Smithsonian Early Explorers

We are about embark on our fourth year of the Smithsonian Early Explorers program. The upcoming anniversary is a little bittersweet as some of our long-time families are leaving the program and moving on to preschool. The toddlers who began this program have grown into competent three-year-olds who are capable, empathetic, and ready for their next big adventure. The adults will also be missed as they have become part of our SEEC community and really helped us reflect on the overall program.

To celebrate the development and growth of the program and it’s students, I thought it would best to tell the story of SEE through photos in the hopes of capturing what makes this program so unique.1

Like many early education programs, we begin our day with a schedule. SEE also includes a “Question of the day.” Our belief is that asking questions can lead to a life-long habit of analysis and critical thinking. These questions also help caretakers who are not present learn about their child’s day.

Each morning we invite our students to play and often include real objects or materials.  This helps create authentic experiences that support a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. By including real objects, children can have concrete experiences that engage their senses. The photo here shows a lesson in which children explored different types of green as part of a larger study on forests.

We also create imaginative spaces using traditional toys. Our class meets in the Natural History museum’s Q?rius Jr. space and our educators are thoughtful to design a learning environment that encourages imagination and creativity.  We also believe in getting dirty and having fun.

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Another cornerstone of our program is routine. Each morning the children look forward to ringing the bowl to indicate it is time to gather. Following that, we welcome each other with a our hello song. We often choose books that are regularly reread over the course of the trimester. As the children become familiar with a piece of literature, they delight in knowing what will come next and matching photos to the text. When we depart for snack and our museum visit, the children get on “trains.” They hear the sound of the whistle and know that they need to grab an adult hand and walk safely to their next destination. These routines help the children feel safe, know what to expect, and help the whole group transition.

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We are a museum school and therefore, regularly visit the museums on the National Mall. Learning in museums can be beneficial to young children especially because they are better able to learn when they connect more concretely with subject matter that they actually experience. SEE does not limit itself though – we see our classroom as extending beyond the National Mall and museums. Some of our highlights this year were the DC Circulator and the National Arboretum. We also take advantage of new exhibitions even when they don’t tie into the curriculum, as was the case with the Kusama show at the Hirshhorn Museum. Really, who could pass up such a fun experience?!

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We believe in play and we believe it should happen in museums. I know for some that might seem contradictory to museum etiquette, but we believe that play can and should happen in museums. With some forethought it can be done successfully with young children. Below you will observe how bringing some loose parts allowed one child to build a structure of his own. He was no doubt inspired by the house on view in the American History gallery where he was You can also see how we transformed a lesson on maple leaves into a game of placing leaves onto a tree. Finally, and perhaps one of my favorites, watch both the children and adults have fun practicing their penguin walk at the Natural History Museum.

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SEE is a program that not only supports the child, but the parent/child relationship. Our educators help parents in their role as their child’s first teacher. We try to educate our parents on issues of child development and assist them as they navigate specific situations with their child. Caretaking is hard work and we use daily interactions, weekly emails, and conferences as ways to help parents navigate these early years.

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It takes a village and SEE is a community which relies on it’s families and staff to help cultivate a diverse learning experience and strong community. Below are just a few examples: one grandmother shares her sticky rice after viewing bowls from the Sackler Gallery, our resident science educator, and retired entomologist, shares his expertise and live specimens, a small potluck marks the end of a trimester, and one child focuses during their monthly visit to our art studio.

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We are proud of the Early Explorers program for not only its use of museums, but its approach to educating the whole child, supporting families, and creating community. We wish our graduates well and look forward to meeting our new students in the fall!

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Do you have a child who will be between the ages of 18 – 24 months this fall? You may want to consider joining the SEE program. We are hosting our Prospective Student Day on May 24. During the day, we invite families to participate in the program to experience it for themselves and have the opportunity to talk to other families. Join us by registering here.

 

 

Smithsonian Early Explorers Bilingual

¡Hola, museo! Hello, museum! Join us this spring to discover the bilingual toddler program offered by the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Designed for toddlers aged 18 to 36 months with their caregivers, Smithsonian Early Explorers Bilingual offers enriching classroom activities and exhibit experiences both in the museums on the Mall and at the Zoo. It’s an ideal program for families who primarily speak Spanish or who are seeking Spanish language enrichment. For 20% off tuition, use the code SEEB20 and register by Friday, March 17. Spring session begins on Monday, April 3. For more information, please visit our website: https://seecstories.com/smithsonian-early-explorers-bilingual/ or contact Maureen Leary at LearyM@si.edu (se habla español).

