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


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


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


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


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


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

Preschool, questions, yes no, books

Newly Verbal: Creating a Responsive Environment:

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

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

Educator: “Where are the cockatoos?”

Toddler: Points to a cockatoo

Educator: “Where’s the other cockatoo?”

Toddler: Points to an owl

Educator: “Oh that’s an owl”

Toddler: Points to the owl

Educator: “Owl”

Toddler: Points to a different owl

Educator: “Owl”

Toddler: Points to an owl again

Educator: “Owl”

Educator: “Owl. Hoo Hoo”

Toddler: Smiles and attempts to make “Hoo” sound

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

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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.

Preschool, questions, yes no, excitement


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

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

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

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

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





Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Class Explores Butterfly Wings

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

Cover Photo


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

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

Butterfly Review

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

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

Lesson Implementation:

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

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

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

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

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

Butterfly wings, songs

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




Family Day Celebration


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.


SEEC Self Care - Copy

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.


  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!


  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.”


  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.


  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!

Week of the Young Child 2018

For this past week, we have been celebrating the National Association for the Education of the Young Child’s Week of the Young Child. Week of the Young Child was started in 1971 and we are excited to help promote a week celebrating children and their caregivers, including parents and educators. This week also serves to bring attention to some of the unique issues surrounding early childhood and to highlight children’s incredible ability to learn while promoting young children’s need for bonding, love, and emotional support.

Since each day of the week has its own unique theme, we have decided to compile some of the resources that we used throughout this week in the hope that you will find these resources interesting and inspiring.

Music Monday

SEEC believes in the importance of music and movement, which helps to promote language, literacy, motor skills, and more! We even have our own music teacher who visits all of our classes.

Here are some other resources related to music:

Tasty Tuesday

Eating may seem like a simple, everyday task, but children are expanding new horizons while consuming meals together. They have to practice navigating new social experiences and also have the opportunity to be introduced to unfamiliar tastes and textures.

Here are some other resources related to eating and preparing food:

Work Together Wednesday

At SEEC, we embrace play as a crucial form of learning. We encourage children to interact and work together to develop their social-emotional skills and believe that when young children work together they will develop novel solutions to any problem which may occur.

More resources related to working together:

Artsy Thursday

Even the youngest of children benefit from the opportunity to create. These enriching, multisensory experiences help them make sense of their world.

More resources related to creating:

Family Friday


We were lucky enough to have Family Friday and SEEC’s Grandparents’ Day fall on the same day. We love having the grandparents visit – almost as much as the grandparents love visiting our SEEC classrooms and going on museum visits with their grandchildren!

More family resources:

Book Club: Free to Learn

For our most recent book club we read and discussed Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray. We were initially drawn to this book because of how it embraced play and we were excited to read, learn, and discuss teaching methods that are not often embraced by the public schools. Our book club meeting was lively and you can find a recap of our discussion below.


Trustful Parenting vs. Trustful Teaching

Gray describes trustful parenting as the belief that “children’s instincts can be trusted, that children who are allowed to follow their own wills will learn what they need to learn and will naturally begin to contribute … when they have the skills and maturity to do so” (26). He explains that this style of parenting has deep roots in human history and was used by our hunter-gather ancestors whose children were “allowed to spend most of their time playing and exploring freely” (28). Gray traces the decline of trustful parenting to the decline of neighborhood playgroups and the rise of fears about safety and future job employment opportunities for their children as well as the role of schools (213 – 218). Gray advocated for a resurgence of trustful parenting and argued that considering alternative schools might be a necessary step to becoming a trustful parent (226-227).

Since trustful parenting and the education system are seemingly at odds with one another. We decided to look critically at the parenting philosophy and see how if it could be adapted to a teaching philosophy that we could embrace at SEEC. In some ways, it was easy for our SEEC educators to say that they were on board with a trustful teaching philosophy. We fully embrace the importance of learning through play and exploration and believe in child-directed learning. We hesitantly agreed to the children’s use (or at least being exposed to) of adult tools, even the dangerous ones, because we believe that children learn through objects. At school, we are comfortable with children taking risks, while as educators we simultaneously try to minimize hazards. This balance between risk and hazards was what Gray was describing when he explained that children are trusted “to have enough sense to not hurt themselves” with “some limits”, such as the “poison-tipped darts or arrows (that) are kept well out of small children’s reach” (29).

