parts, and continued learning about the parts of the train. We could have given these cards to each child individually and asked that child to find the part on the John Bull, to personalize the experience even more. We could have done a vignette where the children acted out the parts of the train and then moved as one through the room (this probably would have required some practice beforehand).

Logistically, we didn’t realize until we got there that there was a fence around the engine that made certain parts hard to see. If we had prepared better, we might have thought about a specific way to move around the exhibit, or even taking turns holding children up to see parts that were more hidden.

If others were to do this lesson, I would recommend having a few different paths to follow, based on the children’s interest. For example, if they had a lot of questions about the smoke that comes from the chimney, having some kind of follow up visit prepared that could address that specific question, or if the wheels caught their interest, being ready to show a variety of other vehicles with wheels for comparison.

Here are a few images from their unit on trains:
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John began his lesson by introducing the steam engine to the class. He explained that they would be learning about the different parts of the train and then visiting an actual steam engine at the National Museum of American History.

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John passed around a model steam engine for the children to handle. They enjoyed making the wheels turn and exploring the smokestack.
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They were next handed laminated cards with labeled images of different parts of the train. John pointed out the different elements on the model train. The children were fascinated by the cow catcher and John demonstrated with a plastic cow how the front of the train would gently nudge the cow to get off the tracks.

DSCN4171Then it was time to head to the National Museum of American History to see the John Bull Train. John brought along the same laminated cards and worked with the group to match them to the steam engine.

John, Brittany, and Brittany finished up their unit on winter and started exploring holiday traditions. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on trains! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Teacher Feature: Three Year Old Classroom Explores Frankenstein

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Erin Pruckno and Dana Brightful in the Wallaby classroom. While this class of three year olds were exploring the galleries they noticed their children being hesitant of some of the darker spaces and talking about being afraid of different things. This, combined with Halloween quickly approaching, inspired Erin and Dana to take on the topic of monsters. I joined their class for a lesson on Frankenstein. Below you will find a reflection from Erin and Dana and images from a lesson Erin led.


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Teacher Feature

What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

This fall we focused on exploring monsters! The decision to learn about monsters came from many different places. For one, our students were playing many imaginative monster games together on the playground and in the classroom. It was also October, so it seemed a fun way to embrace the Halloween season! However, one of the most meaningful reasons we chose this unit was because we had noticed that some of our students had expressed ideas of being scared during different experiences. We push our children everyday going into museums–spaces that can be dark, crowded, or noisy– so we wanted to help them develop the social-emotional skills they need to address the fears they might feel at school or at home. Conquering our monsters was a great way to introduce those concepts and push our imaginations!

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We have approached this unit by learning about different monsters in ways that have meaningful connections for 3- and 4-year-olds and make things that are scary or monster-like approachable. I chose visiting Nick Cave’s sound suit because I felt there would be great parallels between his technique (compiling all sorts of cast-off odds-and-ends in a sculptural suit) and the story of Frankenstein, a monster also made of many different pieces put together. It’s also a very eye-catching piece, with sequins and sparkles guaranteed to draw a preschooler’s attention!

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

In this lesson, I was continuing with our unit’s theme of trying to make what was unapproachable—scary monsters—into the approachable. By taking a monster and breaking it down into smaller pieces, I hoped it gave them opportunity to realize there is less to be afraid of than they realized, as well as pushing their imaginations to think about how objects can be used in new and different ways. Finally, I hoped they gained a sense of how it takes many parts to make a whole.

What was most successful about your lesson? How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?

In guiding their looking and letting the students describe to the group what they saw, I was happy to hear how drawn my class was to the piece, as I had hoped, helping us reach our objective of making things more approachable. While the suit may seem daunting or scary at first, close looking showed them that it was made of beads and a bunny, not so scary of things!

During the activity, the students collaged the different pictures, describing what the object was on the monster’s body. For example, a watch became a mouth, or pencils were eyebrows. Listening to these conversations showed me they also understood the concept of using different parts to make a new whole.

What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

I think it was a lesson that was easy to prepare and plan. The key parts for me were an engaging story about Frankenstein, many prepped cut-out pictures of objects, and a template for making the monster and adding the objects. I had planned ahead to assemble our monsters in two small groups. Our class works well in smaller groups instead of a large circle, so I had prepped materials so we were ready to work in two groups. Thinking one step ahead like that made a big difference in the lesson’s execution and helps us stay focused on the task. As we work on developing our students’ attention spans, we try techniques for keeping them engaged such as making sure there is a hands-on component, working in smaller groups, and keeping lessons short and sweet!

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

I had really hoped to use our class tablet to share a video of the artist making his sound suit out of different objects, but we had technical problems with accessing it. I think it would have made a nice addition to further draw the connection to many parts making a whole. Working in a museum environment also means you have to be careful about what materials you bring in, so I didn’t feel comfortable with my students using drawing materials on the monster template as I had hoped. Instead, those will be fun to use later in an extension activity back in the classroom!

Here are a few images from their unit on Frankenstein:

DSCN4015For their Frankenstein lesson, Erin took the group straight to the Hirshhorn Museum to see Nice Cave’s Soundsuit.  She decided to use this object because the artist used many different objects to make one sculpture similar to how Frankenstein was also pieced together.

DSCN4029The Soundsuit  is very bright and colorful, which makes it visually enticing to all audiences. The children were especially mesmerized and very excited to describe what they saw! Erin listened to the comments and explained how the artist used different objects to piece together the suit similar to how Frankenstein was created. She then read the class Frank the Monster That Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves which is a wonderful story that makes Frankenstein seem very approachable. 

DSCN4045 DSCN4065 DSCN4070Then it was time to create their own monster! Erin had pre-drawn an outline of a person and divided it in half. The class was split into two groups and given images of house hold items to collage their monster! Erin concluded by putting the two halves together and having the groups describe the different items they used to create their monster.

Erin and Dana continued to explore real and pretend monsters for a few more weeks. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on monsters! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!