Digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, however it also comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. Over the last seven months our school has been engaging children through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One strategy that remains consistent with our in-person approach is the use of objects. This blog is authored by Juliana Venegas and Sarah Huffman, one of our preschool teaching teams, and shares their experience using objects with their class in a virtual format.
SEEC uses an object-based learning approach because both museum objects and everyday objects are a powerful learning tool as they tell stories, are tangible, real, and spark wonder. When we moved to virtual lessons, we wanted to keep true to the object-based approach we use in the classroom by sharing museum objects digitally and encouraging children to bring related objects to our online lessons. While some aspects of a museum object are lost when sharing digitally, we found that the addition of children bringing their own objects was a benefit we didn’t have when in the classrooms or museums. Having each child hold an object gives them a tangible way to connect lesson content to their immediate lives as the objects were coming from their own homes.
The children responded very well when bringing objects with them to virtual lessons. They could not wait to share what they brought and enjoyed seeing what their peers brought as well. They also seemed to have a sense of pride in the objects they had to share, which may have increased their overall engagement in lessons. They were quick to make comparisons between each other’s objects and the objects and images we shared in our PowerPoint presentations. Often, the children would recognize another item that we were showing but had not asked them to bring; then they would excitedly go find it in their home to point to or show us. We did not ask them to do this, but we supported these opportunities when they occurred.
Objects Support Anti-Bias Education
Having students bring their own objects to our virtual lessons supports the Anti-Bias Educational approach really well. Children were able to closely examine the objects they brought and compare them to the museum objects on the screen or to those of their peers. As teachers, we facilitated this by giving each student an opportunity to describe their item. Then we would go to each of the other students to ask if their object had something similar or if it looked different. It seemed that it may have been easier to have their own object than to share an object like we would do in the classroom because the children could continuously examine their objects throughout the lesson (they didn’t have to remember what they looked at before). After everyone shared, we, as teachers, would ask if all the objects did the same job and if they were all tools. This reiterated the idea that while some tools for mixing, for example, looked different, they all did the same thing. We would often connect that idea back to previous lessons: all our kitchens look different, but they are all places where we cook and spend time with loved ones. We all look different, but we are all chefs and help in the kitchen.
Having children bring an object to a virtual lesson is a great way to ensure you are reaching all different types of learners. Some children are perfectly fine sitting in front of a computer screen and listening to their peers and teachers, while others need to have a tangible object in their hands to help focus.
Also make sure to think outside the box and provide options. We were very aware that families may not be comfortable or able to go out to purchase materials. When we asked families to send their child to our lessons with an object, we made sure to provide options. For example, during our unit on cooking, when learning about mixers, we asked our class to bring something they use to stir – some brought spoons, some brought whisks, and some brought hand mixers. Being general about what we asked for allowed families to use what was accessible to them and provided an opportunity for children to engage by sharing what they brought. Sharing objects in this way also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world.
Lastly, be prepared in case a child does not bring an object. Families had a lot going on, so we didn’t want to make any family or child feel bad if they forgot to bring an item or didn’t have time to look for a particular item. In this case, one of the teachers may not show their object, instead opting to ‘not have an object’ as well. The teacher leading the lesson would reassure the students that it was okay to not have an item and would facilitate careful looking of others’ objects and the images on the screens. Even without an object, there were still ways for every child to participate.
While digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, it comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. This summer our school has been engaging our students through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One such strategy is to create a character. This blog is authored by pre-k 4 educator Krystiana Kaminski, the creator of Penny Featherbottom.
The character of Penny Featherbottom came about after hearing that our stay-at-home order was being extended and I was feeling frustrated and upset by the news. I needed some cheering up and I thought my families might as well.
A few weeks before, we had finished our unit on Natural Phenomenon. Before moving on to a new unit, we did a week of Just for Fun which was light on academics and had more humorous stories and activities. The children seemed to like it, so we decided to continue it on Fridays. That week we were using one of our favorite Sesame Street songs, “Mahna Mahna”, and we thought that creating sock puppets could be a fun activity. After a few attempts, (my first one was very scary looking), Penny Featherbottom was created along with their glorious mustache. I began to make videos with Penny that explored our current topic. The funny thing was when I was filming, the mustache came off accidentally and I just went with it. It later became a huge part of the narrative as Penny tries to get it back through magic and then science.
