Similarly to most schools in the world, SEEC was thrown a huge curveball in March when we closed the doors to our centers and embarked on a virtual journey with the youngest of children. Faculty and families alike worked to find best practices for our children to maintain relationships and engagement while connecting through a screen. Much of our philosophy focuses on experiencing the world in person with strong social interactions, so we wrestled with how this would translate to a whole new platform. Like many others dealing with this new normal, we have been actively trying out new strategies and assessing their success as we go. We wanted to share our successes, failures, and reflections from the past five months through a blog series. Below are some of the themes we will expand on in the coming weeks.
Create a Routine
Children thrive when they have a routine. Knowing what is coming next gives children a sense of control and comfort especially in the midst of a sudden, major, lifestyle change. So it’s not surprising that our faculty found it helpful to outline the plan of the day at the start of each lesson. In addition, our teachers often began each session in the same way, for example, singing a hello song, or doing some deep breathing, and ended in the same way. These subtle cues helped children adjust to adapt to the new “classroom”
While we may all be physically apart from each other, we still need to connect with our community through authentic interactions. We’ve had other school community members join video calls to share their expertise in a topic that the class is learning about. For example, one of our preschool classes was learning about gardening and produce. One of our toddler educators is a gardener and was able to join them from her home and share some of her plants and tools with them. Other ways to connect to the community include sharing related videos and images of community members and safe, nearby, locations that families could visit.
Make it Silly
Life is challenging right now, for parents, teachers, kids, everyone. Our faculty wanted to lighten the mood, so they kept the silliness and fun flowing even while virtual. Some silly strategies they employ are creating characters who appear on the video calls, playing music and having a virtual dance party, and having a week of theme days such as crazy hair day or dress like your favorite book character day.
In addition to needing to keep the silliness, our faculty also quickly recognized the children’s need for plain, simple, social interaction. Some of our preschool classes began having virtual snack time where children signed on and ate their snack and chatted together like they would at school. This has become very popular among the children and it often lasts far longer than the teachers anticipate!
Strong relationships are essential to meaningful learning experiences in early childhood. While more difficult to foster through screens, it is possible! Besides one-on-one video calls between teachers and students, our faculty incorporates photos of the children in their lesson presentation. The children love to see themselves in the presented topic, and are able to reflect on past learning. Each of our classes also has a shared photo album where families can upload photos from the week. This allows children to see each others’ learning and feel a connection with their peers.
A cornerstone of our practice is the use of objects to teach children. We often venture into the museums to observe and learn about artifacts or artworks related to our curriculum, but we also frequently use everyday objects and find that they’re also a powerful tool. While we’re away from the museum, teachers have asked children to bring their own easily accessible objects to the class, which has served several purposes. First, children became more invested in the session because they had something to share to the experience. Having an object also allows for tactile learning that is so important in early childhood when a teacher cannot physically facilitate that from a screen. Sharing objects also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world.
We’re taking everything we’ve learned and incorporating it into Virtual Family Workshops this fall. To learn more and register, check our Family Workshops page. Also, be sure to check back for more blogs expanding on the above themes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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.
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?
“Teacher Feature: Infant Class Explores Farm to Table” was originally published on January 4, 2018. We are posting it again to help people embrace teaching farm to table units.
This week’s teacher feature highlights one of our infant classes. The teachers in the class, Mallory Messersmith, Morgan Powell, and Rosalie Reyes, were inspired by National Farm to School Month to lead their class on a month-long exploration of food and community. For this outing, the class went to the United States Department of Agriculture Farmers Market to learn about locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Below you will find images from the lesson and reflections from Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie.
Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were then inspired to create a unit around the idea of farm to school because of the many diverse areas of exploration that the study of fruits and vegetables offered their class, including colors, shapes, and textures. Additionally, they noticed that many of their students were starting to eat new solid foods. They sought to align their lessons in the classroom with the developmental milestones the children were experiencing regarding eating new foods.
To begin preparing for their unit, Morgan, Mallory, and Rosalie chose a collection of art prints and created their own works of art to post throughout their classroom. They paid special consideration to their students’ cubbies where they posted images of fruits and vegetables. Mallory even crocheted fruits and vegetables to add to the classroom. Since many children in their class were actively learning to crawl, the teachers taped images to ground for their class to explore while on the move. They also researched and chose children’s books to add to their classroom collection and brainstormed which produce to highlight with the class.
The class explored most of the produce using sight, touch, smell, and sound. The children were able to use their sense of taste when interacting with the avocados and strawberries for a more immersive experience. For both strawberries and avocados, the children looked at and touched images of the produce. They then compared the images to the real produce before and after it was cut up. Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie believed that it was important for the children to be able to make connections between the whole product, which the children do not always see, and the cut up portions that the children regularly eat at snack time. To finish the experience, the class had the opportunity to sample! The strawberries were a big hit, but many students were a little more cautious about the avocado. This immersive, multisensory experience left the children with a greater understanding of the food that they eat.
The teachers also combined this multisensory teaching approach with thinking routines including See, Think, Wonder to encourage curiosity and new understandings. Since many of their infants were preverbal, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie would verbalize out loud the different things that they saw, thought, and wondered while the children in their class were exploring the various fruits and vegetables. The teachers were careful to keep in mind that this might be the first time that their class had been exposed to many of the images and objects and allowed time for the infants to experience and make discoveries. One particularly fun lesson that built upon the multisensory and thinking routine approaches, was when the infants were exploring the red cabbage. As the children were bending, breaking, smelling, and feeling the texture of the cabbage, Morgan began to read Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. As she read, she asked questions about the colors, textures, and sounds that the class heard when they were peeling the leaves of the cabbage.
Mallory, Morgan and Rosalie chose to visit the USDA’s farmers market in part because of its accessibility, since it is just off the National Mall and not far from their classroom. They also wanted to embrace the community aspects of the visit, as the farmers market is a great place for people to gather. This community space has picnic blankets and open space for people (including this class) to sit, gather, and reflect on the experience of being at the farmers market. It was a perfect fit for this lesson because it encouraged the children to make connections between the familiar foods that the class eats every day and the less familiar, whole, unprocessed, muddy foods that they saw at the market. Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie brought objects with them to enhance this community visit, including soft and hard toy fruits and vegetables and a board book to read to the group.
At SEEC, teachers regularly take their classes on museum visits where they connect ideas that they are learning about in the classroom with museum objects. They often extend their lessons beyond the museum doors while still using the same techniques that they used on the community visits.
When asked to explain why it is important to take infants on community and museum visits, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie cited this quotation:
“Our connections to the people, animals, and plants around us make us who we are. Humans are not a solitary species; we need one another to survive. In the same way that children need opportunities to get to know the natural world so that they can develop a strong relationship with it, they need that same opportunity to connect with the human and human-made community that they are a part of. When children develop a strong relationship with their community at an early age, they grow up knowing and feeling a strong sense of belonging.”
While strolling through the People’s Garden, the class paused for a moment and reached to grab handfuls of soil. This part of the lesson was actually completely spontaneous! The teachers noticed students pointing towards the ground and saw it as an opportunity to follow their curiosity and facilitate hands-on learning. Through these early experiences with soil, children learn that soil is a living system full of healthy and fascinating relationships. The educators were also able to connect back to soil later during the visit by pointing out dirt on some of the produce the children were examining at the Farmers Market.
While exploring the butternut squash, the children not only touched the smooth sides, but also noticed how the textures of the squash changed as Rosalie rotated it. When she turned the squash on its side, the children immediately reached out to touch the small, dry area of the squash. Even though the children could not talk yet, the teachers, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, were able to follow each child’s nonverbal cues. The teachers paid special attention to the things the children were pointing to, the changes in their facial expressions, and their use of sign language. In fact, throughout the lesson the children regularly signed “more” as they moved from one booth to another, signaling that they wanted to explore different types of produce. When the children signed “more”, it helped Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie know that the children were enjoying their visit and wanted to continue.
Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were so excited to take their class to the farmers market because this was their first trip outside as a group! The teachers had spent the month hoping that they could visit the farmers market for this unit and on the last Friday of the month they were able to make it work! Even the journey to the Market was exciting for the students; they experienced the sights and sounds of a beautiful autumn day outside in Washington, DC. The class noticed squirrels, fall foliage, and insects on the trip across the National Mall. Once the class arrived at the market, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were happy to see their students so engaged with a variety of produce. They also embraced the unplanned moments, including feeling the dirt and meeting a big, fluffy dog which made their outing extra special.
After the visit to the vendors at the market, the class gathered on the grass near the market. As part of the Friday Farmers market, the grassy area has lawn games set up as well as communal picnic blankets, which the class used for their outdoor story time. The teachers made sure that each child was engaged by offering them toys from the classroom and produce that they had recently purchased from the market.
Once everyone was settled in, the class looked at some pages in a book and sang a variety of songs. They sang a variety of autumnal songs that the music teacher, Ms. Allison, had introduced to the class during October. One song was about a pumpkin, big and round; another song was about autumn leaves falling down. They sang the pumpkin song as the children touched the pumpkin. As children began venturing off their blanket and started to explore the leaves they found on the ground, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie sang the autumn leaves song. It was clear that the children enjoyed the songs as they rocked their bodies to the beat and even clapped along.
Since their class is composed of young children, much of the beginning of the year is focused on learning and supporting each individual child’s feeding and resting schedule. This complicates finding time to go on outings. However, when the opportunity arises to go on a trip, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, jump on it, as they know the benefits of getting their class out of the classroom for experiential learning.
When thinking about what the class could have done differently, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie thought it would have been nice to bring food for their class to eat while on the picnic blankets. They explained that bringing food to taste would have enhanced their class’ experience beyond seeing and feeling by adding the sense of taste.
After the visit, the class continued to build upon what they had experienced that day. The children decorated canvas bags which would be perfect to take to the Farmers Market for shopping. To decorate, the children mixed and splattered paint with their hands, feet, and brushes. At the end of October, the bags were sent home with a small gourd inside. It was a great way to finish off the month!
If you visit our toddler and twos classes you are bound to hear joyful voices singing songs as they begin their morning routine. The classes sing hello to each student, use songs during their morning circles, and to help ease transitions throughout their day. While a chorus of young voices is undeniably sweet and fun, their singing is helping to set a strong academic foundation by strengthening the children’s pre-literacy skills.
Songs & Vocabulary
When children hear a song, they are exposed to new words. The words that young children hear, whether spoken or sung, are the words that form their vocabulary. The repetitive nature of many song lyrics, combined with the fact that children are likely to hear the same song many times, gives them the opportunity to fully learn new words. Later in their academic lives, this understanding of a variety of words will help with their ability to read and their overall reading comprehension.
Songs, Sounds, Rhymes
For very young children, listening to songs exposes them to the many different sounds that make up our words. As you sing a song, you emphasize certain sounds and by doing so, you highlight the building blocks of our language. Singing gives the youngest children the opportunity to mimic and communicate with these sounds in a way that is ideal for toddlers. When singing, they are given the freedom to be loud, let their voices ring, and play with sounds. Additionally, a child whose words often slur together or who regularly skips words while speaking is often able to sing a tune in such a way that an adult will know what they are singing. This can hold true even in cases where the adult is not able to understand many of the individual words being sung. Children rely on the sounds they learned while singing when they start sounding out words and when they are developing the ability to read.
As young children develop pre-literacy skills, they begin to have the ability to rhyme. Singing songs such as Willoughby Wallaby Woo, Down by the Bay, and Silly Nilly Name Song allow children to explore rhyming sounds while singing. Pausing before you say the rhyming word can give the children the chance to fill it in, which helps children progress from hearing rhymes to creating their own rhymes. These singing games can provide hours of entertainment while challenging young children to explore sounds and rhymes.
Songs, Symbols, & Letter Recognition
A crucial component of learning to read is recognizing that the letter “m” means the sound “mmm”. In order to learn this, children must first understand the use of symbols, because the letter “m” is a symbol for the sound “mmm”. Children begin recognizing symbols well before they are ready to read and symbol recognition is considered an important pre-literacy skill. While using songs to help children understand letters may seem unlikely, song cards offer the ideal opportunity to pair singing with symbol recognition.
Songs cards are images that are used to represent or be a symbol for a particular songs. For example, an image of a sun might be used to represent Mr. Sun and a star might be used to represent Twinkle, Twinkle. When using song cards, make sure that image is large, engaging and/or colorful. Also be sure that the images are double sided and laminated for durability. Then dramatically spread the song cards out in the middle of the circle and encourage the class to explore the cards. As they pick up the images, sing the corresponding song. Over time, children will learn that specific images represent their favorite songs and will go out of their way to find these images. Young children love using these song cards because it helps them to communicate what songs they want to sing without having to come up with the name of the song or even the tune. In essence, song cards help young children to learn about symbols in a way that is appealing to them by helping to fulfill their need to communicate their wants and desires.
For this week’s Teacher Feature we will highlight how our infant class investigated tea. Educators Brandi Gordon, J. Kelly, and Rebecca Morgan Parr took their class to the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden where they saw a tea plant in the Moongate. Afterwards they went back to our center where they made and drank tea. Below you will find images from the lesson and a reflection from the educators.
Prior to this lesson, the class had been learning about food and different things that people eat and drink. Inspired by the drinks that their parents, caregivers, and teachers had been consuming, they recently began exploring hot drinks including tea and coffee.
This tea lesson felt like a natural topic to explore after our class finished learning about fruits, vegetables, and other foods that grow from plants. We followed the interests of the children in our Duckling class who were interested in their teachers’ drinks. They children wanted to drink, touch, and taste our tea and coffee. In general, letting small children drink or handle hot beverages is not acceptable. We did not want to leave their interests ignored, so we decided to teach about them instead. We wanted to explore why some beverages feel hot and felt it was an excellent opportunity to reinforce language and safety ideas.
To learn more about tea, the class visited the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden where they were able to look at a tea plant.
For our objectives, we began by expanding upon the past units’ objectives. We had been teaching our Ducklings that many plants become the food that we eat, so visiting the tea plant was another way to do that. We also wanted more opportunities to explore our community, visit local shops, and see different parts of our school like the staff room, where we boiled the water to make tea. Another objective was to introduce our class to the idea of temperature. Lastly, we wanted to expose them to many kinds of tea as well as show them various beverages that exist in the world.
As educators, we had our own set of objectives for ourselves. We wanted to follow our class’s interest even if it was an unconventional topic. We wanted to weave the ideas of safety into a lesson. And we wanted to allow the children to embrace having sensory experiences. It was nice to remind ourselves that getting messy is ok and can be fun!
While looking at the tea plant, the educator Rebecca explained that people pick leaves from this plant to make tea.
Before the visit and on the way to the Moongate, we talked to the Ducklings about how we were going to see a tea plant. At the Moongate, we took the students out of the buggies and helped them into the circular marble seating next to the tea plant. We compared the real tea plant to the pretend tea plant and looked closely at the leaves.
Since plucking the tea leaves off the real tea plant would damage the plant, the educators brought their own pretend tea plant which was made by taping images of the tea plant to a cardboard box. To help the children experience plucking, they velcroed tea leaves to the box which the children were encouraged to pull off and put in a teapot.
The great thing about the pretend tea plant was that the children had the opportunity to pull off the leaves without hurting a live plant. After the Ducklings pulled the leaves off the box, we encouraged them to place them into tea bags which in turn they placed into our toy teapots. Then we poured pretend tea into their cups to drink. Many of the children loved pretending to drink out of the cups. As they pretended to make and drink the tea, we sang I’m a Little Tea Pot.
Some of children were more interested in playing with the water from the rain. They smacked their hands down on the marble seating to splash. We talked to the Ducklings about how we ingest plants for eating in many ways and that plants also go into tea. They had seen flowers throughout our gardening unit so the idea that some flowers can go in tea seemed to excite them.
The class returned to the center, to watch Kelly brew tea. Kelly talked about the different plants that can be used to make tea and poured hot water over tea leaves so the children could watch the steeping process.
We took our students into the kitchen area of the staff break room, where they began the beginnings of a circle time by sitting on the floor with their teachers. Kelly showed the class the electric kettle, tea bags, and the tea strainer. We gave out some tea bags to allow the students to explore. Some of the Ducklings started to rip the tea bags. We decided to encourage their exploration of the loose-leaf tea and asked questions like “What does that feel like?”
Children were encouraged to explore tea using their senses. They smelled tea, touched tea (and even pulled apart tea bags), and eventually tasted the tea.
We allowed free exploration. Some of the children enjoyed ripping the tea bags, some of them preferred chewing a strand of lavender, others placed dried rose petals into our tea strainer. We let the children stand up and sit down as they wished but made sure that they stayed within the confines of the small kitchen area so we could see everyone.
We tried to encourage our students to explore many kinds of sensory options. We also know that they are at an age when most things still go in their mouths for exploration and provide important details about the world around them. Tea is something they can learn about through all the senses–sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. They could see the tea, hear the water boil and steam, they could touch the dry and rehydrated tea leaves, smell the tea as it is brewing and finally taste it.
To conclude the lesson, the class had the opportunity to drink tea and as they drank, they engaged in conversation. Some children chose to clink cups as if they were cheering before drinking.Enter a caption
We followed up by this lesson by having the students “paint” with tea bags on a big sheet of paper. We continued to make different varieties of teas and visited the United States Botanical Garden to see different herbs that are used in tea (like mint.) Later in the afternoon, after everyone had woken up from their nap, we gave all of them a cup with the tea we made so they could try it as well as practice using open-face cups.
For other teachers trying this lesson, we recommend making sure whatever tea you use is decaffeinated and that the teas taste good to a child’s palate. Try to make sure you give enough time for the students to explore the objects and try to see how you can explore all the senses. Be flexible and open to mess– this is a great opportunity to allow each child to be an investigator, a scientist, a creative, and as always, their most curious self.
As a parent, I am always on the look out for fun and easy learning opportunities. While I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed this great blog on shadows and I began to think more about architecture. We encounter architecture everyday– it is all around us. Whether we live in the city, suburbs or country – architecture is an essential component of our environment. And if you haven’t read any previous posts, SEEC staff has been busy thinking about the importance of environment and its impact on learning. Young children connect to architecture and at an early age, begin to notice its features. Don’t believe me….Well, just take a walk with a group of SEEC students across the Mall and ask them where their parents works. Inevitably, they will identify the museum by the building’s architecture. “My mommy works in the round one (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden).” or “Dad works in the one with a lot of glass (National Air and Space Museum).”
Seize the Moment
Maybe your child doesn’t spend their days in Washington, DC, but I bet they are noticing their own neighborhood. Ask them to think about their friend’s homes, can they identify a feature: color, shape, number of stories? What about their school? The first words out of my kid’s mouths when they set foot in their school cafeteria was, “There are a ton of windows.” Its true, one wall of their cafeteria is ceiling to floor windows that look out onto a wooded area. That feature made a strong impression and four years later, they continue to marvel at the fact these windows connect them to the outdoors. The point I am trying to make is simple: if your child notices these details seize the opportunity to take what they are interested in and run with it.
That is exactly what our teachers did in the set of photos below of our three-year old class last year. I specifically chose to highlight this lesson because I thought it would be easy to recreate at home and inspire your inner teacher. Keep in mind, I am not suggesting that after working a 10-hour day (whether it be in an office or at home) that you whip up a lesson plus museum visit (for on-the-spot ideas, see below), but it is something to keep in mind for a weekend. These ideas encourage your child’s imagination, include some simple math and gets them to think about design, engineering and even aesthetics.
Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns – they were the perfect element to discuss with the class. Using the tablet, helps them visualize the idea before the headed out for their museum visit.
An over-sized can was another convenient choice for the teachers who simply pulled it from the kitchen. Each child got a turn feeling the weight of the can. This is an important step so that they experience of the weight of the can.
The teacher places the can on her 2-column building, made simply of cardboard and blocks. Clearly, the results were disappointing.
It turns out that by adding two more columns, the house will hold the can.
The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.
And inside the National Gallery of Art.
Don’t have time or energy to plan – don’t worry. Here are a few simple, spontaneous ideas that will get your little one to notice the architecture in their neighborhood.
1. Ask them to count the number of windows/columns (or whatever feature interests them) and draw their shapes with their finger – identify the shapes.
2. Ask them what they like or dislike about a building or a particular part of it?
3. Ask them to draw what they see or use their imagination to draw a building.
5. Play with building blocks when you get home and design your own space.
5. Play “I spy” with a particular architectural feature while riding home and describe its physical characteristics.
Hoping these ideas inspire you to get out and learn with your little one!
Today we’re featuring Maya Alston and Amy Schoolcraft, the teachers of the three-year-old Wallaby class. The class has been busy exploring the Animal Kingdom, and I joined them for a lesson about amphibians and frogs at the National Museum of Natural History. Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from Maya.
For the past two years, a mallard duck has made SEEC’s playground her nesting ground to lay her eggs. Every year we section off a part of the playground for mama duck to lay her eggs safely and use this as an opportunity to engage the children about the importance of respecting her space while she cares for her babies. This was the Wallabies’ first time experiencing the process, and while they have always shown interest in animals through play, we noticed that this experience really seemed to stick with them and pique their interest. Amy and I decided this was the perfect time to begin a unit on the animal kingdom.
For their lesson, the class headed to Q?rius, an interactive learning space at the National Museum of Natural History, for their lesson.
Q?rius is a space dedicated to encouraging young children to be curious and investigate through hands on exploration. I wanted my students to be active participants and be able to have tangible objects to help them make these connections. I took some time to explore Q?rius on my own first, imagining how my children could engage with objects that were relevant to our lesson. From there, I began to piece together what I wanted the lesson to look like based off what the space offered.
Since it was also my first time going to Q?rius, I wanted to make sure the space was appropriate for my students. I took time to explore on my own as well as speaking with Q?rius employees about what objects they had related to amphibians.
Q?rius has many objects and specimens to examine closely. Maya led the class to a case and took out a specimen box without showing the class. She gave the group some clues as to what might be in the box including making a frog noise with a frog musical instrument, and showing them an image of a frog. Between both clues many children exclaimed, “a froggie!”
For this unit, we wanted our students to understand the concept that animals belong to different groups. While animal kingdoms are generally taught in later years, I wanted to build a foundation of the concept of categorizing animals based on physical traits, habitat, and other characteristics unique to that animal group. In this lesson, we began exploring amphibians.
Maya shared two frog skeletons and allowed each child a turn to look closely. They noticed the difference in sizes between the skeletons.