There were reasons that we had difficulties embracing the philosophy of trustful parenting and therefore were unable to adequately adapt it. In many ways, being a teacher and trying to impart knowledge on a child goes against the philosophy of trustful parenting. As educators, we all felt that a crucial part of our jobs is to impart knowledge. This means that while being receptive and responsive to the children, we make lesson plans with the goal of opening their eyes to new things. We actively monitor our children to make sure that they are meeting developmental milestones and try to seek out ways to encourage growth in areas that children are not mastering by themselves. While we trust children to learn, we also hope that our children will trust us as teachers to help guide them.

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Rethinking Shame and Discipline

While Gray mostly focused on shame used as a tool against older children, we found that this argument could be applicable to the field of early childhood education. Gray explains that using shame as a tool to entice children to perform better actually causes an increase in cheating (73). While young children are unable to cheat, they are able to lie and we know that children are much more likely to lie about a situation if they are worried that they will disappoint us. For this reason, we decided that it is crucial to look at how we are treating children when we are disciplining or redirecting their behavior.

At SEEC, we never purposefully shame children into changing their behavior. But, we wondered if there were times when we might have been shaming unknowingly. While having this discussion, we came to another question, “What is the difference between correcting and shaming?” We decided that at least one key component of trying to change a problem behavior without shaming was to describe why that behavior cannot be allowed to continue. Rather than saying “Don’t do that!”, we should say “When you hit, it hurts my body” or ask an older child to explain why that behavior cannot continue by asking them “Is that hurting someone?”. These are pillars of SEEC’s behavior management philosophy and we feel comfortable using them. After reading Free to Learn and thinking deeply about the role of shame in discipline, we left the discussion unable to draw a distinct line between correcting and shaming. In the end, we decided that we all needed to go back to our practices and be mindful of this topic.

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Alternative Schools

Much of Free to Learn is a description and study of the Sudbury Valley School. Gray explains that to “visualize the Sudbury Valley School, you have to set aside all of your notions of what traditional schools look like, including your notions of what progressive versions of traditional schools look like” (88). We found this statement to be true. Sudbury valley is indeed “something entirely different” (88). The Sudbury Valley School is founded on the belief that the students, as a democracy, run the school and are in charge of their education. Staff members, which there are very few of, are not called teachers “because they recognize that students learn more from one another” (90 – 91) and must be reelected by the students yearly to keep their positions (90). Children are able to explore the entire campus whenever they want, do not have grades or tests, and do not have to join a single class. The principle tenet of the Sudbury Valley School is that “each person is responsible for his or her own education” (91).

In some ways, the Sudbury Valley School was almost impossible to compare to other schools. As a group we found this both frustrating and enlightening. It was frustrating because so many of the practices highlighted seemed impossible to adapt to other schools, particularly public schools. We discussed how some public schools want to be progressive, but testing and pressure make it impossible. The pressure on schools, teachers, and students is so overwhelming that no one is willing to experiment or try new educational methods. This problem also extends past discouraging teachers from experimenting with new educational methods. It was recently discovered that D.C. public schools graduated more than 900 students who had not earned their graduation last year. With this need to push children through the school system, rather than considering their needs, how can schools be expected to take a gamble and embrace such extreme teaching alternatives?

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Ways to Incorporate Ideas at SEEC

 At SEEC, we are lucky to be able to discuss concepts, adapt them, and implement them in our own ways. Even though our student population is under the age of six, we value their voices. Students as young as two years old regularly hold votes about what the class should learn about next. At the beginning of the school year, our four-year-old classes create a class contract, which explains the rules of the room, and the teachers and students sign it. We are able to embrace democracy within limits and still give each child a voice.