The children seemed to really enjoy Penny Featherbottom and would sometimes ask for more videos. We didn’t use them much in our Simple Machine unit but when we did our unit Potions and Fantastical Notions unit Penny took on a more starring role. Penny decided to learn magic to grow back their glorious mustache. Once they accomplished that, Penny started messing with my dog (making her turn herself into a dragon) and us teachers (they turned us into vampires). We had a fun Zoom call where my co-teacher, Sara, and I showed up as vampires and the children had to turn us back to humans using that week’s lessons on potions and incantations. Penny was then asked to no longer use magic and they made an apology video for the children. We wanted to build on what we have been learning all year about making amends. People sometimes make mistakes and it is important to recognize and own that and then figure out how to best make amends. Penny’s final video/PowerPoint was about turning to science as their new interest which led to them wanting to further their education at Sock Puppet Academy.
I had a lot of fun making the videos but did encounter quite a few challenges as I’m not very technologically adept. I found most of the video editing sites wanted you to pay for monthly membership and the one on my computer was very slow. Sometimes I would use photographs of Penny instead of a video and added those to the PowerPoints I used during lessons. We’ve been adding audio to our PowerPoints and that has made some of our files very large which led to lots of other tech challenges. There were also times when I had promised the children a video but did not have it in me due to these stressful times. Our families were very understanding when that happened. I went into this wanting to create something that brought joy so I tried to make sure I was feeling joyful when making the videos.
My main advice to anyone wanting to create something similar is to have fun with it. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and I found that the more absurd I got with it, the more fun it was. Penny Featherbottom became part of our online class community, and even infiltrated some children’s home life. For example, one child started blaming everything that went wrong at home on Penny’s magic. Another created their own sock puppet characters, Pip and Pop, and made a delightful video with some impressive voice work!
Similarly to most schools in the world, SEEC was thrown a huge curveball in March when we closed the doors to our centers and embarked on a virtual journey with the youngest of children. Faculty and families alike worked to find best practices for our children to maintain relationships and engagement while connecting through a screen. Much of our philosophy focuses on experiencing the world in person with strong social interactions, so we wrestled with how this would translate to a whole new platform. Like many others dealing with this new normal, we have been actively trying out new strategies and assessing their success as we go. We wanted to share our successes, failures, and reflections from the past five months through a blog series. Below are some of the themes we will expand on in the coming weeks.
Create a Routine
Children thrive when they have a routine. Knowing what is coming next gives children a sense of control and comfort especially in the midst of a sudden, major, lifestyle change. So it’s not surprising that our faculty found it helpful to outline the plan of the day at the start of each lesson. In addition, our teachers often began each session in the same way, for example, singing a hello song, or doing some deep breathing, and ended in the same way. These subtle cues helped children adjust to adapt to the new “classroom”
While we may all be physically apart from each other, we still need to connect with our community through authentic interactions. We’ve had other school community members join video calls to share their expertise in a topic that the class is learning about. For example, one of our preschool classes was learning about gardening and produce. One of our toddler educators is a gardener and was able to join them from her home and share some of her plants and tools with them. Other ways to connect to the community include sharing related videos and images of community members and safe, nearby, locations that families could visit.
Make it Silly
Life is challenging right now, for parents, teachers, kids, everyone. Our faculty wanted to lighten the mood, so they kept the silliness and fun flowing even while virtual. Some silly strategies they employ are creating characters who appear on the video calls, playing music and having a virtual dance party, and having a week of theme days such as crazy hair day or dress like your favorite book character day.
In addition to needing to keep the silliness, our faculty also quickly recognized the children’s need for plain, simple, social interaction. Some of our preschool classes began having virtual snack time where children signed on and ate their snack and chatted together like they would at school. This has become very popular among the children and it often lasts far longer than the teachers anticipate!
Strong relationships are essential to meaningful learning experiences in early childhood. While more difficult to foster through screens, it is possible! Besides one-on-one video calls between teachers and students, our faculty incorporates photos of the children in their lesson presentation. The children love to see themselves in the presented topic, and are able to reflect on past learning. Each of our classes also has a shared photo album where families can upload photos from the week. This allows children to see each others’ learning and feel a connection with their peers.
A cornerstone of our practice is the use of objects to teach children. We often venture into the museums to observe and learn about artifacts or artworks related to our curriculum, but we also frequently use everyday objects and find that they’re also a powerful tool. While we’re away from the museum, teachers have asked children to bring their own easily accessible objects to the class, which has served several purposes. First, children became more invested in the session because they had something to share to the experience. Having an object also allows for tactile learning that is so important in early childhood when a teacher cannot physically facilitate that from a screen. Sharing objects also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world.
We’re taking everything we’ve learned and incorporating it into Virtual Family Workshops this fall. To learn more and register, check our Family Workshops page. Also, be sure to check back for more blogs expanding on the above themes.
Please welcome guest blogger Anna Forgerson Hindley of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. As the Supervisory Early Childhood Education Coordinator at the NMAAHC, Anna Forgerson Hindley’s work focuses on positive identity development, interrupting structures of racism and prejudice, raising healthy, courageous and compassionate children in a highly diverse and inequitable society and introducing African American history to young children in age-appropriate ways. She holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from The George Washington University.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship: NMAAHC + SEEC
As the head of the early childhood education initiative (ECEI) at The National Museum of African American History and Culture , I am thrilled to connect with SEEC as a guest on this blog. Our two organizations have a special relationship full of mutual respect from which we continually learn from each other. SEEC’s nearly 30 years of teaching young children in museums and philosophy of learning through objects has shaped how we design programs for children at NMAAHC. In turn, as SEEC increasingly commits to anti-bias education, we have been able to support their efforts through trainings and by being a resource when questions emerge about racial identity, race, history and bias.
SEEC educators are masters in using objects, art and community spaces to broaden children’s understanding of the world. They were eager to visit NMAAHC when we opened last fall to explore learning opportunities for young children yet had questions – thoughtful, important questions – they sent to me. The following question is just one of the many they submitted but is what I am asked most in my work. If you are reading this, you likely have a young child – or many young children – in your life. Whether you are a parent or an educator or both, you may have grappled with this same questions.
How do we talk about race with young children?
This question and the follow-up professional development I led for SEEC staff last February inspires what I share with you now.
This is a personal, lifelong journey
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
– Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist
Part of NMAAHC’s mission is to be a place of healing and reconciliation and to provide space to have constructive and respectful conversations about race and identity. As I have developed the early childhood education initiative at NMAAHC, I have deeply considered what this means for our youngest visitors – and continue to think about every day!
The work of early childhood education has the power to affect what society will be in the future. We can help build strong children who will grow to make the world more equitable, just, and kind. Never doubt that the work you do – as a parent or an educator – is important and POWERFUL!
While it may be easier to build strong children than to repair broken men, it does not mean the work we do is easy. In fact, when we commit to respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness and focus on positive identity development for all children, the work is often hard, at times emotional, and requires us to look at our own identity, bias, and baggage.
All of us must reflect on these things so we can begin to peel back the layers to get clearer about our experiences throughout our lives and the assumptions we make now. The following questions may help as you reflect:
When were you first aware of your race?
What do you remember from childhood about how you made sense of human differences? What confused you?
What childhood experiences did you have with peers or adults who were different from you in some way?
Once we reflect on where we have been, we can start to understand the assumptions and potential bias we hold. As a white educator, I have the responsibility to continually examine and think critically about race, justice and my own privilege. I encourage you to take time to reflect on yourself before you start to think about the children in your lives. Be kind and honest with yourself, knowing this is a lifelong journey.
Teaching race with young children
My friend and mentor, Julie Olsen Edwards, explains that the notion of race is a social construct designed to fraudulently divide people into groups ranked as superior and inferior. The scientific consensus is that race, in this sense, has no biological basis – we are all one race, the human race. Racial identity, however, is very real. And, in a racialized society, everyone is assigned a racial identity whether they are aware of it or not. Young children are not immune to this.
At NMAAHC, our programs explore, celebrate, and uplift differences while simultaneously seeking ways to connect with the ways we are similar. Part of this is to support understanding and the development of each child’s healthy racial identity, although we do not always directly discuss race. Talking about racial identity and race looks different at different ages. The conversation must be layered throughout childhood in age appropriate ways that connect to what is happening developmentally.
Children are not colorblind. Talking about race with young children honors who they are as learners but the conversation looks vastly different for a one year old than it does at five. I recently sat down with Julie Olson Edwards and Candra Flanagan, coordinator of the student and teacher initiative at NMAAHC and my thought partner, to think about what this means for the different stages of early childhood.
Knowing that infants recognize race at 6 months of age, it is appropriate, and beneficial, to talk about how we are different while uplifting the message we are all the same. We all play but some of us like blocks and some of us like books! We all have bodies but all our bodies look different! This age is a time to celebrate the diversity of humanity and create a healthy, positive emotional framework when discussing identity.
Between two and half to five years of age, children are sorting, organizing and classifying to make sense of their world and their language is expanding rapidly. Children are able to begin to understand the complex social construct of race when we introduce skin color and where it comes at this age. We get our skin color from our biological parents. There can be different shades of skin color in the same family. Every person’s skin is different and every family is unique – isn’t the diversity around us beautiful! At this age, children begin to recognize justice and fairness in their own lives so purposeful and thoughtful conversations and explorations allow children to construct personal meaning about these concepts. Although conversations about fairness and justice at this age are appropriate, children need to have a solid sense of identity, race and self before talking about racial injustice.
By 5, 6, 7 years of age, children are able to have conversations about injustice and being treated unfairly based on identity (race, gender, etc.). Before you enter this conversation, reflect and center the goal to respect and embrace differences and prepare children to act against bias and unfairness. If you are an educator, consider the following questions: Who is in the classroom? Who is the only? Who are the few? And who is the teacher in relationship to the students? Inherent in labels of race is hierarchy and built in power dynamics. If the previous layers of honoring difference and establishing sameness, celebrating all the different shades of people, and an understanding of where skin color comes from are not in place, jumping to a conversation of racial inequity and injustice may leave children confused or worse.
Other points to consider:
Keep practicing. You are going to make mistakes. Pick yourself up. It is going to feel really awful because it is most likely that your mistake will be at the expense of someone else. It will certainly be in front of others. Apologize. Make amends. Keep practicing. Keep going. I practice this every day and still mistakes. Recently I coauthored an article with Julie Olsen Edwards about inclusivity in museums and interrupting racism with children. One of the main examples I use is a book that I happen to love – but also happens to strongly reinforce gender stereotypes. I was so focused on one aspect of identity (race), I unintentionally forgot to consider the importance of intersectionality. Learn from your mistakes and keep going!
One does not equal all. For young children, how we as adults speak impacts how children view and understand self and others. Generalizations, even if they say only things that are positive or neutral, communicate that we can tell what someone is like just by knowing her gender, ethnicity or religion. Thus, hearing generalizations contributes to the tendency to view the world through the lens of social stereotypes. Another pitfall related to generalizing, which often occurs in classroom settings, is when a child is asked to be a spokesperson for their race, culture, gender or religion. Let me say this in a different way, do not single out a child to speak for all girls, all Muslims, all Chinese Americans, the entire Latinx community, etc. This is particularly damaging when a child is asked to share without even volunteering to speak.
It’s not just black or white. The United States is a highly diverse nation full of people from every race, culture and ethnicity. This is one of the strongest characteristics of this country and is one worth celebrating. Yet, particularly in conversations about race, we often are stuck in a binary of white and black. However, many children in our lives identify as biracial or multiracial or those who do not identify as black or white. Biracial and multiracial children can feel conflicted or confused by the “this group” v. “that group” mentality when they identify with both groups. As adults, we are in the position to positively (or, unfortunately, negatively) impact the lives of young children. Which brings me to my final point,
Each child has a tribe. Whether we are parents of young children, educators of young children, or both, we are part of our children’s tribe and it is important for the tribe to communicate. Educators, it is not only respectful but necessary to have conversations about anti-bias education with the families of the children in your class. Parents, your child’s well-being includes the development of a positive sense of self and a healthy racial identity. Ask your children’s caregivers how they plan to support this for your child. The more we can come together as a tribe around our children, the better we all will be for it.
While this is hardly a comprehensive list, hopefully it either helps you begin or inspires you to keep going so we can achieve together what we hope to see for the young children in your lives – a fairer, more inclusive, and equitable world. As with any complex subject, there are countless questions, things often get murkier before they become clearer, and a single blog post certainly isn’t going to have the space to get as deep as we’d like. Yet every journey consists of many steps so let us embrace this moment as our next step towards creating a more equitable world.
Author’s note: I would like to acknowledge Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise-Derman Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards. The framework and goals of anti-bias education is central to the work we do at the NMAAHC in early childhood education. In particular, Julie’s experiences, vision and teachings have guided me in my understanding and her words and wisdom are peppered throughout this article. The reflection questions I have shared are adapted from the anti-bias Stop & Think exercises. I would also like to thank Candra Flanagan for being my thought partner and for her work with students in 3rd – 12th grade. Her editing, perspective and friendship has profoundly shaped my work.
Are you tired of being inside yet? Now that the holidays are over, and the weather is colder, many of us with young children are looking ahead on the cold winter months wondering how we’ll get our little ones to move and groove while stuck inside. As adults we might see a cold, dreary day as the perfect time to cuddle up inside with a book or netflix, but young children see it as another day to be active, move their bodies and explore, no matter the weather! We’ve gathered some gross motor activities that look like tons of fun, and can be done inside on those days that are less than ideal to stay outdoors for long.
Dreaming of snow? We love this idea from STA Classroom. Set up an area with packing peanuts and/or fiberfill , and let your kids go to town shoveling “snow”. Chances are, if they’ve seen a caregiver shoveling, they’ll love to have a chance to try it out themselves.
There’s something about a parachute that just appeals to children whether they’re a toddler or kindergartner. Parachutes are great because they don’t take up too much room to store, and come in multiple sizes. Parachute play is not only exciting, but playing stop and start games help children develop the essential life skill of self-control. Check out PreK + K Sharing for numerous ideas of how to get moving and incorporate learning with a parachute!
Balloons are another item that kids seem to universally love! This Balloon Tennis idea from Vanessa’s Values requires minimal materials, and is sure to keep children moving for a long time while practicing hand-eye coordination.
Whole Body Painting
One of our favorite indoor activities here at SEEC combines art and movement! We love to paint, and painting doesn’t have to use only your arm, but can use your whole body. On those days when you can’t get outside, try one of these painting activities.
Set out a large sheet of paper, add some paint, turn up the music, and let your children create a masterpiece by painting with their feet.
Our toddlers loved this basketball painting activity. Set out a large piece of paper against a wall, attach a basketball hoop (if you don’t own one you can make a simple hoop by cutting the middle out of a paper plate), get some bowls of paint with large pom poms and let your child dunk the paint balls to their heart’s content!
If you want something easier, simply tape a large piece of paper to the wall and encourage your child to paint all the parts of the paper. This will get their whole arm and body involved as they move up and down the paper.
Who doesn’t love an obstacle course? Beautiful Somehow has a ton of ideas to make a creative and fun indoor obstacle course out of items that are already in your home or classroom. The obstacle course featured not only engages children’s whole bodies, but also their imaginations!
Please comment and share some of your favorite indoor gross motor activities; we’d love to hear your ideas! And check out our Indoor Gross Motor Fun Pinterest board for more ideas!
While we do our best to document and accurately share what happens at our school, we recognize that when we share the children’s perspective it’s still through our adult voices. In an effort to capture the children’s unadulterated voices we decided to try out a new type of blog entitled, “SEEC Quotes”. For the first installment, we focused on family, love, and traditions. Any names included have been changed. Enjoy!
Who do you love?
3-year-old: “Dog, and mom, and dad.” Me: “Anybody else, do you love anybody else?” 3-year-old: “Levi (friend).” Me: “Anyone else?” 3-year-old: “Mark.” Me: “Who is Mark?” 3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”
2-year-old: “My mommy and daddy and Mina.” Me: “Your mommy and daddy and Mina? Who’s Mina?” 2-year-old: “A baby.”
3-year-old: “My mommy.” Me: “Anyone else?” 3-year-old: “My daddy.” Me: “Anyone else?” 3-year-old: “Mark.” Me: “Who is Mark?” 3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”
“My friends and whole family.” – 6-year-old
“My family and my teachers and my friends and my cousin and my grandma and grandpa. I love them so much I don’t even want them to die.” – 5-year-old
3-year-old: “My mom and dad and sister.” Me: “Anyone else?” 3-year-old: “Myself!”
“I love my mamma, my dada, my puppies.” – 2-year-old
“The kitties the most…except they got me right there..one got me right there (showing cut on hand).” – 3-year-old
Who loves you?
5-year-old: “My friends and whole family.” Me: “What about your teachers?” 5-year-old: “Oh, I love my teachers.” 5-year-old: “I love my cousins.” Me: “Do you think your teachers love you?” 5-year-old: “Oh yea!” 5-year-old: “They always love you, even when they die. They will still love you. They’ll always love you.” 5-year-old: “No matter what.”
“My grammy and pop pop and my aunt. I know they love me because they always give me lots of hugs when they see me. And they give me kisses and I already know they love me.” -5-year-old
“My dad.” – 2-year-old
“My mommy, grandmas…I have two grandmas…grandma Susie and grandma Courtney.” – 2-year-old
“My mama and my dada and my puppies.” -2-year-old
Who is your family?
5-year-old: “Grammy and pop pop and my sister and my sister.”
5-year-old: “My mom and my dad…that’s it. That’s my normal family.” Me: “Who is in your non-normal family?” 5-year-old: “My cousins, my grandma…she’s 92 years old.”
What do you do with your family that’s special or makes you feel happy?
“Eat chocolate.” – 3-year-old
“I like to hug my cousins and my family” – 3-years-old
“I like to play frisbee with my dad.” – 3-year-old
“I like to make silly faces at my other cousins.” – 3-year-old
“My family celebrates Christmas and we always go somewhere for Christmas, with my best cousins, my best grandma and grandpa, and my best friends. We have special food, we invite guests, and we have a special party at the end.” – 5-year-old
3-year-old: “Going for a walk.” Me: “Where do you go on walks?” 3-year-old: “Far away.”
“We play with blocks. We make a tower. I like eating. I eat apples and pears.” – 2-year-old
“Play games, I don’t really have a favorite game, but I like playing the Shopkins game with my grammy and pop pop” – 5-year-old
“Sometimes I go to the driving range. Sometimes I go to the movie theaters.” – 5-year-old
“Sometimes I spend time with my family at Christmas, I’m going to do that at Christmas, yea I am. My family members are traveling to us.” – 5-year-old
“Open presents.” – 6-year-old
“We paint, and we celebrate Hanukkah, and we open presents.” – 6-year-old
What do you with your family to help others?
“My daddy is a superhero and because he has special blood that he gives to people who are super sick.” – 5-year-old
3-year-old: “Give bags to homeless people.” Me: “What’s in the bags?” 3-year-old: “Stuff.” Me: “What’s in the bags, do you know?” 3-year-old: “Love!” Me: “Love?” 3-year-old: “Yes.” Me: “How do you put love in a bag?” 3-year-old: “A zip bag!” Me: “And you put real love in it?” 3-year-old: “Yes!”
“We give money to charities. We give money to them because they don’t have any homes or anything.” -5-year-old
“Clean up my mom and my dad. Sometimes I set my table. Sometimes I help someone like my grammy and my mommy mostly with setting the table and cleaning up.” – 5-year-old
“Sometimes we give money to homeless people. We give food to homeless people.” -5-year-old
“We donate and give money, that’s it, and give food, that’s all we do, and we donate other things that I have.” – 5-year-old
Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, and we’ve put together a list of our Top 5 books that can be read in conjunction with the holiday. While none are specifically about Valentine’s Day, they each explore a relevant theme. We’ve also included ideas on how to extend the book reading into an activity at home or a visit in the community. Happy reading!
My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall – With its bright colors and whimsical artwork, this book is sure to appeal to young animal lovers. Plus, all the animals are made from heart shapes. Can you count the hearts you see? Extend it: Explore the shape of a heart! Cut hearts out of felt and allow your child to play with them on a fleece blanket. See what kind of patterns or combinations you can make together. Can you make any of the hearts into an animal shape?
Dear Juno by Soyung Pak – Valentine’s Day is all about expressing affection to those you love, but what if a loved one lives far away? This is a story of a boy who sends letters back and forth to his grandmother who lives in faraway Korea. With the ubiquitous nature of email, many young children are not as familiar with physical mail. Dear Juno illustrates how a physical letter or drawing can capture a feeling of love and closeness that will be sure to leave your child wanting to send some snail mail.Extend it: Visit the National Postal Museum or the local post office to learn more about the mail system. Then create a valentine for a family member or friend and mail it to them. Let your child help stick on the stamp and deliver the mail to the closest mail box!
Loving by Ann Morris – This book may be almost 30 years old, but it still resonates today. The photographs and text illustrate the ways in which people express their love for each other, from giving a child a bath to giving a hug. The photographs depict a variety of people and environments around the world, which sends a message that we might have differences, but there are similarities that all people have in common, one being love. Extend it: Discuss with your young one something that you do that shows them you love them. Tell them what they do that makes you feel loved. Ask a grandparent or older family friend to tell you about what their parents did to make them feel loved and see if it’s similar to what you do.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn – Sometimes things scare us, but with support and encouragement from loved ones, we can face our fears. This story illustrates this notion, as Chester the raccoon, who is apprehensive about starting school, feels love from his mother all day long through the kiss she plants on his hand. With all the changes that young children experience, this is a great story to illustrate that the love of their family is with them, wherever they go and whatever they do.Extend it: Visit to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see “Untitled” (for Jeff) by Felix Gomez-Torres. Read the book in front of the large scale artwork. Compare Chester’s raccoon hand to your own hands and the hand in the artwork. What is similar? What’s different? Then think about what loving message you want to leave on each others’ hand. Bring a couple sheets of paper and pencils. Trace each others’ hands and then take some time writing or drawing loving messages on each others’ hand outlines.
See a Heart Share a Heart by Eric Telchin – Eric Telchin, author and photographer of this book, finds hearts in some unexpected places! From the beach to a piece of wood to an onion – he’s captured all the hearts he’s seen over the years. You can even go to his website to see more hearts he’s spotted.Extend it: You tend to see lots of hearts around Valentine’s Day, but what if you searched for them in unusual places? Take a walk outside and hunt for heart shapes. Can you create heart shapes from leaves or sticks you find on the ground?
At SEEC we believe that young children are capable of understanding complex STEM concepts when taught in engaging and developmentally appropriate ways. A recent study from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America, found that while teachers are also excited and capable of teaching STEM skills, they need more knowledge, support, and training to be effective. A policy report from The Early Childhood STEM Working Group states that many educators have STEM anxiety, which can lead to avoidance of STEM teaching, with negative STEM mindsets being unintentionally transferred to students.
Why do early childhood educators have this feeling of inability and uneasiness surrounding STEM? Research illuminates one possible reason: many adults in the United States do not feel that they are knowledgeable enough in STEM subjects. Reflecting from our own experiences lesson planning, we also recognize feeling uncomfortable when the children are curious about a STEM concept we know nothing, or little about. However, at SEEC, we do not believe you have to be an expert in STEM to explore it with the children. After all, early childhood educators are experts in so many areas already: child development, social emotional skills, collaborating with caregivers about behavior challenges, first aid, documenting learning…and the list goes on.
At SEEC we believe in lifelong learning, so when we’re confronted with children’s enthusiasm surrounding a topic we’re unfamiliar with, we see it as an exciting opportunity to seek out new knowledge and model learning for children. To prepare for a new STEM subject we have several tools and strategies:
Community: We talk to colleagues, families, and community members who have an knowledge in the area. This can be a great and authentic way to make home-school connections, or relationships with community members.
Online research: While we research on our own, we also involve the children in this process to build technology competence, as well as inquiry and critical thinking skills. With the younger ages, we might use our class iPads to look up the topic and narrate what we’re seeing with the infants and toddlers while showing them what we’ve found.
Libraries: Often times our teachers will take their class to the library to pick out books related to their topic. If they can’t get to the library with their class, they will look at the library online catalog and choose books together.
Museums: We’re fortunate to be located on the Smithsonian campus, so we utilize the museums to seek out answers to our burning questions. If you’re not located near a museum, we suggest using Smithsonian’s Learning Lab to visit the museum digitally.
Apart from our preparation techniques, we also utilize art and inquiry as a strategy for incorporating STEM into everyday lessons without much prior prep time. We often use artwork related to the STEM topic to practice inquiry and critical thinking. The educator does not necessarily have to know much about the subject matter, but can participate in the question asking and careful looking. This will provide questions that the class would like to research further and can focus your exploration. It’s helpful for the educator leading the group to know where to start with a topic, especially if the topic feels overwhelming.
To support educators outside our school, we share STEAM lessons we have created through our blogs, such as lessons on blood, wrecking balls, butterfly wings, seed dispersal, and more. We also offer Educator Workshops to share our practices, and how to use artwork as a powerful vehicle to develop STEM skills.
Want to learn more? Join us for our educator workshop Full STEAM Ahead on Thursday, February 20th from 4 PM to 7 PM at the National Museum of Natural History.
Today we’re featuring kindergarten teachers Cathryn Prudencio and Sharon Jensen. The class has been exploring dinosaurs, and I joined them for a lesson at the National Museum of Natural History that answered the question, “How do dinosaurs get to the museum?” Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from Cathryn and Sharon.
