Honoring My Child’s Interests

This post was written by Maureen Leary, Director of Toddler and Kindergarten Programs

Value of Virtual

When the Smithsonian closure due to Coronavirus health concerns was announced in mid-March, none of us had a clear sense of how long it would last. Once it became obvious that it was going to be more than a few weeks, SEEC faculty immediately transitioned to conducting distance learning through online platforms. Teaching young children this way is neither ideal nor intuitive, but we knew we needed to quickly develop these skills to better support our families. At SEEC we believe it’s important for us to offer virtual interactions for a number of reasons. It provides personal connections during a time when we can’t experience them directly; it offers an anchor point for themes and topics that families can explore in their own way and on their own time; it inserts some amount of structure into the days and weeks that have been completely upended; it allows children to retain a level of comfort and familiarity with peers and educators during what has turned into an extended closure with no definitive end.

The Challenges of Virtual

Many families are craving the connections and routines that suddenly disappeared from our lives, and appreciate the opportunity to see each other virtually. That said, we also know that consistently participating in these interactions can sometimes be a challenge. Maybe your child is tired, hungry, grumpy, or just uninterested. It could be that you have a work conflict and you can’t prioritize your child’s meeting over your own. Perhaps you’re feeling overstretched and just don’t want to add one more thing to your day. Skipping your child’s scheduled activity might cause feelings of guilt and worry, and cause you to wonder if it’s ok to be missing these online interactions.  At SEEC our answer is always an emphatic yes. We encourage families to follow their children’s leads on what helps the day go smoothly for them. It might be that they’d rather go outside during a virtual circle time, or that they just have no interest in it at all. Maybe they refuse to talk or get frustrated with how the conversation goes. All of this is developmentally appropriate and totally ok. Enrichment can be found in so many ways, in moments small and large, and doesn’t always have to be carefully orchestrated. What’s really important right now is that all of us, children and adults, feel cared for and supported.

Tips for Virtual

If you do choose to participate in an online “circle” here are some helpful hints compiled from conversations we have been having with our SEEC community. 

  • Some children are camera-shy. Don’t insist that they talk or even appear on the screen. Giving them repeated exposure to the format and letting them develop comfort with it at their own pace is likely to increase their participation. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok, too!
  • If your child is reluctant to talk but does want to be included, suggest they give a virtual high-five or a thumbs up as a way to connect with others.
  • Check with your child’s teachers about scheduling some one-on-one screen time. Even just 10 minutes of individual attention this way can pay big dividends. 
  • Some families have found it’s easiest to pair distance learning with snack time, so the child is staying in one place and not becoming distracted by other surroundings.
  • Alternatively, if the weather’s nice and it’s hard to be inside, try bringing your screen outside and participating that way. We’ve seen toddlers actively engage in circle time while also riding a tricycle down the street!

Screen Time

One final, related note: a recurring concern with the current environment is that young children are getting more screen time than is recommended. This is an issue we are always thinking about, and while we agree it’s best to limit screen time for young children, we do believe that distance learning offers important benefits, especially as we practice social distancing. At SEEC, we generally advocate for the limited use of screens when they are a single element of a larger, interactive experience. Of course, there may be families who opt out entirely of distance learning for the screen time concern alone, and that is also a decision we respect. We always want families to do what feels right for their own well-being, and it certainly won’t be the same for everyone. We encourage you to trust your instincts, be responsive to the needs of your child, and reach out to your child’s educators if you have any questions or concerns. 

Quarantine Tantrums

This blog was authored by Katie Heimsath, Director of Preschool Programs

The Impact of Quarantine on the Family

As adults, we have access to information and possess the cognitive skills to understand what is happening in the world. At SEEC, we often talk about the importance of talking to children about difficult subjects. Giving children the language to identify and express what they might be feeling or are curious about makes it easier for them to navigate complicated situations. Even though young children might not yet be able to understand the complexities of a global pandemic, they recognize when something feels different and are perceptive to the changes in our attitudes and emotions.

Living and working at home during quarantine is no easy feat. Our lives and daily rhythms have been turned upside down and most of us are feeling stretched and limited in one way or another. Many of our SEEC families have reported an uptick in meltdowns and tantrums from their children

Typical tantrums can stem from a predictable or obvious problem, like if a child is hungry or overtired.   Our current situation adds a new layer of emotion for children and adults alike: we miss our friends and being able to go out in our communities, we’re worried about our health, and we are adjusting to new routines. To add to that, no one knows when it will get “back to normal.”

How Can I Help My Child?

The best way to help your child is by being there, both physically and emotionally. Being close in proximity helps children regulate their emotions and feel a sense of security, so it’s no wonder that picking up a crying baby is soothing to them, or that some children feel better after getting a hug. If it seems like it would help, offer a hug or your lap to sit in while your child works to calm down.

In addition to the emotions, a tantrum generates a lot of tension and energy in a child’s body. Show them ways of releasing tension like taking big, deep breaths. Help them focus their energy on something calming like watching the clouds, or redirect their energy by mashing some play-doh.

It is important to also acknowledge your child’s feelings. Young children are still learning how to identify and understand their emotions, and giving a name to a feeling is one way to reinforce this learning.  If they’re pre-verbal, try helping out by saying, “you look like you feel sad” or “you didn’t like when that happened.” If you can objectively narrate what happened, it can help the child feel heard and understood. If they’re verbal and able to tell you what they’re feeling, your role is to sympathize. If they told you they were feeling sad because they couldn’t eat snack with their friends at school, you could say, “I feel sad about that sometimes, too. I like eating with my friends. We both miss our friends.”

Emphasize that you’re there to help and problem-solve together. For younger children, you could offer one or two suggestions for moving forward. You could say, “It made you upset when you fell. I can help you up,” or “You didn’t like it when your brother took your toy. You want a turn. Say ‘me next!’” For older children, ask what would help them feel better or give them a suggestion. Then do it together! For some of the quarantine specific situations, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know the answer. Say something like, “I don’t know when we’ll go back to school, and that’s frustrating for me. I don’t like it when I don’t know when something will end! But, there are people working very hard to figure out that answer, so I know they’ll tell us when they can.”

Adults Feel Stressed Too

In a perfect world, we could all follow three easy steps to help our children get through a meltdown. We’re not in a perfect world, and we’re not even in a situation that feels normal to many of us. If you’re stressed or you overreact during your child’s tantrum, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Simply acknowledge what happened with your child! It’s powerful for a child to observe a person they love showing how they handle their big emotions. Remember, as adults we unconsciously regulate our emotions to make it through tough situations. If you have an opportunity to make that visible to your child, they’ll have one more example of what they can do to cope. It is also a chance to give yourself grace and a powerful reminder to your child that there is always an opportunity to try again.

My Child is Throwing an Epic Temper Tantrum… Now What?)

Routines During Quarantine

This post was written by Melody Passemante-Powell, Director of Infant and Toddler Programs.

Routines

Schedules are a big part of most of our lives, and most people recognize the importance of these routines, especially for young children. Quarantine has turned everything upside down for many families, and some are wondering, how much of a routine should we try to maintain? To help you think through this we have posed  some questions to consider first, and then outlined some tips and ideas based on structure level and age group.

Questions

What are my family’s needs? All families are different and it is important to recognize that one size does not fit all. Some thrive off of rigid schedules, while others need a lot of flexibility, and most of us fall somewhere along the middle of this spectrum. Think through what works well for your child(ren) and what works well for the adults in your home. These don’t always align so finding some sense of balance is the overall goal.

What is my family’s capacity? Unfortunately during quarantine many of us are both acting as full time caregivers and working to meet job requirements at the same time. Consider how much the adults in your family realistically have the capacity to implement in terms of routines and schedules while also giving the attention needed to other responsibilities. Also keep in mind how quarantine is impacting your child(ren) and what they have emotional/mental capacity to do on any given day.

How Your Days Might Look

High Structure: You plan your days to closely mirror each other, or if your child in enrolled in school, you can schedule your days to match what a typical day would look like at school. For example, try having meals, outdoor time (if possible), circle time, etc. around the same time of day as they would occur at school.

Medium Structure: You can plan to have some components of the day happen in the same way and at the same time, while still leaving a bit of flexibility in the schedule. One way to navigate this is to look at each day as having a loose agenda, and you can talk through what will happen during the day, but the exact details of when and how each part will happen aren’t planned out in full.

Minimal Structure: You can keep it loose and just see where the day leads you. You can let your needs/wants and your child(ren)s needs/wants guide what happens for the majority of the day.

Tips and Ideas Based on Age

Infants/Toddlers: This age group understands time in short intervals, so it’s best to find ways to break the day into smaller sections vs. talking through what will happen throughout the entire day in one sitting. It can be helpful to use the “first, then” method with this age group, using phrases like, “First we will eat snack, then we will go on a walk.” Visual cues to use as reference when talking about what will happen are also very useful for this age group. These can be in the form of timers, or photos/pictures of what will happen next.

Preschoolers: In general preschoolers can handle a little more complexity in terms of thinking through multiple components of the day. A visual schedule is great for this age (a series of photos of what will happen along with the word label, posted in sequence, or attached to a keyring so the child can carry it around to access what will happen and in what order). Timers are another useful tool, and there are so many to choose from (sand timer, Echo/Alexa, stopwatch, or these sensory timers) so you can use what works best for you. ()

School Age: Most school age children can get a sense of a full daily schedule if you choose to use one. Visuals of some sort never hurt, and if your child(ren) can tell time you/they can create a chart (nothing fancy, you can use paper and a ruler to make the lines!) of what each day or each week looks like based on the day and time. Seeing what their day and week look like mapped out might be helpful for time management and daily planning.

Remember

Do what works best for your family on any given day. There is no right or wrong  way to do this.

Set yourself up for success. If what you are doing just isn’t working for your child(ren), or for you, change it up. The point of a schedule is to HELP everyone, if that isn’t happening most of the time, it is time to reassess!

Resist the temptation to compare. It can be hard to see or hear about what other families are doing, especially if it seems like everything is working beautifully for them. Remember the grass has a tendency to seem greener, but what you and your family are doing on any given day, even if it involves meltdowns and a to do list with zero check marks, is just fine.

Parenting Expectations

Families across the world are hoping to resume their normal lives as soon as possible, but the truth is that our new normal is likely to look very different. Though children may be able to return to school at some point, it is likely that schools could have different schedules and/or additional closures. Parenting right now is hard, harder than normal. So, how much is enough? And as an adult, how do you juggle your own worries and workload with that of your child’s? There is no magic answer, but it is important to remember a few things:

Not all families are alike, don’t compare yourself to others.

Your children need to feel safe and loved – that is probably the most important thing you can do.

There will be days when schedules won’t be followed or there was more electronic use than you would have liked – it is okay.

This is a traumatic situation, it is as important that you take care of yourself as it is for you to take care of your child. You will be a better caregiver for it.

When you let your emotions get the best of you, simply say you are sorry to your child. Caregivers are human and make mistakes – allowing a child to observe that can be an important life lesson.

Don’t feel like you have to take advantage of every lesson and resource you see online. If you decide to take advantage of resources, choose what speaks to you and fits within your wheelhouse.

Cheers to all the caregivers out there – our team knows how hard you are working.

Socialization

One of the reasons we enroll our children in preschool is so they learn how to interact and engage with their peers, so it makes sense that many caretakers are currently concerned about their child’s socialization.
It is helpful to remember that not too long ago, many children didn’t attend formal school until they were five. While we recognize that there is value in preschools and play dates, the quarantine isn’t going to erase what gains your child has made in this area. It will no doubt be a difficult transition when we return to our routines, but it will be temporary and you shouldn’t worry that your child will fall behind.

In the meantime, you can do some simple things at home that will help support your child’s development:

Identify Feelings – “I can see you are feeling sad because you are crying.” or “I think the dog doesn’t like that because they barked at you.” You can also use books to have deeper conversations about how characters are feeling.

How Can You Help? – When you identify an emotion, think out loud with your child about what you can do to be helpful. Maybe a sibling could use a hug or maybe there is a household chore that would help the whole family feel less stressed.


Play – Your child doesn’t need to play with their peers to learn skills like sharing or taking turns. As an adult, it is okay to say “I had the toy in my hand and it upset me when you took it away from me.” It might feel a little silly, but it communicates the cause and effect of their behavior.

Talking to Your Children about COVID-19

State Age Appropriate Facts

Regardless of age, you should share the facts about COVID-19. Children naturally begin to fill in the blanks if you don’t share information with them and they often begin to build a narrative that can be scarier than reality.

What Does Age Appropriate Mean?

As an educator or caregiver, you have a sense of what your children can handle. Think ahead about what you want to say to them if you can and remain positive (see below). Don’t dodge their questions, but also don’t add a lot of detail on top of what they are asking. Be clear about what questions children have, they don’t always know how to articulate their concerns, so it’s helpful to restate their questions to ensure you are on the same page.

Reassure Children

Children, even tweens and teens, need to feel safe. For younger children, it is helpful to point out that there are a lot of community helpers who are involved in keeping us safe and healthy right now. The very fact that we are all staying home is something that will help lessen the spread of the virus. For older children, you can share additional facts or try to focus on how communities are coming together to support each other.

Empower Children

Feeling in control is important even for very young children. Explain to them that we all have a part in this and that their role is good hygiene. Establish new handwashing routines in your home/school, children love visual schedules or reminders. Posting photos of when and how to handwash can be very effective. We’ve all been told to sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but why not mix it up and find different songs. Come up with new ways of showing love that might not involve hugging or kissing, like a funny dance. Make them feel in charge and coming up with creative approaches can go a long way for young children.

For older children, you may want to speak more about their responsibility to older generations and how social distancing is one way that we are keeping people safe. If you have the resources, think about other ways you can support your community. Maybe it’s making a meal to bring to a neighbor or sharing on social media about where families can get meals while schools are closed.

Monitor Media

Limiting and monitoring what your children are exposed to regarding Covid-19 is important. You may not think they are listening to the news program you have on or that conversation you are having with a spouse, but they are. Be mindful of time, access and the messages you are sending.

Extra Care

Children of all ages need extra care right now. Depending on your child’s personality and age, take time to check-in with them and show a little extra affection. Understand, too, that a child’s behavior might change during this time because of stress. As caregivers, we want to show some additional patience and latitude.

Dealing with Stress

As adults, our instinct is to protect our children. Realistically, though we are not going to be able to shield children entirely from the anxiety of the Covid-19 situation. As adults, our role it to model  healthy behavior. Think about how your family, your classroom and your community can combat stress. Physical exercise (outdoors if possible), creative outlets like journaling, cooking or drawing and mindful habits like meditating or quiet reading can help feed the soul.

Additional Resources

NPR
PBS
Talking to Children about Difficult Topics
Experiment: Explaining the Importance of Handwashing
Reassuring Children’s Books
Easing Worried Minds

Object-Based Learning: More than You Think

Object-based Learning

Museum educators have been practicing object-based learning (OBL) for years. It has been written about and discussed extensively. This blog isn’t so much meant to expand on that literature as it is meant to explore how OBL is used within the SEEC model.

First, let’s define SEEC’s learning environment. We are so much more than a daycare. We consider ourselves a school whose approach is defined by high quality early childhood practice. Our curriculum is emergent, and we use the community – not just museums – as part of the learning experience. Moreover, our Office of Engagement focuses on family learning via both long-term and stand-alone programs.

Definition

How does SEEC define OBL? At the center of our definition is, of course, the objects on display at the Smithsonian. All of our classes, even the infants, visit the museums regularly. While the experience will look different for each age group, all children benefit from being in front of an object. There could be an entire blog on this topic, but we recognize the importance of seeing the real thing – the awe and wonder it inspires. For children under two, who can not necessarily grasp the significance of these objects, the value often resides in their exposure to new spaces, things, and environments.

Tactile

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Because our children are young, we add an additional layer to the OBL experience – the tactile component. Children are concrete learners who explore using their senses and therefore, employing objects that can be handled or physically experienced adds to their learning. This can be a toy, like the boat pictured here, or it could be an element that somehow better describes an object. For example, manipulating a ballet shoe while looking at one of Degas’ dancers.

Sensorial

i-7TcWGD7-X2At SEEC, we expand upon this idea to curate a sensorial experience by adding components like feeling the wind while looking at this painting at the National Gallery of Art by Winslow Homer. The moving air, though not a physical object, certainly takes on that role with the learner. What’s important for the young learner is that they get to observe the wind portrayed in an actual object, like a painting, and feel the air moving on their faces. These experiences enhance their understanding.

Experiment

i-dRHXWcf-X2Likewise, the “object” can also be defined as an experiment. Imagine that a class visits the transportation hall at the American History Museum or observes vehicles moving on a street. The group could experiment with wheel shapes. A teacher constructs a car out of cardboard and uses a simple ramp to demonstrate how the car moves with wheels that are square, circular and triangular. Students quickly see the benefits of having a circular wheel and begin to recognize differences in shapes and how they connect to things in their everyday life.

Nature

i-VpKNHf2-X2For educators working in or using informal learning environments, object-based learning should be considered through a wider lens – one that helps young children to experience and explore via multiple modes. Finally, OBL also corresponds to nature-based learning. Just this week I observed how a lesson on nests with toddlers incorporated both museum objects and nature. The lesson started out by looking at nests sculptures displayed outside the Natural History Museum and concluded with the children making their own nests by collecting twigs, grass, and leaves. To add an additional layer and to help the children better interact with the animals, the children helped throw birdseed and watched as the birds came to eat.


To learn more join us for our Learning Through Objects seminar on March 13th and 14th.

Beyond Stereotypes: Teaching about Native Peoples in Practice

We take a look back at a blog that we published three years ago around Thanksgiving, hoping it will help educators think about ways they might consider talking about other cultures all year around.


As we discussed in our previous blog, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center have teamed up to provide teachers with a framework for exploring culturally diverse topics in their classrooms. We believe that early childhood educators are in a unique position to craft experiences for young children that will help them appreciate the diverse world around them. We also feel that it is important for children to see themselves reflected in their classroom in order to develop a positive sense of self.

Though we published the first blog just before the Thanksgiving holiday, we specifically wanted to post the follow-up afterwards as a reminder that teachers can explore American Indian culture throughout the school year.

Before we look at the lesson, it is important to note that I had only a week to implement it and I struggled with how to use the limited time frame best with the students. Ultimately, I decided that it was important to begin the lesson with what was familiar to the students and build on that.  Had I had the opportunity to continue the lesson, I would have most certainly spent more time exploring Wampanoag culture and ensuring that the children were introduced to the Wampanoags in a contemporary context.

Lesson Objectives

  • observe natural materials and weather in our own environment and how these elements vary in other environments
  • demonstrate that not all homes look the same, but all homes do have the job of protecting us.
  • introducing three different types of American Indian homes and explore the natural materials out of which they are made.
  • investigate the materials used to construct wetus and how those materials serve as protection against their environment

Day 1

We began our morning with a visit to the National Mall where we used our senses to explore what was part of our environment. I wrote down the children’s responses and then we headed to the National Gallery of Art where we sat in front of Albert Bierstadt’s Mount Corcoran. Together, we recreated the landscape with representative objects and worked as a group to create a “soundscape.” To create the soundscape, we identified a sound for each element of the landscape. Once complete, we assigned a sound to small groups and then produced our soundscape all-together.

Day 2

When we were on the Mall, I observed the children were noticing elements of their environment that were man-made, so I thought it was important to use day two’s lesson to distinguish between the natural environment and human-made environment. This discussion transitioned nicely into a conversation about weather, which was another natural component of our environment. We identified different types of weather by making a list and then creating our own weather movements. We watched a weather report and read Sky Tree by Thomas Locker. While we read the book, we paused to use our weather movements when they were mentioned.

Day 3

Before heading out for the morning, we reviewed the different types of weather and discussed the weather that day. We walked to the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden to visit Roy Lichtenstein’s House I. We spent a few minutes walking around the house and then I asked the students to share what they noticed. Following their observations, I asked them if they thought that the house was a good one. There was a consensus that it would not be a good house to live in because it wasn’t real – it was open on the backside. I agreed that I didn’t think the house was doing what a house or home needed to do. I asked them what homes were for, to which I heard responses like: “to play in, eat in, sleep in.” I agreed and pulled out a blanket – I said the blanket was a lot like a home – it could keep me warm when it was cold, it would keep me dry if it rained. I concluded that both the blanket and the home could protect me from things in my environment.

I asked the group whether they thought that everyone lived in the same type of home. We had a short discussion about what our homes were like, the other educators with us shared that they lived in an apartment. We then began to make a home collage. Students shared photos of their homes and we placed them on large sized paper. I also brought photos of homes from around the world and as we placed them on our collage. When we finished, we discussed the similarities and differences.

Day 4

I began this class by asking the students about the Thanksgiving holiday that was coming up. Each child excitedly shared what they were planning to do for the holiday. I shared was formed around the idea that two groups of people came together to have a meal.   One group had come to America from a place called Europe and another had lived on the land we call America for a very long time. I explained that these people who had been living here for a long time were often referred to as American Indians and that in fact, there are many groups of American Indians. I shared a map and said that each group has their own language, clothing, traditions, and of, course, homes. I also pulled out our sensory bins that were representative of a Eastern coastal environment, a desert environment, and an Arctic environment.  We looked at the bins and discussed their physical features and imagined what the weather would feel like.  We wondered together whether the homes in these environments would be the same or different.

We then walked to the ImagiNATIONS Activity Center at NMAI and invited them to play in the Native homes area.  When we sat down, I asked them what they noticed about the different homes. After sharing their own observations, we talked about how each of these homes came from a different type of environment – a lot like our sensory bins. I brought objects that demonstrated the connection between these homes and their environment. For the iglu, I had a simple bottle of water; for the tipi, I had a photo of a buffalo, and for the adobe house, I had some mud and straw. I shared my objects with each student in the circle and left them with the reminder that Native peoples live in many places throughout the country and their homes tell us a lot about their environment.

Day 5

On our last day together,  I reminded them about that Thanksgiving meal. I said that many people assume that the American Indians who ate with the Europeans during that meal lived in tipis. We paused to recall the tipi we had seen the day before and then I shared with them that the Native peoples who were at the meal so long ago actually lived in wetus and they are called Wampanoags.  Using 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace, we explored some of the photos of what life for the Wampanoags looked a long time ago. I was careful to note that the photographs were of people pretending to be from a long time. They were helping teach people today about what life was like in the past.

We proceeded to watch parts of this video. We looked at the materials of the winter and summer wetu. We decided that all of the materials were from nature and we took a closer look at cattail reed mat provided by NMAI that would have covered the roof of the summer wetu. We talked about how the rain water would slide off the reeds and keep the house dry. We also blew through the mat so we could feel the way the breeze could come through and help keep the space cool.

We ended our morning by taking a nature walk and collecting materials. We broke out into smaller groups and built houses out of our materials.

In addition to the lessons, the teachers planned the following learning centers for the children to interact with during free-time.

  • Dramatic Play – Kitchen, office, or playing house
  • Fine motor – blocks or other loose parts for building (include photos of different types of houses from all over the world)
  • Environment – This sensory station recreates three different types of environment
    • North Eastern – Wampanoag – inland/coastal environment with forest, ponds, grass, sand, and water
    • Choose two others.
  • Dramatic Play – weatherman
  • Puzzles and Maps – United States

By no means is the lesson an all-encompassing study of Native Peoples or the Wampanoags, but it is a realistic snapshot of how with a little planning we, as educators, can begin to develop lessons that share more accurate information that help our students see that the world from multiple perspectives. Let us know what you are doing in your classroom to help combat stereotypes and create an inclusive environment.

What Makes a Preschool Successful?

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As is often the case I was scrolling through SEEC’s Twitter feed one morning on the metro and I came across an article from Scientific American entitled, How to Prime Preschoolers for Success. The article focuses on a few key points:

Preschools should focus less on memorization of letters and numbers.

Conversations build language skills and that aids in future academic achievement.

Programs that support executive functioning skills like multi-tasking, impulse control, and focus also support children academically and socially.

I am always looking for articles that reflect our practice, but truth be told it can often be difficult because of our unique setting. In fact, even after working at SEEC for seven years I often find it difficult to articulate to those who aren’t in early childhood what SEEC does and why it’s so valuable to young children. This article really spoke to me and got me excited about how well aligned our approach is to the research.

Playfulness

The article highlights Tools of the Mind  a curriculum that, in preschool, centers around play.

In a Tools PreK classroom, a play theme unifies the room. The year begins with adaptable play themes close to children’s lives, and over the course of the year, as children’s levels of make-believe play, self-regulation and executive functions develop, the play themes develop as well.

Researchers who have studied Tools suggest that children performed better on executive function tasks than those in schools who did not use it. The research suggests that these results were likely tied to the fact that children are able to play and therefore, have to plan (in fact, with Tools they actually formally plan their play), collaborate, and problem-solve. And in addition to practicing these important skills, the play itself is innately interesting to a child and therefore, they are more engaged.

At SEEC, we think similarly about play and engagement. Our faculty finds creative ways to incorporate play in museum settings. For toddlers, we may bring toy airplanes to accompany us on a trip to the National Air and Space Museum. For preschoolers, we may pretend to build a campfire in front of a painting that looks like a good campsite.

 

Choice

IMG_6397The article talks about the importance of choice noting a 2018 study from the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology that suggests a correlation between autonomy and executive function skills. While SEEC does not utilize the Montessori-style activities as referenced in the article, we do think choice is extremely important. In fact, we follow an emergent curriculum and observe the children in play and conversation, using these interactions as to inspire classroom themes and activities. It is also part of our daily routines, faculty empower students to make personal choices and gain independence in their self-care. And though we often work on a tight schedule because of our museum model, we emphasize choice as much as possible in other areas, like art-making, play, and in the formation of classroom rules and routines.