We believe that children are constantly learning from each other. Rather than try to solve disputes, we give children the words to create their own solutions. For example, if two children are fighting over a shovel, we could say, “It is Sally’s turn for five minutes and then it is Jose’s turn for five minutes”. Rather than forcing a teacher directed solution in that manner, we say “I see there is problem here. What should we do to fix it?” The children may very well choose a five minute on, five minute off solution, or they may decide that Jose should play with it because he is wearing blue shoes and the shovel is also blue. So long as both children agree, a SEEC teacher will happily accept this solution. We believe that when children are given the freedom to learn from each other, they learn critical thinking and real life skills. Our goal is to help children discover these skills and grow to love learning.

While we were unable to incorporate all the things that Gray advocated for in Free to Learn, we were able to have a vibrant discussion on the book. In the end, we valued Gray’s embrace of learning through play but advocated that thoughtful educators can have a meaningful place in a young child’s learning.

Top 5 – Elements of a Great Read-Aloud

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 Teacher for American 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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Read-alouds are my absolute favorite part of the day in my kindergarten classroom! You can often find me animatedly reading my favorite stories to my captivated students. Beyond simply reading the text, I am actively asking and answering questions to help my students infer meaning from the text. Not only do I love reading aloud to my students, I make sure to intentionally plan each and every lesson to teach the necessary skills my kindergartners need to develop their literacy and comprehension.

It is well known that reading aloud to children is great for developing early literacy skills like print awareness, one to one correspondence, and letter and sound recognition, but did you know that reading aloud to children could be the most important way to build comprehension skills? It helps young children understand what they are reading by allowing them to make connections, infer meaning, and develop higher-order thinking skills. Reading aloud is an important activity to do at home too, as research shows that children’s brain activity increases when parents or caregivers read to them.

At school, a read-aloud is a planned part of reading instruction where a teacher reads aloud to their students. It is an opportunity for a child to witness the ways a confident, expert reader approaches reading a story. It gives children the chance to hear how a fluent reader reads text with expression and excitement while allowing them to think through the various elements of a story. Most importantly, it is through read-alouds that children are able to experience the way reading can take them places through their imagination.

Here are five ways that I make my read-aloud lessons as meaningful as possible for the children in my kindergarten class.

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Modeling Thinking Routines

I always remember that when I am reading aloud to children, they are experiencing the many ways a fluent reader approaches text. One thing that I try to do is model my way of thinking, decoding, and making connections to a story. One great way to do this is to use thinking routines when reading aloud.  Some of my favorites are, “This reminds me of the time…” and “Have you ever…?” Although these types of thinking routines may be second nature for fluent readers, this foundational skill helps children make connections to the real world.

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Checking for Understanding

I have to make sure that the skills that I am teaching in my read-aloud are understood by all the children in my group. For example, a student might not be able to make inferences to a certain situation because they have no background schema to connect them to the events in the story. When I ask detailed questions, I can begin to pinpoint where the breakdown in understanding is occurring. It also helps me to glean an individual’s comprehension and understanding. Asking comprehension questions while reading aloud also engages children to think critically about the content instead of simply relying on the adult to break down everything for easy understanding. That being said, it is also important to gradually release responsibility to the child by asking questions throughout reading the text that allow them to build on skills and knowledge they have already acquired.

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Who doesn’t love to see an adult dress up and get silly? This shows that adults are never too old to enjoy a good book and nurtures a lifelong love of reading. It also helps relieve tension for some children who find reading difficult by making it more fun! In my classroom, we love to incorporate dramatic play to encourage children to participate and be involved in reading.



Children are more likely to remember the content when some type of visual is presented such as an anchor chart. Anchor charts are a great way to make thinking visible. I record strategies, processes, cues, guidelines, and other content on a chart during the learning process. Whether it is an anchor chart with pictures to help them identify the setting of a story or steps that show the moral of a story, these visuals help them to build comprehension and make further connections to the story that is being read. I also use these visual charts as a reference to help the children think about what is being read to them and formulate their answers to questions about the text.

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The Right Book

The single most important part of a read-aloud is making sure that I have chosen the right book! I try to choose books that are not only connected to the skills that we are working on, but that are also engaging and exciting. Whenever possible, I try to connect the book to the interests of my students. For example, my students really enjoy books written by Mo Willems, so I incorporate his books into as many of our units as possible. When we were learning about how to identify the setting of a story, we read Knuffle Bunny which takes place in Brooklyn, New York, a place that some of the students had even visited before!

