Close Up: SEEC’s 2017 Staff Development Week

Each August our staff takes a week to reflect, assess, and prepare for the upcoming school year. Staff development week is a long-standing tradition at SEEC — one that we look forward to, to connect with our colleagues and lay the groundwork for the upcoming year. It is an especially important way to bring the entire SEEC team together. Our school is physically divided into three centers so staff development week makes us feel like one family and helps provide continuity across the program.

Team Building

2Melody Passemante-Powell, director of infant and toddler programs, kicked off the week with a team building presentation. She got the morning started by sharing inspirational quotes about education. This exercise had a deeper purpose though. It helped us see that while everyone believed that the education of young children is important, not all of us had the same perspective of how to achieve that. She used this as a launching point to think about how important it is for us to consider alternative perspectives and not make assumptions when interacting with staff, children, and families.


Anti-Bias, Objects, and Technology

1Our team at the Center for Innovation in Early Learning (CIEL) followed with a presentation on anti-bias education. SEEC has always been thoughtful about creating an inclusive learning environment, but with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and of course, current events, the issue has grown ever more important. We spent the morning focusing on the anti-bias education framework as outlined by NAEYC and considering it in terms of our unique school model. We concluded our time by asking faculty to begin building a tool that would help us reflect on the anti-bias nature of our classrooms, lessons, and relationships.  

3CIEL also led the group in an exercise reiterating the importance of connecting our lessons to the museum objects. SEEC believes strongly in facilitating activities and careful looking strategies that connect our lessons to the museum object, and we had fun demonstrating this with our colleagues. Our final CIEL segment was a collaboration with our administrative team that explored technology and early childhood classrooms. The large part of our presentation was thinking as a group about how we feel about technology and how it fits into our school. We are compiling the feedback in the hopes of continuing the dialogue. (2)Executive Functioning and Early Intervention

We were also lucky enough to have a few guest speakers. Occupational therapist, Judi Greenberg, from Child Development Consultants  led us in a great discussion about executive functioning skills. Greenberg reminded us of the importance of executive functioning and helped us think of ways we can help develop these skills in our students. She also reviewed signs that a child might be struggling with executive functioning and ways we can help them. We also had an informative session with DCPS’ Early Stages reminding us of their array of services and the benefits of early intervention. It felt great to know all the ways we can support our families. (1)Next Year

Of course there was a lot of time for our faculty to work on preparing our classrooms and they are looking great! Now that it is all wrapped up, we can’t wait for the children to arrive on Tuesday.

Japan Round Up

Japan Round Up


At SEEC, we use an emergent curriculum, so we are always observing our students and taking note of their interests and questions. It came as no surprise to our teachers when their classes began to show interest in Japan. Even with the cold spring temperatures, Washington, D.C. was abuzz with cherry blossom excitement in March and April. Couple that energy with the Hirshhorn’s exhibit of the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, and the children began to take real notice and make inquiries.

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Our PreK class students are making their mark in Kusama’s Obliteration Room.

One of our toddler classes and one of our preschool classes each embarked on a unit featuring Japan. If you haven’t already, take a look at the toddler Teacher Feature on karaoke and the preschool Feature on Japan’s Children’s Day.  Below are some of the highlights from their explorations.


The PreK class got some fresh air and enjoyed an early glimpse of the cherry blossoms. Their teacher, John Fuller, taught them a traditional Japanese folk song entitled, Sakura. The song describes the blossoms in the spring.


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Mr. Fuller took them to the Natural History Museum’s solar system galleries and shared the folktale, The Rabbit in the Moon.


Since the Freer Gallery of Art was closed for renovations, Krystiana Kaminski took the PreK class over to the National Gallery of Art where they explored kimonos, Japanese art, by looking at Alfred Maurer’s Young Woman in a Kimono.

While our PreK was busy with their unit, out toddlers were also exploring Japan. One of their teachers had recently traveled to Japan, so it was a particularly rich experience as she was able to share her personal experiences.


The toddlers got busy making their own veggie sushi. This activity blended new content with sensory exploration and fine motor skill development.

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After looking at Japanese ink wash landscapes, the children headed outdoors to create their own  masterpieces.

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The toddler’s lesson on tea included a classroom component in which they were able to observe one method of tea preparation. They concluded the experience on our art studio with our art educator who had them explore the physical and visual properties of tea through painting.

Japan Round Up 2

The toddlers had the opportunity to learn about the unique Japanese tradition of  Kintsugi or repairing broken pottery with lacquer, often mixed with gold. This art activity encouraged careful looking and provided them with a creative and open-ended art project.

