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.

Honoring Adults and Children: Family Workshop Philosophies

2At SEEC, we believe that children are much more than cute. We believe they are curious learners who should be respected in the same way we do adults. Honoring our young learners has long been a hallmark of our school and it is no different in our weekend programs.

Our weekend family programs are an extension of our school’s pedagogical model so that we can effectively incorporate the caregiver in the learning experience. Our programs have three goals:.

  • Create community with our families.
  • Support the cognitive, physical, and emotional development of young children.
  • Support family experiences that promote a love of learning in a variety of environments.

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This Saturday we will spend time with our weekend faculty thinking about how we support these goals in one of our staff development sessions. We will specifically be thinking about the power of inquiry and curiosity. Although our lessons are written ahead of time, we feel it is important to incorporate our students’ perspectives and experiences into the learning process. We will also spend time discussing how we support community. The weekend faculty is always excited when they see returning families and we want to make our participants feel comfortable and welcome. Finally, we will spend some time considering the language we use in the classroom, what it communicates to children and also how we can work together with the caregivers to support positive outcomes.

We are excited to begin another year together. We hope you will join our community for a workshop sometime soon.

If you are new to our programs, this guiding document below will help you understand our core beliefs as educators and what to expect from our family experiences.

We Believe

  • …that children are individuals who develop and learn differently. If you let them choose what speaks to them, you will set them up for a lifetime love of learning.
  • …that caregiving is a hard job and is not to be judged.
  • …that young children are developing their ability to sit, listen, cooperate, and control their emotions. As adults, is it important to remember that this is hard work and we should try to balance our expectations with a child’s individual progression.
  • … that weekends are for fun and family.
  • …that playing is learning.CORNER TAB (1)
  • …in playing with children, being silly, singing, having fun, and getting dirty.
  • …in asking open-ended questions and wondering out loud, even with infants and toddlers.
  • …in taking time to stop, look carefully, and describe the objects we encounter in the classroom, community, and in the museums.
  • …in encouraging children to try new skills and not be afraid to fail.
  • …in a community of learners. Learning truly begins at birth and should continue into adulthood.
  • ….that having a calm body and an adult hand will keep us and the objects we visit safe, but this will not preclude us from looking, talking, singing, and playing during our museum visits.

How We Teach

Not all children will be interested in ALL of our teaching methods so we use a variety of techniques to engage them. Follow your child’s lead and be flexible; there is no one way to learn.

Community

The world is our classroom and we not only use museums, but parks, stores, libraries, and beyond.

Objects

Objects help engage the senses and provide a concrete and memorable learning experience. They are more powerful than words and pictures alone and children are more likely to remember and connect with the experience.

Observations

Observation encourages our minds to focus, eyes to look closely, and brains to develop a deeper understanding.  We often start lessons by asking, “What do you see?”

Questions

Questions require children to be active participants in the learning process and because of this, inquiry is more powerful than simply sharing information. We also ask questions as a way to create dialog and cultivate flexible thinking. Thinking out loud helps us see how others are thinking and therefore, expand our own thinking.

Non-verbal Learners

Posing questions to children who are non-verbal is still important. Look for non-verbal cues such as pointing, looking, and giggling, and respond to them.

Experimentation

Experimentation is a process by which children explore a topic. Children experiment as a way of understanding cause and effect relationships or as a way to solve problems. Anything a child does more than once can be considered an experiment. We will ask, “What would happen if …” as a way to harness a learner’s natural desire to experiment.

Exploration

Exploration allows children to discover and learn about a topic in a variety of ways. While exploring, children may engage in the following activities …

Math

Math concepts are interwoven into lessons. Examples you might observe are: counting, representing quantities, noticing differences in quantities, observing patterns, and categorizing.

Fine motor

Fine motor activities allow children to use the small muscles in their hands to help them learn how to do things like dress independently, and write.

Movement

Gross motor activities engage a child’s large muscles, for example running, jumping, and climbing. Movement helps children learn what their bodies are capable of, as well as provide necessary and fun outlets for physical movement.

Art

Our art activities focus on the process, rather than the outcome. Participating in process-based art encourages creativity and problem solving and develops fine motor skills.

 Sensory

Sensory activities are those that stimulate a child’s senses. Young children have a more meaningful learning experience when their senses are engaged.

Play

Play can be defined in many ways, but typically involves some element of imagination.  Play helps children explore roles, ideas, and situations, and often builds social skills as they navigate play with peers or adults.

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Research has proven the importance of reading with young children, and that positive experiences with books help create a love of reading.

Singing

Singing is important tool with young children, science has proven that music helps children better remember concepts and vocabulary. It also helps children transition from one activity to another.

 

 

 

Top 5 – Back to School Edition

Fresh pens, paper and backpacks at all the stores. Heavier traffic in the mornings and afternoons.  Cooler weather.  All tell-tale signs of another school year beginning.  We’ve compiled a Top 5 list of Back to School ideas, which will hopefully inspire you and get your school year off to a great start!

1. Nose wiping station.  The start of fall brings refreshing breezes, but also germs.  We love this idea for a Nose Wiping Station that we found on Montessori Mama and How We Montessori.  Pick a corner of the classroom and set up a shelf with tissues that the children will be able to reach.  Hang a mirror above the shelf so children can see themselves as they wipe their nose to make sure they clean it sufficiently.  Not only will this station keep germs from spreading, it will also encourage self-help and health skills. (Image from How We Montessori).

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2. Class collage. This SEEC 3-year-old class made a class collage at the beginning of the year to honor individuality while also creating a classroom culture. Using collages are a great way to talk about multiple, unique parts that make up a whole. The class visited and observed “Dam” by Robert Rauschenberg at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and made their own class collage, complete with photos of their faces.

3. Documentation.  Documenting can seem daunting when you’ve got so many other things going on at the beginning of the year, but these ideas could make it easier, while making learning more visible in the classroom. The image on the left is from the TransformationEd blog and features their Rabbit Road, which depicts their learning process during their inquiry on Rabbits. Displaying the journey on a linear road is a concrete way that children can see their work over time as they explore a topic.  The image on the right is from the Science Notebook, Teaching, and Technology blog, which depicts another documentation idea – choose a space in the classroom (that children can see) to display blank sheets representing each month of your school year.  At the conclusion of each month (or throughout) add images or work that share what the class has been doing.  Keep them up all year long, even as you switch out other displays and documentation, to help children see their work and progress over the whole school year.

4. Organizational hacks.  In our opinion, there are few greater feelings than starting a new year with an organized classroom.  This yahoo list has 15 organizational hacks from around the web that will help you feel fresh and ready. (Image on left from Motherhood On a Dime, image on right from Organized Cassroom)

5. Exploring Questions.  Fostering a sense of wonder and curiousity is something we take very seriously here at SEEC.  One of our four-year-old classes spent a considerable amount of time exploring questions last September and October to set them up for an inquisitive year.  To read more about their unit, click here.

For more Back to School ideas, visit our Pinterest board here.  Happy Back to School everyone!

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_PlantingWant to think and learn more about play in early childhood? Join us for our Play in the Community seminar on May 6 & 7. Learn more and register.


Over 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.

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Look what I found!!

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

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Add a toy and the possibilities multiply!

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