Fabric Collage: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part three in a six-part series. The first blog post focused on the inspiration and preparation of the Bisa Butler focused project. The second blog post showed how the children made their own batiks which would serve as the base for the rest of the project. Part four is about sewing. Part five is on exploring kente cloth and part six is a reflection on the whole process. This blog post focuses on how the children approached the fabric collage.  

An educator sits at a table next to a child, they both point to a piece of cloth the child has glued to their projects.  At the bottom Text reads " Collage/ Bisa Butler Project/ A SEEC Story"

After making their batiks, the next step for the children was to add fabric to their piece. To show Bisa Butler’s process, Carolyn showed the children a video that starts with Bisa Butler walking through a fabric store and touching fabric. After watching the video, the class talked about how Bisa Butler used both her sense of sight and her sense of touch to choose fabric. Carolyn wanted to emphasize the role of touch and texture in Bisa Butler’s process. The classes looked closely at Bisa Bulter’s portrait of Questlove for the New York Times Magazine and noticed the lace and beading that she used to emphasize the texture of his afro. Then Carolyn gave the children swatches of fabric to touch and asked them how they might correlate with elements of their personalities. 

On the left, a child holds out a flat basket with several pieces of green and yellow fabric scraps, on the right a child adds fabric scraps to a flat basket from a large tray of fabric
Children were given baskets and invited to “shop” for the fabrics they wanted to use in their pieces. 

Carolyn set up a store in the art studio where the children could go shopping and choose their fabric to use for the collage. Each child had their own shopping basket and she encouraged them to choose whatever fabric they wanted from the wide variety that she had placed out. The textiles in the class’s store included sequin flip fabric and themed fabric like Zelda and Cars. As the children shopped, Carolyn observed and noted, “it was interesting to see what they picked.” 

A child sits and uses scissors to cut a scrap of patterned fabric
Children approached working with fabric in many ways. Some cut them up into very small pieces while others added them onto their pieces directly. Some kept the fabric to the edges of the batik fabric they created, and others opted to cover it up completely. 

After choosing the fabric they wanted to work with, the children started cutting the fabric into various shapes. Carolyn explained that the children “really connected with collage in a different way than they would have if we used paper or any other mixed media.” Cutting fabric, which requires tension to make smooth lines, posed a challenge to many of the preschoolers but they were eager to continue working with the material. Some children spent the whole class cutting fabric into tiny pieces to add to their collage and Carolyn loved seeing all their styles come through.  

For the children, being able to cut something that you might wear as clothing was genuinely exciting. Carolyn had invited families to send in clothing that they were comfortable being cut to use for the project. Families sent in a variety of clothing including clothes that belonged to people important to them like their grandmother. Some children were excited to cut up their old clothing while others did not want to cut up their old play clothes. Carolyn talked to the children about how Bisa Butler reused clothing from her family to create her portraits.  

on the left, a child examines a fabric swatch, on the right the same child child sits at a table and picks scraps of fabric from a flat basket, they are holding a paint brush used for glue in one hand.
The children were able to choose the textiles that appealed to them and add those pieces to their collage.  

As they explored the textiles through their sense of touch while shopping and cutting while collaging, the children were growing their knowledge of fabric and fiber arts. They were becoming more aware of the fabric that they wore while learning about the types of textiles that Bisa Butler used. As the sessions progressed, the children started saying, “My t-shirt feels silky” or “I feel the seams on my pants.” For Carolyn this represented a goal of the project. As she explained, the children began to make “the connection with the fibers all around them and the fibers that Bisa used.” 

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project. You can also check out part 1 and part 2 of this series. Connect more deeply with this lesson through our Bisa Butler Learning Lab collection.

Sewing: Bisa Butler Project

This is part four of a six-part blog series on textile artist Bisa Bulter. The previous blogs were on Inspiration, Batiks, and Collage. The future blogs are on Kente Cloth and a Reflection on the project. This blog is on Sewing. 

A child holds up their artwork to add stitch, their art work is a piece of self created batik style fabric mounted to a piece of cardstock, fabric scraps have been collaged on top and holes hammered around the edge for the child to use to add stitches.  At the bottom are the words "Sewing/Bisa Butler Project/A SEEC Story"

After the children finished collaging, Carolyn gathered up their artwork. Carolyn then started the labor intensive and noisy process of hammering holes using a leather working tool along the border of each of the pieces. Carolyn noted that using a hole punch would not have been ideal because it would have been hard on her hands and might have hurt the fabric that the children had already glued onto their art.  

Top left, Carolyn helps a child turn their project as they choose where to start their stitching, bottom left, a child has run out of yard for their stitching and is cutting off the extra, right, Carolyn demonstrates how to use a small folded rectangle of cardstock to thread a needle.
Children used large plastic sewing needles to thread yarn through the holes Carolyn created on the edges of their projects. They were invited to add stitches wherever they liked, even through the middle of their work.  

Carolyn then replayed the video of Bisa Butler and had the children focus on her sewing techniques. The children loved watching Bisa use her huge sewing machine. It reminded them of driving a car or using a joystick to play a game. Carolyn encouraged the classes to observe how Bisa used the machine to make different types of lines with the thread. Carolyn explained to the class that they “don’t have to go around the outside. You can make lines going through the middle” with their thread. Knowing that they could stitch in any pattern they wanted was very freeing for the children; it really let them be creative. 

A child places the end of a piece of yarn into a small folded rectangle of cardstock.  This "hotdog" will be used to help the child more easily thread the needle
Children learned to thread their needles by folding the end of their yarn into a piece of paper, they would then use this “hot dog” into the eye of their large plastic needles.  

The children had to be taught the basic components of sewing. To show them how to thread a needle, Carolyn taught the children to use a “hotdog bun” technique that she learned from art teacher Cassie Stevens. Carolyn explained that “sewing is very different from any other art making activity” and the children had to learn a new skill set. But rather than getting frustrated, “they loved the stitching” and continued to use the techniques learned in future projects.  

On the left, a child pulls a piece of yarn through the eye of a plastic needles, on the right, a child pulls up a piece of yarn from a ball of yarn, the ball of yarn is contained in a spherical clear plastic compartment of grocery store apple packaging
Carolyn set up a yarn station where children were able to choose and cut their own yarn. She repurposed the plastic packaging used to hold a set of apples from the grocery store to corral balls of yarn as children pulled and cut.    

Learn more about the last step of the project in our blog about exploring Kente Cloth and read Carolyn’s Reflection on the entire project. If you would like to learn more about this project you can access our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection based on this lesson.

Making Batiks: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part 2 in a six-part series about the Fiber Arts unit our art educator Carolyn Eby created inspired by the work of textile artist Bisa Butler. Throughout this unit children explored important aspects of Bisa Butlers works from batik to collage, to sewing, to Kente cloth and a final reflection from Carolyn. This blog is about how the children explored batik.  

Children use brushes and paints to apply color to pieces of fabric taped to plastic trays.  At the bottom is a heading reading "Batik, Bisa Butler Project, A SEEC Story"

To start their Bisa Butler inspired project, the children created their own batik inspired cloth as a base for their project. Batik fabric is one of the many types of fabric that Bisa uses in her artwork. While batiks are quite popular in West Africa with many meaningful prints, the fabric did not originate there.  Batik is a method of creating designs on fabric using wax resist that originated in Indonesia. Through 19th century colonialism, European copies of batiks became popular in West Africa where they have taken on their own unique significance.  

A group of sitting preschool looks at a picture of Bisa Butlers quilted piece "I Know why the caged bird sings" held by Carolyn. Carolyn is seated in a chair and pointing toward the picture.
Carolyn introduces the children to the art of Bisa Butler. She highlighted the different batik fabrics that Bisa used and discussed how different batik patterns can have different meanings. In this piece “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” they noticed the print called “Michelle’s Shoes.” 

Carolyn explained that while Bisa Butler does not create batiks, she purposefully chooses the batiks based on the meaning embedded in the fabric patterns. She had the class look carefully at Bisa Butler’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (2019) which shows the portraits of four African American college students sitting on the steps of Atlanta University in 1900s. For this work, Bisa Butler used a piece of batik called “Michelle’s Shoes” which represents Michelle Obama’s shoes. The children discussed how “Michelle’s Shoes” represented progress, but Michelle Obama needed to lean on the bravery of the young women in the original portrait. To help the children connect to these concepts, Carolyn had the children reflect on the principles of “fair” and “unfair.” 

Two images show children squeezing bottle of glue and using the glue to create images. On the left the child has made abstract blows, on the right there appear to be pencil lines the child is trying to follow wit the glue
Children were given glue bottles to draw their designs on their fabric. Some children used them to draw defined designs like shapes or smiley faces, while others enjoyed exploring the medium and allowed the glue to flow and pool. 

Carolyn then encouraged the children to think about the messages their own fabric art could convey. When creating their own batiks, Carolyn began by encouraging the children to think about their families or people they are close with because Bisa Butler’s first quilt was a portrait of her grandmother and grandfather. She had the children think about the lines and shapes that might represent them or their family. After brainstorming, she gave the children bottles of glue and they drew patterns with glue on white fabric. Some children immediately understood the concept of drawing with glue. They drew things like donuts, dinosaurs, or smiles because their family makes them smile. For the younger children, it was more about the experience of exploring the glue; they drew scraggles or let the glue pool into large circles. In the end, all the styles made beautiful batiks. 

Children sit a round a round table and use brushes and paints to apply color to their batiks. they are wearing masks and  smocks
To avoid colors of the batiks being mixed and muddied children chose two primary colors and then were given white and black to create tints and shades when painting their batiks. 

The next class was about color. They began the class by talking about the colors they saw in batiks. The children noticed the batiks were vibrant, beautiful, and full of colors. Carolyn then let each child pick two primary colors of acrylic paint. When mixed, the two primary colors will create a second color. She also gave the children black and white so they could create shades and tint their colors. The children used their paint to add color to their fabric with the dried glue shapes and symbols that they had previously made.  

Three images showing the glue batik making process, in the top left a child uses a bottle of glue to squeeze blobs of glue, in the bottom left a child uses a brush to apply red and blue paint to their dried glue batik, on the right Carolyn shows examples of what the shape left by the washed away glue will look like.
Carolyn demonstrates to the children how adding paint to the glue batik will result in a result in a white resist where the glue is blocking the paint from the fabric. This technique is similar to the way wax is used as a resist in making Batiks. 

After the paint dried, Carolyn soaked the fabric in hot, soapy water and then peeled off the glue which left white marks on the fabric where the glue had been creating a glue resist batik. Carolyn washed, ironed, and adhered the newly created batik cloth to cardstock. The children would use their batik as the base for the next steps in the project.  

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Collage, Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project. You can also read part 1 of this series on Carolyn’s Inspiration. Connect more deeply with this lesson through our Batiks Learning Lab collection.

Inspiration: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part one of a six-part blog series. Upcoming blogs will be about exploring batiks, collage, sewing, kente cloth, and a reflection on the entire project. This blog is about the inspiration for the Bisa Butler project. 

Art educator holds up two pictures. One picture shows a photograph of two people. The other picture shows the same image that has been made into a quilt.

SEEC art educator, Carolyn Eby, regularly creates lessons around particular artists for our SEEC classes. When she was looking for a new artist to highlight, she came across the artwork of Bisa Butler. She was inspired and immediately knew that she wanted to highlight Bisa Butler in her classroom. Carolyn was struck by how Bisa Butler’s quilted textile artwork looked like it might be painted instead of being created with fabric. 

A class of preschoolers sits on the floor looking at an art educator who is holding a piece of textile for the class to look at and talk about.
Carolyn shows a class an example of other types of textile art.  

 As Carolyn looked at Bisa Butler’s pieces, she noted the colors, patterns, and fabric that Bisa Butler used. Carolyn was excited to create projects that encouraged her classes to explore these topics. In early childhood art classes, moving beyond crayons, markers, and paper, makes the projects particularly special. For this project, the children were able to use exciting materials and use them in novel ways. Children used fabric as their canvas instead of paper and used glue as a marker or crayon instead of using it simply as a tool that sticks things together. They were introduced to the techniques of sewing and weaving and cut up pieces of clothing that they had previously worn. Through this process the children began thinking about the fabric all around them in different ways.  

Carolyn strived to be thoughtful about how she presented Bisa Butler to the class.

While it was the artwork that drew Carolyn into teaching about Bisa Butler, she was thrilled to be able to present the class with a contemporary black female artist. Carolyn strived to be thoughtful about how she presented Bisa Butler to the class. She spent a lot of time researching her background, techniques, and philosophies.  

Art educator is holding up an early piece of Bisa Butler and gesturing as if asking a question
Carolyn shows the children an example of Bisa Butlers early textile art. The children talked about the fabric and textures that they saw.  

As she researched, Carolyn decided against the children creating their own portraits. She discovered that Bisa Butler makes portraits of people that she has kinship and ancestry with, people that she wants to dignify and whose stories she wants to share. Carolyn decided that this idea was not one that the children should try to imitate because this portrait part of Bisa Butler’s artwork felt sacred. 

While the classes did not create their own portraits as part of this project, they did spend time talking about how Bisa Butler makes portraits to dignify people and share their stories. Throughout the project, the classes looked carefully at many of Bisa Butler’s portraits and discussed the people represented and wondered about why Bisa Butler used specific fabrics with certain individuals. For example, when the class looked at The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, a portrait of Frederick Douglas, the children noticed the letters on the fabric which make up his sleeves. Carolyn used this as an opportunity to tell Federick Douglas’s story and the class talked about how it is unfair that some people were not allowed to learn to read or write because of the color of their skin. As the children added to their projects, they continued to be exposed to both the artwork and the process of Bisa Butler and learned more about the individuals represented in her art. 

An example of an unfinished piece of textile art that a child created inspired by the work of Bisa Bulter.  

Over the course of five sessions, SEEC’s preschool three-year-old and four-year-old classes created their own textile artwork while exploring the fabrics and techniques that Bisa Butler uses in her artwork. We will be posting additional blogs that focus on how the children (1) made batiks, (2) collaged with fabric, (3) added sewing elements, (4) explored weaving and Kente cloth, and (5) final reflections from Carolyn.  

Carolyn noted that Bisa Butler could not have been a better inspiration for a project like this and that the children fell in love with her artwork and her story.  

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Batiks, Collage, Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project.

Potty Training at SEEC

Potty Training, that one phrase can spur a range of emotions for someone caring for a young child, from nervousness to excitement to finally be done with diapers. The plethora of books, information and techniques out there can be overwhelming and intimidating to sort through. And while some people may swear by certain methods, every child and their support system are unique, meaning every journey out of diapers will be unique. The following are tips based on how we tend to approach potty training at SEEC, however we recognize that not all or maybe even any of these tips will work for everyone and that is okay! 

Getting Started  

If you are looking for a way to start introducing the idea of potty training to a young child in your care, try changing their wet diapers with them standing up. At SEEC many of our teachers do standing diaper changes, particularly in the two’s year when most of our students transition out of diapers. Standing diapers help children practice some of the skills they need when potty training such as pulling down their bottoms, holding up dresses and skirts and using a wipe to help clean themselves.  To build your child’s interest in the toilet you can try standing diapers in your bathroom. As you clean your child during diaper changes you can talk about the parts of their body and where their pee and poop come from as well as offer them a chance to practice sitting on the toilet. This can help them make the connection between their wet diapers and peeing on the toilet.   

Create a Schedule  

Add specific times in your daily routine for your child to sit on the toilet, even if they say they don’t need to go. These times should be consistent and happen for the same length of time each time. To help them stay on the toilet, you may want to bring a favorite book into the bathroom to look at. This could also be a time to look at a book about using the toilet or bodily processes, which may help your child better understand what is happening with their body.  

Keep a Watchful Eye 

If you notice your child getting ready to go in their diaper or underwear, have them stop whatever they are doing and bring them into the bathroom. You could say something like this: “It looks like you might have to go to the bathroom. Do you need to go? Let’s try the toilet. If you need help, I can help you,” or “Oh, wow! My body is telling me I need to go to the bathroom. Do you need to go, too?” 

Offer Explanations 

Talk to your child about why we need to go to the bathroom and how it helps our bodies. You could then reinforce this conversation regularly by saying something like, “Remember that it’s very important to go to the bathroom and pee/poop in the toilet. Peeing/pooping in the toilet keeps our bodies safe.” 

Helping with Frustration  

Potty Training is a potentially very frustrating time for your child, they are having to do a lot of new things and learn new skills. If your child has an accident, they could become frustrated because they made a mess or a mistake. To help them with this, you could try modeling making mistakes and how to deal with them, for example: “Oops! I spilled some water. That’s okay – I can clean up and try again! Next time, I’ll use two hands to pour.” Doing this may help prepare them to try and use the toilet again.  

We hope some of this information is helpful and again, remember that the right way to potty train is the one that works for your family and your child. 

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.

Continue reading

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. 


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. 


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 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!