Technology at SEEC

These days, technology is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. If we look at Forbes’ list of billionaires, one is struck by a preponderance of tech-savvy figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and of course Bill Gates. It is no surprise that technology is now part of almost every facet of our lives, including education.  For those of you who were born in the 70’s and 80’s, you can probably remember lugging home a stack of books and covering them with paper bags. These days, things have changed. As a parent of two, I can’t think of a single instance when my children brought home a text book. For many of America’s schools the text book has been supplanted by tech (it bears noting that this is likely not the case for all schools, and that broader access to technology could help contribute to closing the achievement gap.[i]).  It begs the question, how is tech being used within the educational landscape? And, as both educator and parent, how do I discern between what is worthwhile and what is not?


This question is even further muddied when one considers the early childhood audience. The American Association of Pediatrics writes:

For children younger than 2 years, evidence for benefits of media is still limited, adult interaction with the child during media use is crucial, and there continues to be evidence of harm from excessive digital media use, as described later in this statement. [ii]

For preschoolers, AAP states there is some evidence that well-produced apps can help children build literacy skills. The dilemma is that not all apps are created equal, and many of the products categorized today as “educational” do not adhere to strong educational standards. Moreover, many of these apps do not take into consideration one of the most important factors in successful early tech experiences – interactivity. Adult interaction with a child while using technology can make a significant difference in whether a tech experience provides any benefits for young children.[iii]  Having an adult present AND engaged in the activity has many added benefits. Adults can enhance the experience in a variety of ways. For example, they can narrate the experience, thus building vocabulary and helping the child process the information. They can model how to use the device and application, they can model a growth mindset, and they can help children practice executive function skills like patience and problem-solving. Adults can also ask meaningful questions that reflect the child’s interests, and that are open-ended to allow practice in critical thinking. Ultimately, having the adult present can tailor the experience for the child and turn a passive exercise into an active one.


This PreK-3 class considers the height of Mayan pyramids using a combo of tech, literature, inquiry, and objects.

Similarly, making tech part of a well-balanced activity “diet” makes it more likely to be effective.[iv] Young children require a variety of experiences to facilitate their growth and development. At SEEC, our educational approach is varied. Our classrooms incorporate a variety of pedagogical approaches that meet the child where he/she is: object-based, STEM, play, inquiry, Reggio-inspired, tactile, experiential. For us, adding tech is a natural extension of these approaches, one that almost always includes an educator and is a part of a much larger whole.

As educators, we have especially welcomed the inclusion of videos and recordings. Having such resources available while in a museum setting have proven invaluable. Now when we go to the bird hall at the Natural History Museum, we don’t just look at the birds and feel examples of feathers, we also listen to different bird calls. Or when we head over to see the Freer and Sackler’s Shiva Nataraja, we can also show children videos of contemporary religious festivals in India. Our iPads are also tools for STEM learning. In an ideal world, educators have the time and resources to set up an experiment like, ‘what floats and what sinks?’. But what if you have a question like, “Do polar bears communicate?”  Technology can help us answer that question in a way that is robust and concrete – both particularly important for young learners. For example, when preparing a lesson on this very topic I came across this resource that plays the different sounds polar bears make.


Those teachers aren’t ON their phones, they are USING their phones so their infant class can listen to Michael Jackson.

Finally, the very acts of asking questions and searching for answers are ones that are particularly important to SEEC. When we use an emergent curriculum, we pay particularly close attention to what our students are doing and asking. With access to tech, we are able to take their questions and explore answers in a multi-dimensional way. We can model for children the choices we make in using reliable sources, how to collect and synthesize information, and most importantly, we can demonstrate that we, the educators, don’t have all the answers.

Our hope is that in coming months, we will continue to collect information about how tech is being used in our classrooms and share that with our audiences. As always, we are welcome your input and ideas too.

[i] “Technology Can Improve Achievement Gaps, Improve Learning.” Stanford Graduate School of Education. Stanford University, September 10, 2014. Web. July 3, 2017.

[ii] “Media and Young Minds.” AAP News. American Association of Pediatrics, November 2016. Web. July 3, 2017.

[iii]  “Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners.” Office of Educational Technology. U.S. Department of Education, Web. July 3, 2017.

[iv]  “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.” National Association for the Education of Young Children, Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning, and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Web. July 3, 2017. p.7

Object of the Month: Railway Service Car

2 (2)On a recent trip to the Postal Museum, I was reacquainted with how perfect the National Postal Museum is for young children. Throughout the experience, there were two things that stuck out to me – hands-on objects and imaginative experiences.

It is too difficult to highlight the whole Museum, so I will focus on the Railway Service Car located in the Atrium. You step into the train car and immediately you are in another world. It is a child friendly space (although at times, you will need to pick your child up to see everything) that allows children to move their bodies and engage in tactile experiences. The car recreates what it would have been like to sort mail on a moving train in America following the Civil War.

2Within this small space there are a lot of opportunities for your child. The letter sorting is a fun way to spy a letter – V is for Virginia or D for DC.  Caretakers can lift up children to allow little hands to practice placing the mail into the slots. It is also a great way for a few young children to build their team working skills. You might want to play a game of passing, sorting, and delivering envelopes from the train. You can even watch this video beforehand for inspiration and it is great for adults who are interested in learning more.

1Though the bags in the exhibit are secured, a clever caretaker might bring a few small bags and give the children a chance to carry the bags or even compare weight — all of the sudden your visit into a STEM lesson!  Those letter bags are also a great place to stop and do a simple sorting activity. You can sort blocks by colors or shapes to explain how the bags were used to sort mail by location. This a simple way to introduce some math too!

1 (2)Consider using the train as an anchor object to compare with other forms of transportation in the hall. With some Velcro and photos, you can create a visual timeline showing the progression of a carriage, train, plane, and truck. You can actually get inside the truck and steer – they will love it. Of course, you can also introduce your young child to the concept of mail and how it moves from one place to another. Its a great opportunity to have them help you compose a postcard to a loved one and then send it off.

End your visit with a stop to say hello to Owney the dog and read more about his post office travels.

Smithsonian Early Explorers

We are about embark on our fourth year of the Smithsonian Early Explorers program. The upcoming anniversary is a little bittersweet as some of our long-time families are leaving the program and moving on to preschool. The toddlers who began this program have grown into competent three-year-olds who are capable, empathetic, and ready for their next big adventure. The adults will also be missed as they have become part of our SEEC community and really helped us reflect on the overall program.

To celebrate the development and growth of the program and it’s students, I thought it would best to tell the story of SEE through photos in the hopes of capturing what makes this program so unique.1

Like many early education programs, we begin our day with a schedule. SEE also includes a “Question of the day.” Our belief is that asking questions can lead to a life-long habit of analysis and critical thinking. These questions also help caretakers who are not present learn about their child’s day.

Each morning we invite our students to play and often include real objects or materials.  This helps create authentic experiences that support a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. By including real objects, children can have concrete experiences that engage their senses. The photo here shows a lesson in which children explored different types of green as part of a larger study on forests.

We also create imaginative spaces using traditional toys. Our class meets in the Natural History museum’s Q?rius Jr. space and our educators are thoughtful to design a learning environment that encourages imagination and creativity.  We also believe in getting dirty and having fun.

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Another cornerstone of our program is routine. Each morning the children look forward to ringing the bowl to indicate it is time to gather. Following that, we welcome each other with a our hello song. We often choose books that are regularly reread over the course of the trimester. As the children become familiar with a piece of literature, they delight in knowing what will come next and matching photos to the text. When we depart for snack and our museum visit, the children get on “trains.” They hear the sound of the whistle and know that they need to grab an adult hand and walk safely to their next destination. These routines help the children feel safe, know what to expect, and help the whole group transition.

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We are a museum school and therefore, regularly visit the museums on the National Mall. Learning in museums can be beneficial to young children especially because they are better able to learn when they connect more concretely with subject matter that they actually experience. SEE does not limit itself though – we see our classroom as extending beyond the National Mall and museums. Some of our highlights this year were the DC Circulator and the National Arboretum. We also take advantage of new exhibitions even when they don’t tie into the curriculum, as was the case with the Kusama show at the Hirshhorn Museum. Really, who could pass up such a fun experience?!

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We believe in play and we believe it should happen in museums. I know for some that might seem contradictory to museum etiquette, but we believe that play can and should happen in museums. With some forethought it can be done successfully with young children. Below you will observe how bringing some loose parts allowed one child to build a structure of his own. He was no doubt inspired by the house on view in the American History gallery where he was You can also see how we transformed a lesson on maple leaves into a game of placing leaves onto a tree. Finally, and perhaps one of my favorites, watch both the children and adults have fun practicing their penguin walk at the Natural History Museum.

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SEE is a program that not only supports the child, but the parent/child relationship. Our educators help parents in their role as their child’s first teacher. We try to educate our parents on issues of child development and assist them as they navigate specific situations with their child. Caretaking is hard work and we use daily interactions, weekly emails, and conferences as ways to help parents navigate these early years.

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It takes a village and SEE is a community which relies on it’s families and staff to help cultivate a diverse learning experience and strong community. Below are just a few examples: one grandmother shares her sticky rice after viewing bowls from the Sackler Gallery, our resident science educator, and retired entomologist, shares his expertise and live specimens, a small potluck marks the end of a trimester, and one child focuses during their monthly visit to our art studio.

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We are proud of the Early Explorers program for not only its use of museums, but its approach to educating the whole child, supporting families, and creating community. We wish our graduates well and look forward to meeting our new students in the fall!


Do you have a child who will be between the ages of 18 – 24 months this fall? You may want to consider joining the SEE program. We are hosting our Prospective Student Day on May 24. During the day, we invite families to participate in the program to experience it for themselves and have the opportunity to talk to other families. Join us by registering here.



Kusama Krazy!

It feels like all of DC is in a frenzy over the new Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Hirshhorn and SEEC is no exception! This bright, playful, and imaginative exhibit speaks to our students in so many ways. Many of our classes have been lucky enough to visit the exhibit over the course of the past month and a big thank you goes out to the Hirshhorn staff for welcoming us into this magical space.

We will be featuring specific Kusama lessons in upcoming blogs, but it felt appropriate to pause and enjoy some of the moments of wonder that we have observed in this unique space. SEEC believes in the power of imagination and play, and we feel fortunate to be able to interact with a space where these two ideals are so well represented.

Favorite Quotes:

“I think it might smell like bubble gum inside!”  (said a student to a volunteer in the Dots Obsession – Love Transformed into Dots)

“There were baby pumpkins in there! Bigger ones, medium ones, but the teeny tiny baby ones were so cuuuute!”  (said exiting the Infinity Mirrored Room – All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins)

“There’s Kusama. Except she has pink hair there. She loves polka dots, see? On her shirt?”  (after learning about Kusama with their art teacher and encountering a photo of her in the exhibit)




The Obliteration Room


Infinity Mirrored Room – All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins


Life (Repetitive Vision)


The Obliteration Room


Dots Obsession – Love Transformed into Dots

Making Every Child Matter

For the past few years, SEEC has been offering our Positive Sense of Self workshop, but now, more than ever, we see this work as not just important, but necessary. Politics aside, there is no denying that we have a population of young learners who are diverse and, in order to support them and their academic success we need to help educators learn how to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment.

3Why the early years?

The importance of a child’s early years has become widely accepted. Educators and, more and more, policy makers recognize that providing families with affordable, high quality early education can have profound and lasting impacts on a child’s academic success and overall well-being. Quality early education can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but one essential component is social emotional learning. The work of early learning professionals today includes helping children communicate their feelings, work successfully as a group, and try to understand and respect others. Embedded in these concepts, is the idea that children should see a variety of perspectives represented – those reflecting their own identity and the identities of others. The Smithsonian is in a unique position to use our objects and resources to support teachers in their own understanding and educational practices about race and culture.

Race and Culture1

Research has proven that even very young children recognize physical and cultural differences and often display their own biases towards these differences. SEEC, and its partners, would posit that it is better to address these factors rather than ignore them. The truth is, young children do notice differences in skin color, clothing, and speech. Celebrating our differences can help children have a broader world view and instill pride in what makes them and their communities unique. At the same time, displaying our commonalities can demonstrate to young children how much we share.

Positive Sense of Self

This workshop that SEEC, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of the American Indian, hosts will aim to help educators support a positive sense of self in ALL of their students. We know that children benefit by seeing themselves represented throughout their educational experience; through books, objects, art, play, and content educators can create an environment that honors all children.

We will begin our first day by recognizing our own bias in a safe environment and use this understanding of ourselves to help us become better educators. We will also examine the role stereotypes play in education and how, as educators, we can look past those stereotypes and use museums, their objects and resources, to create a more diverse classroom.

2The second day of the workshop will feature several techniques for supporting children in their understanding of the themselves and the world. We will examine how to use objects (both every day and museum objects) to teach and, identify developmentally appropriate ways to talk about race and culture in the classroom. Participants will create collections that encourage children to embrace differences and acknowledge our shared humanity. We will also work in NMAAHC’s art galleries to model how looking and thinking routines can encourage young children to stop, look, think, and inquire. In this section, we will help educators respond to potentially awkward questions and remarks and support the notion that we don’t have to have all the answers – even if we are teachers.  We will conclude the day by examining some common pitfalls used in preschool settings and provide participants with a chance to curate a learning environment using the techniques and resources that we explored during the workshop.


We hope you can join us in this important work.