5 Books on Families

We thought it might be helpful for us to share some books that we read in our classes that focus on families. These books highlight the ideas that everyone’s family is unique and different (and that is a good thing) while making sure to draw that connection that families are defined by love. Here is our top five list of books on families:

The Family Book by Todd Parr

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The Family Book by Todd Parr provides a lovely overview of families. Its clear and simple prose along with its vibrant colors makes it appealing to even the youngest children. The phrases that are written in the book can almost become mantras for children. After reading it several times, you may hear children saying, “Some families are big” or “Some families are small”. It also touches upon more complex ideas surrounding families including death, adoption, and single parents. The Family Book ends with a message that helps children embrace their unique family.

Loving by Ann Morris

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This book shows images of families from around the world who are taking care of each other. The  photographs highlight families from around the globe that are highly relatable to young children. For example, it depicts children shopping in San Francisco’s Chinatown, eating dinner at a table in Harlem, and a mother nursing a baby in Kenya. The photos not only speak to family, but other universals like adults caring for children and food. The love between the adults and children is clear on each page and the index  provides additional context for each photograph.

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager

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This books features three children playing on a beach. Two of the children ask the other child questions about having two mommies. Both the questions and the answers to the questions appeal to young children and have a wide variety. As the child answers, it becomes clear that both mommies take care of and love the child. This books helps children to discover answers to questions about different families that they might be pondering without ostracizing others.

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer

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Stella Brings the Family is about a child whose class is celebrating Mother’s Day. Stella, however, is worried because she has two dads and doesn’t know who she should bring to the Mother’s Day celebration. She discovers that she has a family that includes Daddy and Papa and also includes Nonna, Aunt Gloria, Uncle Bruno, and Cousin Lucy. She decides to invite them all to the celebration since they all help to take care of her.

Kids Need to Be Safe: A Book for Children in Foster Care by Julie Nelson

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This book addresses a more complicated topic –  that not all children have a traditional family to take care of them. The text is simple and repeats the idea that, “Kids are important. Kids need to be safe.” Children can see this theme supported by illustrations of children being cared for by foster parents and other adults. These illustrations can allow for deeper conversations and potentially provide children who have experienced foster care the opportunity to share their experiences.

These are examples of books on families that we have read to children. Do you have any books that you would like to add to this list? Please let us know!

Do Yes or No Questions Have a Place in the Classroom

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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

Preparation:

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”.

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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.

Reflection:

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Family Day Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Appreciation Week – Wrap Up

Teacher Appreciation Week

Every year, SEEC celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week in a myriad of ways. Our kind and thoughtful families bring in special treats including delicious breakfast food, graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate for s’mores, as well as providing food and drink for an after work teacher social.

 

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We also decided to include the whole faculty and community in the celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. To do this, we pooled our teachers and asked questions about their experiences being a student and about their hopes for the future.  We also asked about the various things that we do for self-care. The answers varied from exercising, to journaling, to collecting and researching moths.

 

Teacher Truths_Advice for New Educators_Teacher Appreciation Week

Another way we strove to include all of the SEEC community in Teacher Appreciation Week was by debuting “Teacher Truths”, which are short audio clips where two SEEC faculty casually interview each other and share their knowledge about being an educator and working with young children. So far, we have done “Teacher Truths” with Katie Heimsath and Brooke Shoemaker as well as Meredith Osborne and Silvana Oderisi.

 

Teacher Appreciation Week National Mall

At SEEC, we are always interested in looking for new ways to celebrate our faculty and highlight the importance of early childhood education. It takes a highly skilled educator who is highly empathetic, creative, and willing to get dirty.

Top 8 Books for Kindergarten Read-Alouds

This week’s blog is written by Silvana Oderisi. This is Silvana’s seventh year teaching kindergarten and her third year with the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center where she is the reading teacher. Prior to joining SEEC, she spent two years as a Corps Member of Teach for America in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as teaching in the District of Columbia. She is passionate about reading, learning languages, and being active.


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As I mentioned in my last blog, Top 5- Elements of a Great Read-Aloud, I thoroughly enjoy getting the chance to read to my group of kindergarten students during our daily read-aloud lessons! As a class, we love engaging with exciting and fun stories that push us to think critically about what we see and hear therein.

Here are some of the books we love the most and how we’ve used them in our classroom.

