SEEC Shares: Tiny Sculptures (1)

At SEEC, one of our core teaching philosophies is using the museums to enhance our lessons and foster curiosity. Upon hearing about a school inside the Smithsonian, many people are excited and want to know more about our practices. Other people react differently, thinking “that’s great, but I will never be able to recreate that in my classroom or at home”. We actively disagree with this assumption and argue that teachers, caregivers, and parents can bring their children out into the community to engage in object based learning. we understand that for some these community visits are not always easy to implement. For this reason, we decided that we should offer ways for parents, caregivers, and teachers to create SEEC-like spaces and activities that do not involve leaving your classroom or house. Our new blog series “SEEC Shares” aims to be a place that anyone working with young children can visit and be inspired to take ideas to mold them to fit their own needs. (2)

This week’s “SEEC Shares” highlights a class that taught toddlers about sculptures. This particular class was one of our recent Toddler Trailblazers Family Workshops. On the weekends we open our doors to families who come into our classrooms for play-based exploration before heading out on a museum visit with the class. For this Tiny Sculptures lesson, we transformed the classroom to allow for a wide variety of sculpture-based play and then visited Untitled (1976) by Alexander Calder and then Circle I, Circle II, and Circle III by David Smith at the National Gallery of Art. Below you will see some of the many ways that we created experiences to allow the toddler class to explore and create their own sculptures. Hopefully you will find these ideas inspiring.

Classroom & Activities Setup

Straw Sculptures on a Light Table (1)

For this activity, we put a colander upside down on a light table. The light table helped highlight the holes through which the children could stick the pipe cleaners and straws. As an added feature to the sculpture, we found felt flowers that we had previously made using a die cutting machine and felt. (4)

Since this was a standing activity, children could freely enter and leave the activity without having to seat themselves in a chair. The freedom of standing can help children tap into their creative side. Additionally, putting the pipe cleaners and straws through the colander holes was challenging and provided children with the opportunity to work on their fine motor skills.

Playdough Creations (2)

For our playdough station, we used assorted colors of homemade playdough. Often when we first introduce playdough to young children, we do not give them any tools to use. This encourages the children to practice pinching and molding the clay with their fingers, which is crucial to development. For this project, we chose to give the children tools that sculptors would use when working with clay.

Wooden Blocks, Magna-Tiles, and Tegu (5)

We created a block station that was tucked away in a corner. Children were able to create their own block sculptures without fear of someone knocking it over. Mixing the different types of blocks, including wooden and magna-tiles, allowed the children to create in new and unexpected ways.

 Loose Parts (3)

At the center of the room was a large station that was composed of loose parts. Before the lesson we gathered blocks of different shapes and sizes. Since blocks that link with one and another are not technically loose parts, we were careful to make sure that none of the blocks in the loose part area connected with one another either through magnets or through linking mechanisms like legos. We also cut up pool noodles, found cardboard tubes of various sizes, and added scarves to our loose part collection. (6)

To make our loose part area interesting and to hopefully spark creativity, we added materials that we thought the children would never have had a chance to experience before. We filled nylon socks with rice to make a unique form of bean bags and put out a large, white, stretchy tube to manipulate and explore. We also tried to display the loose parts in a way that showed that we valued these pieces without defining what they were or how they should be used.

Found Object Art

To finish up the classroom part of the class, the toddlers were encouraged to create their own art using colored popsicle sticks, rocks and pebbles, and feathers. This activity allowed the toddlers and parents to reflect on what art is and what defines a sculpture. For this project, no directions were given. Children were able to be inspired purely by the materials and create truly process-based art.

We hope that you found this “SEEC Shares” inspirational and are equipped to create your own tiny sculptures activity. For more ideas check out our Pinterest Boards on Toddler and Twos Classroom, Activities from SEEC, Environments, and Learning as a Family.


BYOB: Bring Your Own Baby

SEEC recently began the new program Bring Your Own Baby, which we fondly call “BYOB”. This program expands on the rest of our programming in several exciting ways. More than our other programs, such as our Family Workshops or the Smithsonian Early Explorers, BYOB is geared towards the adults who are bringing the children. The program is broken into two parts – coffee and play and then, a museum visit. (1)

In the development of this program, we considered the needs of both the adults and the babies. The class begins with coffee and the opportunity to meet and chat. We decided to begin this way for two reasons. The first was that we wanted to build in time for a flexible start since we know that it can be difficult getting yourself and your baby out of the house on a schedule (and kudos to all those who try!). We were also hoping to provide parents with the opportunity to create a community through conversation. The topics discussed have been seemingly endless, ranging from how much sleep everyone got the night before to their favorite Impressionist artist. (3)

As we head out into the museum, we are mindful that babies can sometimes be fickle. We are comfortable with crying, babbling, nursing, and even cutting the adventure short because somebody (caregiver or baby) needs to go home early to take a nap. Our flexibility on these tours makes the sometimes stodgy world of museums more approachable for caregivers and babies alike.

For these museum tours, we are hoping foster flexible thinking and spark the imagination of grown-ups rather than going quickly between objects and paintings and unloading a barrage of facts. To make these tours informative and interactive for adults, we have found ourselves modifying many of the tools that we use with young children. This makes our programming more playful and interactive than many programs geared towards adults. We believe approach to learning will make it more likely for you to learn something and leave the experience with something new to ponder. (4)

While the programs are written for adults, we could never forget the babies that are tucked away in their carriers. As the tours progress, we discuss theories in early childhood education and offer ways to incorporate this research into your interactions with your child. We show off some tips and tricks about how to make museum visits beneficial and enjoyable for young children. Our goal for this program is to help parents and their babies have an enjoyable time in the museums.

If you are interested, please sign up for one our our upcoming BYOB classes.

Looking for ways to engage your infant? Check out our Pinterest board on Infant Activities for ideas. 

Teacher Feature: Infant Class Explores Animals

This week’s teacher feature highlights an infant class’s adventure to the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History. The teachers, Erica Collins, Katherine Schoonover, and Noel Ulmer, paired the museum excursion with the book “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you Hear?” by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle. While this experience was carefully planned and curated by the teachers, the infants’ interests ultimately determined which animals the class focused on. By intentionally responding to their class’s cues, the teachers allowed the infants to lead the lesson based on individual interests. Below you will find images from the day as well as a reflection from the teachers.

 Cover Photo (1)

To start their adventure, the teachers passed out safari hats. Each child was given the opportunity to touch and explore the hats. Many tried putting the hats on, taking the hats off, and even experimented with covering their eyes with the hats. In addition to something new to hold, the hats also served as a transitional object to ease the move from the classroom and to the mammal hall.

While in the mammal hall, the children were able to hold animal figurines that matched the animals that they saw in the mammal hall and in the book Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear? These animals helped the teachers personalize the lesson as they could take note of which animal each child was most interested in based on the animal that the children chose to hold. (2)

For these young children, the book itself was an object. They were excited to be able to touch, hold, explore, and even push buttons to make noise. The book, which the class had been reading regularly, helped bridge the gap from the familiar to the unfamiliar large animals. (4)

Most of the children in this class are preverbal, but this does not mean that they are unable to communicate. In fact, the infants use their physical activity to communicate by pointing and making gestures. The teachers were careful to narrate everything they saw and also communicated with gestures while paying careful attention to the children. (6)

Another way the teachers were responsive to the class was by rotating who held the book Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you Hear? If a child expressed interest in looking closer at the book, the teachers would bring the book over to that child. If that child wanted to hold the book and explore it on his or her own, the teachers responded to the wants and needs of the individual by giving the child the opportunity to hold the book on his or her own while the rest of the class observed some of the mammals. (8)

The book, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you Hear?, focuses on the sounds that the different animals make and young children love experimenting with the different sounds they can make. This makes for a perfect pair. While in the mammal hall, the children attempted to mimic the sounds that different animals make. (7)

The last stop on their adventure was to see the polar bear, which is on display up high. The children were captivated by the polar bear and craned their necks upward to get a better view.

Untitled design (1)

Back in the classroom, the teachers were able to continue assessing which animals the children wanted to explore further. The children gravitated towards certain animals. In the picture above, you can see one child actively exploring the teeth of the hippopotamus, which she had seen earlier in the mammal hall, and comparing them to her own teeth.


A reflection from Erica, Katherine, and Noel:


We began learning about animals by exploring the different ways they look, sound, and move. This topic started to emerge within our classroom when the students began to recognize animals and mimicked the sounds animals make to let us know that they had noticed a specific animal. We wanted to show our class these animals up close and personal and to relate them to the books we see them in, the songs we sing about them, and the images of different mammals we encounter every day. Choosing to go to the mammal hall made the most sense since the animals there are so lifelike, other than they don’t make noise, but luckily the students helped us with that. We took safari hats with us to wear as we searched for our favorite animals and the animals mentioned in the book Polar Bear Polar Bear What Do You Hear? We wanted the students to come away from the lesson having made the connections between what they saw and heard in one of their favorite books to the size and shape of the animals in the mammal hall. In preparation for this lesson, we did many different kinds of movement in the classroom to mimic animal movements and often demonstrated the sounds these animals make.


The most effective part of our lesson was showing the students the connection between the animals on the page and the animals in the mammal hall. Creating space for the students to get a sense of how big the animals are helped to expand this topic. Viewing the images of animals on a page, then seeing them in person, and then still being able to connect to the of sound of animals is pretty significant. Our time spent preparing in the classroom and going over the different animals made the lesson smoother. Rather than overwhelming the children with all the massive animals, we gave them time to adjust to each animal. Some students even had favorites, which we had planned to focus on. We were surprised to see which students were really engaged as we went through the mammal hall. Some students, who we had expected to be very vocal because they growl and make lion noises all day, were relatively quiet. We think they saw how lifelike and big a real lion was when we got up close and they were so entranced that they stopped growling and making noise which none of us expected to happen.


Avoiding crowds is always something that is hard to manage, especially in the mammal hall, because it attracts so many people. The book we brought with us also had buttons for each animal to make noise, but it was so crowded that it was hard to hear at times. Luckily, our class had been pushing these buttons for weeks, so they were still able to make the connection even without us using the sounds in the book. After completing our safari hunt through the mammal hall, we continued to look at different animal books, wear our safari hats, and make observations about different animals.

If we were to do this lesson again, we would spend more time discussing all types of animals rather than just mammals. We would also focus on what makes different animals distinct from each other. We believe that looking at more types of animals (reptiles, birds, etc.) would not have hindered the students’ exploration of the mammals, but rather it would have opened up the topic to more discussion and learning.



Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores Sailors

It’s teacher feature Thursday and this week we are featuring a lesson from one of our toddler rooms. The class visited the United States Navy Memorial to learn about sailors, which was part of their unit exploring heroes. The class began with a circle in the classroom where the teachers, Maya Alston, Erica Collins, and Elizabeth Kubba, introduced vocabulary and ideas about sailors. The class then walked to the United States Navy Memorial where they further explored these ideas while looking at The Lone Sailor statue, 26 high-relief panels that show elements of Navy life, and the signals flags. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as a reflection from Maya, Erica, and Elizabeth.

Cover Photo_Toucans

Here are some images from the lesson:

The lesson began with a classroom circle where Elizabeth read US Navy Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta (Author), Sammie Garnett (Author), and Rob Bolster (Illustrator). This toddler class’ interaction with the book was unique in that the children were encouraged to touch the pages. After Elizabeth read a page, she would pause and go around the circle giving each child the opportunity to reach out and touch images in the book. Sometimes she would guide them by asking “Can you find the boat?” and at other times she would narrate what they were drawn to, “Oh, you found the sailor’s hat!” This technique helped the class connect to the book, stay engaged, and ultimately built pre-literacy skills. (1)

In addition to the book, the class had the opportunity to explore objects during the classroom circle, such as a Navy uniform. The class not only looked at, but also touched the uniform. This helped them build a deeper understanding of the uniform so they could relate it back to the book they had just read and later to The Lone Sailor statue at the United States Navy Memorial. (2)

Each child was given a white child-sized Navy hat, which they could play with during the lesson. Elizabeth passed out the hats when she got to the page on Navy uniforms and then allowed the children to interact with the hats for the rest of the lesson. Passing out the hats in the middle of the story helped to re-engage the class with the circle and refocused their attention.

After circle, the class was given the opportunity to play more freely with the hats. They explored flipping them upside down and pulling the brims over their eyes. As the class was getting ready to leave, Maya, Erica, and Elizabeth gave each child a choice, they could either wear their normal sunhat outside or they could wear the Navy hat. Some children chose their normal hats and some chose the Navy hats. Giving toddlers a choice between two things can help ease anxiety around a transition, can help build their own autonomy, and can also help develop their communication skills. (3)

Once the class arrived at the United States Navy Memorial, they gathered around The Lone Sailor Statue. In order to orient the class, Elizabeth showed images from the US Navy Alphabet Book. This helped to build connections between activities they had done in the classroom and being at the Navy Memorial. The teachers then asked the class a series of both open-ended and guiding questions including “What do you see?”, “What could his job be?”, “What can you find?”, “Can you find his hat?” (4)

While class was talking about the things that they saw, one child pointed out the flags. The teachers commented that the flags on the mast looked similar to the some of the flags in the book. Since there was clearly an interest in the flags, Maya, Elizabeth, and Erica made a point of bringing the class closer so they could get a better look. (5)

While looking at The Lone Sailor, Maya, Erica, and Elizabeth pointed out the uniform and explained that it is one way to identify him as a sailor.  They noted the hat and compared the sailor hat to the ones on the children’s heads. They then encouraged the class to take a closer look. Some of the children chose to interact with The Lone Sailor statue. One even gave him a hug around the leg.

SEECstories.c (1)

The class then walked around the rest of the memorial, which included 26 bronze sculptures. Each sculpture offered many opportunities for discussion. The teachers followed the children’s lead. If a child pointed to something, the teacher would make a remark. Sometimes the teachers simply narrated what the child was doing. Other times the teachers asked questions like “How would you feel on a boat?” or “What do you think she is doing?”

SEECstories.c (2)

While the whole class explored the bronze sculptures at the same time, each child was allowed to move and explore at his or her own pace. It was clear that some children found certain elements of the bronze statues more captivating than others. When a child found something that drew her or his attention (like the chain above), that child was permitted to take the time he or she needed to explore before moving on to the next statue. Splitting the children into three groups, one group for each teacher, helped to make this possible.

A reflection from Maya, Erica, and Elizabeth:

Our toddlers seem to love superheroes. They often have Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, and Wonder Woman logos on the hats atop their heads, the shirts covering their bellies, and the shoes on their feet. In addition to these fantasy superheroes, our toddlers also spend a lot of time playing with firetrucks, marveling at sirens of ambulances and police cars, and giving a cheerful high five to the security officers who work in our museums.  We noticed these interests and decided to build a unit around the real-life superheroes in our community. Our goal was to help our class to grasp the idea of what being a superhero really is (someone who helps and protects others), to be able to recognize key characteristics of these community superheroes (uniforms, modes of transportation, etc.) and some of the ways these superheroes help and protect us (what do they actually do). During this unit we studied firefighters, military service members, doctors, nurses, park rangers, and the United States Park Police. Here, we will dive more deeply into one specific lesson, our lesson on sailors in the United States Navy.

For this lesson, we chose to visit the United States Navy Memorial. At the memorial, there is a large bronze statue called The Lone Sailor and multiple smaller scene sculptures depicting the history of the Navy. We knew these would be great for our toddlers to visit because the sculptures are easy to see and, even better, can be touched! We wanted the children to be able to recognize key features of a sailor’s uniform, the sailor’s hat, and their modes of transportation including ships, boats, submarines, and airplanes. We did a little research prior to the lesson by exploring the Navy Memorial website, reading the US Navy Alphabet Book, and speaking with a fellow teacher whose husband was in the Navy. Based on this research, we decided what characteristics of Navy sailors we wanted to focus on with the children during our classroom circle time and our community visit.

During the classroom circle time, we first read through parts of the US Navy Alphabet Book that we felt were developmentally appropriate for our age group, and highlighted the features we knew the children would see on the visit. We also allowed them to touch the images in the book. We often allow the children to touch objects in the books we read as it helps to focus their toddler wiggles. It also gives us the chance to assess if we are making the literacy connections between the word the toddlers hear and the object itself. We then showed the children two genuine Navy uniforms. We asked them to tell us what colors and other features they noticed. Answers we heard included “blue”, “white”, and “bird”.  After that, we brought out a sailor hat that they could take turns passing around the circle, which allowed them to gain a more concrete connection to the object and give them the opportunity to work on developing the social-emotional skill of taking turns. After taking turns passing the sailor’s hat, the children were ecstatic to find out that they were all getting their own sailor hats to wear on our visit!

While walking to the memorial, we modeled our thinking and wondered out loud about where we might find a sailor, how a sailor might look, and how to know if we found one. Once there, the toddlers quickly pointed out that the sailor hat on The Lone Sailor statue matched the hats their heads. We sat down in front of the statue and pulled out the US Navy Alphabet Book once more. We pointed to the objects we were seeing at the memorial that were also in the book. We asked open-ended questions including “What do you see?”, “What do you think his job is?”, and “What can you find?” Asking these questions prompted the children to look carefully at all the features of the large memorial space. One child proudly proclaimed that he had found flags that matched the flags in our book. When we could tell our toddlers were ready to move their bodies and explore more of the space, we walked them around to the smaller sculptures that were right at their eye level. This was one of the best parts of the lesson because it combined movement, careful looking, and touching. Because of this, the children spent quite a bit of time at each sculpture. They would point to features they recognized and often would name them as well. An added bonus was that it had rained earlier that day, so the boats and other features of the sculptures were wet. This really helped to make the connection that sailors are often on or near water. The children were able to put their fingers in small puddles of water that had collected on the statues and see droplets falling from the sailors’ bodies. If we redid this lesson on a sunny day, I would plan to bring water with us and use a spray bottle to talk about how water can sprays onto the boat as the sailors travel.

Overall, this lesson seemed to be a great success. We put the sailor hats out as choices in the classroom and noted that the children kept revisiting them over the next couple of weeks. We also put out My First Counting Book: Navy by Cindy Entin, which was a board book that the children could explore independently. These two things showed us that the children enjoyed learning about the sailors and helped to reinforce the connections over a long period of time. When doing this lesson in the future, we would like to add a water table with boats and submarines as an extension. We believe this extension would be especially effective because it would help the class connect the idea of water and sailors and connect well to the visit to the Navy Memorial.

Artist Round Up

One of our recent posts was a teacher feature from a two-year-old classroom on Alexander Calder. This class did not simply learn about Calder’s life and work and then move on to another topic. Rather, the teachers, Javacia Finney, Stephanie Lopez, and Shawna Williams, came up with lessons to allow their classroom to do an in-depth study on several artists. For each artist, the class looked closely at the work, learned about the artistic techniques used, and then created their own work inspired by the art. Below is a web that gives an overview of the artist lessons and images from the class’ lessons.


To start their artist exploration, the class viewed Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors and Pumpkin at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The two year olds particularly enjoyed adding polka dot stickers to the Obliteration Room. They had so much fun that the Hirshhorn Museum highlighted them adding dots on this video. Back in the classroom, the class made their own papier-mâché pumpkins and added polka dots to a large piece of white paper that was hung up on a wall.


After learning that Impressionist painter Claude Monet took his painting supplies outside to paint beaches, gardens, and ponds in the actual outdoors the class decided that they would also try to paint en plein air. Javacia, Stephanie, and Shawna loaded up a red wagon and brought watercolors outside to paint in the National Museum of Natural History’s Pollinator Garden so their class could be inspired to paint the light, shadows, and flowers in the garden. (1)

The class went to the National Gallery of Art and looked at many Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, including Self Portrait (1889), where they talked about self-portraits and noticed Van Gogh’s use of broad strokes and thick paint. Following the museum visit, the class mixed the colors yellow, blue, and white using forks instead of paintbrushes. (2)

Next the class learned about Roy Lichenstein’s Pop art. They viewed his Painting with Statue of Liberty as well as Look Mickey at the National Gallery of Art. To imitate Lichenstein’s dot technique, the two-year-olds painted with q-tips, which made different sized dots when pressed on the paper. The class also looked at Lichenstein’s sculptures, such as Brushstroke at the Hirshhorn Museum. Brushstroke was a class favorite because the class could easily see it while walking along the National Mall. Inspired by the contrasting black and white colors in the sculpture, the two year olds glued stripes of black paper onto white paper.

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For their study of Henri Matisse, the class learned about his technique, painting with scissors, when they visited examples at the National Gallery of Art. They worked on their own cutting skills by using scissors to cut lines into paper. (3)

As highlighted in their Teacher Feature, the class also learned about Alexander Calder. After learning about Calder’s mobiles, they began exploring his large sculptures and his playful animal sculptures. The class was given metal wire, a material that Calder himself used, to create their own sculpture or mobile. (4)

To conclude the unit and show off all the artwork, the class held an art exhibition. They carefully displayed all the artwork and made labels. Then they invited their families and friends into their classroom to see their art exhibition.

For more ideas about using art in the classroom, check out SEEC’s Pinterest pages on Teaching with the Arts, Color Mixing, Collage, and Self Portraits.

Teacher Feature: Twos Class Explores Alexander Calder

This week’s teacher feature highlights a lesson from one of our two year old classrooms. Teachers Javacia Finney, Stephanie Lopez, and Shawna Williams brought their class to the National Gallery of Art’s newly renovated East Building. They used works of art made by Alexander Calder to teach about his life, techniques, and artwork. Below, you can find photos from the lesson and a reflection from Javacia, Stephanie, and Shawna.

Cover Photo (1)

Before visiting the National Gallery of Art, Javacia laid out all the artwork that the class had recently made. Since the class had been learning about artists, there was a plethora of work. Javacia led a discussion where the children talked about what they remembered about each artist and work of art. (4)

Rather than dismissing the group as a whole, she called on each child to point to a specific artwork before leaving the circle. This game allowed her to ensure that each child had the opportunity to be recognized as an individual and helped to smooth the transition.

Once at the National Gallery of Art, the class sat underneath Untitled, 1976, by Alexander Calder, a giant mobile that hangs from the atrium ceiling.  They made a circle and were encouraged to look up at the mobile as Javacia read the book Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone.

Untitled design

As Javacia read, the children were able to take advantage of the amazing space. They continually looked up at the ceiling and pointed to the moving mobile. The class was so captivated by Untitled that Javacia said in her reflection that she believes that this moment will leave lasting memories for her class. (2)

Javacia passed out materials for the class to explore. The materials included pipe cleaners and metal wire. The class was encouraged to manipulate and explore the materials while looking up at Calder’s mobile. Javacia explained that back in the classroom, the children would have the opportunity to use even more materials and supplies such as scissors and glue to create their own mobiles. (3)

To see more examples of Calder’s work, the class went upstairs to the Calder Tower, which houses the largest collection of Calder art. The class walked around the room and described what they saw. Some children were particularly drawn to the sculptures of animals. Others seemed to gravitate towards the mobiles which produced shadows that moved across the space. (6)

After visiting the National Gallery of Art, the class worked on making their own art inspired by Calder, which was later displayed in the class’ very own art exhibition. Manipulating the metal wire provided the children with the opportunity to work their fine motor skills in a new way.

A reflection from Javacia, Stephanie, and Shawna:

What were your topics of exploration?

For the past few weeks we have been learning about different artists. Some of the artists in our unit of study included Henri Matisse, Roy Lichtenstein, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Yayoi Kusama. On this particular day, we were learning about Alexander Calder.

How did this topic emerge?

We noticed that our students were interested in the sculptures that we saw while walking on the National Mall and in the sculpture gardens. We thought it would be a great idea to teach them about the artist who created these wonderful works of art.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

I chose the National Gallery of Art because I wanted to make use of Alexander Calder’s amazing 76-foot-long mobile that hangs from the ceiling of the East Building. The National Gallery has other Calder works, including an entire room in its tower that is completely dedicated to Alexander Calder. In this room, my class was able to see sculptures and mobiles from his entire career. To utilize both spaces, we had circle time under the large mobile in the lobby and then went upstairs to the tower to view more of his work.

What were your learning objectives?

  • Learn about the life and work of the artist.
  • Observe and speculate about the artistic intentions in specific pieces of art.
  • Learn about various processes and techniques used to produce works of art.
  • Use a variety of materials to make their own reproductions of the art.

During this specific lesson I read Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone. This book describes the story of Calder’s youth and his making of wire circus figurines. After reading Sandy’s Circus, I gave out craft wire, pipe cleaners, and other materials. These materials encouraged group discussion, engaged the senses, and strengthened their fine motor skills. I then explained that the class would have the opportunity to create their own mobiles and sculptures back in the classroom. The children took full advantage of their opportunity to create and craft with the wire, which allowed the children to create without boundaries.

How did you prepare yourself for this lesson? Did you know about this topic beforehand or did you have to research?

To prepare for this lesson, I read several different books about Alexander Calder. The two books that I found most useful were Alexander Calder by Mike Venezia and Sandy’s Circus. I also used the internet as a resource. The National Gallery of Art has a great website and I relied on it heavily. After I had enough information about him, I was sure to visit the works at the National Gallery of Art and looked at all of his sculptures that are outside on the National Mall.

What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

I think sitting and having our circle time underneath the large 76-foot long Alexander Calder mobile was definitely helpful. As I was reading and talking about Calder’s mobiles, I saw the children looking up in amazement. I feel that was a powerful experience that will have a lasting memory.

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

For another teacher trying out this lesson, I would let them know that an alternative place to have a circle is on the rooftop off of the Calder tower. This might be helpful if the museum is particularly crowded. My class was lucky in that we were able to sit under the Calder mobile in the lobby with minimal distractions. But since that mobile is in the lobby, it just takes one large group to make the space too loud or distracting for a class of two year olds. I often like to have backup locations for circles in my mind. This helps ensure that I can be flexible and my class can have the best lesson possible.

How did you follow up this lesson? What topics were explored?

Alexander Calder was the last artist we learned about. We had previously done similar in-depth studies of artists and had given the class the opportunity to create their own work inspired by the artists. For example, Claude Monet inspired lily-pond paintings, Vincent Van Gogh inspired Starry night paintings, Roy Lichtenstein inspired pop art, Yayoi Kusama inspired pumpkins and a polka-dot wall, and Henri Matisse inspired cut-outs. After the children were finished with all of their projects, we transformed our classroom into a museum by hanging up all of their artwork.  We ended this artist unit of study by having a special art exhibition and invited family members to come view their artwork.

To learn more about how this class studied Kusama, Van Gogh, Lichenstein, Monet, and Matisse, come back to read their round up on artists.






Explorers Round Up

We recently featured a toddler class lesson on natural wonders. This lesson was part of a larger unit on explorers. The web below shows some of the topics that the class investigated while learning about explorers. The highlights from the unit included camping, transportation, and outside play. The class ended the unit with their own adventure by riding on the DC Circulator Bus.

Web - DF-Explorers

To start their unit on explorers, the toddler class learned about the different places that they could explore. The teachers, Lauren Bundy, Katherine Custer, and Emily Romig, brought their class to the see an exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History called the 100 Years of America’s National Park Service: Preserve, Enjoy, Inspire. Learning about the different areas in the world through the collections, such as the picture above of Death Valley National Park, allowed the class to discuss places that they would like to visit and explore. (1)

When exploring new areas, having a map to navigate can be extremely helpful. So Lauren, Katherine, and Emily put out maps in their classroom to help their class of explorers learn to navigate. The toddlers were fascinated by maps and pointed them out whenever they saw them on their daily outings. (2)

The class turned their attention to exploring the bugs and insects on the National Mall. The class visited the Pollinator Garden, which is one of the gardens outside the National Museum of Natural History. By looking through handmade binoculars (toilet paper rolls taped together), the class was able to spy different aspects of the garden. (3)

For toddlers, exploring the outdoors means playing outdoors! This class took full advantage of SEEC’s playgrounds where they were able to play and partake in self-directed exploration. Playing outdoors is not only fun; it is also crucial for young children since they learn through play. Additionally, playing and exploring the outdoors helps children build appreciation to the natural wonders that occur outside and helps create the desire to help protect the environment. (4)

To continue their exploration, the class needed to pack their bags. During morning circle, the toddlers were able to choose which items they wanted to put in a suitcase. Later that day, the class went to the National Air and Space Museum’s America by Air to learn about traveling by plane and to see examples of things people packed in their luggage. (5)

The toddler explorers decided to go on a camping trip while at school. So the teachers setup a tent on the playground where they learned about campfires, made kid-friendly (no fire) s’mores, ate the s’mores inside a tent, and played with flashlights and shadows. (7)

Explorers need a way to communicate with their friends and family while traveling so the class learned about sending postcards. The toddlers made their own postcards, visited the post office, and then pretended to drop their letters off in a postbox. (6)

To end their unit on explorers, the toddlers went on their own adventure! The class boarded the DC Circulator Bus and rode it around the National Mall and monuments. At SEEC, toddlers often see and point out the buses as they go by, but they are rarely given the opportunity to ride the bus. Being able to board and ride the bus was such a hit that many of the toddlers did not want to get off even when it was their stop!

For other ideas check out SEEC’s Pinterest! If you are thinking about creating an explorers unit, be sure to check out our boards on camping, nature, play, and natural phenomena


Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores Natural Wonders

This week’s teacher feature highlights a lesson from toddler teachers Lauren Bundy, Katherine Custer, and Emily Romig on natural wonders. The class went to the National Gallery of Art to look at nineteenth century American landscapes. In these painting the class was able to identify and think about natural wonders such as mountains, rivers, and waterfalls. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as a reflection from the teachers. 

Cover Photo

Here are a few images from their lesson on Natural Wonders:

SEECstories.comTo start the day, Katherine sat down with the class during snack to have an informal discussion. She started the discussion by asking, “Who is not in class today?” The class listed a couple of children who had not yet arrived and then turned their attention to the fact that one of their teachers, Lauren, was not there. Katherine explained that Lauren was in Asia on a trip and pulled out an atlas for the class to look at and learn more about Asia. The class was able to look at maps and pictures of the natural wonders in Asia. (1)After snack, the toddler class sat down for a more formal learning experience. To start the circle, Katherine sang hello to each child and gave each child the opportunity to talk to the group about something that they were wearing that day. (2)During circle, the toddler class used technology and books to look at examples of natural wonders. The class looked at images of rivers, mountains, and streams. After looking at the images, the toddler teachers explained that the class was going to visit the National Gallery of Art and look for paintings of some of these natural wonders.

SEECstories.cAt the National Gallery of Art the class stopped to look at Mount Corcoran by Albert Bierstadt as a group. The class saw different things in this painting including “water”, “mountains”, and even “volcanoes”.  After a few minutes of observing the painting, the class moved on to other galleries.

SEECstories.c (1)As the teachers walked through the galleries, they were able to have more individualized discussions about the natural wonders depicted in the paintings. The teachers followed the children’s interests by walking closer to the paintings that the children pointed to. Katherine and Emily used a stream of consciousness technique to describe all the things they saw in the paintings, which introduced many new words to the toddlers.

SEECstories.c (2)After exiting the National Gallery of Art, the class found a shady spot by a fountain to read the book How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. It is a story about traveling around the world to collect items for an apple pie.

SEECstories.c (3)Reading the book outside allowed the children more freedom in their movements. Some children even chose to stand up to get a closer look at the book. The class thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the around-the-world adventure.

A reflection from Katherine:

This year, our toddler class has explored many topics and we just recently began a new unit on exploring the outdoors. We developed this idea from some emerging interests we saw in the class. For example, on our outings around the National Mall, our toddlers began observing more about their surroundings and even started to use familiar landmarks to help them navigate. We also noted their curiosity in a small gardening lesson we had done a couple weeks prior. I’ve discovered that for our class of young children, lessons seem to be absorbed best when they can find ways to relate the topic back to themselves or create a memorable experience with it. We began our new unit on exploration by talking about maps and discussing where we live and places we have traveled to. In an effort to personalize the lesson, I wanted to share somewhere special to me – the American West. Not only have I visited there and have personal accounts to share, I also love the late 19th century paintings of these landscapes and the way they are displayed. I wanted to try to incorporate these paintings into our lesson as visuals for unique land features that can be found in the outdoors. On a different level, I liked the idea of using these paintings for a similar purpose to their original function – showing Americans on the East Coast the beauties of the American West.

In the classroom, we began by looking at photos of some common land features, such as mountains, waterfalls, rivers, forests and deserts. Some of the children already knew the words for these things, while others seemed to be learning them for the first time. When we arrived at the National Gallery of Art, they were very excited and energized by the large-scale paintings. We initially stopped at Albert Bierstadt’s Mount Corcoran, but I could tell we would need a bigger space to keep the class engaged and also to diversify our scenery. We walked to a larger gallery with many similar paintings and took a seat on the floor.

It can sometimes be challenging to engage toddlers in lessons that are purely two-dimensional, so I tried to pay special attention to the things they were noticing on their own in the paintings to affirm their sense of curiosity. This age group enjoys identifying what they see, and these paintings, which are realistic in nature, allowed them to do just that, as we observed the works in the gallery. They wanted to label everything they saw, including their new words (“mountain”, “river”, “forest”, “waterfall”) and living things, such as animals and people.

When our students became too wiggly for the indoors, we moved outside to a large water fountain where I had them sit while we read a book. My hope was that the water feature outside would provide both a tangible connection for them to a waterfall painting we had seen and a break from looking at the landscape paintings. We read a book called How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. The book covered many different countries with different landscapes and resources that gave us a diverse understanding of the outdoors. They were able to draw parallels between landscapes they saw in the book and the things we had already seen and discussed in the galleries.

We faced a few obstacles throughout the course of our lesson and during the field trip that provided some opportune learning moments for me as a teacher. My biggest takeaway was that I should be looking for more ways to engage and hold attention while in the galleries. In hindsight, I should have provided some kind of sit-upon for our students in the gallery to create a physical indicator of what their bodies should be doing while we were in the space. Throughout our discussion, we struggled with wandering around and with containing our energy. I also would have liked to provide some kind of three-dimensional object for the children to hold while we talked to help channel their attention to our topic of conversation – perhaps an object from nature, such as a rock or leaf.

Keep an eye out for the Round Up on explorers to learn more about this unit and for ideas on how to do an explorers theme in your toddler classroom!

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Karaoke

Today’s Teacher Feature highlights the Dragonflies, a toddler class. The teachers, Lauren Bundy, Katherine Custer, and Emily Romig choose to explore karaoke. The class visited David Hockney’s Snail Space at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and later that afternoon had a karaoke party in their classroom. See below for pictures highlighting the lesson and for a reflection from the teachers.

Cover Photo

The teachers knew that they wanted to teach their class about karaoke but were initially unable to think of an object that would help support their lesson. They thought about seeing a microphone as an object but decided that simply seeing a microphone might not provide the type of experience that they were hoping for their class. After brainstorming, the teachers decided to bring their toddler class to see David Hockney’s Snail Space at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The teachers believed that they could use the light, colors, intimacy of space, and stage like atmosphere to draw connections to karaoke. (1)

The teachers did not ignore the importance of a microphone for karaoke. Lauren Bundy choose to bring a microphone as an object to explore while the class was experiencing Snail Space. Lauren gave each child in her class the opportunity to speak into the microphone and hear how their voice changed. (2)Light was another topic that the teachers were hoping to explore with their class since karaoke performances often involve a light show. As part of the instillation of Snail Space color changing lights are projected onto the two canvas’ and floor space design. In addition to experiencing the light that is part of the performance of Snail Space, the teachers brought battery powered tea lights to allow the children to explore and manipulate their own light. (3)

While experiencing Snail Space, the toddler teachers sang some of their class’s favorite songs and used the stage like atmosphere of the installation to discuss the experience of performing karaoke. (5)

Back in their classroom, the toddlers were able to put on their own karaoke show. The teachers transformed their classroom by setting up an overhead projector as a spotlight and used a color changing light. They used speakers to play their class’s favorite tunes and gave the children a chance to perform with a microphone. (4)

While experiencing karaoke, the toddlers also participated in social-emotional learning. There was only one microphone which meant that the toddlers had to practice taking turns. In order to help facilitate taking turns, the Dragonfly teachers gave the children verbal and nonverbal warnings to help the children be more fully aware of when their turn was (6)

The Dragonflies karaoke party was tons of fun! Each child was able to experience the joy of choosing their favorite song and performing it in front of their friends.

Reflections from Lauren:

How did this topic emerge?

After a week of lessons that involved visiting Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn Museum and picnicking under the blossoming cherry trees by the Tidal Basin, a theme started to emerge that would become our next unit of study: Japan! We were excited about the topic because learning about another country can offer our toddlers a great variety of experiences to explore. So far, we have ventured into topics such as sushi, tea, koinobori (carp streamers), ink wash art, and now karaoke! We had a hunch that the Dragonflies would be interested in karaoke because they dance and sing all the time in the class – with or without music.

What topics were explored?

Our learning objectives were to talk about how karaoke originated from Japan and how it can not only be an exciting activity but a way to unwind as well. The week before, we had taught the Dragonflies about rock gardens, raking sand, and plants. We talked about how these activities could be “relaxing” and that idea really stuck with the Dragonflies. They would start to talk about how they “relaxed” at home by looking at a “book” or sitting in a “rocking chair.” Since this idea of finding a way to emotionally wind down had already permeated the class, we were able to connect it to the topic of karaoke.