Next, the class went upstairs to the Q?rius jr. space, a dedicated area of Q?rius for young children. They sat down and Maya told the class what they were going to learn about today: amphibians. They practiced saying the word and Maya explained that amphibian means two lives; one life in the water, and one on land. She asked what animals they know of that live in the water. The children listed animals such as sharks, fish, and dolphins. Next, she asked what animals live on land. They identified many animals including butterflies, cheetahs, birds, bunnies, and elephants.
Maya reiterated that amphibians are special because they live in both the water and on land, such as frogs. She showed them images of more amphibians including newts, salamanders, toads and caecilians. The group remembered some previously learned knowledge about how many legs insects have (six) and arachnids have (eight). Maya let the class know that many amphibians have four. The class counted the legs of the amphibians together. The group explored another physical aspect of amphibians – how they feel. The class felt their own skin and described it as smooth and soft. Maya let them know that amphibians are smooth and soft as well, but they’re also moist, meaning they’re always a little bit wet.
I knew very general information about amphibians and frogs, but to prepare for this lesson I took some time to research as well. Sometimes the children have questions that I might not have been expecting, so it’s always helpful to come with some additional information prepared.
One of the children brought up how bunnies feel, and Maya took this opportunity to transition to her next point. She asked the group what bunnies like to do. They excitedly said, “hopping!” Maya told the group that frogs also like to hop. The class began jumping and hopping like frogs all over the circle. Maya let them have some time and then said, “3, 2, 1, and done.” The children took the cue and sat back down in their circle.
While I had not planned for the group to jump like frogs at this point, it was the children’s way of staying engaged and actively participating with the lesson. I really want them to connect with our lesson in a way that speaks to them, and most often, it is through movement. It makes our lessons feel a lot more organic and can even help to push the conversation along. I’ve found my lessons to be much more fun and exciting when I allow the kids to steer the direction we go in just a little during our discussions. It’s an excellent way to gauge their interest and see what they know already.
Next, they explored frogs more deeply by looking at plastic frogs, and playing wood frog guiro musical instruments. They enjoyed stroking the wooden frog’s back with the mallet and listening to the ribbit-like sound. They also compared the difference in sound between the larger frog guiro and the smaller one.
The last aspect of the lesson was to explore how strong frog legs are and how they help them to jump very far distances. Maya said that some frogs can jump up to seven feet! To illustrate this she measured out the distance with a tape measure.
The inclusion of math skills into the lesson was something that happened naturally. I really wanted to provide a visual to see just how far of a distance it was, and a tape measure was the perfect object. It just so happened to be a great way to incorporate math skills!
Then it was the children’s turn to jump like a frog and measure how far they could go. Maya randomly pulled each child’s photo from a bag to indicate it was their turn to jump.
The children seemed to really take to the activity portion and liked comparing their distances to see if they could jump as far as their friends. I think the activity was engaging enough that even when it wasn’t their turn to jump, they were still excited to get to participate in some fashion, for example cheering on their friend who was jumping.
There’s always a little bit of unknown when taking your students to a new space. Sometimes doing gross motor activities in confined spaces can be a little tricky. I wanted to make sure the kids were able to get the most out of the lesson, while also respecting other people using the space, so we discussed.
As each child jumped, the rest of the class cheered for them and how far they went. Maya integrated math skills by measuring how far each child went and writing down the numbers next to their photo. To conclude this part of the lesson Maya let them know that they were all great jumpers, but frogs could still jump a lot further and they would learn more about them later in the week.
I absolutely loved how the group waited so patiently to take their turn to jump and were cheering each other on. It can be difficult to wait patiently for eleven other people to go before it’s finally your turn. Unity and camaraderie are concepts we encourage throughout the year, and seeing them be so supportive unprompted was very heartwarming.
To end the visit, the class got a chance to explore the Q?rius jr. space. Some children explored the many specimens both displayed and available to touch. Some played more with the frog instruments or engaged in a variety of puzzles (including a frog puzzle!).
I think what’s great about this lesson is the fact that it can be done in just about any setting with objects. My recommendation for other educators without easily accessible museum spaces, but wishing to do a similar lesson would be to go sit outside or go to a local nature center or pond to connect with the concepts.
We made sure to say a quick goodbye to our frog skeletons before leaving Q?rius. Upon reflection, this would have been an excellent time to have the students take another look at the skeletons and have a brief discussion about what new information they had learned during the lesson. That would give them the opportunity to make connections and help to bring the visit full circle.
Later in the week, we continued the conversation by visiting the Moongate Garden to talk about the life cycle of frogs. Following our week on amphibians, we began to explore other animal classifications.
Our second posting in our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Series.
People familiar with Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) will often describe it as a journey or a process. Now that I am a couple of years into my own DEAI experience, I can finally say that I understand what they mean. Each time I feel like I make some headway, I find that something comes along and reminds me that I still have work to do.
Such was the case at a recent educator workshop I was co-leading, Never Too Young. Going into the workshop, I was feeling confident and prepared. Overall the morning went well and there were many meaningful conversations. During the section where we discussed relationships with families, we asked participants to split up in small groups and talk about one of a variety of scenarios that we described as, “difficult conversations.” As each group shared their thoughts, it became clear that some of the participants were uncomfortable because the scenarios portrayed lifestyle choices with which they disagreed. It was a conundrum; the focus of the workshop was to help educators create an inclusive environment where children can develop a positive sense of self. Yet, I could see that the discussion made some people uncomfortable and moreover, these participants had stopped listening.
As a facilitator, I recognized my role in their discomfort and I felt like we needed to reconsider our approach – we were talking about inclusion after all. I had several questions:
How do we navigate conversations when peoples’ ideals are not aligned with inclusivity? Was it my role to challenge those ideas? What are SEEC’s priorities when providing these types of training? And most importantly, how do we keep the children’s best interests at the center of what we do?
At the next session of the workshop, I made a few modifications. We added inclusive language to our introduction so that participants knew what to expect and understood we would talk about some issues with which they many not agree. Before the scenarios, we reiterated the role of the caregiver as the decision maker and the role of the educator as someone whose role was to make a child feel safe and loved. I think this helped, but we are definitely still thinking things through.
DEAI and Educator Programs
In addition to this specific experience, we have been thinking about our entire menu of educator workshops through a DEAI lens. Some of the changes are small and obvious, and others are still in the “thinking” phase, but as I said….it’s a journey. Below is a list of ways we are thinking about DEAI in terms of our professional development options. These perspectives are with us as we rethink content and introduce new conversations to our educator programs.
Demonstrating how objects can tell stories of similarities and differences.
Exploring ways community visits can:
Provide children with experiences to connect with peoples and cultures that are different or similar to their own, which may not always be the case in their classroom.
Create opportunities for children to build social emotional skills, especially in terms of empathy and considering perspectives other than their own.
Provide real-life examples of people working for change.
Provide real age-appropriate experiences for children to make change.
Considering how the museum community views families and young children and how we can help museum professionals understand that children are capable and should be respected. Helping museums think through how to make their spaces accessible to families, and how to support family learning.
Strategies for talking to children in age appropriate ways about history, culture, and current events.
The role silence plays when educators don’t acknowledge bias in the classroom.
Ways of building classroom lessons and environments that authentically weave in diversity and inclusion, and avoid tokenism.
How educators can build strong relationships with families to establish a community in which everyone feels respected, even when there are disagreements.
Welcome to Teacher Truths presented by the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, SEEC. Each episode of Teacher Truths take place between two SEEC faculty members and explores a topic related to education. Have a topic you’d like to hear about? Email SEECSocialMedia@si.edu.
This week features a conservation between Kat Schoonover and Shannon Conley who are both toddler teachers. They spoke about working with toddlers and focused on toddlers growing independence and need for communication. Please listen and enjoy!
Highlights from the conversation between Kat and Shannon: