The Summer Blues: How Museums and Libraries Support Summer Learning

Summer Camp 2013Summer conjures up images of running around barefoot, catching fireflies, and endless hours at the pool. In reality though, it can be an insanely stressful time for families. Sometime in February (at least in the DC metro area), parents start enrolling their children in summer camp. In the nation’s capital there is no shortage of camps, but that is assuming you can pay between $300-600/week tuition. It doesn’t end there either. Many camps charge extra for before and after care, tacking on an extra $50-100. Now, multiply that times the number of children you have and you wind up with a pretty hefty price tag.

Many parents turn to alternative options: in-home daycare, families, neighbors or child-homeworkthey adjust their own work schedule. Your checkbook is likely to appreciate the break, but parents and educators worry about their children forgetting what they learned during the school year. While your child might have brought home a packet of worksheets or a mandatory reading list, neither are particularly engaging. The dilemma remains: How can we support children to learn in fun ways that support and maintain school year gains and not break the bank?

The Institute of Museum and Library Services recently published a paper entitled Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners. With the national discussion on early childhood education at the fore, this paper examines the important role that museums and libraries play in supporting learning within the community. It makes particular mention of how museums and libraries can serve to lesson what many refer to as the “summer slide.” Utilizing libraries and museums makes a lot of sense for budget-minded families who are looking for ways to engage their children. Firstly, many of these institutions often offer free/reduced admission and programming for families. Secondly, their offerings are diverse in subject and increasingly, hands-on in nature. These institutions are more often taking into account what and how your children are learning in school and are offering programs that extend current studies or prepare them to be successful learners. Moreover, the museum and library environment lends itself to a family experience. Generally, child and caretaker can go together where they both can observe, experience, and discuss an exhibit or program together. Having a shared experience brings families together for one-on-one time and can inspire more learning at home or in the community.

What if you can’t make it to the museum, you ask? Go on-line! Museum and library resources are becoming increasingly child-friendly and parents can be assured that their children are having a safe and educational experience. Take a look at some of the tips below and get rid of those summer blues!

Parent Tips:

Spend time looking at what your local museums offer and have your child choose a few exhibits that interest them. Choice is the key word here – the more interested a child is in something, the more likely they are to want to learn.

Don’t forget about Smithsonian Story Times and Play Spaces:

Check out the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s new engineering game, Tami’s Tower 

Link the library and museum visit by checking out books pertaining to an exhibit or object of interest.

Find a good parent blogger (We love KidFriendlyDC and Beltway Bambinos) and follow them for ideas of what to do and special deals!

Visit the National Gallery of Art’s website for interactive on-line games.

 

Object Feature: Louise Bourgeois’ Spider

It was during a recent conversation with one of our faculty, that made me pause and consider Louise Bourgeois’ Spider at the National Gallery of Art. To be honest, I wasn’t immediately drawn to this piece. I’m admittedly not a big fan of spiders, but, as is often the case, when you learn more about something it opens up new doors.i-k7Trf6j-X2

Size and Location

On the surface, this piece has a lot of elements that make it ideal for young audiences, most noticeably its location. I truly enjoy being in sculpture gardens. They are an all-ages space – conducive to movement and activity for children and still, contemplative, and provocative in a way that appeals to adults. The sculpture garden is a community space akin to a central square or other public space that features art. It is family friendly space that speaks to different generations who can learn and be inspired.

The piece is also worth highlighting for its size and 3-dimensional nature. While I rarely say “no” to using smaller artworks, a large piece that allows a child to move around it and view it from multiple perspectives, is always ideal. So caregivers and educators, if you visit, make sure that you leave time for ample careful looking. Notice things like the texture of the material, the details of the legs, and how it looks from different perspectives.i-ctMrDxC-X2

Content Connections

The artwork is an ideal segue into STEM, social emotional, and literary learning. First, it’s a spider. Spiders, while not always a crowd favorite, serve an important and definitive purpose in ecology. As an insect eater…. Young children don’t always see spiders as important or as helpers, but this immense artwork provides the opportunity to introduce the spider in a way that is new to a child. This makes me particularly excited as we think about museums as catalysts for children for learning about and protecting their community. In this case, being able to impart some information about the importance of spiders in our ecosystem, one can help children connect to their environment and understand that all living things play a valuable role.

i-mrJb3V9-X2Meaning

My colleague recently shared with me about the significance of the spider. Ms. Bourgeois created spiders in the latter part of her career as a symbol of her mother. Like the spider, she saw her mother as a protector. She viewed her as strong, but also vulnerable. While these are abstract concepts for young children, they can be illustrated by looking closely at the spider. Notice that it is large and tall, yet its legs outstretched like a hug. The spider is a childhood recollection, so the spider’s size is like that of an adult. Have the children imagine a favorite adult, how do they express their love or what do they do to help keep you safe.

Though I would not likely add onto this during a single lesson with young children, its worth noting that spider’s figure is also very delicate. I encourage you to look closely and find what areas of the sculpture look vulnerable or contradict its overall looming presence. Interestingly, Bourgeois’ memories of her mother reflect her father’s ten-year affair with her governess.

Finally, for learners of all ages, connecting art to literature is a way to enhance and build on both the literary and visual experiences. The first thing that came to mind was Charlotte’s Webb, but of course there are many child friendly stories out there that would accompany this sculpture. For example, Eric Carle’s The Very Busy Spider.

i-ZwMc9ms-X2Learning Extensions

Go on a hunt for spiders and spider webs.

Create a web together using string.

Visit the Insect Zoo and look for different types of spiders or Learning Lab – notice similarities and differences.

Spiders have eight legs, but did you know that most spiders have eight eyes too.

Make spider webs by laying paper down in an aluminum pan and moving tiny balls around that have been dipped in paint.

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Class Explores Butterfly Wings

This weeks’ teacher feature shows how one of SEEC’s two-year-old classes were inspired by Oscar de la Renta’s Ikats in the To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia exhibition at the Freer|Sackler Galleries. Educators Brittany Leavitt, Brittany Brown, and Melinda Bernsdorf used these iconic ikats to facilitate a learning experience that focused on the colors, patterns, and symmetry that can be seen in both butterfly wings and these dyed fabrics. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as reflections from the educators.  

Cover Photo

Preparation:

Eggs, Chicks, InsectsAt SEEC, our faculty uses an emergent curriculum, which means they follow the interests of the children to create units and lesson plans. They were able to connect the class’s interest in various topics including eggs, frogs, and bugs by exploring the life cycle of the butterfly.

We were inspired to teach this lesson because of our class’s interest in the metamorphosis of frogs and other things that grow from eggs. Additionally, our class was really into finding insects including worms and potato bugs on the playground. We decided to explore their interest more by getting a butterfly kit for the classroom.

Butterfly Review

Brittany Leavitt began the day by gathering the group and led the class in a discussion about the butterfly. She began by reviewing previous topics on butterflies, including the number of wings butterflies have, and by reading Waiting for Wings by Lois Elhert.

After our metamorphosis unit, I decided to spend a week on exploring butterflies. Butterflies can be such a big topic so I wanted to narrow in on just one focus: the wings of a butterfly. We started by breaking down and labeling the parts of the butterfly. Then we started focusing on the butterfly wings. In particular, I wanted my class to understand butterfly wings are a multifaceted tool which are used for both protection and transportation. I also wanted to introduce the idea of symmetry with the wings.

Lesson Implementation:

Ikats ButterfliesThe class’s museum visit began on their walk to the Freer|Sackler Galleries. They were able to weave this walk into their lesson as the class tried to spy butterflies.

As we walked over to the Freer|Sackler Galleries, I had my class turn on their “spy eyes” to look for butterflies in the gardens. We had the chance to observe a butterfly on a flower. While looking at it, we revisited the topic of butterfly wings and talked about the butterfly’s bright colors and camouflage.

Anytime they spotted a butterfly on a flower or in the air, I would ask, “What do you think the butterfly is doing?” or “Where do you think it’s traveling?” These are great, simple questions that help to start a conversation. I was sure to ask questions that prompted critical thinking and creativity without being overwhelming for the two and three-year-olds in my class. In general, this walk was a great way to refresh the key words and topics we were going over throughout the week.

Copy of Ikats ButterfliesThe class gathered around the Oscar de la Renta designs. The class looked closely at the textiles and discussed the colors and patterns that they saw.

I chose to visit the Ikats from Central Asia because of its parallels to the symmetry, color, and patterns of the butterfly wing. When we entered the gallery, we took a few minutes for each child to look closely at the ikats. Then we began describing the ikats with words. As the class described the ikats, I noted that the pattern on some ikats was symmetrical. The class worked together to define symmetrical and then related it to butterfly wings. We concluded our time in the gallery by singing the fingerplay song “Butterflies”.

Butterfly wings, songs

After visiting the galleries, the class went outside to the Haupt Garden and continued to explore butterfly wings. Brittany handed out paper butterflies that the class had previously created so they could continue to observe the symmetry of the butterfly wings.

I brought butterflies that the class made earlier in the week and continued our discussion on symmetry. We did a three step process to help us further understand symmetry.  First we looked at our butterfly creations as a whole. Then we folded the butterfly wings like we were closing a book. We followed this up by observing how both sides of the wings look the same.

Reflection:

Butterfly artThe class loved being outside and singing about butterfly wings. They were able to play with and further explore butterflies that they previously created.

To extend this in the classroom, we played a simple symmetry puzzle that I created by printing off large pictures of butterflies and cutting them in half. We also used paint to create our own butterfly patterns.

reflection butterflyOn the walk back, the class went through the Pollinator Garden. As they walked the teachers engaged the class in casual conversations about which plants the butterflies might prefer.

For teachers who want to try out this lesson, I recommend creating a small pollinator garden if you have space in your outdoor area. You can buy butterfly kits online. They are a great way to watch the stages in the classroom. You can later on do a special butterfly release.

Teaching this lesson was a great way as teacher to challenge myself to dig deeper into a new topic. I love watching my class become interested in a topic. When presented in a developmentally appropriate way, young children are able to explore and understand incredibly complex topics. For example, my class was able to understand the concepts of symmetry and metamorphosis. They particularly loved the word metamorphosis and would say it frequently with the correct meaning. When I heard them say metamorphosis, it let me know that this topic of butterflies really stuck with them and impacted their view of the world.

 

 

 

Caregivers and Play: A Sneak Peak at Our Upcoming Seminar

Play at SEEC

Though our school is not strictly play-based, it recognizes the importance of play and incorporates it into our unique brand of object-based learning. Much like other early childhood schools, you will observe our children engaging in play during classroom choices and playground time. You can also find our children playing in the museums, but not just in the play-based spaces. We think creatively about how to safely incorporate play into our museum or community visits.

Caregiver Perspectives on Play

Over the years, we have heard from educators that often caregivers don’t appreciate or understand the value of play. I won’t lie, I too, was at one point one of those parents. Before beginning my career in early childhood education, I enrolled my daughter in a play-based cooperative preschool and one of my biggest concerns was if they would incorporate letter/number recognition into the curriculum. That was more than ten years ago and my outlook has drastically changed.

I have also observed sentiments similar in parents today. I recall a specific conversation with a parent whose child had recently transitioned from a play group to a SEEC program. The parent was happy about the transition because she felt like all the kids did “was play.” Through discussions with other educators, in and outside of SEEC, I have found that other parents share a similar concern about the role of play in the classroom.

I don’t mean to suggest that all caregivers feel that play is not important or even that they don’t see ANY value in the act of playing. In fact, there was recently a heated discussion at the school one of my children attends regarding recess. Some of the students had been missing recess due to make up work or for disciplinary reasons and that did not sit well with our parent community. I think it is important to note that there is a range of parent perspectives on play.

Starting the Conversation

At the same time that we have been reflecting on how parents feel about play, our team has also been focusing in how we can support our parent community and the community at large. It occurred to us that our upcoming workshop, Play: Engaging Learners in Object Rich Environments would be an ideal venue to explore parent attitudes towards play and strategize ways we can engage parents in a dialogue about the value of it.

In order to have this dialogue, we feel it’s important to better understand caregivers’ beliefs surrounding play. Therefore, we have begun to collect data that will inform that understanding and thus far, we have hit on some themes:

  • It’s a waste of money to pay for someone to watch their kids just play.
  • Play doesn’t look like traditional learning.
  • Play doesn’t look like hard work, so it’s not important.
  • Playing won’t teach them how to hold a pencil, read, or write.
  • Playing won’t give them the skills to be successful in life.
  • Play looks like chaos.

Over the next few weeks, we will be collecting more feedback from parents and look forward to sharing their perspectives at our upcoming seminar in July. We are excited to think together about this as a group and look forward to sharing more broadly in future postings.

Building the Next Generation of Democratic Thinkers

SEECstories.com (4)In a recent article Smithsonian Secretary Skorton posited that museums can help people regain trust in “traditional democratic institutions”. His argument centered around a study indicating that many Americans have lost faith in the institutions that are the foundation of our democratic system. He spoke to the fact that not just Americans, but citizens across the globe seem to be losing trust in their own societies and pondered how a democracy can function without the trust of its citizens. Secretary Skorton sees museums and libraries, not only as institutions that provide reliable and objective information, but also as places where questions can be posed, dialogues can be had, and a variety of perspectives can be explored. As leader of the Smithsonian, moreover, he sees museums as places where communities can come together to better understand themselves and the world around them.

As an organization, SEEC, also sees museums, libraries, and the larger community as sources for information, discussion, and reflection. We were particularly excited when in the same article, Skorton noted the role of educators:

I have seen how our museums and centres engage visitors and transform the way they see the world—especially our youngest visitors, who light up with the joy of new discovery. Through our education programs, we reach millions of national and international students, often using objects from our collections to demonstrate experiences and viewpoints that differ from what they might have encountered. By revealing history through the lens of diverse perspectives, museums humanize other cultures and contextualize present-day events and people.

SEECstories.com (5)The Secretary’s comments made me think more about the role museums can play in supporting a young child’s civic education. When I look specifically at SEEC, I see our school and programs as supporting a child’s understanding of democracy via museums in three ways.  One of those ways, is asking them to understand the importance of objects from other cultures or historical periods. Many don’t see young children as capable of this type of perspective-taking, but with the right approach, young children can develop this type of understanding and empathy. One of the ways SEEC educators manage this is by taking what is familiar to children and applying it to the unfamiliar. Consider the collection of footwear on display at the Smithsonian Castle from the National Museum of the American Indian. The shoes, at first glance, may feel strange to a young child living in contemporary American society, but an educator can encourage a child to think beyond their own experiences by beginning with what they do know. A faculty member might inquire: “Why do we wear shoes? When do we wear certain types of shoes?,  How do shoes help us?.” By applying these answers to the American Indian collection, children begin to see the many things we, humans, have in common. At the same time, a child are also able to acknowledge and celebrate the differences they observe. This type of lesson, especially if repeated, makes a lasting impression. We might be different, but those differences can be celebrated. It also underlines how we are part of one human family who shares many commonalities.

SEECstories.com (1)Secondly, young children who consistently spend time in museums can begin to understand and appreciate the role museums can play in learning, exploring, and questioning. During a recent conversation with a SEEC educator, he shared with me that in his Pre-K classroom children are routinely encouraged to ask questions and look for answers. He tell his class, that he, himself, doesn’t always have the answers and encourages them to seek answers via trusted resources. The children in this classroom have created a shortlist of “go to” places where they can get trusted answers. Of course, at the the top of this list is the museum.  For our SEEC students who have spent much of their young lives in these institutions, they understand how museums provide not simply information, but concrete manifestations of this knowledge. Consider the toddler who is learning about colors and visits the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. His knowledge is expanded by exploring the artworks and seeing the many different hues of blue. Similarly, consider the kindergartner who is learning about Rosa Parks and after viewing her portrait by Marshall D. Rumbaugh at the National Portrait Gallery. Through age-appropriate conversation, she can gain deeper insight into Parks’ role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Both children are learning that the museum is a place where they can turn to for both factual information and for viewpoints other than their own.

SEECstories.com (3)Finally, the very nature of how we teach at SEEC (and I think you could say this is true for many museum and classroom educators) reaffirms trust in democratic discourse. SEEC lessons often begin with a question and are composed around a conversation. For example, we might pose a scientific question like, “Why do cars have wheels?” or something more abstract like, “How do you think the woman in the painting feels?.” By simply engaging young children in conversation we are helping them to develop socially and emotionally. By framing these conversations within a museum, we can also encourage children to see the institution as a place in which dialogue is part of the experience. Within that dialogue, educators can facilitate conversations that encourage children to listen to and respect the ideas of others – something which will hopefully cultivate a generation of leaders who can engage in conversations resulting in positive democratic change.

SEECstories.com (2)As early childhood educators, whether in the classroom or the museum, we have a unique opportunity to frame the museum as a place where children can acquire knowledge throughout their life. Museum education is so much more than learning a new fact. It is a place where people of all ages can apply new information in a way that helps them value different perspectives and understand the ideas of others. While SEEC is uniquely situated to achieve this as a school on the Smithsonian campus, all schools and museums can support these democratic values. Classroom faculty can engage in conversations at their schools utilizing museum objects as a focal point via online resources. Museum educators can cultivate educational experiences that are friendly to all families and and frame developmentally appropriate experiences that support young children as capable learners. If we can support learning in this open-ended way, museums can and will remains stalwarts of democracy.


References

Skorton, David J. “How Do We Restore Trust in Our Democracies?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Mar. 2018, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-do-we-restore-trust-our-democracies-museums-can-be-starting-point-180968448/#FsSTi0ZDsl6qSVV0.99.

Guiding the Development of Positive Body Images in Young Children

This blog is authored by museum Museum and Early Learning Specialist, Brooke Shoemaker. Brooke has been at SEEC since 2011, and holds a BA in Theatre Performance from the University of Maryland with a minor in Human Development, and a M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education form Towson University.  Brooke loves bringing traditional gallery spaces to life with young children through playful theatrical techniques.


Did you know that 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetime? I am just one of these 30 million people, and over the last five years I’ve been on a personal journey to a feeling of self-worth that is not dependent on my appearance. About six years ago I developed anorexia at a time in my life when I felt like I couldn’t control many things, but I could control whether I went to the gym and “ate healthy”. I began to tie my success and worthiness to numbers: the number of miles I ran, the number of calories consumed in a day, and the number on the scale. I realized fairly quickly that my exercise and eating habits had veered away from healthy and had become obsessive and restrictive, and sought help from professionals, family, and friends. While I never thought that I would be dealing with this in my late twenties, the road to recovery from my eating disorder has led me to reflect deeply on body image, relationships with food, self-worth, and where it all begins.

Do you remember when you first had a sense of your body and what it could do? How old were you? Did you have positive or negative feelings toward your body? Children begin to develop their identities at a very young age, and this includes body image. A 2010 study found that almost a third of children age five to six would prefer a body that is thinner than their current size. Five and six. Think about that. What have children been exposed to, or influenced by, that leads them to these feelings of body dissatisfaction? My personal experience has led me to reflect on strategies adults can utilize to help foster a positive body image and healthy relationship with food in young children so that we can hopefully guide the next generation to feel positive about their bodies. Please note that body image and disordered eating are very complex issues, and there’s no set of circumstances to prevent or ensure they occur, however these tips are a step in the right direction.

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Reflect on how you Talk about your Body and Relationship with Food

Expressing dissatisfaction with your own body or food habits can affect children’s body image and relationship with food. This was illustrated to me clearly when I overheard a four-year-old say, “When your stomach sticks out you need to exercise, that’s what my mom does.” I’m sure that the child’s mother would never say anything negative about her daughter’s body, but children absorb these messages from adults, and what happens if this child observes her own stomach sticking out? Will she conclude that she must work out until she reaches a certain standard of acceptability? Children learn from what others do and say, and negative comments about our own bodies are no exception. By contrast, modeling body comfort encourages children to have acceptance and appreciation for their bodies. For example, “Exercising made my body feel really good and now I have more energy”, or after coming back from a long walk: “Wow, thank you feet! You helped me walk such a long way today.” If negative body talk is ingrained in your everyday language, Dove has some great tips in recognizing and curbing it.

Recognizing Biases

We all have biases, but recognizing our negative biases regarding body image and food is the first step in countering those biases and ensuring that we don’t pass them on to children. During my own recovery, I’ve recognized how many “should” and “should not” beliefs I held about my body and food. Try to catch yourself when you think or say something about your body or food and question why you think that. If you’re not sure where to begin, try taking the Weight Implicit Association Test from Harvard’s Project Implicit. The results might surprise you and spur your reflection.

Commenting on Children’s Appearance

While I don’t remember any of my early childhood teachers commenting on my appearance, I do remember multiple teachers in middle and high school making comments about my lanky frame. One high school teacher made a comment that I must not eat very much because I was so skinny. Other teachers made comments about how thin I was. I’m sure these teachers believed their comments were innocuous. Upon reflection, however, I see how these comments began to ingrain themselves into my identity. Being skinny was part of who I was, and what I was recognized for, so what happens if I lose that identity?

When I started this journey, I became more aware of the way I talked to children about their appearance. As an early childhood educator, I knew that I often commented on children’s bodies in terms of their function. For example, “Your feet help you run on the playground” or “Your stomach breaks down your food, which gives you energy.” However, I started to notice that I also often remarked on children’s clothes, partly because I really did enjoyed the pattern, colors, or designs of their clothes, and partly because it’s an easy and quick way to engage with a child. But what did the children learn when I remarked on their clothing, often as soon as they arrived at school? Probably that their clothing and appearance is important and garners approval. Children’s identities should be built on their inner qualities, not their outer appearance, which changes by the day. I now immediately recognize when I say something about a child’s clothing, and instead follow up with a comment about them as a person, not their appearance.

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Celebrating the Body

Our bodies are amazing! They hold intricate systems that help us do things like running, jumping, dancing, climbing, hugging, and more. At SEEC we follow an emergent curriculum, but embarking on a Human Body unit is a common occurrence in our classrooms. Young children’s bodies develop so many new skills in such a short amount of time, from growing teeth and chewing, to crawling, to running, to controlling bowel movements. There are many exciting milestones. Children are often curious about this and want to learn more, which has led to lessons about blood, hair, and more. Learning about the body creates an appreciation, respect, and love for all it can do.

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Identity Work That Goes Beyond the Physical Characteristics

A common topic explored in our classrooms is “All About Me” which encourages children to think about their identity. While we focus in part on outward appearances, we also delve deeper into what makes each of us, “us.” We value those traits and preferences that make us each unique, and those that make us similar. Some of this work happens at the start of a new school year when teachers and children are getting to know each other. We share favorite things and talk about our home and family lives. However, this topic of building our identities does not end in September. Our classes explore this topic through all of their units. For example, during a unit on sports, our preschoolers considered the character traits athletes must have including perseverance, teamwork, and integrity. The class discussed how each child also had these traits and how they help us as people. Another way to value children’s characteristics throughout the year is making note of their actions that exhibit these traits and celebrating them. For example, one of our three-year-old classes has a paper tree in which they add notes to the tree limbs to recognize moments that exhibit character traits. Children are able to celebrate the fact that they are kind, helpful, persistent, brave, etc., which builds their sense of identity.

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Discussing Media Influences

Even if all the adults in a child’s life speak positively about their and other people’s bodies, we unfortunately cannot escape the media. Children receive messages from books, TV, games, advertisements, and even politicians. Although we cannot control the media, we can have conversations with children that combat stereotypes and negative body talk.

In addition to conversations, adults can provide positive media, such as images and books, that represent the world around them with bodies of all shapes and sizes. At SEEC, we are lucky to be surrounded by the amazing collections of the Smithsonian, including artwork and objects that showcase variety in bodies. However, even if you’re not located near the Smithsonian or other such resources, you can access them online via Smithsonian’s Learning Lab. I’ve created a collection of artwork and objects from the Smithsonian and beyond that reflect a variety of bodies that can be used with young children in the home or school.


As educators, parents, caregivers, grandparents, older siblings, etc., we have the big and important job to guide young children as they are beginning their own journey with developing their self-worth and body image. With this foundation, when children get older and encounter negative body stereotypes and talk, they will have the tools to think critically and reject it.

Smithsonian Early Explorers

**Please note that the 2019-2020 school year, SEE will be meeting at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Mondays and the National Museum of American Art on Tuesdays.

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.