When the kindergarten class needs to pick a new topic to study, the children always start out by answering the question “What would you like to learn about?” in their journals. Then the students draw what they are interested in. We also explore different ideas for topics throughout the year, and when it’s time for a new topic we brainstorm ideas as a group. We vote to narrow the choices down to the top three or four, and then vote again for our final topic. This way we make sure that the students are truly involved in choosing what they will be learning about, and they are satisfied that it was a decision made fairly. This is how we ended up doing a unit on dinosaurs as our last unit before the kindergartners graduated.
The objective of this lesson was to deepen the understanding of what a paleontologist does on a dig, and what tools and procedures are used. We used the pictures hanging up in the exhibit to support what we were talking about, and to help the children think about what was needed for the dig. We also used the objects on display to talk about the materials needed and how they were used, supporting this with objects passed around for the children to see and hold. Doing this, we not only reinforced information from a previous lesson, but we also prepared the children for their own miniature dig in the museum.
Something that surprised us during the lesson was how the children really took turns and then worked together on the “dig site” in the museum space. Sometimes they get so excited about an activity that it can be hard for them to be patient and wait their turn.
The most ineffective part of our lesson was most likely the read aloud. Even though it explained the process of getting the dinosaur bones from the discovery part to the display in the museum, and all the people involved in the process, it was rather long and made our lesson longer. By the time we finished the story, the children had been sitting for some time. However, this was okay because we already talked about the process so much and the people involved, that it was a way to reinforce what we were teaching. Even though the read aloud was very long, we were still surprised at how well they stayed engaged and listening.
In the beginning, when putting the puzzle together, the children were super excited, but that soon faded when they were trying to figure out which piece went where. Again this was okay, because they did try and got pretty far with it. Eventually they just lost interest.
Later in the classroom, we left the section of the museum for the children to play with. On their own they created several additional sections of the museum using Legos, dinosaurs and some blocks. It took up the entire table and throughout the week there were more additions. Written labels the children made to identify objects, for example, and more “tourists” made from Legos were added to see the “exhibit.” It was awesome!
After exploring dinosaurs it was time for our kindergartners to graduate! For more dinosaur ideas, visit our dinosaur Pinterest board.
Recently we brought you a Teacher Feature showcasing a lesson on rowing and crew from of our 4-year-old classes. We’re back with a round up of their sports unit led by teachers Jessie Miller and Will Kuehnle. The web below depicts their entire unit, and the photos that follow highlight some of their lessons.
The Why of Sports It was important to Will and Jessie, that their sports unit not solely consist of playing games, but also integrated an array of subjects such as science and art. During their week on the “who and why of sports”, the Honey Bears learned more about the science of their bodies and how sports and exercise affect their health.
How does physical exercise get our hearts pumping? The children took their resting heart rates in the classroom, and then participated in an obstacle course on the playground. Right after the course they measured their heart rate again, comparing it to their resting heart rate to see the difference.
They also talked about sports medicine, and the importance of taking care of our bodies when they are injured. The children were so interested in sports medicine, that Will and Jessie incorporated more lessons related to medicine throughout the unit, for example, they talked about tendinitis during their week on tennis.
To introduce the children to golf, the class visited Hendrick Avercamp’s A Scene on the Iceat the National Gallery of Art. The painting shows people playing on the ice, including two boys playing “colf”, a mix between golf and hockey. After observing the painting, Jessie showed the children the tools of golf including a golf club, ball, and “hole” (made using blocks from the classroom).
Later that week the children met with a parent who plays golf. He answered the children’s questions about golf, and showed how he likes to swing the golf clubs. The children took turns swinging the golf club at ping pong balls (they wanted to be safe with all the people around).
Back in the classroom the children collaborated on a golf course using blocks, markers, and paper.
They also practiced their persistence by playing a golf-like game by blowing their golf balls (pompoms) along the course with a straw.
The National Air and Space Museum has Sally Ride’s racket on view, and the class visited it to learn about Sally Ride, and think about how gravity affects the game of tennis.
To end their week on tennis, the Honey Bears went to a local tennis court to try their hand at the sport. After observing and talking about the parts of the court and equipment, they got to hit tennis balls with a racket, and then play a game of “beach ball tennis” using rackets made of paper plates and paint stirrers.
Back in the classroom, they continued to play tennis with balloons and their now decorated rackets.
What better way to understand the idea of buoyancy than heading down to the docks and seeing boats on the water? The class went to the marina by the Tidal Basin to do just that.
They also went into a boating store and talked with an expert about boats. Boat safety was also discussed and they got to try on life jackets.