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  1. Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

This is one of my students’ all time favorite authors. So, suffice it to say that any book of his is bound to be a crowd pleaser for a read-aloud in a kindergarten classroom and beyond! This particular book of his combines silly rhyming words with a very relatable problem. On a trip to the bakery for her mom, Nanette eats all of the warm, delicious baguette before she even gets home! With a twist ending that shows adults can be as silly as kids, the book will have your children roaring with laughter!

  1. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Get ready for another fun book to read with your children. This popular book is one that will have kids re-evaluating the way they treat the crayons in their own crayon boxes. The poignant, hilarious letters from the crayons in Duncan’s crayon box, give kids a glimpse into the point of view of what they had formerly thought of as inanimate objects. In our classroom, we like to use this book to help us practice identifying problems in a story. We define a problem as something the character wants to change, fix, or figure out. And boy, do those crayons come to Duncan with some problems! From arguing over which color is the true color of the sun, to being overused and overworked, or not used enough, each letter provides my class with practice identifying problems and then using critical thinking skills to wonder how we would solve the problem if we were Duncan!

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  1. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk

If you couldn’t tell by now, I am a big fan of comedic children’s books. I love to make my students laugh and see them smile as we think about the stories we read together. I want nothing more than for my students to absolutely LOVE reading, so I try to incorporate as many of these happy moments as I can into my read-alouds. This book, in particular, combines silly characters and a relatable competition to get the last drop of maple syrup making for one hilarious story. In our classroom, we used this story to help us be able to identify a character as the person, animal, or thing (we really had to include that last one in this story) that does the ACTIONS! This helped us look more closely at a character’s actions, which comes in very handy when analyzing character traits, discussing problems and solutions, and more critical thinking questions.

  1. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

While I do appreciate the imaginative and abstract characters in a lot of the books on this list, I strongly believe that it is also important for my students to see and read books that are a positive reflection of their own identities. I try to incorporate books, such as this one, so that the young girls in my class (and especially the girls of color) see their own potential in the STEM field. Reading books like this helps open the doors for young girls to explore their own curiosities about the world and ask questions about how the world works, without feeling like they’re stepping into a “boy’s world.”

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  1. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

Not only do I believe that my students should see their own identities reflected in the stories they read, but I also like to make sure that my students are able to make positive personal connections to other cultures through our read-alouds. This book is based on an African tale, and tells the story of a king looking for the “most worthy and beautiful” woman to be his queen. Mufaro believes that his two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha, are worthy and beautiful enough for the king and they decide to journey to the palace. Although both characters are outwardly very beautiful, their choices and actions throughout the story demonstrate two entirely different concepts of beauty, giving your readers plenty of opportunities to analyze personality traits along the way. This story truly begs the question of whether or not beauty can be found on the inside or the outside and can lead to very powerful discussions with your children about the concept of beauty.

  1. The Napping House by Audrey Wood

A classic Kindergarten favorite, this book is helpful to readers practicing sequencing events of a story, an important kindergarten comprehension skill. My students love the hilarious events that happen in the Napping House and re-tell the events with ease thanks to the silly rhymes and repetition throughout the book. The repetitive phrases help not only with remembering the sequence of events from beginning to end, but also help this age group develop fluency skills as they read, re-read, and read again the same words throughout the text.

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  1. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

I just could not go through this Top 8 list without adding another book by Mo Willems. As one of my personal favorite children’s authors, I really enjoy using any of his books in my classroom for a multitude of learning objectives. In particular, this book is helpful for making inferences about a character’s physical and personality traits. This is a great opportunity to practice identifying personality traits by analyzing the character’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings. Wilbur is a naked mole rat who likes to wear clothes – fancy outfits, fun costumes, you name it! However, Wilbur is the only naked mole rat in his colony who does so, leaving his peers to be outraged by his scandalous behavior. Nonetheless, Wilbur shows determination and bravery to stay true to himself and even dresses up for a royal proclamation wearing…socks!

  1. Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

This book is one of my favorites because no matter the age group, every class I’ve read this book with has been on the edge of their seats to see what happens to the Magic Tree. This book incorporates movements like rubbing, tapping, counting, patting, and blowing that encourage children to participate in the changing of the seasons. The beauty of this book is that the realistic looking illustrations and bodily kinesthetic movement make it fun for many different age groups to read. If you’re interested in learning more about how to make your favorite picture books age appropriate for both toddlers and kindergartners, make sure to check back in for the blog I will be co-writing with toddler expert, Meredith Osborne!