Beyond Stereotypes: Thanksgiving and the American Indian

As we move toward Thanksgiving and celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we want to re-share this blog post featuring thoughts from Adrienne Smith of the National Museum of the American Indian. Her thoughtful advice is important any time of year, but is particularly resonant as many people approach teaching about the history of Thanksgiving. We encourage you to look through the many resources (found at the bottom of this article) that NMAI has created for educators, particularly if you plan to approach this topic with children.

31At a very young age, a child begins to form their sense of self, even infants can recognize subtle differences between themselves and others. Early childhood educators can play a key role in helping a child form a positive self-image. Similarly, educators can also instill in their young students a respect and appreciation for diversity. It seems like a tall order, but by thoughtfully choosing content and activities and, by creating an inclusive environment, educators can begin to help shape a child who values both themselves, and others.

SEEC has partnered with the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to publish a series of blogs that we hope will begin to help teachers and parents reconsider some of the traditional lessons and activities that are often circulated, especially on social media channels, during the Thanksgiving season.  While they may appear fun and cute, many of the suggestions actually perpetuate stereotypes and historical inaccuracies. There has been a long history of misinformation about Indigenous Americans in our school systems and we want to work together to alter some of those misconceptions.

To tell us more, Adrienne Smith of the National Museum of the American Indian, shares her own story:seecstories-com-3

During my early childhood years, I was fortunate enough to attend a preschool that was directed by my tribal nation. When I would walk into the classroom, there were items from my culture and words familiar to me in my tribal language, posted on the bulletin boards and, in our play areas.  It made me feel comfortable to be here and see things with which I was familiar. That changed when I entered the public-school system for elementary school. I can recall making paper headdresses and paper roll totem poles. I went along with it because, “Hey, I knew it wasn’t my culture.” It wasn’t until my adulthood that I looked back and wondered “Why didn’t my elementary or high school teachers use the resources that were readily available?” We had a tribal museum with educators from my tribe who could have come out and spoken to them. Maybe the teachers just didn’t know or were uncomfortable changing the way they taught. Either way, I missed out on being able to connect to my culture while at school.

Working at the National Museum of the American Indian has given me the opportunity to observe what our visitors know about American Indians and sadly, much of it is stereotypical. Below is a list of ways that you, as a teacher, can break through some of those stereotypes and begin to paint a more realistic picture of American Indians.

 

Teacher Tips

Never assume that there are no Native or indigenous
seecstories-com-9students in your class.

I have had visitors tell me that I am not Native or that I am only a little bit Native because of my green eyes and fair skin. Not all Native people look like what you see in the movies or in books.

Allow students to explore their own cultures and other cultures by including culturally diverse objects, contemporary photos, and toys in your classroom.

Be mindful not to choose stereotypical or culturally insensitive materials.  For example, Native people prefer that their clothing not be used as dress up because traditional clothing or regalia is sacred and there are many cultural meanings behind the items that we wear.

Discuss similarities and differences of American Indian tribes, even those that live in the same area.

There was not one Native language or culture. Though Native people adapted to other languages and cultures, each Nation still has their own identity.

Should you teach about regions, for example, “plains” tribes, be mindful to note their differences, as well.

Consider using maps, talking about the environment, and comparing housing to illustrate these differences. They are great examples of the unique attributes of different tribes.

 Teach that Native people are still here today.

Share with your students that American Indian nations are vibrant communities that exist today living in the modern world and still honoring their traditions.

Utilize the internet and explore Native American owned businesses. They can provide access to goods for your classroom. I recommend Native Northwest Select or museum gift shops. Do be thoughtful when choosing which site from which to purchase. 

There’s More

In a future blog, we will feature actual classroom lessons that will be centered initially on homes, a concept with which most children easily identify. We will then branch out to explore a typical home of the Wampanoag Nation, a wetu. Our goal is to illustrate how preschools can easily incorporate engaging, playful, and interactive lessons that can breakdown stereotypes and build appreciation for the diverse and rich cultures of the American Indian.

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Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Tea is a Time 

A teacher holds a young child up to look at several Japanese tea bowls.

This Teacher Feature was meant to be published around the time SEEC closed due to Covid 19 in March of 2020.  As the weather gets cooler and many of us are back to teaching in person, it finally feels appropriate to share this lesson. 

 For this week’s Teacher Feature we will highlight a toddler class. Educators Stephanie Lopez, Abigail Marden, and Julia Smith were exploring different concepts around tea. For this lesson, the class learned about how “tea is a time” when they went to the National Museum of Asian Art’s Freer Gallery to see tea bowls while being introduced to ideas around the Japanese tea ceremony. Below you will find a reflection from toddler educator Julia Smith. 

Preparation: 

Toddlers sit in a circle in their classroom and sing a song with a teacher.

Julia began the morning by inviting her class to join her in a circle where she talked to them about the ideas that they had explored earlier in the week. She reminded the class that “tea is plant” by showing them a mint plant and that “tea is a drink” by encouraging them to pretend that they were drinking tea. 

What inspired you to teach this lesson?

This lesson was inspired by our class’s  interest in what their teachers like to drink. Many teachers in our center enjoy tea and coffee. Our toddlers often requested to look inside the mugs and to smell our drinks. Additionally, I  have a personal love of tea that made me want to teach this lesson. Having recently traveled to Japan, I wanted to learn more about the traditional tea ceremonies.

A teacher shows toddlers a video of a Japanese tea ceremony.

Julia showed the class a video of a Japanese tea ceremony. She turned the volume off and narrated what was happening in the video. Julia was able to react to the children’s interest and focus the viewing experience to their wonders. 

What were your objectives? 

I find it easier to teach lessons to this age group when I can break down my ideas about a topic into very simple concepts.  I wanted the children to know where tea comes from (“tea is a plant”), how tea is made (“tea is a drink”), and why people drink tea (“tea is a time”). This idea came up when I discovered it was very confusing to learn that the word “tea” refers to several different things including the name of a plant, the name of the drink, and the activity of drinking.

To explore how “tea is a time”, I wanted to talk about how drinking tea is so often a calming experience (at least for me!) This was a great opportunity for my class to work on self regulation techniques.  We often try to sprinkle elements of self regulation and mindfulness into our lessons. Even very young children can learn to listen to their bodies and try to take deep breaths. 

Lesson Implementation: 

Toddlers look at the tools need to make matcha tea.

As the class made matcha, Julia was careful to note that they were not performing a Japanese tea ceremony but rather exploring the tools and making tea together. She showed the class the tea bowl, the whisk or “chasen” and encouraged them to use their senses to explore the green, fragrant, matcha. 

Describe the experience of making the tea in the classroom. 

Before teaching this lesson, I carefully considered a couple of things. I wanted to introduce the children to a way of making tea that is not as common in our culture (although matcha is becoming increasingly popular!) I wanted to be careful to emphasize that this was not a tea ceremony because a tea ceremony can only be performed by someone extensively trained with a large amount of cultural knowledge. Instead of going into extensive details about what makes the tea ceremony unique, I decided that it was more  important for the toddlers to be given time to observe and to be exposed to the idea that there are many ways to make tea. I tried to use the language of “same and different” to connect something potentially unfamiliar (making tea with a power and a bamboo whisk) to something more familiar (we made tea with tea bags the day before). I would say something like: “This way of making tea is the same – it makes a warm tasty drink.  This way of making tea is different – it uses different tools.”

A teacher compares a plastic tea cup to tea bowls in the Freer-Sackler

When the class arrived at the gallery, Julia encouraged the children to look carefully at the tea bowls and held up a toy teacup that the children had been playing with in the classroom to help the children make connections. 

What were the children’s reactions to seeing the tea bowls? Did they make any connections? 

We situated ourselves in the gallery so that the tea bowls were the main objects the children could see. They pointed them out when I asked if they could find the tea bowls. I then held up a play tea cup the children had been using in their play all week. This helped them create connections between the tea bowls on display and the knowledge they already had constructed through their play in our classroom. After I made that comparison, I handed the toy cups out to the children.  They pretended to drink out of their plastic cups while looking at the tea bowls. Their pretend play allowed them to make further connections about the various types of tea. 

Unfortunately, the bowls on display were up a bit high for them to see well when we were sitting on the ground. Although the viewing angle wasn’t as good, with this age group, it is much better to have them seated on the ground for the museum circle. It keeps them grounded in that location and allows them to engage in museum appropriate play. If they were standing, they are likely to be immediately distracted and want to explore everything they see in the entire space.

Toddlers pretend to drink from plastic tea cups in the Freer Sackler

To allow the children some time to explore on their own, Julia, Stephanie, and Abby gave each child their own teacup to hold. The children immediately began pretending to drink from their cups and started knocking their cups together and saying, “cheers”. 

How did you encourage your class to explore their own ideas while in the gallery? Why is this important for toddler learning?  

I am so glad that we brought the toy cups into the gallery. Having objects or something for the children to hold in the galleries is a really great way to keep their interest. It also lets them begin to play in the museum space. Children this age need to act something out or interact with it physically in order to build understanding. I should note that when you allow children to play, they sometimes will partake in activities that need redirection. In this instance, my class started banging their cups on the ground in a quiet and echo-y gallery so we encouraged them to instead take pretend slurps and saying cheers

A teacher reads a book to a group of toddlers in the Freer Sackler

Julia reminded her class that “tea is a time” and explained that sometimes people drink tea to socialize or to find a sense of calm deep inside of themselves. To further explain this sense of calm, she read “Charlotte and the Quiet Place” by Deborah Sosin. 

How did you explain the topic “tea is a time” to your toddlers? 

In doing my research for this lesson, I learned  how very often “tea times” around the world are used as a break from work and a chance to socialize. There is the classic British tea time but also many, many, other cultural traditions around tea as a time to relax. Japanese tea ceremonies focus on using the process of preparing tea as a time of calm and meditation. With children this age, recognizing and dealing with big feelings is a huge part of their social emotional development. Finding ways to help toddlers recognize when they are overwhelmed and giving them strategies (even as simple as teaching them how to take big breaths) are really valuable. 

I love the book Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin  (Author) and Sara Woolley (Illustrator) because it is very simple, a young girl is overwhelmed by a noisy world. She finds a quiet place in that park and realizes taking deep breaths helps her feel better. It helps introduce children to the idea of being overwhelmed (e.g. things are too loud) and that there are ways to not feel that way. Talking about tea time as a calming time was both authentic to the many cultures that consume tea and also a great opportunity to help talk to children about their big feelings. 

Reflection:

A teacher holds up a child so they can see a display of Japanese tea bowls in the Freer Sackler Museum

Before leaving, children took some deep breaths while holding their teacups so they could find their own quiet place. Then they were lifted up so they could better see the tea bowls. 

What recommendations do you have for another teacher trying out this lesson? 

If you are going to teach about other cultures it helps to ground it in something the children are genuinely interested in. I tried to avoid taking a tourist approach to Japanese culture by always connecting the knowledge to the children’s lives and grounding the lessons in their demonstrated interest in tea. 

I had trouble finding books about tea that were age appropriate and connected well to my lesson so I wrote my own! It’s always an option to make the resource you are looking for. When visiting museums that are not typically geared toward children, it helps to visit the space first to see the layout of the gallery. In this instance, I was able to determine where I would want the children to sit so that they could freely explore with their toy tea cups.

Supporting and Responding to Big Emotions  

Going back to school, especially this year, can bring up all kinds of emotions in both kids and adults. Settling into new routines can also reduce everyone’s emotional capacity leading us all to feel overloaded, even by small things. Young children often feel their feelings very intensely and strongly in their body, a frustrated child can dissolve into a tantrum, or they may yell or run around with excitement! There is nothing wrong with a child who feels things deeply but sometimes their big feelings can incapacitate them or create unsafe situations. Here are some ways we approach big feelings at SEEC.  

Let Them Feel Their Feelings

  • A foundational aspect of approaching feelings at SEEC is validating them. Even if it feels silly to us that a child is upset because they got green instead of orange scissors, we try to acknowledge that to that child whatever has happened feels like a big deal.  
  • Although we will usually offer help when a child is upset, they may not want us there. In this case it is sometimes best to just let them have some time to express themselves. For example, you could say: “I can see you’re very upset/sad right now. Do you need a hug or my help? If not, I am going to give you some space. I’ll be right over here when you’re ready for me”  

Use Your Words 

  • For young preverbal children it can sometimes be helpful to narrate what is happening. For example, if you are dropping your child off somewhere new and they are upset to see you go you could say “Are you feeling upset that I am leaving? I’m feeling a little nervous too. I know you are having a hard time right now, but I’ll be back!”   
  • It’s also important to note that even verbal children, who may be able to express themselves well when they are calm, can struggle to express themselves when experiencing big emotions. This can be frustrating for adults because we think we know what they should be capable of! However even the most verbal child can struggle to use their words when feeling something strongly.   

Modeling Behavior and Language  

  • Children are always looking at the adults around them, and often use us as examples for how to react in a situation. Try narrating your own feelings around something when you get upset or excited. For example: “I am feeling frustrated right now because I burnt the brownies. I am going to take some deep breaths to help calm my body and learn from my mistake. Next time I’ll be sure to set a timer to make sure the brownies are not in the oven for too long.”   

Acknowledge Your Own Emotions 

  • Even as adults we have big feelings too, just like the children in our lives we can get overwhelmed, upset, or overly excited.  If you do get upset with a child or feel you reacted too harshly, apologizing to your child can be an important step.  This both validates your child’s feelings, if what you said upset them, as well as models an important skill for them.  

Tantrums  

  • Tantrums are tough. Knowing they are developmentally appropriate for this age group doesn’t make them any easier. These blog posts have some great ideas for how to approach with a tantrum in the moment with your child:  

Everyone has big feelings sometimes, adults included! By giving children (and ourselves!) the space to feel their feelings and the tools to identify and manage them, feelings don’t have to overwhelming. What are some ways you approach big feelings with young children?

Tips for Experiencing the Outdoors with Young Children

The lovely spring weather is here to stay in the Washington DC area and that means that people are spending more time outside.  The benefits of the outdoors are numerous, and their benefits extend to even the youngest children. Whether your family lives in an apartment or surrounded by nature these tips can help you engage the children in your life in the wonder of the outdoors.  

Try Gardening 

No matter where you live or how much space you have you can be a gardener. If you don’t have a lot of space try just growing plants that offer a sensory experience to young children, like pungent rosemary or fuzzy lamb’s ears. For older children try building on their desire for autonomy by giving them a pot or a small garden plot that is theirs to plant and water, they will likely love the new responsibility as well as being able to make choices about what to plant. Combine creating amazing soil for your garden and caring for small creatures by setting up a worm bin in your garden!  They are relatively easy to care for (even in a small space) and can help teach young children about caring for living things as well as reducing and repurposing waste.  

Take a Walk  

It sounds simple but taking a walk is an easy way to see nature wherever you live. Try choosing something that you are looking for on each walk, like flower buds, birds, or sticks. How many of those things can you count?  Track how things grow on your walks by taking a daily or weekly picture of the same plant or natural area.  Compare the pictures to see how they’ve changed over time!  

Be a Local Naturalist  

Investigate and observe the natural features of your backyard or local park.  Flip over stones and logs and observe what you find underneath. When children find worms and grubs encourage gentle touches and putting things back where you found them. Try creating a nature journal or other record of the wildlife you encounter. Your child could contribute drawings or dictate their observations to an adult to write down. 

Creating Nature Spaces  

You can invite birds into your yard or to your windows with bird feeders and bird houses.  A small water feature helps so many “backyard buddies” – if you can add a small water pump to recirculate the water you’ll attract more animals because they are attracted to the sound! If you have a backyard, consider leaving part of it “untamed” and bushy or planting native plants to create habitats for local wildlife. To attract monarchs and other butterflies try planting some of their native favorites like dogbane, asters and goldenrod. Coral honeysuckle is one of our only native, noninvasive honeysuckles and hummingbirds love it!  Many of these native plants are also easy to grow and low maintenance. You’ll be amazed at the wildlife you and your child will be able to see up close!  

Engage Babies and Toddlers  

It can be intimating to introduce very young children to the natural world, especially when they love to touch and taste everything. Start by creating sensory rich experiences for these children, such as introducing them to plants with strong scents, colors or textures.  With preverbal children draw their attention to these sensory experiences and narrate what you are seeing (or hearing or smelling!).  When allowing them to touch different living things whether it’s a plant or a worm emphasize gentle touches by gently touching your child as you do this or guiding their hands.  

Safe Space  

 Going out in nature can feel risky with children who put everything in their mouth.  For the most part accidently eating a little grass or dirt is unlikely to cause great harm to children.  Do some research on what plants in your area can be toxic or harmful to your child so you can steer clear of them and put your mind at ease.  Also, avoid bug bites by controlling your local mosquito populations.  Tip out old water that collects in outdoor items and try using mosquito dunks and bits to treat other standing water, they do not hurt other local insects like fireflies and butterflies!   

Whether it’s feeding a bird on your windowsill, digging up worms on the playground, or getting out for a nature hike you can experience nature and the outdoors where ever you are.   What learning experiences will your family discover?  

Separation Anxiety: Tips, Tricks, and Comforting Words

Drop off can be a difficult time for both caregivers and infants. As our school looks forward to reopening after our closure due to COVID, we reflected that while transitions to school can be tricky, there are strategies to help ease anxiety. Amanda Rhine, Brandi Gordon, Lida Barthol, and Julia Plant (pictured above respectively), educators in SEEC’s infant classes, shared their tips and tricks for both families and students transitioning back into the classroom. 

What advice would you give to parents to navigate drop off?  

BG: I would say, make the child a part of the conversation. Even if they are young you can communicate with them about where you’re going to go, who you’re going to see, and what you see as you go. Make it a part of the daily adventure so it’s not a scary quiet walk into the school building, especially at the beginning. You, as the grown up, can even talk about your own anxieties by saying “I am nervous to drop you off, it’s our first day. I’m going to miss you, but I’m going to come back.”  

LB: I agree with you, Brandi 

AR: I think also being gentle with yourself as the adult in this situation. Yeah, you might be anxious, and that’s an okay thing to feel and that’s to be expected. Especially with everyone being home for so long with COVID-19, to hand your child off to someone else is a very scary thing and it’s okay to feel that. It’s okay to give yourself grace with that moment and say, “We’ve been through a lot this year, there’s just a lot of emotions happening,” and that’s an okay thing to feel. 

LB: Yeah, I agree. And don’t feel like you should feel one way or another. Maybe on the flip side, you’re thinking, “Thank God someone is taking my child” and you feel guilty for feeling that way but that’s okay! Just have some loving compassion for yourself.  

JP: And related to that, having compassion for your child. They might feel totally different from you, they might feel different one day and to remember that this is a process so they might suddenly hit a stage when a couple weeks in they feel really sad to leave you. It might finally hit them, which is totally normal and we’re here to work through that with them and provide reassurance.  

LB: Having a definitive goodbye routine can also be helpful.  

JP: Yes. Once you have a routine, it’s important to keep it up. Although it might be difficult, it could actually be easier for your child if you don’t pick them back up from the teacher once you’ve said goodbye, even if in the moment you might want to do that to comfort them.  

LB: Absolutely, I realize that intuitively, it might seem easier if you could walk them into school and stay for a while but creating a set routine makes that transition easier in the long run. That’s not to say we’re all “Rip the Band-Aid Off” kinds of people. 

BG: Whatever type of goodbye that the families want/where goodbyes happen, we’re here to facilitate that. I think the key thing is consistency. However that goodbye happens for that particular family, is great as long as it happens that way every time. And to remember that your family’s goodbye might not look like another family’s goodbye and that’s okay! We’re not going to judge your goodbye routine. 

AR: I think that’s a great point Brandi. Goodbyes aren’t going to look the same for everyone. What your kid needs is what your kid needs. We’re here to meet your child where they are and to meet you where you are as a family.  

What else do you want parents to know about the transition back to school? 

JP: It can be helpful for even the youngest of children to have some information about the upcoming transition. Given this, we’ve discussed sending our pictures home to families so they can get to know our faces before returning to school. We’ve also discussed sending a schedule of a typical day. Being able to say to the child “We’ve seen Miss Brandi and Miss Amanda’s pictures and we’re going to meet them today. I’m really excited to meet them, too! First you’re going to have snack and then you’ll do this, etc.” It’s really reassuring to the caregiver but also to the child once they get into that routine. Knowing that they do this, this and this, and then their family comes back.  

LB: We definitely want to give the families some context for what happens after they are dropped off with us. Like, we take them inside, wash their hands, handle their feelings, and then the rest of the day looks like this. We also have a Shutterfly page going, which we update periodically, so families can see what their child does during the day.  

AR: Talking about that routine and schedule with your child is a great way to work through some of that anxiety.  

LB: Yes! Even with the little tiny babies, talking about the schedule and the routine is so important. I don’t think people realize that they can and should talk to their infant about everything that’s happening. They might not understand the words, but they do understand it on some level. 

JP: You definitely notice that babies pick up on their schedules. In the past, if a caregiver was running later than normal, we’ve all seen one of the babies notice and look around like “Why am I still here? I always leave before we transfer to afternoon snack time.” They know their schedule once they get into that routine.  

AR: Part of narrating the day, whether it’s getting ready to leave the house or whatever, is so important to their development and their understanding how of the world functions. And Lida, you’re right, they might not understand every word, but they do have some understanding of what is happening and what order it’s happening it. It’s exactly what we do in our classroom. Every time we change a diaper, or do anything, we narrate that experience. “Okay, we’re going to put you on the changing table. We’re going to take off your pants or onesie. We’re going to put you in this clean diaper.” Everything we do, we’re narrating all the time. It gives the child a sense of control and understanding because at some point they begin to understand the words and can begin to clearly voice their opinions.  

What does separation anxiety look like for children?  

LB: Young children, specifically infants, are going through object permanence. They are learning that when you leave and you’re gone for a few hours, you can return, and you still exist. I had a mentor once who’s thing was neurobiology and attachment theory. She was like, “Separating from your caregiver that first time is technically a little bit of a relational trauma. But because it’s trauma that’s why we have to be therapeutic.” And that’s why it’s our job to be a warm, welcoming, consistent caregiver, to be therapeutic for the baby.  

BG: It’s good to note that we understand what this does and that we’re here to support and be there for your child.  

LB: With every kind of rupture, there is repair. It is a stress, there is not denying that it is a stressful event for the baby, but they are fully capable of moving through it and being resilient. It’s not going to do permanent damage.  

AR: It’s also worth mentioning that children pick up on stress from others. How other children are feeling around them, how adults are feeling around them. We’ve all seen it in the classroom. If you as the adult are feeling as calm as you can and emanating energy that the new faces your child is encountering are warm, safe people then your child is going to pick up on that as well. There might be some initial tears but there will be a quick turnaround of, “Okay, I’m safe here. I know that these people are taking care of me. I can feel that it is calm and cozy so I am okay.”  

LB: Exactly! Babies need co-regulators for their emotions during their early stages, so our emotions are so important to their emotional wellbeing. But as we mentioned earlier, your child’s emotions and anxiety might vary day to day and that’s totally normal!  

Will it affect them developmentally? 

AR:  No! Separation anxiety is developmentally appropriate, and it won’t affect your child in the long run.  We realize that this year especially, separation anxiety might look a little different with our youngest students because their immediate caregivers might be the only people they’ve had any long-term exposure to. It’s now been one year with just primary caregivers and so separation anxiety might be heightened and that’s to be expected, but it does not mean that it will be detrimental to their long-term development. Building bonds with new people does take time, but SEEC educators move at the pace of the child and meet them where they are emotionally. 

How do you handle separation anxiety as teachers? 

LB: We’ve talked about it a little bit already, but really being a therapeutic, calming center for the child. 

BG: Being that calming sound board for the child to have whatever feelings they want to have.  

LB: Yes, I’m never going to tell a child that their emotions are wrong. I would never tell a child to stop crying, instead I would say “I know it’s really sad when your grown-up has to leave. It’s really hard to leave your favorite person.”  

AR: We all firmly believe as infant teachers that your child’s feelings and emotions are valid. It’s our job to help them navigate this first year of school and all the changes that come with it. We’re also here to help families navigate how they’re feeling. We’re here for all emotions, adult and child! 

How to Prepare Young Children for the Cicadas

It’s hard to believe it’s been 17 years since the Brood X cicadas last emerged and took over the DMV!  Many adults now might remember the last time they emerged, or if you are new to the area this might be your first brush with these noisy neighbors. Some might enjoy the cicadas but there are plenty who are less than enthused about the upcoming emergence. The sudden onslaught of many large insects can be very strange or unnerving for young children, particularly if they do not already have a comfort with insects and bugs. Here are some tips for how to help your child prepare for and even enjoy this rare occurrence, as well as build positive memories for the next time!  

Describe What Will Happen  

For children who are old enough (around three and up) try talking very simply about what will happen when the cicadas emerge. Try these phrases: “There will be lots of insects called cicadas. They will be large, and they will fly. They will make a very loud sound and we will hear them during the day and at night. They cannot hurt you. Sometimes they might fly near you or land on you. If that happens you can stand still until they fly off.”  Ask your child what questions they have about cicadas and try to find out the answers together.  For all children, even babies and toddlers, use images and videos of cicadas to get them used to what they will look and sound like.

Safely Handling Cicadas  

There are actually a lot of reasons that the cicadas are great examples to use to teach children about insects. First, cicadas are completely harmless, they cannot sting or bite, and they are not poisonous. Because they use their vast numbers to overwhelm predators and don’t try to hide or flee, they are quite docile and easy to catch, and in fact have a rather low sense of self preservation. They are also very large and easy for small hands to handle. Just remember cicadas are not pets and should be allowed to remain free. For a child who might be uncomfortable handling a live cicada they can try touching the exoskeletons shed by the larvae when they metamorphose into adults. You’ll be able to find these crunchy hollow shells everywhere when the larvae start to emerge.   