 

Conversation

Perhaps the part of the article that was most exciting was its insight into the importance of conversations:

“…a higher quality and quantity of children’s turn-taking conversations helps them build their oral language skills, laying a foundation for reading and writing.”

IMG_1294 (1)Conversation is one of the cornerstones of our practice. Even with our infants, you will observe faculty engaging in conversation. They do not simply speak at them, they watch for clues and respond to infants and toddlers in a respectful way that builds their understanding of vocabulary and concepts.  By preschool, we see children having turn-taking conversations in the classroom and the museum. Many of our faculty members employ modified thinking routines from Project Zero or looking strategies commonly used in museum education. It is during these conversations that we observe children not only using language skills, but also practicing focus and self-regulation. Because they are also actively involved in the conversations (i.e. truly be listened to and shaping the conversation itself) they are naturally more engaged and likely to learn.

This type of rich conversation doesn’t have to take place in museums only. Educators can do this through dialogic reading, the use of objects in the classroom, the natural environment or by using museum resources. In fact, this combination of book, object, and visual can be highly effective. But as the article mentions, educators need to be trained to be effective. Its not always easy allowing for   autonomy while also supporting a calm environment in which children can be heard.

Conclusion

As our understanding of teaching and learning grows, I hope that preschools will move away from models focused strictly on rote memorization.  At SEEC, we hope to help educators see how they can support rich learning environments in and out of the classroom while allowing for choice and play. Reciting your ABC’s and counting to 10 are important skills for preschoolers, but with the properly trained educators we can help plant the seeds for children who will be successful leaders, collaborators, and problem-solvers.

 

SEEC SHARES: Kicking Off the New Year

It being September, it seemed like a perfect time to examine how our faculty is transitioning into the new year. Like most classrooms, SEEC is busy getting to know their new students and families, and helping children get accustomed to new routines and expectations. I hope you enjoy reading about some of their unique approaches.

Getting to Know Each Other

3Our threes and fours devoted an entire day getting to know each other. They kicked things off when the PreK-4 class received a photo of a friend in the PreK-3 class and were asked to match the person to their photo. Once they found a match, the two classes practiced walking on trains. At SEEC, our classrooms walk, holding hands with a partner and positioning teachers in the front and back — like a train. They chose the National Gallery Sculpture Garden as an outdoor space to play team building games with a long, stretchy rope. After which, they read a book about friendship. The PreK-4 classes ended the day by giving their younger friends thank you cards.

Team Building and Classroom Culture

1 In keeping with our emergent curriculum, another PreK-4 class decided to work as a team and spent the morning discussing school year expectations. The educators were careful to record the children’s thoughts as well as their own. They plan to use this discussion as a permanent part of the classroom and the foundation for a successful school year. My personal favorite part of this lesson was that they solidified this idea of teamwork by visiting an exhibit at the American History Museum illustrating how to make a circuit. Students had to make a

1connection with their bodies between two metal poles to complete the circuit.

Getting to Know Ourselves

The toddler class began their second week of school by exploring their hands and feet. Not only was this an important way to learn about their own bodies, but it was a way to underscore their classroom routines. In this case, the teaching team emphasized hand-washing (a new independent activity for the toddlers) and walking on trains. It was also an opportunity for the class to practice using their “walking feet” in the museums and on the sidewalks.

Routines

2SEEC is lucky to have both an art and music educator and the first few weeks of school are always spent getting to know our newest students in the infants classrooms. This allows the children to acclimate to their daily routines and slowly get to know and build relationships with our enrichment staff.

Community

2

To get an overview of the Smithsonian community, kindergarten visited the Castle where there are small displays from most of the museums.

Our kindergarten class, which often includes students new to our school, spent some of their first days getting to know their community. While we are lucky to have such a large campus to explore at SEEC, I know that is not the case for every school. However, I love the idea of learning about one’s community both inside and outside of the school walls. Such an exploration opens up opportunities to explore natural surroundings, get to know people who work at the school, to visit nearby businesses, or to observe the roads and vehicles nearby.

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of our approaches to launching a new school year. Hopefully your year is off to a good start too. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas here.

Originally posted September 2017.