Why is Play on the Decline?

A few weeks ago, we had our annual Play workshop and for the first time, we added a component about how caregivers feel about play. Earlier in the summer, we shared some of our initial thoughts on the topic and wanted to follow up on our conversation and results from our survey. *

 

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The evidence from our survey and other sources suggest that caregivers do indeed value play.** I have to admit that I was surprised by the evidence because my impression was that caregivers don’t always see the full benefits of play. It made me think that we, the educators, need to dig deeper in order to understand how our caregivers really feel about play.

Play Workshop 2018_African ArtSo, if we all recognize the importance of play then why is play on the decline? Together our group of educators hypothesized what factors may be contributing to this decline.

  • There has been a shift in how we parent. The old adage, “It takes a village.” is no longer the case. Today, many caregivers don’t have family and/or neighbors to rely on and according to Allison Gopnik, many of us think of parenting as a job and want to do all the right things so they can mold their child into a successful adult.
  • Many caregivers feel compelled to fill their child’s time with structured activities. The variety of choice and intensity in which children participate in adult-led activities leaves little free-time.
  • Caregivers are more fearful of sending their children outdoors. Our attitudes about playing outside without adult supervision have changed drastically in recent decades. This reticence limits playtime and opportunities for children to interact on their own.
  • There is competition with screen time.
  • Success in many of schools today is largely defined as being able to sit still, listen, and test well. Admittedly that is a generalization, but I think it is fair to say that caregivers worry how their children will perform in traditional classrooms where much of the instruction is didactic.
  • We also wondered how caregivers defined success and whether they connected play as an element that could help their children grow up to be successful.

 

IMG_1841.HEICAt the end of our discussion, we felt we had a better understanding of caregivers and their perspectives. It was clear though that more thinking needed to be done. We wondered how we could help shift not just caregiver perspectives, but the attitudes of policy makers and stakeholders. How can we help these parties recognize the benefits of play?

We shared with the group SEEC’s parent education communication strategy. SEEC tries hard to embed information about play and other topics about early childhood education in our programs. We often use signs and ask our educators to share informally with caregivers during our classes. We also think strategically about the content of family newsletters and social media outlets. We had hoped to delve further into these strategies, but as often happens, we ran out of time. For the future, our team would like to consider other strategies and evaluate how well our current methods are working.

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As usual, we would like to hear your thoughts. Do the caregivers with whom you work value play? How can we reach out to caregivers and build partnerships that will support play? How can we get stakeholders to understand that play is learning?

 

*The survey polled 93 families. Families were invited via SEEC’s family newsletter, school e-mail, and social media outlets.

**Fisher, Kelly R. Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy. Michnick Golinkoff, Roberta. Glick Gryfe, Shelly.(2008). Conceptual split? Parents’ and experts’ perceptions of play in the 21st century. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 305-316.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0193397308000312

O’Gorman, Lyndal. Ailwood, Jo. (November 4, 2012). They Get Fed Up with Playing’: parents’views on play-base learning in the Preparatory Year. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Volume 13, 266 – 273. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2304/ciec.2012.13.4.266

Whitebread, David. Basilio, Marisol. Play, culture and creativity. Retrieved from: https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/images/pedal/play-culture-article.pdf

Time to Play: A Study on Children’s Free Time: How It is Spent, Prioritized and Valued. (2017). Gallup Poll and Melissa and Doug, August 2017. Gallup USA, Inc. Retrieved from: https://news.gallup.com/reports/214766/gallup-melissa-doug-time-to-play-report-2017.aspx

Parents’ Play Perspectives. (2015). The Genius of Play and PlayScience, October 2015. The Genius of Play. Retrieved from: https://www.thegeniusofplay.org/app_themes/tgop/pdfs/research/PlayScience102015.pdf

 

 

 

 

Play: Getting Dirty

Pollinators Event_PlantingOver the weekend SEEC hosted a program about pollinators for the National Museum of Natural History. Included in our offerings was a planting station. I wanted children to think beyond the pretty butterflies they see outside and connect how pollination impacts our everyday lives. I was excited when I was given the green light to include real dirt as part of our activities but I’ll admit to being concerned about how caregivers would respond to their children getting dirty.

As a mom, I didn’t think twice about my girls getting dirty. But awhile after I started working at SEEC, a colleague gently reminded me that I should not assume that all caregivers felt the same as me. Since then, I always put out smocks and kept wipes nearby. I also try to provide a variety of options for play so that caregivers and children have a choice in the type of activities in which they engaged.mud, gardening, touching dirt,

While we want to be respectful of caregivers and their feelings, SEEC also feels it is important to share the benefits of play and especially playing in dirt. If we can share information with caregivers in a thoughtful manner, we hope to educate them about our methodology without making them feel like their perspective doesn’t matter.

So what are the benefits of getting dirty? For one, getting your hands into the dirt can be great sensory input. Many children delight in the feeling as dirt falls through their hands. This input allows them to relax and engage in their environment naturally. Playing in the dirt also offers children infinite imaginative possibilities. I know many of us have memories of making mud pies outside – dirt and nature can supply so many opportunities for play.  Getting dirty also allows a child to connect with nature and these early experiences provides a foundation for a future appreciation and connection to the environment. Not only does playing in the dirt help child develop a conservationist attitude, it also encourages their sense of exploration and wonder. (Read more about the benefits of nature play.) There is also evidence that dirt can be good for us and actually strengthen your child’s immune system.

mud box, dirt, playIn the end, I was pleased that so many caregivers embraced our planting activity. Even though we were inside, many families embraced the experience. My personal highlights were an older child who reveled in the feeling of placing the dirt on her lap and a toddler who focused for close to 20 minutes on moving the dirt out of the container and onto the tarp.  I so enjoyed watching how they both engaged with this playful work.

As we come up on our seminar about Play: Engaging Young Learners in Object Rich Environments, we wanted to take the opportunity to look at how our classes are playing with dirt.  As always, we would love to hear your dirt stories too.

mud, messy, sensory,

Look what I found!!

mud, sensory, exploration

Testing it out, is this something I want to play with?

mud, construction, stem

Add a toy and the possibilities multiply!

mud, sensory, play, exploration.png

Exploring the dirt after a rain adds a new element to the play!

Caregivers and Play: A Sneak Peak at Our Upcoming Seminar

Play at SEEC

Though our school is not strictly play-based, it recognizes the importance of play and incorporates it into our unique brand of object-based learning. Much like other early childhood schools, you will observe our children engaging in play during classroom choices and playground time. You can also find our children playing in the museums, but not just in the play-based spaces. We think creatively about how to safely incorporate play into our museum or community visits.

Caregiver Perspectives on Play

Over the years, we have heard from educators that often caregivers don’t appreciate or understand the value of play. I won’t lie, I too, was at one point one of those parents. Before beginning my career in early childhood education, I enrolled my daughter in a play-based cooperative preschool and one of my biggest concerns was if they would incorporate letter/number recognition into the curriculum. That was more than ten years ago and my outlook has drastically changed.

I have also observed sentiments similar in parents today. I recall a specific conversation with a parent whose child had recently transitioned from a play group to a SEEC program. The parent was happy about the transition because she felt like all the kids did “was play.” Through discussions with other educators, in and outside of SEEC, I have found that other parents share a similar concern about the role of play in the classroom.

I don’t mean to suggest that all caregivers feel that play is not important or even that they don’t see ANY value in the act of playing. In fact, there was recently a heated discussion at the school one of my children attends regarding recess. Some of the students had been missing recess due to make up work or for disciplinary reasons and that did not sit well with our parent community. I think it is important to note that there is a range of parent perspectives on play.

Starting the Conversation

At the same time that we have been reflecting on how parents feel about play, our team has also been focusing in how we can support our parent community and the community at large. It occurred to us that our upcoming workshop, Play: Engaging Learners in Object Rich Environments would be an ideal venue to explore parent attitudes towards play and strategize ways we can engage parents in a dialogue about the value of it.

In order to have this dialogue, we feel it’s important to better understand caregivers’ beliefs surrounding play. Therefore, we have begun to collect data that will inform that understanding and thus far, we have hit on some themes:

  • It’s a waste of money to pay for someone to watch their kids just play.
  • Play doesn’t look like traditional learning.
  • Play doesn’t look like hard work, so it’s not important.
  • Playing won’t teach them how to hold a pencil, read, or write.
  • Playing won’t give them the skills to be successful in life.
  • Play looks like chaos.

Over the next few weeks, we will be collecting more feedback from parents and look forward to sharing their perspectives at our upcoming seminar in July. We are excited to think together about this as a group and look forward to sharing more broadly in future postings.

Building the Next Generation of Democratic Thinkers

SEECstories.com (4)In a recent article Smithsonian Secretary Skorton posited that museums can help people regain trust in “traditional democratic institutions”. His argument centered around a study indicating that many Americans have lost faith in the institutions that are the foundation of our democratic system. He spoke to the fact that not just Americans, but citizens across the globe seem to be losing trust in their own societies and pondered how a democracy can function without the trust of its citizens. Secretary Skorton sees museums and libraries, not only as institutions that provide reliable and objective information, but also as places where questions can be posed, dialogues can be had, and a variety of perspectives can be explored. As leader of the Smithsonian, moreover, he sees museums as places where communities can come together to better understand themselves and the world around them.

As an organization, SEEC, also sees museums, libraries, and the larger community as sources for information, discussion, and reflection. We were particularly excited when in the same article, Skorton noted the role of educators:

I have seen how our museums and centres engage visitors and transform the way they see the world—especially our youngest visitors, who light up with the joy of new discovery. Through our education programs, we reach millions of national and international students, often using objects from our collections to demonstrate experiences and viewpoints that differ from what they might have encountered. By revealing history through the lens of diverse perspectives, museums humanize other cultures and contextualize present-day events and people.

SEECstories.com (5)The Secretary’s comments made me think more about the role museums can play in supporting a young child’s civic education. When I look specifically at SEEC, I see our school and programs as supporting a child’s understanding of democracy via museums in three ways.  One of those ways, is asking them to understand the importance of objects from other cultures or historical periods. Many don’t see young children as capable of this type of perspective-taking, but with the right approach, young children can develop this type of understanding and empathy. One of the ways SEEC educators manage this is by taking what is familiar to children and applying it to the unfamiliar. Consider the collection of footwear on display at the Smithsonian Castle from the National Museum of the American Indian. The shoes, at first glance, may feel strange to a young child living in contemporary American society, but an educator can encourage a child to think beyond their own experiences by beginning with what they do know. A faculty member might inquire: “Why do we wear shoes? When do we wear certain types of shoes?,  How do shoes help us?.” By applying these answers to the American Indian collection, children begin to see the many things we, humans, have in common. At the same time, a child are also able to acknowledge and celebrate the differences they observe. This type of lesson, especially if repeated, makes a lasting impression. We might be different, but those differences can be celebrated. It also underlines how we are part of one human family who shares many commonalities.

SEECstories.com (1)Secondly, young children who consistently spend time in museums can begin to understand and appreciate the role museums can play in learning, exploring, and questioning. During a recent conversation with a SEEC educator, he shared with me that in his Pre-K classroom children are routinely encouraged to ask questions and look for answers. He tell his class, that he, himself, doesn’t always have the answers and encourages them to seek answers via trusted resources. The children in this classroom have created a shortlist of “go to” places where they can get trusted answers. Of course, at the the top of this list is the museum.  For our SEEC students who have spent much of their young lives in these institutions, they understand how museums provide not simply information, but concrete manifestations of this knowledge. Consider the toddler who is learning about colors and visits the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. His knowledge is expanded by exploring the artworks and seeing the many different hues of blue. Similarly, consider the kindergartner who is learning about Rosa Parks and after viewing her portrait by Marshall D. Rumbaugh at the National Portrait Gallery. Through age-appropriate conversation, she can gain deeper insight into Parks’ role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Both children are learning that the museum is a place where they can turn to for both factual information and for viewpoints other than their own.

SEECstories.com (3)Finally, the very nature of how we teach at SEEC (and I think you could say this is true for many museum and classroom educators) reaffirms trust in democratic discourse. SEEC lessons often begin with a question and are composed around a conversation. For example, we might pose a scientific question like, “Why do cars have wheels?” or something more abstract like, “How do you think the woman in the painting feels?.” By simply engaging young children in conversation we are helping them to develop socially and emotionally. By framing these conversations within a museum, we can also encourage children to see the institution as a place in which dialogue is part of the experience. Within that dialogue, educators can facilitate conversations that encourage children to listen to and respect the ideas of others – something which will hopefully cultivate a generation of leaders who can engage in conversations resulting in positive democratic change.

SEECstories.com (2)As early childhood educators, whether in the classroom or the museum, we have a unique opportunity to frame the museum as a place where children can acquire knowledge throughout their life. Museum education is so much more than learning a new fact. It is a place where people of all ages can apply new information in a way that helps them value different perspectives and understand the ideas of others. While SEEC is uniquely situated to achieve this as a school on the Smithsonian campus, all schools and museums can support these democratic values. Classroom faculty can engage in conversations at their schools utilizing museum objects as a focal point via online resources. Museum educators can cultivate educational experiences that are friendly to all families and and frame developmentally appropriate experiences that support young children as capable learners. If we can support learning in this open-ended way, museums can and will remains stalwarts of democracy.


References

Skorton, David J. “How Do We Restore Trust in Our Democracies?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Mar. 2018, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-do-we-restore-trust-our-democracies-museums-can-be-starting-point-180968448/#FsSTi0ZDsl6qSVV0.99.

Celebrating our Faculty

Every year, SEEC hosts a dinner in honor of its educators. This annual event takes place at a local restaurant where we enjoy food, drink, and each other’s company. In addition to the  festivities, we also use a portion of the evening to honor our faculty. This year, our center directors took a moment to individually recognize each of SEEC’s educators. Though our administrative team feels that SEEC is an amazing school because of its unique approach to learning and location on the Smithsonian campus, they also know that at the heart of this school are the amazing individuals who spend their days loving, teaching, and nurturing our students.

Once we concluded sharing about our team as a whole, a few special educators were singled out for their work. We began by recognizing Jessie Miller, the recipient of the Diane Homiak award. This award is a long-standing tradition at SEEC that recognizes the commitment, creativity, and contributions of a stellar educator. Jessie is an educator in one of our Pre-K 4 classrooms and has been teaching at SEEC since 2012.  She is originally from Norfolk, VA and completed her Master’s in Early Childhood Education at George Mason University in 2015. In numerous nominations from both current and former parents, as well as her colleagues, Jessie was singled out for the creativity she brings to the learning experiences she creates, her boundless enthusiasm and energy, her caring nature, and her ability to tap into the innate curiosity of her students in meaningful ways.

SEEC also  recognizes educators from each of its three centers who are team players. These educators were selected for their willingness to lend a hand, positive spirit, and for contributing to a strong sense of community.  Support educator, Dana Brightful was honored for her work at our preschool location at the American History Museum. Dana realized her passion for teaching young children while in college and has been part of the SEEC family since 2005. Silvana Oderisi, kindergarten teacher, was acknowledged for her work at one of our Natural History locations. Before joining SEEC, Silvana completed her Bachelors in French from George Mason University and taught as a Corps Member of Teach for America. Finally, an entire team from one of our infant classrooms was awarded the team player award for our second Natural History location: Rosalie Reyes, Morgan Powell, and Mallory Messersmith. This threesome truly exemplifies the spirit of SEEC.

All in all, we had more than 30 different educators that were nominated by families and peers this year. It was a difficult decision, but we are so proud of our team and are thrilled to be able to honor their hard work and dedication.

SEEC’s Take on Emergent Curriculum

The following post was authored by Dana Hirsch who has been at SEEC since 2005 and has taught  almost every age group. She is currently the Director for Preschool Programs. Dana studied Child Development and Family Science at North Dakota State University, and has a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction for Early Childhood Education from George Mason University. Her three-year-old daughter is currently a student at SEEC. For this blog she drew upon her experience in the classroom, and intimate involvement with writing SEEC’s current emergent curriculum approach.

dana

Dana teaching a PreK-4 class

During my career as an educator, and now director, I’ve had the pleasure of working with every age from infant to kindergarten.  People often ask me which is my favorite age, and my answer is always the same; “I don’t know, I love different things about each age.” While each stage of development is unique, there is one element that permeates through all ages and is one of my favorite parts of working with young children: the way curiosity leads to connections. It doesn’t matter if you have a classroom full of five-month-olds, or five-year-olds, they are all naturally curious about the world around them and even the youngest children are able to communicate their interests.

 

The Evolution of Curriculum Development at SEEC

Until the early part of 2013, SEEC followed a curriculum that used museum and community visits as way to explore pre-set monthly themes. This type of curriculum was helpful in allowing educators to plan far in advance and demonstrated how similar topics could be approached in different ways.  However, educators began to realize that they were often competing with the interests and curiosities of their students.  For example, during the month that the school focused on clothes, there was a construction project nearby. We recognized that the vast majority of the children were interested in the site and what was happening.  Such instances encouraged us to wonder, could we focus on the children’s interests and create learning opportunities from that?

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This class is looking at setting the table after returning from the Thanksgiving break.

Simultaneously, we were working as a team to reexamine what we believed about children and learning.  This reflection launched us in a new direction that moved away from monthly themes. We began to observe our students more closely in order to understand the emerging interests of individual classrooms. This different approach was still very much steeped in our model of using museums and the community. Essentially, we took many of the guiding principles of our program – hands-on, object based, experiential learning – and used them to support an emergent approach.  Hence, the emergent curriculum we follow today.

At SEEC we believe that children who are encouraged and enabled to explore the things they are curious about will develop a lifelong love for learning.  Children learn best when they are able to make meaningful connections, so we want to foster that natural “emerging” curiosity and desire for knowledge by giving the children every opportunity to ask questions, find answers, and have hands-on, object-based experiences.  We know that all of these things together create meaningful experiences which is at the heart of learning for young children. By blending our museum-based approach with an emergent curriculum, we have seen the curiosity and inquiry of our students soar to new heights.

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A 2-year old class put on a show about their favorite book, Abiyoyo.

So, What is an Emergent Curriculum?

An emergent curriculum allows educators the freedom to choose a topic that is of interest to the children in their classroom and use that topic as a platform to provide experiences and learning opportunities that naturally foster curiosity and a sense of wonder, two important elements of SEEC’s philosophy.  Educators have the ability to follow the lead of the children because the curriculum is not prescribed and does not follow a set timeline. The exploration into a topic can last as long as there is interest.  As the class explores the topic, new questions or interests may emerge that change the initial direction of exploration or bring in new elements.  Teachers follow the path that the children’s questions and exploration leads them.  The children in turn learn how to ask questions, probe deeper, and find answers they were not expecting.  They are able to make connections that are more meaningful because they are interested and curious about what they are exploring.

The other benefit of the emergent approach is that educators are able to maintain the children’s attention better because they are focusing on that which is interesting to them. The emergent approach allows educators to create lesson plans that target specific areas of development while maintaining a love for learning. For example, a child who needs a little extra support with her fine motor abilities may normally show disinterest in these types of activities. However, if she’s interested in flowers and plants, gluing small pieces of paper petals (or even real petals) may help engage her. Another child might struggle to enter into play with her peers and, as a result, avoids dramatic play with others. However, she’s shown an interest in space and rockets

so her teachers decided to create a rocket themed dramatic play area. This gives her some extra encouragement to explore this kind of play and thus, she is able to work more on developing her social skills.

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Thinking about emeralds

Emergent Curriculum’s Endless Possibilities

When I was first introduced to the idea of using an emergent curriculum, it took some time for me to figure out what that really looked like in the classroom and how best to implement it.   At first, the idea of having the freedom to choose to any topic at all was both freeing and intimidating.  Where do you start?  How do you choose where to focus?  What do you mean you cannot plan out the next month in advance?! For me, the hardest part was finding the balance between having a plan but being flexible enough with it to follow the interest and curiosity of the children. It took time and practice to notice the children’s interest. I observed them during circle time, at community/museum visits, playing with choices, and on the playground.  I learned to allow myself to spend an extra day or even an extra week on a particular topic because the children just seemed so interested rather than steamrolling ahead with what I had planned. As someone who really likes to plan things out and be organized, this really took some getting used to. However, after some time implementing this type of curriculum, I began to see how much the children’s curiosity and genuine desire to learn and explore blossomed.

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Dramatic Play

Emergent Curriculum in Practice

When SEEC first transitioned from a theme-based approach to the emergent curriculum we have today, four of our preschool classrooms decided to focus on the same overarching topic: The Wizard of Oz.  At that time there had been a lot of interest in the ruby slippers on display in the National Museum of American History.  Many of the children were interested in the movie and liked to pretend to be the different characters.  Those children who weren’t initially interested picked up on the interest of their peers and gravitated towards it as well, so it seemed like the right area to explore. What was so interesting, though, was how the direction that each classroom took differed from one to the next — each based on the group’s particular areas of interest.

emerald city

Building the Emerald City

One classroom chose to specifically focus on the characters themselves.  Their exploration involved a lot of dramatic play and costume design.  Another classroom choose to think more about the natural elements of the story such as weather, plants and flowers. From there, they even explored human anatomy using the characters as a comparison.  Two classrooms focused on the Emerald City, but in very different ways.  One classroom explored architecture as it related to the buildings in the city and the other on emeralds themselves.  This initial interest in emeralds led to a unit focused on geology – something the educators had never expected.

Using an emergent curriculum approach has transformed the way we think about teaching and learning at SEEC. There are a myriad of possibilities with emergent curriculum implementation and exploration. I think the success of this approach is largely because it supports children at every age in making meaningful connections and developing a lifelong love of learning.  I know adults often pick up on things much more quickly when interested in a topic, why would children be any different?

Object Feature: Freer|Sackler Reopens

Cynthia Teaching

Teaching in the Japanese Screen Galleries in 2001

The Freer and Sackler Galleries, one of the jewels of the National Mall, reopened just a few weeks ago and our faculty is grateful to have it back. For those of you who don’t know, the Freer|Sackler is comprised mostly of Asian art with a small collection of 19th century American art.  I love this museum. I worked here at the beginning of my career and it is still one of my favorite museums in which to teach.  When I began working in early education though, I observed that many of my colleagues struggled using this collection with young children. I can see their perspective — many of the concepts and traditions represented throughout the collection can be complex and unfamiliar.

With the reopening, it felt like the perfect time to explore the Freer|Sackler through the lens of early childhood education. At SEEC, we believe that it is imperative to introduce children to cultures and ideas other than their own. We feel that this exposure helps them develop empathy and perspective and moreover, it prepares them to be global citizens. We also feel strongly that all the children in our school should be represented through our lessons. It is vital that children see themselves reflected in their learning environment.

Over the course of our almost 30 years, SEEC has worked hard to define approaches that engage children and help them make meaning of objects that might have little or nothing to do with their daily life. Because we know that small children connect best with what they know and do regularly, I wanted to highlight a few ways to approach this collection. The following list is by no means complete, it is more of a snapshot of the techniques an educator, or even a parent, can use with children.  If you discover something I haven’t, please leave a comment – we are always looking to learn from our educator community.

Storytelling

Gandharan Frieze


Scenes from the Life of the Buddha; Pakistan or Afghanistan, Kushan Dynasty (late 2nd – early 3rd century); stone, Purchase, Freer Gallery of Art; F1949.9a-d 

Storytelling is a tool for the young and the old alike, and the Freer|Sackler houses its fair share of good stories. The Museum includes stories of Hindu gods, the life of the Buddha, and Chinese folktales – just to name a few.  With some research and dramatic flair, an educator can bring these stories to life. At SEEC, we often make books for our younger students. This helps us gather information and format it in an accessible way for our students.

Key pieces:

Connecting the Familiar with the Unfamiliar

Young children are concrete learners. If you take something with which they are

Bell

Explore the sounds a Chinese bell makes.

familiar and put it next to something with which they are not familiar, you make a connection.

Here are some connections:

  • Music – Resound: Ancient Bells of China is a great exhibit not just because there are bells, but because there are several hands-on components that allow children to understand sound and to hear the difference between Chinese and western bells. Consider bringing a real bell or shaker on your visit to provide a hands-on experience.
  • Animals – There are many examples from which to choose, but of course one of the most prominent work is the Peacock Room by James McNeill Whistler. When visiting the Peacock Room, bring photos of peacocks and/or peacock feathers. Encourage the children to look closely at both the peacock and the room to notice shapes, colors, similarities, and differences.
  • Seasons – The American art galleries in the Freer have a great collection of paintings depicting different seasons and weather. There are so many contextual objects that you can use when exploring seasons. Educators might consider bringing seasonal clothing and/or photos, ice packs, or sensory bottles containing seasonal colors or natural elements.
  • Writing/Books – In addition to a gallery that explores Buddhist sutras, there are other examples of writing from all across Asia throughout the Museum. Bring examples of your favorite children’s books and/or special books that might be important to you or to one of your student’s families.

    Guardian Figure

    Guardian figure; Japan, Kamakura period (1185–1333); wood; Purchase, Freer Gallery of Art; F1949.21

  • Human Body, Gestures or Movement – There are two galleries devoted to how the human body is depicted on the Indian subcontinent. You can also find other examples, including this Guardian Figure from Japan. Don’t be afraid to encourage children to move their bodies in these spaces. The opportunity to move and explore their own body will enrich the experience and develop their gross motor skills.

Do you ever wonder why babies put things in their mouths? That is how they learn. Young children begin to understand their world by using their five senses (actually there are seven, but that is another blog – vestibular and proprioception). So I was especially excited to see that Freer has a whole room devoted to Islamic art and the senses. Plates, candlesticks, incense burners, and illustrations of music are just a few of the objects you will encounter. While you obviously can’t burn incense or make a meal in the galleries, educators can easily pair these objects with in-classroom activities that might inspire our sense of smell or taste.  It might also be an opportunity to reach out to your classroom families, the objects in these galleries come from a wide geographic area and might help you make some personal connections in your community.

The Sackler  has a Tibetan shrine room that will allow children to be in a space where they will encounter sumptuous images while listening Buddhist chants and watching the flickering of candlelight. The accompanying app, Sacred Spaces, has a lot of information to help inform your visit. If you have the time, you can distill a few key points that can help your students make stronger connections.

Beauty

Looking at Buddha

At SEEC, we believe that young children should be introduced to art, begin to develop a visual vocabulary, and embrace their own creativity. The works throughout the museum, but especially in the American galleries, offer young children the opportunity to explore and notice similarities and differences.

Charles Lang Freer’s taste in collecting art was influenced by the Aesthetic Movement in the late 1800’s, which advocated for “art for art’s sake.”  The artists associated with this movement were more concerned with making art that was an expression of creativity and beauty. I think this quote, taken from the Freer|Sackler website, sums it up well.

.. it was through American art of his own time that Freer developed the habits of quiet contemplation and intelligent comparison that he hoped to share with future generations of museum visitors.

I think Freer would be satisfied to know that SEEC’s students are using his art collection to begin  developing their own aesthetic and appreciation for museums.