Parenting Expectations

Families across the world are hoping to resume their normal lives as soon as possible, but the truth is that our new normal is likely to look very different. Though children may be able to return to school at some point, it is likely that schools could have different schedules and/or additional closures. Parenting right now is hard, harder than normal. So, how much is enough? And as an adult, how do you juggle your own worries and workload with that of your child’s? There is no magic answer, but it is important to remember a few things:

Not all families are alike, don’t compare yourself to others.

Your children need to feel safe and loved – that is probably the most important thing you can do.

There will be days when schedules won’t be followed or there was more electronic use than you would have liked – it is okay.

This is a traumatic situation, it is as important that you take care of yourself as it is for you to take care of your child. You will be a better caregiver for it.

When you let your emotions get the best of you, simply say you are sorry to your child. Caregivers are human and make mistakes – allowing a child to observe that can be an important life lesson.

Don’t feel like you have to take advantage of every lesson and resource you see online. If you decide to take advantage of resources, choose what speaks to you and fits within your wheelhouse.

Cheers to all the caregivers out there – our team knows how hard you are working.

Socialization

One of the reasons we enroll our children in preschool is so they learn how to interact and engage with their peers, so it makes sense that many caretakers are currently concerned about their child’s socialization.
It is helpful to remember that not too long ago, many children didn’t attend formal school until they were five. While we recognize that there is value in preschools and play dates, the quarantine isn’t going to erase what gains your child has made in this area. It will no doubt be a difficult transition when we return to our routines, but it will be temporary and you shouldn’t worry that your child will fall behind.

In the meantime, you can do some simple things at home that will help support your child’s development:

Identify Feelings – “I can see you are feeling sad because you are crying.” or “I think the dog doesn’t like that because they barked at you.” You can also use books to have deeper conversations about how characters are feeling.

How Can You Help? – When you identify an emotion, think out loud with your child about what you can do to be helpful. Maybe a sibling could use a hug or maybe there is a household chore that would help the whole family feel less stressed.


Play – Your child doesn’t need to play with their peers to learn skills like sharing or taking turns. As an adult, it is okay to say “I had the toy in my hand and it upset me when you took it away from me.” It might feel a little silly, but it communicates the cause and effect of their behavior.

Talking to Your Children about COVID-19

State Age Appropriate Facts

Regardless of age, you should share the facts about COVID-19. Children naturally begin to fill in the blanks if you don’t share information with them and they often begin to build a narrative that can be scarier than reality.

What Does Age Appropriate Mean?

As an educator or caregiver, you have a sense of what your children can handle. Think ahead about what you want to say to them if you can and remain positive (see below). Don’t dodge their questions, but also don’t add a lot of detail on top of what they are asking. Be clear about what questions children have, they don’t always know how to articulate their concerns, so it’s helpful to restate their questions to ensure you are on the same page.

Reassure Children

Children, even tweens and teens, need to feel safe. For younger children, it is helpful to point out that there are a lot of community helpers who are involved in keeping us safe and healthy right now. The very fact that we are all staying home is something that will help lessen the spread of the virus. For older children, you can share additional facts or try to focus on how communities are coming together to support each other.

Empower Children

Feeling in control is important even for very young children. Explain to them that we all have a part in this and that their role is good hygiene. Establish new handwashing routines in your home/school, children love visual schedules or reminders. Posting photos of when and how to handwash can be very effective. We’ve all been told to sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but why not mix it up and find different songs. Come up with new ways of showing love that might not involve hugging or kissing, like a funny dance. Make them feel in charge and coming up with creative approaches can go a long way for young children.

For older children, you may want to speak more about their responsibility to older generations and how social distancing is one way that we are keeping people safe. If you have the resources, think about other ways you can support your community. Maybe it’s making a meal to bring to a neighbor or sharing on social media about where families can get meals while schools are closed.

Monitor Media

Limiting and monitoring what your children are exposed to regarding Covid-19 is important. You may not think they are listening to the news program you have on or that conversation you are having with a spouse, but they are. Be mindful of time, access and the messages you are sending.

Extra Care

Children of all ages need extra care right now. Depending on your child’s personality and age, take time to check-in with them and show a little extra affection. Understand, too, that a child’s behavior might change during this time because of stress. As caregivers, we want to show some additional patience and latitude.

Dealing with Stress

As adults, our instinct is to protect our children. Realistically, though we are not going to be able to shield children entirely from the anxiety of the Covid-19 situation. As adults, our role it to model  healthy behavior. Think about how your family, your classroom and your community can combat stress. Physical exercise (outdoors if possible), creative outlets like journaling, cooking or drawing and mindful habits like meditating or quiet reading can help feed the soul.

Additional Resources

NPR
PBS
Talking to Children about Difficult Topics
Experiment: Explaining the Importance of Handwashing
Reassuring Children’s Books
Easing Worried Minds

Top 5 – Indoor Gross Motor Fun

Originally posted on January 2017.

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

Are you tired of being inside yet?  Now that the holidays are over, and the weather is colder, many of us with young children are looking ahead on the cold winter months wondering how we’ll get our little ones to move and groove while stuck inside.  As adults we might see a cold, dreary day as the perfect time to cuddle up inside with a book or netflix, but young children see it as another day to be active, move their bodies and explore, no matter the weather! We’ve gathered some gross motor activities that look like tons of fun, and can be done inside on those days that are less than ideal to stay outdoors for long.

Shovel Snow

Dreaming of snow?  We love this idea from STA Classroom.  Set up an area with packing peanuts and/or fiberfill , and let your kids go to town shoveling “snow”.  Chances are, if they’ve seen a caregiver shoveling, they’ll love to have a chance to try it out themselves.

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

Parachute Play

There’s something about a parachute that just appeals to children whether they’re a toddler or kindergartner.  Parachutes are great because they don’t take up too much room to store, and come in multiple sizes.  Parachute play is not only exciting, but playing stop and start games help children develop the essential life skill of self-control.  Check out PreK + K Sharing for numerous ideas of how to get moving and incorporate learning with a parachute!

Children sitting in a circle throwing up a parachute

Balloon Tennis

Balloons are another item that kids seem to universally love!  This Balloon Tennis idea from Vanessa’s Values  requires minimal materials, and is sure to keep children moving for a long time while practicing hand-eye coordination.

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

Whole Body Painting

One of our favorite indoor activities here at SEEC combines art and movement!  We love to paint, and painting doesn’t have to use only your arm, but can use your whole body.  On those days when you can’t get outside, try one of these painting activities.

A group of toddlers in diapers dancing on top of butcher paper with paint on it.Set out a large sheet of paper, add some paint, turn up the music, and let your children create a masterpiece by painting with their feet.

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

Our toddlers loved this basketball painting activity.  Set out a large piece of paper against a wall, attach a basketball hoop (if you don’t own one you can make a simple hoop by cutting the middle out of a paper plate), get some bowls of paint with large pom poms and let your child dunk the paint balls to their heart’s content!

Three toddlers use paintbrushes to put green paint on a piece of large paper that is taped to the wall.If you want something easier, simply tape a large piece of paper to the wall and encourage your child to paint all the parts of the paper.  This will get their whole arm and body involved as they move up and down the paper.

Obstacle Courses

Who doesn’t love an obstacle course?  Beautiful Somehow has a ton of ideas to make a creative and fun indoor obstacle course out of items that are already in your home or classroom.  The obstacle course featured not only engages children’s whole bodies, but also their imaginations!

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

Please comment and share some of your favorite indoor gross motor activities; we’d love to hear your ideas!  And check out our Indoor Gross Motor Fun Pinterest board for more ideas!

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Winter

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Melinda Bernsdorf, Meredith Osborne, and Megan Gallagher in the Toucan toddler classroom.  Inspired by their change of clothing and season, the teachers decided to focus on winter. I was able to join their class for a lesson led by Melinda. She decided to focus on showing the children the different ways animals stay warm in nature. Below you will find a reflection from Melinda, Meredith, and Megan and images from Melinda’s lesson.
Graphic reading Winter, Toddler Exploration and showing toddler classroom at Natural History Museum.

What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?
This lesson was the beginning of a week in which we were exploring how to keep warm during winter. We had recently finished a unit on senses and wanted to expand the skills we were building to focus on more specific questions. Besides being seasonal, talking about how to dress during winter fits the daily needs of our students. As the weather turns colder, we spend more time in the classroom getting ready to head outside. We have noticed that this can lead to some frustrating transitions, and saw an opportunity to explore connections between our physical needs and those needs of something well-loved by our class this year, animals.

Why and how did you choose the visit?
The location for the visit was easy to pick. The National Museum of Natural History has a fantastic collection of animals in the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals, including a section focusing on animals of North America that live in the Far North, where it gets very cold. This exhibit space explores different adaptations that northern animals have made in order to comfortably live in these places, such as layers of blubber, thick undercoats, hibernation, burrowing underground, or camouflage to hide from predators.

As a class, we have visited this area of the museum frequently as we really love  animals. The students feel comfortable in this space and recognize their favorite animals. This enables us to move beyond the immediate reaction of surface interest, and go more in depth on a specific subject regarding these animals. Additionally, there is a quiet space directly in front of the animals we wanted to discuss that is well suited for a class of our size to sit and have a lesson. It is a bit out of the way of the main traffic of the museum and is shaped like a little nook, which always helps lessen the surrounding distractions.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)
We wanted to open the conversation with our students about winter clothing. We also wanted to deepen their understanding about adaptations in animals, the ways in which animals are different from each other, and the ways in which animals are similar to people and have similar needs. The idea that fur and blubber are like jackets that animals always wear is a fairly abstract concept that we wanted to make more concrete with as many connections as possible. We also wanted our students to have fun, exciting sensory experiences that engaged their thinking surrounding our discussions. We treated this like a science experiment, helping the students to ask meaningful questions, gather information, and draw conclusions in a natural, unstructured way.

What was most successful about your lesson?
This lesson turned out to have some great moments that we were able to expand on throughout our week on winter clothing. We introduced a new song that got our students excited about winter clothing. We took a song that our student knew well and allowed them to move their bodies (Head Shoulders, Knees and Toes) and wrote new lyrics to fit our lesson. We sang “Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, Scarves and Boots! Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, scarves and boots. Sometimes we even wear snowsuits! Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, Scarves and Boots!” Our students also really enjoyed exploring the ice. At one point, some of the students started bringing some soft animal toys to the ice, letting them also feel the cold. This was a great organic opportunity to talk about the fur and fleece that lambs or bears have and ask thoughtful questions that call for analysis of the information we discussed.

How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?
We were able to talk about all the things we wanted to discuss in a fluid and natural way. The students were engaged and excited about lots of different aspects of the lesson. It set a good foundation for conversations we continued to have with the students and gave them lots of experiences that connected to our topic, giving students chances to process the information in many different ways.
What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?
When visiting museums with toddler students, we try to have very realistic expectations of their abilities and needs. We bring along objects and learning aids that reinforce our message, but that also serve the function of filling a toddlers needs to touch and explore. Each student had a laminated picture of winter clothing or a Far North animal which they were able to hold, feel or stick in their mouth throughout the lesson. Because they were laminated, they were easily wiped down and used throughout the week as we revisited this topic. I also brought adult sized scarves, hats, and mittens made of animals fibers the students could put on to illustrate the idea that fur and fleece keeps warm air close to animal bodies, just as jackets and scarves keep warm air close to people’s’ bodies. One scarf, made out of buffalo fleece was especially cozy!
The students had multiple chances to touch and feel animal fur and fleece. We were able to bring some along to the museum where we could explore these objects while looking at the animals they might have come from. Again, in the classroom they got to explore these objects along with the sensory exploration of ice and cold. It was great that we were able to bring enough of these objects that every student was able to explore them at their own pace and comfort level.
The ice experiment went as smoothly as it did because of preparation. The water was frozen inside of plastic baggies, which allowed the students to see the ice and feel the cold, but kept our objects and students from getting covered in cold water. Each adaptation had its own space so that students could move from object to object, feeling comfortable with the exploration. Some of our students weren’t sure about touching the animal fur, but enjoyed feeling the ice through the fleece or with mittens on. Others loved the feel of the “blubber” bag, made of butter, but didn’t want to put their hand in the gloves.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic?
While we think this lesson went really well for an introduction to a topic, there is always the opportunity to try things another way. In choosing to wrap the ice with the pieces of fur fleece and “blubber,” we were able to let the students have a freer exploration without the necessity of taking turns, but it may have made more of an impact if we had wrapped their hands instead. The contrast of their hands directly touching the ice versus their hands covered in fur not being able to feel the cold may have been more concrete.

What was challenging regarding logistics?
Although it was early December here in Washington D.C., a time we would usually be wearing coats and hats outside every day, this December it was still really warm and we barely put on sweaters to go outside the entire week! It was a much more difficult concept to approach when our students didn’t really have a frame of reference for what it felt like to be cold outside. Because of their age, this is the first winter in which they have any agency over being warm or cold while outside due to the way they dress themselves.

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

While the museum aspect of this lesson was exciting and gave the students a great perspective on the size of the animals and the way they might look in their habitats, this lesson can certainly be accomplished in a more traditional classroom setting. Pictures of animals, books displaying animal winter activities, and larger pieces of fur (or even faux fur if necessary) can be used in the classroom to explore this topic. The ice experiment could be a great activity in a group of winter centers as well. We had out winter dress-up and a small tent covered in blankets to act as a hibernation cave, and these helped to control the flow of traffic in the room, so as to naturally limit the number of students that wanted to be at the ice experiment table.

Here are a few images from their unit on winter:

Toddlers standing underneath photograph of Arctic landscape.The class headed straight to the National Museum of Natural History to start exploring their topic! They first stopped in the Icelandic photo exhibition to find some cold environments. These two are pretending to shiver from being in the ice landscape behind them.

Toddlers listening to teacher talk about animals with fur in Natural History Museum.Their next stop was animals of North America in the Mammal Hall.
Toddlers looking at photo of person wearing hats and gloves.Melinda brought along photos of winter clothing and animals for the children to hold in the gallery,Toddlers and teacher looking at animal fur.She also brought along animal fur that corresponded to the animals in the exhibits. She explained that animals have different ways to keep themselves warm and safe in the winter.

Teacher wearing hat and gloves and showing to her students.Melinda then explained that people don’t have fur to keep them warm so we have to get dressed for the winter instead. She got dressed in winter attire and proceeded to sing a winter clothing version of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” (lyrics above). 
Child wearing a fur hat.The children then took turns trying on different winter clothing items. Melinda included some clothing that mimicked fur or were made from the wool/fur of animals so that the children could feel how warm these animals are kept by their skin. 
Toddlers touching ice.Toddlers holding bags of butter to replicate feel of blubber.When they got back to the classroom, Melinda had several bowls on the table with large blocks of ice. She then covered each block with a different material: butter bags to mimic blubber, wool, and fur. This gave the children the opportunity to feel the cold and how these materials can protect them from it. One child also tried wearing a wool glove to touch the cold butter. Toddler touching ice with stuffed animal.One little girl brought a stuffed wolf to the table because she had matched the fur in the bowl to the animal.
Toddler and teacher holding block of ice together.This lesson inspired lots of curiosity and provided many different interactions between the children and teachers!

Melinda, Meredith, and Megan finished up their unit on winter and started exploring transportation. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on winter! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

Object-Based Learning: More than You Think

Object-based Learning

Museum educators have been practicing object-based learning (OBL) for years. It has been written about and discussed extensively. This blog isn’t so much meant to expand on that literature as it is meant to explore how OBL is used within the SEEC model.

First, let’s define SEEC’s learning environment. We are so much more than a daycare. We consider ourselves a school whose approach is defined by high quality early childhood practice. Our curriculum is emergent, and we use the community – not just museums – as part of the learning experience. Moreover, our Office of Engagement focuses on family learning via both long-term and stand-alone programs.

Definition

How does SEEC define OBL? At the center of our definition is, of course, the objects on display at the Smithsonian. All of our classes, even the infants, visit the museums regularly. While the experience will look different for each age group, all children benefit from being in front of an object. There could be an entire blog on this topic, but we recognize the importance of seeing the real thing – the awe and wonder it inspires. For children under two, who can not necessarily grasp the significance of these objects, the value often resides in their exposure to new spaces, things, and environments.

Tactile

Teacher and child holding boats looking at a painting of a boat


Because our children are young, we add an additional layer to the OBL experience – the tactile component. Children are concrete learners who explore using their senses and therefore, employing objects that can be handled or physically experienced adds to their learning. This can be a toy, like the boat pictured here, or it could be an element that somehow better describes an object. For example, manipulating a ballet shoe while looking at one of Degas’ dancers.

 

Sensorial

Teacher holding a sail, holding it up for children in stroller to see

At SEEC, we expand upon this idea to curate a sensorial experience by adding components like feeling the wind while looking at this painting at the National Gallery of Art by Winslow Homer. The moving air, though not a physical object, certainly takes on that role with the learner. What’s important for the young learner is that they get to observe the wind portrayed in an actual object, like a painting, and feel the air moving on their faces. These experiences enhance their understanding.

 

Experiment

Teacher and child holding a homemade car on a ramp

Likewise, the “object” can also be defined as an experiment. Imagine that a class visits the transportation hall at the American History Museum or observes vehicles moving on a street. The group could experiment with wheel shapes. A teacher constructs a car out of cardboard and uses a simple ramp to demonstrate how the car moves with wheels that are square, circular and triangular. Students quickly see the benefits of having a circular wheel and begin to recognize differences in shapes and how they connect to things in their everyday life.

 

Nature

Child leaning over brick wall to smell flowers

For educators working in or using informal learning environments, object-based learning should be considered through a wider lens – one that helps young children to experience and explore via multiple modes. Finally, OBL also corresponds to nature-based learning. Just this week I observed how a lesson on nests with toddlers incorporated both museum objects and nature. The lesson started out by looking at nests sculptures displayed outside the Natural History Museum and concluded with the children making their own nests by collecting twigs, grass, and leaves. To add an additional layer and to help the children better interact with the animals, the children helped throw birdseed and watched as the birds came to eat.


To learn more join us for our Learning Through Objects seminar on March 13th and 14th.

Family, Love, Traditions; SEEC Quotes

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

While we do our best to document and accurately share what happens at our school, we recognize that when we share the children’s perspective it’s still through our adult voices. In an effort to capture the children’s unadulterated voices we decided to try out a new type of blog entitled, “SEEC Quotes”. For the first installment, we focused on family, love, and traditions.  Any names included have been changed. Enjoy!

Who do you love?

3-year-old: “Dog, and mom, and dad.”
Me: “Anybody else, do you love anybody else?”
3-year-old: “Levi (friend).”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Mark.”
Me: “Who is Mark?”
3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”

2-year-old: “My mommy and daddy and Mina.”
Me: “Your mommy and daddy and Mina? Who’s Mina?”
2-year-old: “A baby.”

Other quotes:

3-year-old: “My mommy.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “My daddy.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Mark.”
Me: “Who is Mark?”
3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”

“My friends and whole family.” – 6-year-old

“My family and my teachers and my friends and my cousin and my grandma and grandpa. I love them so much I don’t even want them to die.” – 5-year-old

“My family…I think that’s maybe all…maybe my friends too.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “My mom and dad and sister.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Myself!”

“I love my mamma, my dada, my puppies.” – 2-year-old

“The kitties the most…except they got me right there..one got me right there (showing cut on hand).” – 3-year-old

Who loves you?

5-year-old: “My friends and whole family.”
Me: “What about your teachers?”
5-year-old: “Oh, I love my teachers.”
5-year-old: “I love my cousins.”
Me: “Do you think your teachers love you?”
5-year-old: “Oh yea!”
5-year-old: “They always love you, even when they die.  They will still love you. They’ll always love you.”
5-year-old: “No matter what.”

Other quotes:

“My grammy and pop pop and my aunt.  I know they love me because they always give me lots of hugs when they see me.  And they give me kisses and I already know they love me.” -5-year-old

“My dad.” – 2-year-old

“My mommy, grandmas…I have two grandmas…grandma Susie and grandma Courtney.” – 2-year-old

“My mama and my dada and my puppies.” -2-year-old

Who is your family?

5-year-old: “Grammy and pop pop and my sister and my sister.”

Other quotes:

5-year-old: “My mom and my dad…that’s it. That’s my normal family.”
Me: “Who is in your non-normal family?”
5-year-old: “My cousins, my grandma…she’s 92 years old.”

What do you do with your family that’s special or makes you feel happy?

“Eat chocolate.” – 3-year-old

“I like to hug my cousins and my family” – 3-years-old

“I like to play frisbee with my dad.” – 3-year-old

“I like to make silly faces at my other cousins.” – 3-year-old

“My family celebrates Christmas and we always go somewhere for Christmas, with my best cousins, my best grandma and grandpa, and my best friends.  We have special food, we invite guests, and we have a special party at the end.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “Going for a walk.”
Me: “Where do you go on walks?”
3-year-old: “Far away.”

Other quotes: 

“We play with blocks. We make a tower.  I like eating.  I eat apples and pears.” – 2-year-old

“Play games, I don’t really have a favorite game, but I like playing the Shopkins game with my grammy and pop pop” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes I go to the driving range.  Sometimes I go to the movie theaters.” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes I spend time with my family at Christmas, I’m going to do that at Christmas, yea I am.  My family members are traveling to us.” – 5-year-old

“Open presents.” – 6-year-old

“We paint, and we celebrate Hanukkah, and we open presents.” – 6-year-old

What do you with your family to help others?

“My daddy is a superhero and because he has special blood that he gives to people who are super sick.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “Give bags to homeless people.”
Me: “What’s in the bags?”
3-year-old: “Stuff.”
Me: “What’s in the bags, do you know?”
3-year-old: “Love!”
Me: “Love?”
3-year-old: “Yes.”
Me: “How do you put love in a bag?”
3-year-old: “A zip bag!”
Me: “And you put real love in it?”
3-year-old: “Yes!”

Other quotes:

“We give money to charities. We give money to them because they don’t have any homes or anything.” -5-year-old

“Clean up my mom and my dad. Sometimes I set my table. Sometimes I help someone like my grammy and my mommy mostly with setting the table and cleaning up.” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes we give money to homeless people.  We give food to homeless people.” -5-year-old

“We donate and give money, that’s it, and give food, that’s all we do, and we donate other things that I have.” – 5-year-old

Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Decomposers

This week’s Teacher Feature highlights an infant lesson on decomposers. Educators Lida Barthol, Jill Manasco, and Julia Plant brought their class on two different visits which can be seen below. They first went to the O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History to look at the centipede and learn about the insect’s role in decomposing. On the next day, they walked to “Mushroom” by Foon Sham which is part of the Life Underground exhibit.Cover Photo

Preparation:

Infants look at compost
The class had been learning about compost and even had a compost bin in their classroom where they could observe some of their food scraps decompose. For this lesson, they were hoping to focus on how insects are involved in the decomposition process.

What inspired you to teach this lesson?

One of our teachers, Jill, was devoting her time to improving the school garden. We knew that the children were interested in dirt and wanted to expand upon their interest and knowledge while utilizing the revitalized garden space! Also, the children loved to eat and explore food, so we thought a fun entryway into dirt and gardening would be to talk about how decomposers help enrich the soil so that our food is able to grow.

Infants look at and touch a real worm
Before heading to the  O. Orkin Insect Zoo, the class had the opportunity to observe and touch worms, look at images of worms, and sing, “I’m a Little Wiggle Worm.”

What were your objectives?

We wanted the children to gain an understanding that all living things need to eat, and that eating is good for us. We hoped that by studying compost and learning about decomposers, the children would begin to see that although not everybody eats the same things, everybody needs to eat to live and grow.

Lesson Implementation:

Infant looks carefully at centipede Smithsonain Insect Zoo Natural History
While in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo, the educators lifted each child so they could get a better look at the centipede. As the children observed, the educators talked about what the centipede was doing and how it was moving.

What was it like viewing the centipede in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo?

When visiting the Insect Zoo, we brought with us laminated images of centipedes for the children to look at and hold. We find it beneficial to give the children something to engage with when they are sitting in the buggies and waiting their turn to get a closer look. We took each child out one by one and brought them closer to the live centipede so that they could see it and observe its movements. As we walked through the Insect Zoo, our class noticed other insects that might play a role in the decomposition process and we paused to look at the ones that caught the children’s eye. We also brought images of our compost bin at different stages of decomposition and discussed how these insects may have helped our compost to decompose.

Infants crawl through a tunnel

The infants returned to their classroom where they used their bodies to explore how different insects move. They wiggled like worms and crawled like centipedes.

How did you extend the learning when you returned to your classroom?

When we returned to the classroom, we looked at our own compost and talked about how one day the decomposing fruits and vegetables would become dirt, where centipedes could live. We wiggled through the tunnels, pretending to be worms that might live in the dirt, and crawled through them like centipedes. While moving our bodies like insects, we sang our favorite composting song “Dirt”. See lyrics below:

Dirt, dirt, dirt

It’s where you grow your plants

Dirt, dirt, dirt,

You’ve got some on your pants!

During our composting unit, we compared the movements of worms to those of centipedes and sang “I’m a Little Wiggle Worm” while wiggling through the tunnels. See lyrics below:

I’m a little wiggle worm,

Watch me go.

I can wiggle fast

Or very, very slow.

I wiggle all around

And then I go

Back, to the ground to the home I know.

Infants playing with a box while learning about mushrooms
The next day, the class turned their attention to mushrooms which they explored by watering a growing a mushroom plant and visiting “Mushroom” by Foon Sham.

Why is exploring an important part of infant learning?

We tried to set up our lesson so that everyone had a chance to participate if interested. For activities that required lots of teacher supervision, such as looking at compost, we practiced taking turns and using gentle hands. Through these activities, we are encouraging the children to explore using their natural curiosity, and to grow their independence as learners.

Infants tasting mushrooms
While viewing “Mushroom” by Foon Sham, the children were given mushrooms which they could manipulate, smell, and even taste.

 Why is it important to engage infants’ sense when teaching?

Young children are very tactile learners, and this class in particular enjoyed learning through touch. We knew that when visiting exhibits in museums that the children weren’t able to touch, we needed to bring something for them to hold to help engage them in the lesson and make the topic more concrete. Bringing a real mushroom for the children to hold, touch (and sometimes taste!) helped the them to compare the sculpture to real mushrooms.

Reflection:

Pictures of books, pots, and soil for the lesson
After this lesson, the educators invited the parents and caregivers of the children to see their outdoor exhibit on gardens. 

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

Be prepared for the compost to become very fragrant! The children loved looking at the compost, but as it begins to decompose, it gets rather stinky. It might be beneficial to have an outdoor space to move the compost to so that the children can still look at it but won’t have to smell it all day in their classroom.

Top 5 – Valentine’s Day Literacy

Graphic featuring children's books, Valentine's Day Literacy
Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, and we’ve put together a list of our Top 5 books that can be read in conjunction with the holiday. While none are specifically about Valentine’s Day, they each explore a relevant theme. We’ve also included ideas on how to extend the book reading into an activity at home or a visit in the community. Happy reading!

Cover of book by Michael Hall entitled, My Heart is Like a Zoo.
  1. My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall – With its bright colors and whimsical artwork, this book is sure to appeal to young animal lovers. Plus, all the animals are made from heart shapes. Can you count the hearts you see?

    Extend it: 
    Explore the shape of a heart! Cut hearts out of felt and allow your child to play with them on a fleece blanket. See what kind of patterns or combinations you can make together. Can you make any of the hearts into an animal shape?
    Series of 3 photos showing children reading and playing with hearts.
    Cover of boo, Dear Juno, by Soyung Pak
  2. Dear Juno by Soyung Pak – Valentine’s Day is all about expressing affection to those you love, but what if a loved one lives far away? This is a story of a boy who sends letters back and forth to his grandmother who lives in faraway Korea. With the ubiquitous nature of email, many young children are not as familiar with physical mail. Dear Juno illustrates how a physical letter or drawing can capture a feeling of love and closeness that will be sure to leave your child wanting to send some snail mail.Extend it: Visit the National Postal Museum or the local post office to learn more about the mail system. Then create a valentine for a family member or friend and mail it to them. Let your child help stick on the stamp and deliver the mail to the closest mail box! Children lined up a National Postal Museum.
    Cover of book, Loving, by Ken Heyman.
  3. Loving by Ann Morris – This book may be almost 30 years old, but it still resonates today. The photographs and text illustrate the ways in which people express their love for each other, from giving a child a bath to giving a hug. The photographs depict a variety of people and environments around the world, which sends a message that we might have differences, but there are similarities that all people have in common, one being love.

    Extend it: 
    Discuss with your young one something that you do that shows them you love them. Tell them what they do that makes you feel loved. Ask a grandparent or older family friend to tell you about what their parents did to make them feel loved and see if it’s similar to what you do.Several photos of children showing affection towards each other.Photo of the book, The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn
  4. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn – Sometimes things scare us, but with support and encouragement from loved ones, we can face our fears. This story illustrates this notion, as Chester the raccoon, who is apprehensive about starting school, feels love from his mother all day long through the kiss she plants on his hand. With all the changes that young children experience, this is a great story to illustrate that the love of their family is with them, wherever they go and whatever they do.Extend it: Visit to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see “Untitled” (for Jeff) by Felix Gomez-Torres. Read the book in front of the large scale artwork. Compare Chester’s raccoon hand to your own hands and the hand in the artwork. What is similar? What’s different? Then think about what loving message you want to leave on each others’ hand. Bring a couple sheets of paper and pencils. Trace each others’ hands and then take some time writing or drawing loving messages on each others’ hand outlines.
    Photo of book, See a Heart, Share a Heart by Eric Telchin.
  5. See a Heart Share a Heart by Eric Telchin – Eric Telchin, author and photographer of this book, finds hearts in some unexpected places! From the beach to a piece of wood to an onion – he’s captured all the hearts he’s seen over the years. You can even go to his website to see more hearts he’s spotted.Extend it: You tend to see lots of hearts around Valentine’s Day, but what if you searched for them in unusual places? Take a walk outside and hunt for heart shapes. Can you create heart shapes from leaves or sticks you find on the ground?

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

STEM in the ECE Classroom

At SEEC we believe that young children are capable of understanding complex STEM concepts when taught in engaging and developmentally appropriate ways. A recent study from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America, found that while teachers are also excited and capable of teaching STEM skills, they need more knowledge, support, and training to be effective. A policy report from The Early Childhood STEM Working Group states that many educators have STEM anxiety, which can lead to avoidance of STEM teaching, with negative STEM mindsets being unintentionally transferred to students.

Two children playing with a set of wheels attached to a battery

Why do early childhood educators have this feeling of inability and uneasiness surrounding STEM? Research illuminates one possible reason: many adults in the United States do not feel that they are knowledgeable enough in STEM subjects. Reflecting from our own experiences lesson planning, we also recognize feeling uncomfortable when the children are curious about a STEM concept we know nothing, or little about. However, at SEEC, we do not believe you have to be an expert in STEM to explore it with the children. After all, early childhood educators are experts in so many areas already: child development, social emotional skills, collaborating with caregivers about behavior challenges, first aid, documenting learning…and the list goes on.

Two children putting books back on a shelf in the library

At SEEC we believe in lifelong learning, so when we’re confronted with children’s enthusiasm surrounding a topic we’re unfamiliar with, we see it as an exciting opportunity to seek out new knowledge and model learning for children. To prepare for a new STEM subject we have several tools and strategies:

  • Community: We talk to colleagues, families, and community members who have an knowledge in the area. This can be a great and authentic way to make home-school connections, or relationships with community members.
  • Online research: While we research on our own, we also involve the children in this process to build technology competence, as well as inquiry and critical thinking skills. With the younger ages, we might use our class iPads to look up the topic and narrate what we’re seeing with the infants and toddlers while showing them what we’ve found.
  • Libraries: Often times our teachers will take their class to the library to pick out books related to their topic. If they can’t get to the library with their class, they will look at the library online catalog and choose books together.
  • Museums: We’re fortunate to be located on the Smithsonian campus, so we utilize the museums to seek out answers to our burning questions. If you’re not located near a museum, we suggest using Smithsonian’s Learning Lab to visit the museum digitally.
A group of four children look at an artwork with a museum educator at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.

Apart from our preparation techniques, we also utilize art and inquiry as a strategy for incorporating STEM into everyday lessons without much prior prep time. We often use artwork related to the STEM topic to practice inquiry and critical thinking. The educator does not necessarily have to know much about the subject matter, but can participate in the question asking and careful looking. This will provide questions that the class would like to research further and can focus your exploration. It’s helpful for the educator leading the group to know where to start with a topic, especially if the topic feels overwhelming.

To support educators outside our school, we share STEAM lessons we have created through our blogs, such as lessons on blood, wrecking balls, butterfly wings, seed dispersal, and more. We also offer Educator Workshops to share our practices, and how to use artwork as a powerful vehicle to develop STEM skills.


Want to learn more? Join us for our educator workshop Full STEAM Ahead on Thursday, February 20th from 4 PM to 7 PM at the National Museum of Natural History.