 

Hello, museum! ¡Hola, museo! Únase a nosotros esta primavera para descubrir el programa bilingüe de niños ofrecido por el Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Diseñado para niños de entre 18 y 36 meses de edad con sus cuidadores, Los  Exploradores Jóvenes del Smithsonian Bilingüe ofrece actividades enriquecedoras en el el salón de clases y experiencias de exhibición tanto en los museos del Mall y en el Zoológico. Es un programa ideal para familias que principalmente hablan español o que buscan enriquecimiento en español. Para el 20% de descuento en la matrícula, use el código SEEB20 y regístrese antes el viernes, 17 de marzo. La sesión de primavera comienza el lunes, 3 de abril. Para obtener más información, visite nuestro sitio web: https://seecstories.com/smithsonian-early-explorers-bilingual/ o contacte a Maureen Leary en LearyM@si.edu (se habla español).

 

 

 

Never Too Young

Opening

This blog was first published last spring during NAECY”s Week of the Young Child. We decided to re-post it as we so often get ask the question, “What do you do with babies in a museum?” We hope this answers some of your questions. If you are interested in seeing our work in action, families are welcome to join us for one of our Infant Investigators  classes that occur most first Saturday and Sundays of the month.

When I first discovered that the theme for NAEYC’s 2016 Week of the Young Child™ was “Celebrating Our Youngest Learners,” I was excited by how clearly it related to my work as an infant and toddler teacher. Most people who read the phrase “Celebrating Our Youngest Learners” would immediately think of children older than the ones I work with every day. Even among the early childhood community, the term “young learners” often refers to Pre-K and Kindergarten students. I believe that we should include infants and toddlers in our celebration of the youngest learners. In my mind this is something that is both natural and necessary. In fact, it has so permeated my life that I sometimes forget that not everyone feels the same way that I do.

As an infant and toddler teacher at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, I take my class on daily outings into the museums that line the National Mall. Upon seeing a group of infants or toddlers in a museum, visitors often remark on how amazing it is to see so many young children or how engaged my class seems. But far too often we get another response; people will come up to my class and say “Aren’t they too young for a museum?”

While I understand that a class of infants and toddlers may be an unusual sight in a museum, I can’t help but be baffled by the very premise of their question. My audible response to this accusation is a cheery “Never too young,” but my inner dialogue consists of wondering “Too young for what? Too young for learning?” I believe that museums make ideal places for self-directed learning. For an infant or toddler to be considered too young for a museum, then the extension of that logic is that the child is too young to learn, which cannot be further from the truth.

Infant’s and toddler’s brains are ripe for learning and processing. In fact, they are learning at a faster rate than at any other time in their life. They are learning language, how to move their bodies, pre-literacy skills, how to interact with others, and whether or not their world is a safe and secure place. Beyond that infants and toddlers are discovering what interests and motivates them. All of these things and more can be learned in museums. Below are a couple of examples:

 

Hirshhorn

We visited Shirin Neshat’s The Book of Kings, My House is Burning Down (2012) at a recent Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden exhibit as part of a unit of Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe. We were looking at the parts of the body and a favorite movement came from the line “I am a gorilla and I thump my chest. Can you do it?”

 

NGA

To discover more about different types of shoes, such as wooden clogs and ballet slippers, we went to the National Gallery of Art to see Paul Gauguin’s Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven (1888)For a toddler, shoes represent a way for them to start creating a sense of autonomy. In my class, my students often come dressed in pink cowboy boots or purple rain boots that they picked out themselves. They are expressing their new found independence by choosing what shoes or clothes they want to wear.

 

 

Infants and toddlers expend much of their energy discovering how they can move. Here my class of mobile infants visited a termite mound, which they were able to crawl through.

Infants and toddlers expend much of their energy discovering how they can move. Here my class of mobile infants visited a termite mound at the O. Orkin Insect Zoo in the National Museum of Natural History, which they were able to crawl through.

 

Getting new teeth impacts so many aspects of the lives of infants and toddlers. It allows them to transition to eating solid food, affects their mood, and is often detrimental to their sleep. What better way to learn about what is happening inside their own bodies, than to examine the jaw of a great white shark and touch a replica of some of the shark’s teeth?

Getting new teeth impacts so many aspects of the lives of infants and toddlers. It allows them to transition to eating solid food, affects their mood, and is often detrimental to their sleep. What better way to learn about what is happening inside their own bodies, than to examine the jaw of a great white shark and touch a replica of some of the shark’s teeth in the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.

Great strides have recently been made in explaining the importance of Pre-K and Kindergarten to the public. People across the nation now believe in the importance of these early learning experiences. While there is more work to be done, it is important that do not waver from celebrating and supporting the youngest of the young learners — infants and toddlers.

Infants and toddlers are active learners, so the environment and the people they interact with impact their learning. Infant and toddler educators need extra support and should be encouraged to see the myriad of possibilities for learning that occur with infant and toddlers every day. I hope that one day everyone who hears the term “youngest learner” will automatically include infants and toddlers in that group. I am excited for the day that I am greeted with “What are they learning about?” when I am walking in the museum with the infants and toddlers in my class.

 

BioMeredith Osborne is the infant and toddler specialist at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. She received her Master’s in museum education from The George Washington University and studied history and psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University. She has experience working with both children and adults including positions at Playgroup in the Park, the Children’s Museum of Cleveland, teaching adults literacy classes, and interning at the Supreme Court of the United States.

Color, Color, Everywhere

DSCN6760One of the first things we do with our young children is teach them the colors. As I sit and write this blog, I can hear families arriving for school and parents talking to their children about what they see in their environment and describing how they look – and most often I hear parents describing colors. Color helps us identify, sort, and can even elicit an emotional response. All too often though we, parents and educators, think of color in terms of art. No longer! The Smithsonian Libraries’ exhibit Color in a New Light will open up a whole new world and make you think about color in ways you haven’t before.

To put it in perspective, Sara Cardello, Education Specialist, at the Smithsonian Libraries has provided us with four fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) facts about color that will get you excited to learn more about color with your little one.

Fun Color Facts

Science

Did you know that in 1666, Sir Isaac Newton, an English physicist and mathematician made an important observation? He noticed, when looking through a prism, clear light was not clear after all. In fact, it was made from seven different colors, which we now know as the rainbow. These colors cannot be seen by our eyes all the time, but science has proven that in the right settings we can see that our light is very colorful!

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Newton Sir Isaac Newton experimenting with a prism. Engraving after a picture by J.A. Houston, ca. 1870. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York

Technology
Did you know that before the 1880s all colors were made from natural dyes? It was not until an accident in 1856 that we got our first synthetic way to make color. William Henry Perkins, an English chemist, was searching for a cure for malaria. While experimenting with coal-tar, he noticed an oily residue left a vibrant purple stain on some silk. While the cure for malaria was not found, a new process to create synthetic dye was discovered and changed the technology of color forever.

Engineering

Henry Ford is credited with creating the affordable and mass produced automobile in America. The Model T was originally sold in red, gray, green, and black. But as demand rose for the car, production was not able to keep up. From 1914 to 1926 Ford only offered the Model T in black, because it dried the quickest. It wasn’t until a more efficient assembly line was engineered by Ford that they could begin producing the car in various colors and keep up with the booming automobile industry.

MathematicsIMG_0950

Robert Ridgeway was the first curator of birds for the Smithsonian in 1880. One of the things he noticed were all of the different colors used to describe the animals, which made it confusing for scientists. In 1886 he created A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists which helped count, sort, and order all the different colors and name them, like Warbler Green. His work helped take the mathematical guess-work out of bird watching!

SEEC and the Smithsonian Libraries will host an open Color Studio on Saturday, July 16. Don’t let the name fool you though, our color activities will be STEM inspired. We plan to mix and create our own colors, make our own paint, make rainbows and make a color-inspired mural. Following your studio experience, families will be given a guide to the Color in a New Light exhibit.

Join us for our upcoming Artful Afternoon featuring Color.

Object of the Month: Calder Gallery at the National Gallery of Art

As was the case in September, this month’s Object of the Month is actually an entire gallery. This gallery is dedicated to the artist, Alexander Calder, and is located in the newly re-opened East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. The latest iteration of this gallery is bright, airy, colorful, and full of shadows. It is in many ways the perfect art space for a young child can while away their time looking and getting lost in their imaginations.
The objects within the gallery can be used in conjunction to several age-appropriate themes.

  • Shadows – The sundial just outside the Smithsonian Castle in the Haupt Garden  + Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch would round out the experience.
  • Color – Calder’s bold color palette is a great way to introduce your child to colors.
  • Shape – Circles, triangles, even a quadrilateral (the elephant’s ears)!
  • Ocean – Finny Fish offers an imaginative take on our ocean friends- combine it with a trip to the Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall.
  • Balance – His mobiles are a great way to introduce children to the concept of balance.
  • Movement/Wind – Take notice, Calder’s mobiles move and come alive!
  • Space – Many of his pieces reminiscent of the solar system, especially Vertical Constellation with Bomb.

 

Infants, Toddlers, and Twos

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Visit the NGA’s website to learn more about each of these objects.

The animals in the center of the gallery are a perfect height for your infant and toddler, especially those who are in the stroller and struggling to see what is around them. I like the idea of pairing these objects with Sandra Boyton’s Are You a Cow or Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo. I am also very fond of the Crinkly Worm and pairing it with one of my all-time favs- Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. Whichever literary direction you go, you can also choose to bring photos, stuffed animals, or even watch a short video featuring one of the animals. Head out to the nearby terrace and see if you can imagine moving like a bull or a worm.  If worms, cows, and bulls aren’t your thing, then focus on the elephant. This sculpture is a playful interpretation of the animal and is certain to capture your child’s attention. Enjoy an elephant hunt though the 3Smithsonian and stop by the Sackler Gallery to see the Seated Ganesha, the rotunda of the Natural History Museum to see Henry the Elephant and of course, the Zoo. Take a photo of each visit and display it somewhere at home where your child can see it (you could make a mobile if you want to stay true to the Calder theme). By documenting their experience, it will help them connect events and see their own learning.

Threes and Four

I was recently in this gallery with a group of adults as part of a workshop and I was asked to work with a partner to create something Calder–inspired with paper and some scotch tape. We don’t often think about it, but museums, with the right materials, can also be art studios.  I love these types of activities not just because they support creativity, but because they encourage young children to look carefully. Here are a few gallery-safe ideas:

  • Sketch the shadows on the walls2
  • Use pipe cleaners to make shapes and forms.
  • Add pieces to a mobile that you have started
  • Have them tear a piece of paper into one of the shapes they see  (just remember a trash bag).

Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget to share your ideas with us too!

Object of the Month: Rocks Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History

img_2453Our inaugural Object of the Month is actually not so much an object, but a gallery. The Rocks Gallery in the National Museum of Natural History is tucked at the back of the Janet Annenber Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. Recently renovated, this gallery is great because it is often a little quieter than the adjacent galleries, objects are at varying heights, there is space to move, and most importantly, you can touch the objects.

Twos and Under

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This gallery is an ideal space for infants and toddlers – it provides them with the chance to explore different textures and build vocabulary. With all of the touchable rocks, you can walk around the gallery feeling things that are hard, bumpy, and smooth. Don’t limit yourself to what is in the gallery though, consider bringing a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket to juxtapose them with the hard rocks. Each time you touch a rock, consider singing a song or rhyme that uses the vocabulary to describe it. While in the gallery, stop and read a touch-and-feel book. Extend the visit outdoors by collecting rocks and saving them in a clear container so their collection is a visible reminder of their experience. Return to the gallery again and again noticing different physical characteristics of the rocks like color and size.

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Preschoolers

At the back of the gallery is a window that looks out towards the Capitol.  On the ledge of the window stands a selection of rocks that were used in making important buildings around Washington, D.C. You can touch all of these materials, so a great place to begin is by inviting preschoolers to observe by looking closely and touching. Ask them questions about what they notice or how the rocks are the same or different. You might even want to write their answers down and make a chart of their observations. If it is just you and your child – do the same by adding your own observations or that of a sibling.

After exploring the materials, you could reading The Three Little Pigs and think about how different materials make for stronger buildings. Bring in some straw, wood, and bricks and compare it to the rock in the galleries. Another approach would be to match the materials with the DC buildings by sharing photos or discuss explore how rocks are taken from the ground in places called quarries.  After leaving museums you could look for rocks embedded in the ground, pick up a collection of rocks to create your own home, or visit some of the buildings referenced in the exhibit.

This is just a small taste of what a parent or educator can do with this gallery. Have other ideas, please share them with us and the rest of our community.

Word Expeditions

PrintIn the fall of 2015, the Friends of the National Zoo, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater, and the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, together with the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) were awarded a two-year grant through Grow Up Great, PNC’s initiative focused on early childhood education, to launch Word Expeditions. The grant’s objective is to build vocabulary in preschool students from the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Northeast DC. DCPNI works exclusively with this neighborhood supporting all members of the Kenilworth-Parkside and describes its mission as “improving the quality of their own lives and inspiring positive change in their neighborhood.”  The group has a strong foothold with families of young children and so it seemed natural to integrate Word Expeditions into their already existing Take and Play structure. Once a month, Smithsonian representatives visit Neval Thomas Elementary School during which time, families participate in activities that teach about the Institution’s collections, build vocabulary, and support a child’s development. The evening concludes with a meal and families take home a kit from DCPNI outlining fun and simple ways to incorporate learning and vocabulary skills at home.

DSCF1330A few weeks later, families are invited to come to the museum that co-hosted the
Take and Play. During their visit, families engage in similarly fun activities that reiterate the vocabulary and theme from the Take and Play. In addition to the literacy component, the Smithsonian wants to create a welcoming experience that will make families feel at-home and inspire them to visit again. We also hope that through these programs, they will begin to see how museums can be used as a place to learn and explore together as a family.

As part of the grant, SEEC was tasked with creating a unique map featuring the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The map displays the museums on and off the Mall and includes the Smithsonian Gardens and Discovery Theater. Each one is represented by an object, which isWord_Expeditions_Map Word_Expeditions_Map2accompanied by what I like to call, conversation starters. These conversation starters include key vocabulary terms that help families define some big ideas they can use to discuss the object. They also pose open-ended questions and suggest easy ways to engage with the object and use the vocabulary in ways that will help children understand and recall the word’s meaning.  For example, The Smithsonian Gardens description asks families to look closely at an elm tree and find its parts. The children will walk away with a concrete understanding of terms like roots, trunk and bark.  The National Portrait Gallery’s entry asks families to imagine what they would see, hear and taste if they jumped into the portrait of George Washington Carver and suggest that parents use the term five senses and, of course, portrait.

These conversation starters also motivate families to stop and take a look – conveying the importance of observation and careful looking. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden encourages families to walk around Juan Muñoz’ Last Conversation Piece and try to pose like the figures. The description features the words pose and conversation and also asks families to imagine what their conversation is about. Using a concrete analogy to the vocabulary is so important for young learners.

To keep families returning, we offer them four free tickets to Discovery Theater after visiting five museums, and a free book after visiting ten. Perhaps more important to the map’s success is the presence of Ariel Gory, Education Specialist for Early Learning, from the National Museum of American History. She speaks directly to families about the map. Her presence has been important in communicating the purpose of the map, encouraging families to use it, and creating a sense of community. She shares her experiences:

DCPNI NASM Photo1 (002)I find that dinner time at the Take and Play program provides the perfect opportunity for me to get to know families on a deeper level as I talk with them about the maps and their museum visits. Recently, I engaged in a conversation with two families who have become “regulars” at the workshops and museum visits.  When I asked what museums the families had visited lately, the mothers immediately began to list all of the museum trips they had been on since the program’s inception in the fall and what’s more, they described their visits in detail – recalling the vocabulary that was introduced and the activities in which they participated. It was exciting to see their enthusiasm for the program and it was clear that the map had helped foster and grow their interest in museums.

 Getting to see the map in action is one of the most uplifting aspects of this program. During a spring visit to the National Museum of American History, I noticed one mother rustling through her backpack before pulling out a well-worn map. “I can’t forget to get this signed!” she said. As I took a closer look at the map, I noticed that she had a signature for the National Air and Space Museum. I asked her when she had visited and she responded that they had gone the day before because her children had the day off from school. She noted that even though they weren’t in school that day, she still wanted them to “learn something.” Seeing that this mom had used the map to independently seek out a museum to expand her children’s learning shows the importance of programs like this.

So often we realize that local families are unfamiliar with the Smithsonian or feel that it is a place that they don’t belong. We hope that the map and the Word Expeditions program not only help to build young children’s vocabulary, but also encourage families to explore the opportunities for wonder and learning located in their backyards.

Supported by:
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In cooperation with:

Friends of the National Zoo
Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian Associates/Discovery Theater
DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative