Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Tea

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.

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Preparation:

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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.

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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!

Lesson Implementation:

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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.

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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.

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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?”

 

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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.

Reflection:

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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.

 

 

Easy At-Home Learning: Architecture

Why Architecture

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 that seemed like an obvious element to discuss with the class.

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 - something easily pulled from the kitchen.

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 with disappointing results.

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 columns, the house will hold the can.

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.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

 

On-the-spot Ideas

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!

Teacher Feature: Three-Year-Old Class Explores Amphibians

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Maya shared two frog skeletons and allowed each child a turn to look closely. They noticed the difference in sizes between the skeletons.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.


After exploring frogs the class learned about reptiles. For more animal ideas, visit our Amphibian, Birds, Reptile, and Ocean Pinterest boards.

Our second posting in our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Series.

i-jgMbrGZ-X2The Journey

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.

i-pKMtvLP-X2As 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

i-bH6jtnR-X2In 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.

 

 

 

  1. Demonstrating how objects can tell stories of similarities and differences.
  2. 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.
  3. i-LbjP8rd-X2Considering 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.
  4. Strategies for talking to children in age appropriate ways about history, culture, and current events.
  5. The role silence plays when educators don’t acknowledge bias in the classroom.
  6. Ways of building classroom lessons and environments that authentically weave in diversity and inclusion, and avoid tokenism.
  7. How educators can build strong relationships with families to establish a community in which everyone feels respected, even when there are disagreements.

Teacher Truths: Working with Toddlers

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inquiry Tools

A few years ago several of my three-year-old students asked me a question, and I responded, “How could we find the answer to your question?” They stared at me and said, “We’re asking you because you’re a teacher, and teachers know everything!” While flattering, I had to tell them that I most certainly do not know everything. Instead, there are many other ways in which we can seek the answers to our questions. This moment illustrates the importance of directly teaching children the skills, even as young children, to find the answers to their wonders.

At SEEC, we define inquiry as asking questions, but also as the process to find the answers. In order to ask effective questions and have the tools to seek answers, children must be curious, know how to observe, describe, make connections, and communicate. From infants to kindergarten, our classes foster these skills to ensure our children leave our school with a love of learning, a ferocious curiosity and the ability to find the answers to their questions.

Recently, one of our four-year-old classes, led by Will Kuehnle and Jessie Miller, spent some time discussing what it means to be curious, and what tools could help them explore their curiosities.

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To begin their experience they went to the National Gallery of Art to see The Thinker (Le Penseur) by Auguste Rodin. They looked at the sculpture and pondered how its body language depicted thinking. They even tried to pose themselves.

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Next, they discussed four tools to use when we have a question: asking an expert, observing, reading a book, and/or going to a museum. After discussing these inquiry tools in the gallery, the class headed outside to the National Mall to make these ideas more concrete through play.

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The children got into groups and went through stations, each representing one of the inquiry tools they previously identified. At the “Ask the Expert” station, the children dressed up and pretended to be experts on different topics. One child would ask a question while the other child listened. The conversation would continue back and forth while one child spoke and the other waited and responded. The teacher could step in and model this for the children as well as praise them when waited for their turn to speak. This was a great opportunity for the children to practice patience and listening.

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At the “Observe” station, children observed what they saw on the Mall and recorded these thoughts through writing and drawing. This was an open-ended activity that allowed the children the freedom to observe anything in their surroundings. It gave the teachers a glimpse into what the children find most interesting and, since SEEC uses an emergent curriculum, will serve as a guide for possible future topics for the class

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The “Read a Book” station contained several books where children could flip through and gain knowledge through their reading.

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Lastly, the “Go to a Museum” station had blocks for the children to build a museum where they might be able to answer their wonders.

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Back at school that afternoon, the class had an opportunity to play at the stations again if they wished.

 

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Recently, during storytime a child asked a question about something in the book. The other children were quick to suggest finding a book on the subject or visiting a museum to find out more information. The teachers have also observed students using language such as “curious” and “inquire” more often in their day-to-day conversations. By spending time practicing listening, vocalizing questions, and exploring how to find answers, the students have built a strong foundation that will serve them as they progress in school and life.


Join us on January 17th to learn more about Fostering Wonder with young children.

Songs & Emergent Literacy

Drum and LiteracyIf 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

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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.

Join Us & Learn More

Singing is one of many ways that can help young children develop pre-literacy skills in a way that is developmentally appropriate and intrinsically rewarding. At SEEC, we use books, art, and objects engage young children in literacy. If you are interested in learning more, come to our Emergent Literacy workshop on Thursday, November 29 at 3:30 pm.