We March! Preschool Class Explores Activism

This blog is written by SEEC’s Pre-K 3 Koala class teachers, Katie Heimsath and Morgan Powell.


We believe all children are extraordinary everyday change-makers. In our classroom, one student’s inquiry can launch a full-on investigation into a topic, changing the direction of what we’re learning in our classroom. When students learn to take responsibility for their actions and solve problems collaboratively, they are acting as change-makers, supporting and sustaining the culture of care and advocacy within the classroom. Every day we witness and encourage our students to wonder and explore the world around them, advocate for themselves and others, and understand the power of their words and actions. Our preschool class, the Koalas, recently explored how community helpers use their words and actions to benefit their community. To wrap up this unit, the class reflected on how they also use their actions and words to create change.

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We started the week with a lesson recapping all that we had learned about community helpers. Our unit spanned over eight weeks, and included a typical line up of helpers like police, firefighters, doctors, as well as other unexpected helpers like bakers, barbers, and DC Metro officers. We recounted the many different kinds of helpers we had met, observed, or read about, including what tools and equipment helped them to do their jobs. It was important for us as educators to note that help comes in many different forms and helpers can look very different than what we might initially picture in our minds. As members of our community, we’re not required to have a specific job to help out, and we don’t need to be a grown-up to be a helper! So with that in mind, Katie asked the class what they could do, as children, to help their community. She wrote down their ideas and posted them in the classroom for others to see. Throughout our discussion we kept coming back to the idea of helping out at clean up time, so we looked at photos of different groups of people doing neighborhood trash clean up. Next, we decided to take our cleaning skills out of our classroom and onto the National Mall. We agreed on some rules for safety, like wearing gloves and checking in before picking up something sharp, and went to work. The class responded really well to this activity. At the end we had tangible evidence of our hard work in the form of two bags of litter from our community.

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The following day we shifted our focus to public art, specifically looking at muralists who make their art in public spaces in order to share their creativity and ideas with everyone. We introduced this topic through a book: Maybe Something Beautiful by Isabel F. Campoy and Theresa Howell.  Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, this book celebrates creativity and public art. Centered on a young artist’s experience, Mira inspires a muralist and her neighbors to work together to create murals in her community. As Morgan read, she illustrated parts of the story by using wooden blocks to represent the buildings in a neighborhood, adding colorful blocks when Mira and the muralist started painting, and finally displaying blocks with images of DC murals at the end of the story. We discussed as a class how public art, unlike art inside of someone’s home, is accessible for everyone to see and enjoy. We looked at photos of murals in DC and talked about the ideas, stories, and feelings the artists may have wanted to share. Students then worked together to make a mural of their own, using a white sheet and watercolor paint in spray bottles, an activity we worked on in our classroom as well as during our community visit in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden.

Our next lesson focused directly on the power of words and collective organizing. Again, we chose a book to start our conversation, which turned out to be a fantastic decision since many children in our class were already familiar. Morgan read Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, a story about a group of cows who want electric blankets since their barn is cold. They get their hooves on an old typewriter and write letters expressing their needs to Farmer Brown. When Farmer Brown refuses, the cows go on strike and form a coalition with the hens. Eventually, after much negotiating and lots of letters, the cows and hens get electric blankets. After the book, our students had a spirited discussion about fairness and the power of words.

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We discussed how real people use their words to voice their needs, support, or disagreement. Morgan bridged a connection between how the cows used their words to get what they wanted in Click, Clack, Moo and how marchers use their words on posters and signs to create change. Each student had the opportunity to talk with Morgan individually about what they care about and how they can help each other. After our eight-week community helper unit, the students had lots of ideas around community involvement and how they themselves can be helpers. Some of the students had so much to say it could not have fit onto one sign, so Morgan had to pinpoint a few words or one idea. For example, one student shared, “I help people find the books in the classroom and go over the schedule for the day and also count numbers all the way up to one hundred!” So Morgan asked, “It sounds like you care about helping people learn, could your sign say, ‘Help People Learn!’?” If the student agreed, Morgan wrote down their words. If not, we continued our dialogue to ensure the students’ ideas were authentically heard. Once the message was written down, all students had the chance to decorate their signs with paint crayons. Writing down students’ ideas and words demonstrate to them that their words matter, that their ideas are worth writing down and sharing with everyone.

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We finished the week by coming together as a class for a march on the National Mall. To kick off our march, we visited the National Museum of American History’s  American Democracy  exhibit to see the collections of signs from a variety of marches and protests from decades of political engagement. The children were able to see signs that other people have made to express their thoughts and feelings through their words. At the request of the group, we read a few of the signs and guessed at what they might be talking about, keeping in mind that some of the topics might be a little bit complicated for three-year-olds. We offered a simple and true answer, which validated their curiosities and allowed us to draw parallels to the signs they had worked so hard to make the previous day.

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After observing the signs, the class sat down and listened to  We March by Shane Evans, read by one children’s grandmothers who is an activist herself. We had learned of this connection through the child’s parents, and knew we wanted to include her in this experience. We’re always looking for ways to bring in a home or family connection. The book we chose is an excellent example of how to pare down a large concept for young learners. It identifies the process of a marching experience, in this case the March on Washington which culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historical “I Have a Dream” speech. The book is told from a child’s perspective, uses simple and direct language, and includes lovely illustrations.

