Easy At-Home Learning: Architecture

Why Architecture

As a parent, I am always on the look out for fun and easy learning opportunities. While I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed this great blog on shadows and I began to think more about architecture. We encounter architecture everyday– it is all around us. Whether we live in the city, suburbs or country – architecture is an essential component of our environment. And if you haven’t read any previous posts, SEEC staff has been busy thinking about the importance of environment and its impact on learning. Young children connect to architecture and at an early age, begin to notice its features. Don’t believe me….Well, just take a walk with a group of SEEC students across the Mall and ask them where their parents works. Inevitably, they will identify the museum by the building’s architecture. “My mommy works in the round one (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden).” or “Dad works in the one with a lot of glass (National Air and Space Museum).”

 

Seize the Moment

Maybe your child doesn’t spend their days in Washington, DC, but I bet they are noticing their own neighborhood. Ask them to think about their friend’s homes, can they identify a feature: color, shape, number of stories? What about their school? The first words out of my kid’s mouths when they set foot in their school cafeteria was, “There are a ton of windows.” Its true, one wall of their cafeteria is ceiling to floor windows that look out onto a wooded area. That feature made a strong impression and four years later, they continue to marvel at the fact these windows connect them to the outdoors. The point I am trying to make is simple: if your child notices these details seize the opportunity to take what they are interested in and run with it.

That is exactly what our teachers did in the set of photos below of our three-year old class last year. I specifically chose to highlight this lesson because I thought it would be easy to recreate at home and inspire your inner teacher. Keep in mind, I am not suggesting that after working a 10-hour day (whether it be in an office or at home) that you whip up a lesson plus museum visit (for on-the-spot ideas, see below), but it is something to keep in mind for a weekend. These ideas encourage your child’s imagination, include some simple math and gets them to think about design, engineering and even aesthetics.

Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns that seemed like an obvious element to discuss with the class.

Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns – they were the perfect element to discuss with the class. Using the tablet, helps them visualize the idea before the headed out for their museum visit.

An over-sized can was another convenient choice - something easily pulled from the kitchen.

An over-sized can was another convenient choice for the teachers who simply pulled it from the kitchen. Each child got a turn feeling the weight of the can. This is an important step so that they experience of the weight of the can.

The teacher places the can on her 2-column building with disappointing results.

The teacher places the can on her 2-column building, made simply of cardboard and blocks. Clearly, the results were disappointing.

It turns out that by adding two columns, the house will hold the can.

It turns out that by adding two more columns, the house will hold the can.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

 

On-the-spot Ideas

Don’t have time or energy to plan – don’t worry. Here are a few simple, spontaneous ideas that will get your little one to notice the architecture in their neighborhood.

1. Ask them to count the number of windows/columns (or whatever feature interests them) and draw their shapes with their finger – identify the shapes.

2. Ask them what they like or dislike about a building or a particular part of it?

3. Ask them to draw what they see or use their imagination to draw a building.

5. Play with building blocks when you get home and design your own space.

5. Play “I spy” with a particular architectural feature while riding home and describe its physical characteristics.

Hoping these ideas inspire you to get out and learn with your little one!

Our second posting in our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Series.

i-jgMbrGZ-X2The Journey

People familiar with Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) will often describe it as a journey or a process. Now that I am a couple of years into my own DEAI experience, I can finally say that I understand what they mean. Each time I feel like I make some headway, I find that something comes along and reminds me that I still have work to do.

Such was the case at a recent educator workshop I was co-leading, Never Too Young. Going into the workshop, I was feeling confident and prepared. Overall the morning went well and there were many meaningful conversations. During the section where we discussed relationships with families, we asked participants to split up in small groups and talk about one of a variety of scenarios that we described as, “difficult conversations.” As each group shared their thoughts, it became clear that some of the participants were uncomfortable because the scenarios portrayed lifestyle choices with which they disagreed. It was a conundrum; the focus of the workshop was to help educators create an inclusive environment where children can develop a positive sense of self.  Yet, I could see that the discussion made some people uncomfortable and moreover, these participants had stopped listening.

i-pKMtvLP-X2As a facilitator, I recognized my role in their discomfort and I felt like we needed to reconsider our approach – we were talking about inclusion after all. I had several questions:

How do we navigate conversations when peoples’ ideals are not aligned with inclusivity? Was it my role to challenge those ideas? What are SEEC’s priorities when providing these types of training? And most importantly, how do we keep the children’s best interests at the center of what we do?

At the next session of the workshop, I made a few modifications. We added inclusive language to our introduction so that participants knew what to expect and understood we would talk about some issues with which they many not agree. Before the scenarios, we reiterated the role of the caregiver as the decision maker and the role of the educator as someone whose role was to make a child feel safe and loved. I think this helped, but we are definitely still thinking things through.

DEAI and Educator Programs

i-bH6jtnR-X2In addition to this specific experience, we have been thinking about our entire menu of educator workshops through a DEAI lens. Some of the changes are small and obvious, and others are still in the “thinking” phase, but as I said….it’s a journey. Below is a list of ways we are thinking about DEAI in terms of our professional development options. These perspectives are with us as we rethink content and introduce new conversations to our educator programs.

 

 

 

  1. Demonstrating how objects can tell stories of similarities and differences.
  2. Exploring ways community visits can:
    • Provide children with experiences to connect with peoples and cultures that are different or similar to their own, which may not always be the case in their classroom.
    • Create opportunities for children to build social emotional skills, especially in terms of empathy and considering perspectives other than their own.
    • Provide real-life examples of people working for change.
    • Provide real age-appropriate experiences for children to make change.
  3. i-LbjP8rd-X2Considering how the museum community views families and young children and how we can help museum professionals understand that children are capable and should be respected. Helping museums think through how to make their spaces accessible to families, and how to support family learning.
  4. Strategies for talking to children in age appropriate ways about history, culture, and current events.
  5. The role silence plays when educators don’t acknowledge bias in the classroom.
  6. Ways of building classroom lessons and environments that authentically weave in diversity and inclusion, and avoid tokenism.
  7. How educators can build strong relationships with families to establish a community in which everyone feels respected, even when there are disagreements.

Object Feature: Louise Bourgeois’ Spider

It was during a recent conversation with one of our faculty, that made me pause and consider Louise Bourgeois’ Spider at the National Gallery of Art. To be honest, I wasn’t immediately drawn to this piece. I’m admittedly not a big fan of spiders, but, as is often the case, when you learn more about something it opens up new doors.i-k7Trf6j-X2

Size and Location

On the surface, this piece has a lot of elements that make it ideal for young audiences, most noticeably its location. I truly enjoy being in sculpture gardens. They are an all-ages space – conducive to movement and activity for children and still, contemplative, and provocative in a way that appeals to adults. The sculpture garden is a community space akin to a central square or other public space that features art. It is family friendly space that speaks to different generations who can learn and be inspired.

The piece is also worth highlighting for its size and 3-dimensional nature. While I rarely say “no” to using smaller artworks, a large piece that allows a child to move around it and view it from multiple perspectives, is always ideal. So caregivers and educators, if you visit, make sure that you leave time for ample careful looking. Notice things like the texture of the material, the details of the legs, and how it looks from different perspectives.i-ctMrDxC-X2

Content Connections

The artwork is an ideal segue into STEM, social emotional, and literary learning. First, it’s a spider. Spiders, while not always a crowd favorite, serve an important and definitive purpose in ecology. As an insect eater…. Young children don’t always see spiders as important or as helpers, but this immense artwork provides the opportunity to introduce the spider in a way that is new to a child. This makes me particularly excited as we think about museums as catalysts for children for learning about and protecting their community. In this case, being able to impart some information about the importance of spiders in our ecosystem, one can help children connect to their environment and understand that all living things play a valuable role.

i-mrJb3V9-X2Meaning

My colleague recently shared with me about the significance of the spider. Ms. Bourgeois created spiders in the latter part of her career as a symbol of her mother. Like the spider, she saw her mother as a protector. She viewed her as strong, but also vulnerable. While these are abstract concepts for young children, they can be illustrated by looking closely at the spider. Notice that it is large and tall, yet its legs outstretched like a hug. The spider is a childhood recollection, so the spider’s size is like that of an adult. Have the children imagine a favorite adult, how do they express their love or what do they do to help keep you safe.

Though I would not likely add onto this during a single lesson with young children, its worth noting that spider’s figure is also very delicate. I encourage you to look closely and find what areas of the sculpture look vulnerable or contradict its overall looming presence. Interestingly, Bourgeois’ memories of her mother reflect her father’s ten-year affair with her governess.

Finally, for learners of all ages, connecting art to literature is a way to enhance and build on both the literary and visual experiences. The first thing that came to mind was Charlotte’s Webb, but of course there are many child friendly stories out there that would accompany this sculpture. For example, Eric Carle’s The Very Busy Spider.

i-ZwMc9ms-X2Learning Extensions

Go on a hunt for spiders and spider webs.

Create a web together using string.

Visit the Insect Zoo and look for different types of spiders or Learning Lab – notice similarities and differences.

Spiders have eight legs, but did you know that most spiders have eight eyes too.

Make spider webs by laying paper down in an aluminum pan and moving tiny balls around that have been dipped in paint.

Upcoming Family Day: National Academy of Sciences

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Arctic Family Day: CPNAS 2018

 

With Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and National Mall about to bloom, everyone is excited for the upcoming festivities that take place annually in the District. We, at SEEC, are particularly thrilled to get the chance to partner with the Cultural Programs at the National Academy of Sciences for the third year in a row on their upcoming family day that will be held the day of the Cherry Blossom Parade, Saturday, April 13th.

This family day will be especially exciting as it includes the Institute for Genomic Biology’s interactive DecisionTown. DecisionTown will have 17 stops that will ask visitors to make a choice regarding the future of the town. Participants will explore topics like, DNA sequencing and personalized health, the accuracy of eyewitness accounts, and food and health. There will even be a laser show featuring important scientific achievements. When you’ve done your decision-making, you will go to the Town Hall and become a DecisionTown Citizen.

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Arctic Family Day: CPNAS 2018

As if that weren’t enough, SEEC will be hosting activities in conjunction with CPNAS’ photography exhibit highlighting the work of Dornith Doherty. In addition to their aesthetic beauty, Doherty’s photographs explore the importance of seed diversity through the documentation of seed banks. SEEC was particularly excited to use this exhibit as inspiration for programming. 

We hope to explore four key questions; 

  • What are seeds?
  • Why is the relationship between seeds and food?
  • What is seed diversity?
  • Why is seed diversity important?
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Arctic Family Day: CPNAS 2018

We will answer these questions through hands-on activities that will appeal to children and adults alike. Families will have the chance to explore seeds and different foods, they will create ideal seed environments through an interactive game, and they will plant their own seeds to take home. Finally, visitors will be invited to join a short session with a SEEC educator demonstrating different types of seed dispersal.

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Arctic Family Day: CPNAS 2018

Plan on spending the morning watching the parade and walk down to CPNAS for a fun and educational day. The event is free and registration is encouraged.

 

 

 

Thinking it Through: The Logistics of Community Visits

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Getting out into the Community


If you are familiar with us, you know that learning in the community is a hallmark of SEEC. Part of our mission is to share our teaching strategies with other educators. We would be remiss though if we didn’t address the elephant in the room. Sure – getting out into the community is great, but is it realistic? And even if you can do it, is it worthwhile? We recognize that getting a group of ten toddlers out the door, especially during the winter, is no easy feat.

We believe, however, that young children are capable and when given, simple routines to follow, young learners can manage to get from point A to point B safely and in relative harmony.

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Trains

We have a few key routines, one of which is SEEC trains. Trains means that either one child has either an adult or another child’s hand and walks in pairs or triplets with faculty members placed strategically throughout the train. We are lucky at SEEC and have higher ratios, so that when our younger groups go out they are always on a teacher train. Our preschool children can walk on “free” trains.

When we cross the street, it’s hands and bubbles. We raise our hands tall so cars can see us and catch a bubble in our mouth so we can focus on walking safely. There is also the red light rule – our students know that if they need to stop for any reason, like an untied shoe, they can yell out red light and the group will stop and wait for the problem to be fixed.

 

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In the Museum

Staying on trains in the museum is necessary as well. It helps get the group safely to their destination – making it less tempting to touch or run and easier to navigate crowds. For students who have a free hand on their train, we remind them that they can place that hand in a pocket or on their stomach.

Once we get to what we want to see, we often use a circle song to get everyone seated. Our teachers are thoughtful about finding spaces where children can sit and be themselves. Young children need to move and we want to enable them to enjoy the museum experience in an age appropriate way. When we are in our circle, we consider  timing and the needs of the children on that given day. There are some days when a longer lesson might be appropriate and we are lucky to easily be able to return to the museums. If you do not have that luxury, which is also the case for our weekend programs, we recommend bringing a couple of different activities, i.e. art, books, play to see what works best with the group’s dynamic on a particular day. Recently, I’ve noticed that some our teachers are using a Montessori inspired work mat to delineate a teaching area in the museum. The children seem to respond well to this method and respect the space.

32When you make a community visit it is equally important to consider your route, where you will be able to sit and have a discussion, what sort of distractions are nearby and, if you are visiting a specific object, will it be accessible to a young child.

There are a number of other techniques that we use for successful visits, but it mostly comes down to planning, responding to the children, setting developmentally appropriate expectations, and providing clear and simple routines.

We hope you join as we consider why community visits are important and how best to plan and execute them in our upcoming educator workshop, Learning Through Objects on March 14 and 15.

Agents of Change

SEECstories.com (17)A few months ago, I wrote a blog about museums and democracy and I have, of late, been reminded that I am not the only one thinking about young children, civics, and advocacy. I was taking time to go through my predecessor’s files and was reminded that SEEC collaborated with Project Zero on a project entitled Children Are Citizens, a collaboration of children and teachers participating in a professional development and curriculum project that sees young children as not just future citizens, but current citizens. The goal of the project is to connect children to their DC community in an active and meaningful way. There is even an upcoming conference on this very topic next weekend at the Washington International School. SEEC’s participation in 2014 -2015 highlighted the students’ perspectives on the museums on the National Mall – offering insight into the collections and commenting on the importance of museums and what other children should see when they visit.

My team and I also recently spent two days at the Capitol conducting a training for their visitor services staff and I was lucky enough to engage in a conversation with their educators about civics and young children. Like us, they felt that civics has a definitive place in early childhood education.

With all these elements converging, I wanted to take time to reflect back on SEEC’s students and their role as young citizens. In my previous blog, I made the case for how SEEC’s approach to learning naturally promotes civic and community engagement. With this blog, I wanted to examine how specific lessons help young children become active members of their community.

One of my favorite SEEC stories comes from the Kindergarten class a few years ago when they learned about biblioburro or the donkey library, a mobile library in Columbia. After learning about this library and taking some time to formulate questions for it’s founder, Luis Soriano, the kindergartners wanted to do something to support it. They ultimately decided on hosting a bake sale, which they successfully planned and implemented as a group. They earned $500, which they excitedly counted and then tracked as their teacher transferred the money.  The biblioburro also inspired them to make an alphabet book of ocean animals in Spanish. The book was not only donated to the biblioburro, but was also sold as a fundraiser for SEEC.

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Photo used with permission from Luis Soriano.

Young children are naturally egocentric and empathy is a skill that they are still developing. So when one of our classes was having difficulty with conflict resolution, the educators thought it was time to focus on developing these skills.  The class embarked on a longer study of heroes and heroism, a part of which included going to Martha’s Table where they not only donated food, but actually gave part of their own lunches to make sandwiches. Here is a small portion from that blog:

The following week we told the kids that there was a special place in DC called Martha’s Table where you could take food for people who can’t afford to buy their own. “We have lots of food in our kitchen at my house,” one girl said. “I’ll bring some to school and we can send it to the Martha’s Table.” It was a sweet offer, but it didn’t require any heroic action on the part of our students and it didn’t teach them anything other than how to ask their parents for food- which was always available to them. So we told them to go ahead and bring some food from home to flesh out our donation and then we put our grand plan to a class vote. We told them that what we really wanted to do was to make sandwiches to take to Martha’s Table and that we wanted to use the sliced bread that was going to be delivered as a side dish for the children’s lunch the next day. The vote was unanimous. We used all of the bread that was delivered the next morning, made 30 sandwiches, loaded them in a wagon along with 50 additional pounds of food and took them on the metro to hand-deliver them to Martha’s Table. The kids were so proud of their work and I was so proud of their choice to take food that was meant for them and give it to someone who needed it more.

These are just a small sampling of experiences in which children at SEEC have participated as agents of change. There have been other experiences, especially among  our pre-K and K students, but its important to remember our younger students too.

Children zero to three are still trying to understand their place in the world, the concept of sharing, and being helpful. This developmental stage is a powerful time to introduce students to the concept of community and empathy.  One of our toddler classes did just this via a lesson about setting the table. This lesson was part of a larger unit in which they explored family, love, and community all around the winter holiday season. What I found most powerful about this lesson was the educators observations about how the children continued to help with setting the table well after the lesson.  The children truly began to see how they were not only part of a bigger group, but able to give and receive help in a way that benefited the greater good.

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In another toddler class, they participated in a unit on superheroes. Children easily identify with the image of the superhero and our faculty saw the opportunity to extend that interest into a study about real life heroes. They explored community helpers like firefighters, military personnel, police officers and even talked about the Red Cross. The students began to see how some members of the community can make a real difference in helping and protecting people. Not only did this unit of exploration give them time to think about those roles, but it also gave them the opportunity to make real connections with the people and places that are dedicated to community service.

Over and over, I am reminded of how fundamental the early years are to learning these life skills. The academic portion will come, but we have a real opportunity to shape active, engaged, and empathetic citizens.