Become Citizen Scientists  

Even if your child does not want to handle or interact with the cicadas themselves, there are still lots of ways to learn from the emergence. For example:

  • Try using this Learning Lab collection of renditions of cicadas in artwork to compare and contrast with live cicadas.
  • Create your own drawings and art based on cicadas. You could even write a cicada haiku and submit it to this contest
  • Check out the website Friend to Cicadas which has lots of kid appropriate videos and information that you can share with your child and help them learn more.  
  • Put your observational skills to the test and help scientists track where the cicadas are emerging using the Cicada Safari app.  

No matter your or your child’s comfort level with creepy crawlies, there are ways to engage and learn from this cicada emergence. Teaching the children in your life to respect and appreciate nature is critical to making them feel connected to world around them and helping them become good stewards of the planet for generations to come.   

SEEC at Home: Environment

For many families engaging in virtual learning the delineation between home and school has all but disappeared. Our preschool teachers thought it be helpful to share a few things about how we set up and implement different strategies in our SEEC classrooms. The tools we use at school may also be helpful for establishing routines and daily schedules at home and most strategies are easy to adapt! Today we’ll share some specific techniques about how we set up our school environment to help young children gain independence and success.

Five pillows sit on top of blankets in an alcove.

Cozy Corner/Safe Space

Cozy corners provide a safe space for children to go and are needed now more than ever. They help children to regulate their emotions by taking space and time to process. At SEEC, different classrooms set up their cozy corners differently, but they all serve the same purpose. Here is a list of items that might be in a cozy corner: 

  •  Pillows
  •  A soft rug or something to sit on
  •  Lovies
  • Sensory items like a stress ball, liquid timer, or sensory bag 
  • Calming pictures, like photos family or a favorite place
A child puts up the label "backpack" on a cubby in a classroom. Two labels are seen below: "clothes" and "Teacher Cubby".

Labels 

Labels have a several benefits. First, they help make clean up quicker! When shelves, containers, and or cabinets are labeled, children can figure out where things go on their own. Labels also help children develop their pre-literacy skills; they reinforce the idea that words have meaning. They can be handwritten or printed, as long as your child knows what they are. If you can use images of the actual object, that can be helpful. In the classroom, we label as much as we can including the following: 

  • Containers for toys and the shelves they go on 
  •  Sink, soap dispenser
  •  Art materials
A child washes their hands at a sink with photo instructions displayed on the wall above the sink.

Photo Instructions  

We try to use photo instructions whenever possible. While children can’t read written instructions, they can follow photo instructions. Photo instructions are step by step instructions using images to cue the children.  

Using photo instructions: Go over them with your child first. Say the steps as you point to the images. Over time, remind your child to follow the pictures when they need help. Eventually, they will feel confident using the image all on their own. Photo instructions are helpful in the bathroom, for getting dressed, for getting ready to go outside, and more! 

Making your own: For these, we try to use real images of the children doing the actions in the instructions, but you can use clip art images, hand drawn images, or whatever you have on hand. Just make sure that you go over them with your child before implementing them.  

A child uses a small towel to wipe a door.

Tools for Children at Their Level  

Young children are learning to establish their independence and providing them with opportunities to exercise that independence is important. In order to facilitate those opportunities, we place the tools they need in spots where children can access them. By providing them with that space and those tools you are showing them that this is a job meant for them! 

For example, later in the year we will have friends help set up for lunch. This means putting out the placemats, utensils, plates, cups and napkins. We make sure these are in a low place so they can access so they can have the independence to take on the job themselves. Children also start to help clean up after themselves by stacking chairs and cleaning spills. 

Take Your Time

This is a very trying time for families with young children. While we offer these ideas to help with structure in your home, finding time to implement them can be hard. Try doing one strategy a month, or whatever timeframe works for you. Caregivers are doing the impossible right now – you’re doing great!


Interested in what else the classrooms and the full-time school look like? Check out the dates for our virtual open houses for the 2021 – 2022 school year.

Trey & Freddie Gray

This blog is authored by SEEC educator Dana Brightful.


One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was talk to my 4year-old about racism and what that looks like in the world. I didn’t think I would have to have this conversation at such a young age. Our family had always talked about physical features and celebrated my son’s beautiful brown skin, big brown eyes and curly brown hair. We made it a point to also let him know how loved he was by not just his immediate family but his SEEC family as well. His love for silly dance moves, jokes that didn’t quite make sense yet, learning, and all things Thomas made him one unique and special little human to his community. So when he looked up at me with sad brown eyes and said, “Why can’t we go to Baltimore to see Thomas again?” you can imagine that it broke my heart. How was I going to explain to my 4-year-old what had happened in Baltimore and the long history that preceded these events?

This question came during the riots in Baltimore after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray. Citizens were outraged about the ongoing injustices African Americans face by the hands of the police and judicial system. How was I going to explain something so complex to my young child? As an educator I had approached these sort of difficult topics with my students before, but as a mom it was breaking my heart. I was not just sad for my child, but for the lives of the young men and women who have died as a result of these injustices. What was even more difficult was that I knew that this was the first of many conversations to come. Though it would look different over the years, the underlying theme would remain the same: some people do not value your body because of the color of your skin. But I took a moment to breathe and give myself pause so I could carefully consider how I introduced this concept to my 4-year-old.

I encourage adults who are faced with this challenge to pause and reflect and say to your child, “I need a moment to take some deep breaths before we talk about your question.” It does two things: it allows you to reflect on your emotions and think about how to proceed and it shows your child you are taking them seriously. I pulled him next to me and asked him to sit near me. He immediately climbed into my lap, which grounded me emotionally. I began with the facts: the people in Baltimore were upset and had been protesting so the Mayor shut everything down to minimize the amount of damage done to the city and to ensure that people remained safe. He remembered what protesting was (either from SEEC or talks at home) and asked why the people were doing it. I very simply stated, “Because they feel as if many young men and women aren’t being treated fairly based on the color of their skin.” I added, “ Sometimes people will not like you, or me, or daddy because our skin has more melanin making it appear browner in tone. Some people will not treat us kindly or fairly, which isn’t okay.” He then asked, “If all the people protesting were brown like us.” I told him, “No, which is a good thing. It’s important for the people who don’t like us to see that not everyone thinks like them. They need to understand that no matter what your skin color is, we all deserve to be treated like humans.” He then asked, “Were there people who died?” I was unsure exactly what he was referring to, so before answering I asked him for clarification, which is always a good thing to do so you are not assuming what your child is talking about. Often times children have ideas or thoughts in their head that we are not aware of unless we ask for clarification. He said, “Were there people who died and was that why the protesters were upset.” I immediately began to cry. It’s okay to cry and feel emotions in front of your child. It humanizes you and lets them know how you are feeling. Through tears I let him know that, “Yes people died and that these deaths were unnecessary.” Finally, I let him know that he shouldn’t feel afraid. I told him that part of my job as his mom was to protect him as much as possible and to always fight for him.

We ended this particular conversation with hugs. I made certain to reassure him that even if people don’t like him because of his skin, that his village (the people who love him and care for him) will fight for him because I didn’t want him feeling overwhelmed by the idea of people not liking him. I needed him to understand that while there may be people in the world who do not like him because of his skin color, that he shouldn’t worry because their are people who love him for the human being his is and that surpasses any dislike in the world. This talk happened nearly 5 years ago and we continue to discuss racial injustice and inequality. That conversation laid an important foundation for my son. It encouraged him to use his voice to be an advocate for himself and others. It also gave him the ability to recognize allies for our people. It’s a talk that will continue in our household and now includes my youngest son as well. While you may never have the same experience as me or my children, I hope that you understand that our feelings are the same as yours. We are sad, upset and, hurting but most of all, we are in awe of not just our city’s outpouring of love and advocacy, but the world’s. My sincere hope is that you read this and are able to take something away from it to help in your discussions with your own child. This is an ongoing journey for us all and one that will prove for be rewarding down the line.

Careful Looking: A Window into a Child’s Mind

This blog is authored by infant teacher Lida Barthol.


At SEEC, we often talk about “careful looking” as a strategy for helping children engage with objects. But careful looking is not only a tool we employ during lessons, it is woven into every aspect of our work as teachers. Back in 2016, I trained with the Resources for Infant Educarers, an organization devoted to promoting respectful care for infants and toddlers. Part of that training involved observing infants at play for long stretches of time, noticing the tiny details in their movements and facial expressions. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what we were expected to gain through this observation. This year, though, I have finally started to process it — in large part thanks to a book I recently read, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. Odell writes:

Practices of attention and curiosity are inherently open-ended, oriented toward something outside of ourselves. Through attention and curiosity, we can suspend our tendency toward instrumental understanding — seeing things or people one-dimensionally as the products of their functions — and instead sit with the unfathomable fact of their existence, which opens up toward us but can never be fully grasped or known. (p. 104)

It turns out, observing babies and young children is a bit like watching the ocean or the night sky: sometimes you just need to sit with the unfathomable fact of their existence. Beyond that, observation serves many practical functions in the classroom. It enables us to plan lessons; negotiate classroom dynamics; and notice not only the milestones, but the hundreds of in-between steps of each child’s development. And for parents who are now simultaneously negotiating working from home and home-schooling their kids, it can be an equally powerful tool.

 Back in March, many people waved goodbye to the last vestiges of a work-life/home-life balance. One particularly popular meme that surfaced in the spring depicted Dolly Parton, with the overlaid text, “When you’re working from home but you’re also a parent: working 9-9:10, 9:45-10, 10:20-10:35, 12:30-2:00, 2:15-2:16…” In other words, attention is in short supply. In fact, having the time and space to simply observe is a privilege. In other childcare jobs I’ve held, low ratios and unsupportive administration meant the day was about putting out fires (figuratively — except for once), sticking to a strict schedule, and rushing the kids around enough that they’ll nap well. If any of that sounds like a day in your home, I understand. Attention is a luxury, but it’s one that pays dividends. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, says, “That kind of deep attention that we pay as children is something that I cherish, that I think we all can cherish and reclaim, because attention is that doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity.” In the context of both teaching and parenting, giving yourself just a second to deeply see and appreciate that tiny, wise person in your life might be just the self-care you need. 

It can be hard to master the type of open awareness that Kimmerer describes, especially when so many demands are being made on our attention. Instead, I find it more helpful to keep some concrete questions in my mind while observing children at play. Here are just a few places to start:

Observing Movement — What is this child doing with their body? How are they doing it? How might they feel in their body? 

Developmental milestones can be an area of stress for new parents. It is important to remember that every baby reaches each milestone in their own time, in their own way. Paying attention not only to the milestones your child is working on, but to their own unique strategies for accomplishing those milestones, can give you a more robust sense of their motor development. 

Observing Perspective — What is this child noticing? What knowledge are they using right now? What might they feel about themselves in this moment? 

One of the things I find most rewarding about teaching is seeing how children express their unique perspectives from the very beginning. For every play activity we offer at school, there will never be two completely identical reactions — some children swim in paint, some use a brush, and some won’t touch it at all for weeks. When we pay attention to how our children authentically respond to the world, we get new information about who they are as learners and as people.

Observing Relationships — What social skills are at play here? What is being practiced? If there is conflict, how can I support each child with as little intervention as possible? How can we navigate this conflict in a way that honors the perspective of each child?

Once, as a teacher in the toddler room, my co-teacher Brandi and I pointed a projector at the wall and encouraged the kids to stand in the light and find their shadows. Two of our little guys (let’s call them G and J) marched back and forth with their arms in the air, watching as their shadows did the same. J tripped over his own feet and fell, but before I could offer help, G — who was about half his size — reached down, offered his little hands, and helped him up. Once they were both standing, G helped J brush himself off. For the next couple weeks, the kids would often playfully “fall down” and help each other up. We are often taught that young children are extremely self-centered, but when we know how to look for it, we see that they are also capable of deep levels of compassion and empathy. 

Observing Yourself — What is happening in my body? If there is stress, where is it coming from?

Even on the best possible day in the classroom, there will always be moments when it feels like everything might just fall apart. Sometimes it takes us too long to get back from a museum visit and suddenly the whole class is crying for a nap at once, or we come back from a summer day splashing in the sprinkler and find we need to change 8 wiggly babies out of soaking wet diapers and swimsuits in time to eat lunch. The best way that I have found to keep my cool in these moments is by paying attention to my own body and breath. Often, I realize that it’s not the crying babies that cause me stress, but rather, my adult expectations about how something is supposed to be — How can drinking one bottle take this long? It shouldn’t be this hard to get baby shoes on! Why aren’t you already asleep? Observing when these thoughts start to creep in helps me to deepen my patience and respond with compassion, even under pressure.

These are just a few examples for how we use observation as a tool in our teaching, but practicing awareness is a lifelong project. For those who are interested in learning more about the type of observation I practiced during my training with RIE, author and podcast host Janet Lansbury has shared an example on her blog. Tom Hobson, better known as Teacher Tom, has also written at length on his blog about his observations as a teacher in a cooperative school. For educators who are interested in going deeper, I highly recommend the book, The Art of Awareness: How Observation Can Transform Your Teaching by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter. 

Virtual Holiday

This blog is authored by SEEC educator, Dana Brightful.


When my Kindergartener asked about the upcoming holiday season, I was thrown for a loop. I hadn’t thought about what that would look like since many of our family members fall into high risk categories. It never crossed my mind that we would be here, mid-October still having not seen many of our relatives. Some families have adjusted to what seems to be the new normal for now, while others like mine, are taking slow steps to get to a place of feeling safe in public spaces and with extended family. 

A drawing with red, orange, yellow and black crayon.
Alex’s drawing of suggested foods for our cooking & video dinner, October 11, 2020

So, to acknowledge how my child was feeling, we sat down and talked about some of the things they would miss about not having our “normal” holiday visits. I allowed Alex to stear the conversation to give him control. At a time like this, it’s important that children feel a sense of control when so many rules surrounding social distancing can make them feel like they cannot control anything. After verbally sharing his ideas, I asked him to write (or draw) the things that we usually would need for our family holiday visits. As he drew, he named things like foods we typically eat, games we play, activities we do and people we see during the holidays. Next, we talked about how we could make some of these things happen virtually. Alex was definitely sad about not seeing some of his family but I reminded him how it’s important we do our best to continue to social distance from our family members whose preconditions put them at a higher risk at the moment. While Zoom, FaceTime and Google Calls cannot replace the hugs from relatives, together we thought of these three ways to make the holidays a little more like pre-Covid days. 

1.) Send a themed care package: Alex thought of some of the things his great grandparents like that we usually bring during the holidays. We plan to pick up certain items they cannot get in their state and ship it to them with a special message for the season. 

An adult and two children rinse rice in a bowl in a sink.

2.) Send & exchange recipes with friends: While we won’t see many of our friends this season, having a piece of something special to share with his friends was equally as important to Alex. We are going to print out and decorate some the recipes we use during the holidays (i.e. sugar cookies) and ask that our friends share a favorite recipe of theirs in return. 

3.) Cooking & Video dinner: Alex has celebrated his birthday virtually and thought it might be nice to have dinner virtually as well. We are planning to work with one of our family members to create a menu together, take photos while we cook and finally eat together virtually. Later, we plan to exchange the cooking photos and collage together. 

While getting closer to pre-Covid days seems to be on the horizon, my family and I recognize we are still a way out. We are doing our best to adjust and be mindful of the people at risk. We are all in this together looking for a little light to help us feel a little bit better. Hopefully these ideas will help make everyone’s winter season feel like home.