Beyond Stereotypes: Teaching about Native Peoples in Practice

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


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

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

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

Lesson Objectives

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

Day 1

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

Day 2

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

Day 3

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

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

Day 4

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

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

Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes a Preschool Successful?

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

Preschools should focus less on memorization of letters and numbers.

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

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

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

Playfulness

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

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

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

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

 

Choice

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

 

Conversation

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

SEEC SHARES: Kicking Off the New Year

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

Getting to Know Each Other

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

Team Building and Classroom Culture

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

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

Getting to Know Ourselves

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

Routines

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

Community

2

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

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

 

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

Originally posted September 2017.

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!

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.