Stay tuned for my list of the Top 10 Books for Kindergarten Read-Alouds!


Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores Setting the Table

This week’s teacher feature highlights one of our toddler classes who explored the idea of helping others by setting the table. The teachers, Lauren Bundy, Morgan Parr, and Julia Smith, had been brainstorming ways to discuss topics such as “family”, “love”, “community”, and “traditions” to help their toddlers prepare for the upcoming holidays. It occurred to them that their class could practice setting the table as way to show that they cared for each other. To experience coming together, the toddlers visited FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 at the National Museum of American History.

Cover Photo


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Lauren began the day by having a class circle where she showed the contents of her picnic basket. Lauren handed out the plates and requested that each child hand their plate to their neighbor. She gave clear and concise instructions and was clearly excited when each child successfully passed on their plate.

The topic of our lesson was “What brings us together?” which we explored by talking about setting and eating at the table. To prepare for the lesson, I thought about the lesson in terms of how we would incorporate the topic in our day. I thought about a circle time activity, a museum visit, and finally bringing it all together by actually carrying out the activity at meal time. Working with toddlers, I have found it to be best if we work on a lesson in small bits throughout the day, rather than at one sitting.

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After passing out the plates, Lauren pulled toy food from the picnic basket. Passing on the toy food proved more challenging for the toddlers, but Lauren was undeterred. She made sure that every child had at least one piece of play food before encouraging them to pass on their food. She also allowed time for the children to play with and explore the food at their own pace.

We were inspired to choose this topic because our Dragonflies love food. And they love seeing pictures of their families. We thought about the holidays and Thanksgiving and we decided to explore the idea of “What brings families together?” We hoped that our class would come away from this lesson with the idea that sharing and taking care of others can be fun. This is something that we work on throughout the year, because a big part of coming to school is learning how to get along in a group setting. We also had some more concrete objectives, which included where to put a placemat, learning to serve food, and understanding the importance of using plates while eating.

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The class finished their circle by singing several songs. Many of the children chose to follow Lauren’s lead and tapped their legs as they sang. Rather than collecting the toy food and plates before starting the songs, the children were encouraged to play and interact with the toys as they sang, which helped them to make connections since the song directly related to the topic at hand.

Songs are how we end every circle time. It’s a cue for them to get ready for the next part of our day and helps them retain something from the lesson.

We sing songs at every circle and always end circle with a song. These songs help the children retain information from the lesson and also act as a cue that we are going to get ready for the next part of the day. To end this circle, we sang a new song that specifically dealt with the topic. The song was called “Thank you for the food we eat” and we sang it to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”.

This song was fun to sing and helped the Dragonflies learn that saying thank you can be enjoyable. We also liked that the song could be interpreted to show thankfulness for the food itself and also to thank the person whose hands helped prepare the meal.

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After circle, as is their normal routine, the class began to prepare for snack by washing their hands and finding their seats. To build off their normal routine, the toddlers were given the opportunity to help set the snack table. One child passed out the cups while another handed out spoons.

Having the toddlers set the table was challenging in some ways. The toddlers are working on developing their fine and gross motor skills so just physically placing the placemat was a challenge. Teaching toddlers requires a lot of scaffolding. Meaning that we work with them to help them complete task that is just beyond their reach of completing themselves.  Inviting a toddler to challenge themselves keeps their interests engaged even if you have to help them.  And letting the child engage in the challenge, helps foster a sense of independence.

For this activity, we first explained how to set the table. Then we showed them an example. Before having them set the table, we asked them to verbal describe the steps that they would take to set the table. Then finally we let them try it for themselves while providing assistance when needed.

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Once the table was set, the toddlers had the chance to practice some self-care skills, which allowed them to be more autonomous. They carefully scooped out cut apples onto their plate and with the help of a teacher poured milk from a pitcher into their cups.

Pouring the milk into the cup was an example of skill that our toddlers were not quite ready to do completely by themselves. We wanted them to practice this skill because the only way to learn is to practice! It can be hard to watch a child do something that you know is going to result in a mess. But we realized that cleaning up is usually not as bad as we think and even cleaning up can be a learning opportunity.