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When we finished the book, Katie took time to individually read every student’s sign as we passed them out, giving the group a chance to hear what each child was marching for. It was a moment of validation and an easy way to honor the hard work and opinions of our students. The next step was the march itself! We discussed how we would be moving as a group by walking in a “follow the leader line” and explained that they could hold their signs however it felt comfortable. We had seen a short video in the exhibit of people carrying signs, and most of our children replicated what they saw and carried their signs in front of their bodies or over their heads. As we exited the museum and crossed the street to the Mall, we started a chant that went, “We are the Koalas! Listen to our words!” Since each child was marching for a different reason, this chant included everyone. By the end of the march, some of the class had taken this chant and turned it into more of a call and response, and took turns with a partner alternating the phrases. Our students noticed that people were watching them, reading their signs, and waving.

This week was full of big topics and ideas that, when labeled with the words activism or advocacy, might seem too much for three and four-year-olds to grasp, much less actively participate in with the agency our students did. However in our classroom, as well as in our whole program, we strive to weave these concepts into our everyday interactions with one another. We practice concepts like fairness when we take turns or share toys, we work together to clean up and set up areas of our classroom, and we frequently make art for ourselves and others to make our space feel more beautiful. We also do a lot of work identifying and expressing feelings and opinions to others. From the earliest age SEEC students are taught that their words and feelings matter. As they get older, they begin to learn the responsibility of listening to others as well. This communication can look like signing “more” or “all done” in the infant classroom or hearing “my turn next” in the two’s classroom to watching a small group of four’s discussing what is or isn’t inclusive behavior or friendly to their classmates. All of these actions are a type of advocacy, either for oneself or another, and is a skill that can be developed at a very early age. Planning several lessons to highlight how we can be community helpers felt like a natural extension of this work and gave our class an outlet to express their ideas on a larger scale, and they met the challenge with an incredible passion.


Resources we used to prepare for this week and that continue to inform our work:

Be on the lookout for a follow up post containing ideas to try in your classroom! 

Objects Speak to Us

Just like a song or smell can spark memories and strong emotions, so too can objects. We all have personal objects that may seem ordinary to others, but are invaluable to us because of the person who gave it to us, the memory attached to it, and more. Museum objects can hold similar meaning to people, often for many different reasons. Objects, both every day objects and museum objects, are at the heart of our education pedagogy. We feel strongly that they can teach young children so much from critical thinking skills, to perspective-taking, to science and literacy skills.

A few years ago we published a blog, Objects Teach Us, that explored some of our faculty’s favorite museum objects, and now we’re back with another edition including favorites among our faculty and students.

Some objects are favorites because of the memories they hold and the people that the object reminds us of:

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Phoenix the Whale 

Charlotte, age five, enjoys Phoenix the Whale in the Ocean Hall of the National Museum of Natural History. She explained that Phoenix, “reminds me of my cousins because they all love to play in the ocean, and it [Phoenix the whale] is an animal that lives in the ocean.”

7The Doll’s House

Meredith McMahon, SEEC’s Executive Director, loves the The Doll’s House at the National Museum of American History.  Meredith explains, “I first fell in love with it when I visited when I was just 6 years old, back before NMAH was even know as American History (it was still the museum of history and technology!).  I loved all of the detail to it, and they had a small book about it that I got as a souvenir of our visit. I poured over the photos in the book, marveling at the detail and imagining myself as part of the story.  And now, every time I see it I’m reminded of the amazing experience I had that day with my mom and my older sister – it was my first trip to the Smithsonian, but clearly not my last!”

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Henry the Elephant

Director of Infant and Twos Program, Melody Passemante-Powell, loves Henry the Elephant who presides over the rotunda at the National Museum of Natural History.  Melody explains, “I always felt warmly about Henry and I feel even more connected to him since he was cleaned and renovated the year my daughter was born! For me it’s how iconic he is and was to me prior to working at SEEC and what it stands for now, a meeting place for our classes Halloween parade, an example of how things can change so much over time and still remain the same in some ways. A timeless symbol of the museum and in ways, our school.”

Some objects are special because they are multifaceted and allow multiple perspectives when teaching young children:

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Life in All Directions by Roxanne Swentzell 

Toddler teacher, Julia Smith’s favorite object is Life in All Directions by Roxanne Swentzell at the National Museum of the American Indian. She explains, “My favorite part of the piece is the the expressions on every mask in this piece. They are all expressing strong emotions but it’s not exactly straight forward what they are feeling. The kids tend to find the masks particularly fascinating and will call out lots of different emotions to describe their expressions.  The artist’s back story also adds to the context of this piece. Roxanne Swentzell had a speech impediment as a child that made it difficult for her to express herself so she turned to art to express her emotions. Roxanne’s story and the many faces in this piece are very relatable to the kids, and it is an excellent way to talk about their many emotions.”

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Tibetan Buddha Gautama

Cynthia Raso, