Let’s Talk! Talking about Race with Children

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.

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s contemplative court offers visitors a quiet space for reflection. Copyright NMAAHC.

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.

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Participants at the NMAAHC’s educator workshop, Let’s Talk! Teaching Race in the Classroom, unpack their own racial identity and reflect on where they are in their journey. The work is serious but it is also constructive to have a sense of humor and connect with each other. Photo credit: @keredding, http://keredding.com/ Redding Photography.

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.

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Prior to opening, the NMAAHC’s early childhood education initiative facilitated programs in communities around DC-MD-VA. These toddlers attended the program, “I AM…creative!” and created their own collage using photographs of all different children and historical images. The style of art was inspired by the artist, Romare Bearden.

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.

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Participants at NMAAHC’s early childhood family day create self-portraits. Photograph credit: Leah Jones, NMAAHC.

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.
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Families attend NMAAHC’s StoryTime with children’s books author and illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Photograph credit: Leah Jones, NMAAHC.

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.

Top 5 – Indoor Gross Motor Fun

Originally posted on January 2017.

A toddler holds a pom pom with paint on it in front of a little basketball hoop with butcher paper behind it. The butcher paper has paint on it. An adult is behind the child pointing at the basketball hoop.

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.

Shovel Snow

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.

A pile of cotton stuffing on the ground with a shovel propped up next to it.

Parachute Play

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!

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Balloon Tennis

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.

A series of photos depicting how to create the materials for balloon tennis. Photo one shows paper plates, a paint stirrer and a hot glue gun. Photo 2 shows two plates with a paint stirrer attached and a blow up balloon. Photo 3 shows a hand holding a paint stirrer with a plate attached and a balloon balanced on top.

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.

A group of toddlers in diapers dancing on top of butcher paper with paint on it.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.

A toddler dunks a pom pom with paint on it into a little basketball hoop with butcher paper behind it. The butcher paper has paint on it.

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!

Three toddlers use paintbrushes to put green paint on a piece of large paper that is taped to the wall.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.

Obstacle Courses

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!

Two children sit on a pile of pillows next to an obscatale course made of a tent and tunnel.

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!

Family, Love, Traditions; SEEC Quotes

Children sitting in front of river with their arms around each other.

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.”

Other quotes:

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

“My family…I think that’s maybe all…maybe my friends too.” – 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.”

Other quotes:

“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.”

Other quotes:

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.”

Other quotes: 

“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!”

Other quotes:

“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

 

 

 

Top 5 – Valentine’s Day Literacy

Graphic featuring children's books, Valentine's Day Literacy
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!

Cover of book by Michael Hall entitled, My Heart is Like a Zoo.

  1. 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?
    Series of 3 photos showing children reading and playing with hearts.
    Cover of boo, Dear Juno, by Soyung Pak
  2. 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! Children lined up a National Postal Museum.
    Cover of book, Loving, by Ken Heyman.
  3. 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.Several photos of children showing affection towards each other.Photo of the book, The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn
  4. 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.
    Photo of book, See a Heart, Share a Heart by Eric Telchin.
  5. 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?

For more ideas of how to make Valentine’s Day a meaningful, engaging and educational experience with your young children, see our Top 5: Valentine’s Day, 7 Valentine’s Day Ideas for  your Classroom, and our Valentine’s Day Pinterest board.

STEM in the ECE Classroom

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.

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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.

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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.

A group of four children look at an artwork with a museum educator at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.

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.

Teacher Feature: Kindergarten Class Explores Paleontology

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. 

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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.

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The class went to The Last American Dinosaurs exhibit; a temporary exhibit while the new Hall of Fossils: Deep Time was being renovated. The group’s first stop was at a wall of photographs from a 2013 trip to North Dakota made by a team of paleontologists from the museum. They stopped and carefully looked at the photographs, making observations about what the paleontologists were wearing and why. Some of their observations included: hats to keep them cool, pants to protect their legs from sun burn and the risk of getting cut from sharp tools, and gloves to both protect their hands and protect the fossils from the oils on their hands.

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.

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Next, they did more careful looking at exhibit cases display tools that paleontologists use. The children excitedly called out what they saw, and Cathryn read the label for them to glean more information.

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After careful looking and making observations, the class sat down to talk more about what paleontologists do, and how they get a dinosaur to the museum and on display. They named tools that paleontologists need and Cathryn brought out a version of each tool they named. Next, brought out a Lego model of a dinosaur hall that might be in a museum. She explained that to find out how the dinosaurs get to the museum, they must go back in time to when the paleontologists began their dig.

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The children all donned goggles to protect their eyes, and got to work on a dig. One child used a chisel and hammer to scrap off the “hard top layer”.

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Next, the children got to work using the tools to uncover what was buried beneath the ground. They were excited as the found what the believed to be dinosaur skeletons. Sharon asked how they could tell what kind of dinosaur it was, and the children responded that they should look at the heads and neck.

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.

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To learn what happens next, Sharon read the book How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland.  The story follows the journey of a Diplodocus, discovered in Utah in 1923 and its journey to the National Museum of Natural History. The children were impressed to see the numerous people involved in getting the Diplodocus from the ground to the exhibit hall. They also were shocked to hear that it took seven years for the Diplodocus bones to be assembled in the gallery.

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.

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The children noticed that some of the bones were hard to tell exactly what they were. Sharon reminded the class that it took seven years to put the Diplodocus together, and while it might not take seven years to put the puzzle together, it might take them longer than the time they had in the museum. The group was reassured that they could continue work back in the classroom.

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.

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That afternoon the children continued to work together to put the skeleton together. They also used Legos and plastic dinosaurs to create their own dinosaur exhibit hall.

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.

Sports Round Up

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.

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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. 1

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.

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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.

Golf

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To introduce the children to golf, the class visited Hendrick Avercamp’s A Scene on the Ice at 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).

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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).

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Back in the classroom the children collaborated on a golf course using blocks, markers, and paper.

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They also practiced their persistence by playing a golf-like game by blowing their golf balls (pompoms) along the course with a straw.

Tennis

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The class visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture to learn about three exceptional tennis players: Althea Gibson, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams. 4

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.

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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.

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Back in the classroom, they continued to play tennis with balloons and their now decorated rackets.

Rowing/Crew

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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.

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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.

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Later that week, the class ventured to the National Museum of the American Indian to see an Ojibwe Birch Bark Canoe to learn about the parts of a boat.  After that, they headed to imagiNATIONS Activity Center and practiced their balance in boats.


We hope you enjoyed getting a bigger picture of our Honey Bear class’ unit on sports!  Visit our sports Pinterest board for more ideas.

Tips for Challenging Behaviors

We’ve all been there. Your child or student is exhibiting a challenging behavior, you’re frustrated, and you’re not sure what to do. While there is no sure-fire way to address any and all behaviors, we’ve reflected on some of our philosophies when it comes to consequences and dealing with undesired behaviors.

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Choices

Sometimes children act out because they want to feel a sense of control. As adults, we want to offer them the opportunity to assert their autonomy, but sometimes what they want to do is unsafe, unacceptable, or just not appropriate for the time and place. In order to respect the child’s voice and need to feel independent, while also ensuring the behavior is safe and appropriate, we rely on offering choices to the child. A few notes and tips when offering children a choice:

  • Offer a choice between two things. Too many choices can be overwhelming to a child. Often times it can be helpful to hold out a hand as you offer each choice, and allow your child to verbally tell you which they want to do or point to a hand. This is a helpful visual for less verbal children.
  • Make sure that the choice is a real choice. People often will say to young children, “You have a choice: eat the broccoli or you can’t have dessert” believing that they are offering their children a choice. But statements like these are really about consequences not choices. The consequence of not eating the broccoli is no dessert. Talking about and explaining consequences to children is not a bad thing. In fact, we explain more about the power of consequences below. But masquerading a consequence as a choice can actually be harmful. A true choice honors the child’s ability to choose between two (seemingly equal) things. One way to make the above example a choice would be to say “You have a choice between carrots and broccoli. It’s your choice. You choose.”
  • Only offer realistic choices. If you offer a choice, be prepared for your child to choose either of the options. If you are not comfortable with one of the options, simply don’t offer that as a choice. It can be extremely frustrating for a child to be told that they have the opportunity to choose something only to be told that their choose is no longer an option.
  • When there isn’t a choice. Sometimes you cannot offer a child a choice due to safety reasons, for example, “You must hold my hand while we are in the parking lot.” In this case, it is perfectly fine not to offer a choice, but explaining why to the child is respectful and helpful.

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Natural Consequences

At SEEC, we try to give natural consequences as much as possible for children’s behavior. This allows children to understand the cause and effects of their actions. For example, if a child refuses to wear their gloves in the winter, we warn them that their hands will get cold instead of struggling with them to put them on. When they get outside, they more often than not are bothered by the cold on their hands, and want their gloves. At this point we offer the child their gloves, and can remind them of this occasion if they refuse to wear their gloves again.

One of the great things about natural consequences is that the adults do not have to do anything for that consequence to happen. But unfortunately, that is not always the case and sometimes adults have to play a role. When this happens, it is important that the consequence is appropriate for the behavior. For example, it can be tempting to take away play time when a child isn’t listening or playing when they should be doing something else. However, this is not a natural consequence, it tends to not be meaningful as they suffer the consequence minutes or hours after the undesired behavior, and children NEED the play time. In fact, removing play time can often increase the challenging behaviors of children.

It is also equally important that the adult is willing and able to follow through with the consequence. If you say, “You need to behave or we’re leaving the store”, be sure that you are willing and able to leave the store if your child doesn’t behave in the way you want them to. It is also important that you explain to your child exactly what behaviors are appropriate versus not appropriate. Try saying, “you can calm down, hold my hand, and we’ll keep shopping, or we can leave” gives the child a positive idea of how they need to act and what the consequence will be if they do not.

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Time Outs & Redirection

Growing up, I remember receiving time outs and being told that I was supposed to reflect on what I had done to earn the punishment. Instead of reflecting, I remember sitting and stewing about what had happened, and just said what I needed to say to get out of time out. In short, it was not productive for me, or to the learning process of why my behavior was inappropriate.

At times, we will redirect a child and have them leave a heated situation and take a moment to sit down in order to calm their bodies and emotions. We feel that this is helpful in terms of deescalating situations, and assisting children with their developing self-control, however we don’t set time constraints on these sessions, and often tell the child that when they feel like they are ready, to rejoin the group or come talk to the adult.  We often call this “taking a break” instead of a time out.

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Communication 

We recognize that we won’t always be there when a child has a conflict with a peer, nor do we want to always have to step in and solve their problems. Instead, we try to give children agency to solve their problems, and thus we do not step in right away (unless their is a potential safety issue).

We give children language to express themselves, often we call it SEEC Speak. This language encourages and empowers children to communicate their feelings through language instead of physically. This looks different depending on the age group. For example, the toddlers are encouraged to say, “Mine!” or “Space!” in a big, strong voice if another child is trying to take something away from them or invading their personal bubble.

We also think about the language that we as adults use with young children when we are asking them to change their challenging behavior to more appropriate behavior. For example, if a child keeps standing up at lunch time, instead of saying, “Sit down” repeatedly, using more developmental language such as, “Bend your knees and put your bottom in the chair” might help children better understand what you’re asking and follow through.

Playing with Electricity

 

During one of our educator seminars, Play: Engaging Children in Object Rich Environments, participants observed a museum or community visit with our classes, who were all exploring electricity.  But how do you make electricity playful?  And how can educators make the same topic developmentally appropriate for infants, all the way up through five-year-olds?  Below are examples from our classes, ranging in age, across downtown DC, all engaging in playful learning about electricity.

Infants

Our youngest class, the Cottontails, love water play so the class chose to explore watermills . Before their visit, their teachers gave them laminated prints of paintings and images of watermills to look at, while describing their shapes and how they move.  Next they visited the Haupt Garden to play with watermill toys in a fountain to see for themselves how water, when poured onto the watermill, makes the wheel turn.  Through their play the children practiced fine motor skills, witnessed cause and effect, and heard new vocabulary.

 

The older infant class, the Ducklings, went to National Gallery of Art to see MultiVerse by Leo Villareal.  On their way to the museum their teachers talked about lights, and the Ducklings began pointing to lights along the way in hallways and elevators.  Once at the piece, a tunnel with a moving walkway covered in flashing lights, the children were given glow sticks and flashlights to explore on their own.  They used their fine motor skills to turn the lights on and off, waved them around to see their effect, and watched the flashing lights as they practiced new vocabulary.

 

Toddlers

One of our toddler classes, the Toucans, has been studying the Olympics, so they worked this lesson into their unit by learning about crowd energy.  They talked about why people cheer, and how encouragement and support can make someone feel.  They ventured to the Hirshhorn Museum and cheered on the fountain, which gradually gets higher.  While cheering for the fountain the Toucans practiced their social-emotional skills and also developed literacy skills through the use of songs and chants (“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “We Will Rock You”).

 

The older toddler class, the Dragonflies, focused on light versus dark, and how light gets its energy from different sources.  To illustrate this, the class experimented turning a lamp on and off when it was unplugged versus plugged in.  After their experiment they too went to MultiVerse by Leo Villareal at National Gallery of Art to see the small circular lights go on and off while they played with flashlights and glow sticks. They used their fine motor skills to control their lights and sang, “This Little Light of Mine”, which reinforced the concept while also practicing new vocabulary.

 

Twos

One of our two’s classroom, the Penguins, also focused on the “on and off” functions of objects that use electricity.  In the classroom they looked at light bulbs, and turned the lights on and off.  The class played musical chairs, which meant paying extra attention to when the radio was on versus off, while also engaging in gross motor play and practicing social-emotional skills.  To extend their learning they went to Lighting a Revolution at the National Museum of American History where they looked at a timeline of light bulbs and made observations about how they have changed in size and shape over the years.

 

Threes

The three-year-old class, the Wallabies, had been learning about trees, so they merged this with electricity and learned about the impact of lightning on trees.  The group went to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden to see Needle Tower by Kenneth Snelson .  The class discussed how storms and lightning can be very damaging to trees and buildings, but they can be protected by lightning rods, like the tall metal sculpture. They built a tower using connector toys, practicing their fine motor and problem solving skills.  Lastly, they played “Rain, Rain, Lightning” (just like “Duck, Duck, Goose”) to reinforce that lighting can be unpredictable, while also working on their turn-taking and gross motor skills.

 

Fours

The four-year-olds learned about renewable energy, specifically wind energy.  They went to the US Botanic Garden to see wind turbines, but found that the turbines had recently been removed.  When the teachers explained to the class that the turbines had been removed they made connections to their past study of animals and conservation, theorizing that they had most likely been taken down due to their potential harm to birds.

After learning about the parts of a wind turbine, the class split up into groups and used their bodies to create their own wind turbines with each child acting out a key role of either the wind, blade, generator, tower, or electron.  Through their play the children were actively engaged in scientific thinking about the different parts of a wind turbine, how they work together, and their effect. Working in groups to bring their wind turbine to life also gave the students a chance to practice teamwork.

 

Reflections

Through their observations the Play seminar participants reflected that the play they witnessed not only engaged young children in the concept of electricity, but also strengthened developmental and learning skills.  One participant was struck by the amount of learning the infants were engaged in through their water play, including their careful concentration on pouring water and making the watermills spin.  Participants also  noticed how the play and content of the lessons carried over into the walks back from their visit, for example, pointing out lights in elevators or talking about lightening.

This day of playful electricity lessons also proved useful for our team. The experience of exploring the same topic on the same day helped us to reflect on the way we use play in the classroom, as well as how topics can be explored in a meaningful and developmentally appropriate way across ages.  We found we were inspired by each other’s unique and creative ideas about how to use the museums and community for playful, object-based, electricity lessons.  We also discussed the standard challenges of taking our students into the communities and museums, such as objects being removed right before our visit, and how we can be flexible to still achieve a successful and engaging lesson in spite of these logistical challenges. We’re already thinking about another all school project to reflect on our practice further, so be sure to keep an eye out for a future blog.

 

 

Teacher Feature: PreK 4 Class Explores Archaeology

Today we’re featuring Pre-K 4 teacher Jessie Miller of the Honey Bear classroom. The class has been exploring topics related to digging, and I joined them for a lesson at the Freer Sackler Galleries about archaeology.  Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from Jessie. 

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The children had recently shown a growing interest in digging and the creatures and objects they were discovering underground. To build on this interest, we decided to start a “can you dig it?”unit where we would explore a variety of topics related to digging, such as underground animals and insects, construction, gems and minerals, paleontology, archaeology, etc.

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 The class visited the Freer Sackler Galleries for their lesson on archaeology. There are many wonderful exhibits at the Freer Sackler, but for this lesson, they looked for gallery 21: Feast Your Eyes: A Taste of Luxury in Ancient Iran.

Engaging the children throughout the entire journey from classroom to the museum and back to classroom creates excitement and curiosity. This also scaffolds their learning and gives them multiple exposure to a topic. For example, we will often tell them the name of the exhibit we are looking for before we leave the classroom, then ask them what we are looking for before we enter the museum, and once we find the exhibit inside. This gets the children looking for letters, words, and/or numbers, as well as sparks their interest about our learning topic for that day.

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After finding the gallery, the class walked through it, stopping at artifacts that they wanted to look closely at. Jessie went with the groups’ pace and read information about each object that interested the children. They wondered and predicted together what each object was used for and from what materials they were made.

I chose this exhibit because it has a variety of objects to explore rather than just one. I also wanted the exhibit to provide our class with enough space to move around freely. This exhibit in the Sackler Gallery tends to have less foot traffic, and it has an array of objects to observe. The word ‘ancient’ in the title of the exhibit indicates the objects are from a long time ago, which was perfect for us to use in our exploration of archaeology.

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Near the end of the exhibit, the class sat down in a circle in front of the photograph Panorama of Persepolis by Ernst Herzfeld. Jessie asked the children to remember what paleontology is and the class recalled that it is the study of fossils or things that were once alive. Jessie asked if they saw any fossils in the exhibit or in the photograph behind them. The children said that they couldn’t see any fossils, but perhaps there were some beneath the surface in the photograph. One child said that they weren’t sure about fossils, but that the pillars in the photograph looked old because she could see holes, scratches, and dents on them.

The children had learned about fossils and paleontology the day before this lesson. We explored the fossil hall in the Natural History Museum and observed a variety of things paleontologists study. The main learning objectives of this lesson were to reflect on what we had learned about paleontology, compare and contrast paleontology and archaeology, and provide the children with some authentic objects archaeologists would work with. These objectives provided the children with exposure to these two fields of science, and their similarities and differences.

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Jessie told the group that the pillars or columns were old and in the country of Iran. All the artifacts they had seen in the galleries are from Iran as well. To better understand where Iran is located, the class looked at a world map and sang the song, “7 Continents“, which they often sing when locating a place on the map. Jessie told the group that Iran is on the continent of Asia and pointed out where it is.

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Next, the group thought about the difference between paleontology and archaeology. While both fields dig into the Earth to find clues about the past, paleontology is the study of fossils, and archaeology is the study of objects that are human-made. To further explore this, Jessie gave each child an object to examine. Then, everyone had a turn to place their object either in the paleontology group if it would be studied by paleontologists, or the archaeology group, if it would be studied by archaeologists.   

I already had some previous knowledge about these two topics and had created related lessons in the past. However, I wanted to prepare myself a bit more for this lesson through online research and books to make sure my knowledge was up to date. I also relied on the exhibits we visited to provide us with information. For example, as we ventured through the exhibit before sitting down for our lesson, I made observations about the objects we were seeing along with the children, and then read the titles and descriptions from the labels so we could have organic conversations about the pieces in the exhibit.

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 When the game ended there were two distinct piles for each field of study. The children understood that paleontologists study fossils, or things that used to be alive, while archaeologists study objects or buildings that were human-made.

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Jessie reiterated that we know how people lived long ago because of the artifacts that archaeologists dig up and examine. She shared some pages from the book A Street Through Time by Anne Millard, which shows the same street and how it might have looked from the Stone Age to modern day. 

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To end their lesson Jessie gave the children a challenge: pick an artifact in the exhibit that made them curious, observe it closely, and sketch what they saw.

Going into the lesson I wanted to make sure the children had time and space to complete structured as well as unstructured activities. Sometimes providing the children with too much freedom in a space can cause silliness but by preparing them for the sketching activity and giving them specific guidelines to follow they completed the activity with no issues.

 Back in the classroom, we asked each child to describe the object from the exhibit they had chosen to sketch. We wrote these descriptions on their paper with the date and a title, and then hung them up in the classroom. Once they were up in the classroom, we could refer to them later and encourage the children to share them with their families and friends. This provided multiple exposures to the topics we were learning about and enhanced their curiosity to learn more.

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If another teacher wanted to try this lesson, I would recommend finding spaces for the lessons and activities that give the children enough space to move around and explore. I would also recommend being prepared with a few things, such as a book and activity or two, but also leave plenty of time for organic conversation to happen. By building in time to just wander around and chat about what you are seeing, the children get more unstructured time to simply enjoy the space and objects and share their thoughts with their classmates and teachers.

After this lesson, the children were provided with a variety of tools, such as paintbrushes, gloves, magnifying glasses, pencils, and sketch paper, that would help them to explore little “dig sites”with sand, and mini objects that an archaeologist would study. We also picked out books from the library related to digging and incorporated story times into multiple parts of our day. This lesson was one of our final explorations in our “can you dig it?”unit, so we spent the following days reflecting on and making comparisons between the digging topics we had explored over the previous weeks.


After exploring digging, it was time for our preschoolers to graduate! For more digging ideas, visit our Dinosaurs, Can You Dig it?, and Ancient RomePinterest boards.