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.

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!