To connect this topic to Japanese karaoke, we talked about how there are people in Japan who work very hard at their jobs and after a long week, they might perform karaoke with their close friends. We talked about how karaoke is one way to relax after working really hard. When we had our karaoke party with the Dragonflies, we did it at the end of our school day. Since then we have returned to it again and again in the afternoons. The Dragonflies loved karaoke!

How is this a developmentally appropriate practice?

Singing and dancing play an important role in toddler development. It helps the Dragonflies to learn social emotional skills like turn taking and listening to each other. They are learning cognitive skills by noticing the patterns and sequences of songs. They are developing their language skills as they sing new words. And they are also developing their physical skills as they dance to the new music.

What was our museum visit and object?

As for the visit, we decided to see David Hockney’s Snail Space at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We choose this work of art because it gives a sense of space that is meant for a performance. We could have gone the route of visiting an exhibit that featured a microphone, but we decided that the object of a microphone on view might be too small of a feature to warrant enough attention from the toddlers. So why not visit a more immersive space, which is set up almost like a stage, and bring our own microphone?

In addition, David Hockney’s Snail Space is an intimate and secluded area compared to the large galleries that we often find ourselves in. We were able to connect the physical space of Snail Space to the tradition of Japanese karaoke. In Japan, it is customary to preform karaoke in a small private room often called a karaoke box in front of your close friends. The intimacy of the actual space in Snail Space draws parallels to what one might experience if they go to a karaoke box in Japan. Since our class were the only people in the space, the Dragonflies had the added bonus of experiencing it with some of their closest friends.

How did the lesson reach the objectives and expand the topic?

We actually had two separate lessons on karaoke that day. One being the museum visit in the morning, the other being the actual karaoke party in the afternoon. At the museum visit we talked about how the art space was like a stage and we asked the Dragonflies about the different colors they saw in the lights. We then gave each Dragonfly a tea light that they could turn on and off and watch it change colors just like in the art piece. We also brought the microphone so the Dragonflies could hear their voices amplified in the space.

There were a few hiccups in the museum visit. The first was that a fire alarm went off in the museum and so we had to exit. (Just to clarify, we were there before the museum actually opened, so the alarm was most likely a test.) Another oops was when one of the Dragonflies dropped their tea light and it rolled onto the art on the other side of the barrier.

At the karaoke party in the afternoon, the Dragonflies had a blast. We turned off the lights, used an overhead projector as a spot light, and then turned on the disco lights. We had compiled a list of the Dragonflies favorite songs with the help of parents. The Dragonflies then took turns singing their favorite song, while the others got to dance to the music.

Theater Round Up

Our recent Teacher Feature highlighted a lesson on set design. This lesson was part of a larger unit on theater. The two year old class explored theater for several weeks before they decided to put on their own play based off the book Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger. The web below shows the different activities, museum visits, and books that the teachers Melinda Bernsdorf, Brittany Brown, and Brittany Leavitt used to teach their class about theater. For more details, take a look at some of the photos from their lessons, which serve to supplement the web.

Web - Theater_With Edits

The class began their unit by exploring different ways that people perform on stage. When learning about ballet, the class visited the National Gallery of Art to look at Four Dancers by Edgar Degas. While in front of the painting, the class noted the poses of the dancers and practiced their own poses using a mirror that Brittany Leavitt brought into the gallery. Opera was another type of performance that the class talked about. While learning about opera they went to the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden to look at the large mosaic Orphée by Marc Chagall. (1)

They visited National Theatre where they stood on stage, sat in the audience, explored the orchestra pit, and experienced sitting in the balcony. Visiting a working theater gave the class a greater understanding of the plays and performance. (2)

They transformed their classroom into a theater! Melinda Bernsdorf, Brittany Brown, and Brittany Leavitt hung red ribbon from the ceiling and repurposed a large wooden box as a stage.

In order to make their classroom stage a more immersive experience, the teachers gathered different types of clothing, hats, and props for the children to use on stage. The children were able to choose their own costumes and were invited to perform on their classroom stage. (4)

For their performance of the play Abiyoyo, which Melinda Bernsdorf, Brittany Brown, and Brittany Leavitt adapted from the book by Pete Seeger, the two year old class made their own costumes. The costume for the giant Abiyoyo was made by using paper plates, paint, and string. The class used these costumes while performing their play on stage in front of their families.


In addition to costumes, the class explored stage makeup. Before becoming makeup artists, the class learned about colors and palettes. Then they used one of their teachers, Brittany Brown, as a model. Each child was given the chance to put on Brittany’s stage makeup to get her ready for her performance. (5)

To learn about set design, the class went on a variety of museum visits to be inspired including visiting the special installment “In the Tower: Theaster Gates: The Minor Arts” at the National Gallery of Art. By looking at A Game of My Own by Theaster Gates from the side and even from below while laying on their bellies, the class was able to see the internal structure of a seemingly flat piece. This proved to be useful when they assembled their own set. (6)

The class used the knowledge that they gained to create their own set. Making the set involved the whole group’s efforts and took several weeks to completely compile, since they had to create something large enough to fill up the whole stage. (7)

After a complete tech week and several dress rehearsals the class preformed their verison of Abiyoyo in front of a set that they had created and wore costumes that they made. In the audience sat the class’s close friends and family.