Lesson Implementation:

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The class walked over to the National Museum of American History to sit at the large table in the FOOD exhibition. The table in FOOD was different from the classroom tables. It was very large with many white chairs surrounding it. The first challenge for the class was figuring out how to climb onto the chairs. Once up, the class was able to gaze across the table and see their classmates and teachers.

We chose to visit the National Museum of American History’s FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 exhibit because it has a communal table where we could experience coming together. While visiting the FOOD exhibit, we gave our class the opportunity to practice setting the very large table. Our class loved visiting the exhibit and it gave them the chance to experience setting a table outside of our classroom and in the larger community.

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Upon getting to the large table, which is in the middle of the exhibition, the class once again practiced setting the table. Doing the task in a new setting was exciting for the toddlers. They had to learn how to navigate the new space and to use their already practiced skills on the large table.

It is always helpful to make connections outside the classroom. For this lesson, we repeated the experience of setting the table, but this time it was in a new setting. We purposefully chose to repeat the activity, because each time we repeat something we talk about it in a slightly different way, which allows our class to build more connections. While in the FOOD exhibit, the large table became the focus of our toddler’s attention. We were able to compare this large table to other tables that the class had seen elsewhere.

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The class then began doing what many people do when they sit at the table; they began conversing with each other. While some children talked and pointed, others listened and observed, and still others took the opportunity to play and explore. The group was able to enjoy their time together while sitting at the table.

We then sat around the table and talked. In some ways this was very similar to our snack and lunch times. We frequently sit with the kids and talk to them about their food, some element of the lesson, or just little things. However, we did focus our conservation on the large table and the experience of coming together around it.

Even though we chose to visit this table because of its large communal size, we were surprised by the size of the table compared to our toddlers. In our classroom, everything including the tables and chairs are child sized. Compared to the tables that we had just eaten snack on, this table was enormous. This extra element made it more exciting and also made it more interesting to compare and contrast. Both the toddler sized tables in our classroom and this large communal table in the exhibit were tables and yet they were drastically different from each other. We were able to enjoy our time sitting at both tables even though they were different from each other.

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Then the class walked by Julia Child’s Kitchen and stopped to look at her table. While carefully looking, Lauren, Morgan, and Julia led their toddlers in a discussion comparing Julia Child’s table to other tables that the class had seen. They asked, “At your home, is the table in the kitchen like Julia’s or in another room?” This helped the class discuss similarities between their homes while celebrating the differences. It allowed them to gain a better understanding of their class community.

When we stopped to look at Julia Child’s Kitchen, the toddlers noticed the things that were familiar to them like the table and chairs and plates. They also noticed many of the kitchen tools, tableware, and appliances. This was a fun experience because it was yet another table in a different context! Sometimes tables are in the kitchen!


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Before leaving the exhibit, the class paused to watch some videos of Julia Child preparing different recipes including rinsing salad greens. As they watched, Lauren, Morgan, and Julia were able to more thoroughly introduce their class to Julia Child and began discussing the ideas of preparing meals for others.

Reflecting back on this lesson, we could have done some things to simplify and avoid distractions. For example, rather than trying to set the whole table, we could have focused on putting the cups out. Once the children mastered that task, we could have added passing out a different item like plates. We also found that the plastic food was quite noisy when it dropped to the ground at the FOOD exhibit. It might have been better to bring stuffed or felt food with us to the museum.

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When the class had completed the lesson, each child had the opportunity to help another child. Many helped to set the various tables and others helped to pass out food. The children experienced the challenge of passing on something that they valued and would have liked to keep for themselves, but with the support of their teachers, Lauren, Morgan, and Julia, all were able to be successful at the various tasks.

Since we finished this lesson, our toddlers have been setting their own table during snack times. We now choose one child to help us pass out each item (cups, plates, and utensils). Since they have responded so well to this, we have continued to practice pouring. Now at snack time, we give each child a small pitcher with milk or water to pour into their own cup. We also have them scoop out a small amount of fruit for themselves with a spoon. They love being able to have the independence of getting their own sustenance. Most of them are able to pour and scoop their own drink and food without any mess at all; even with those who have a little spill, it’s minimal. And this gives us an opportunity to allow them to use a washcloth to clean up.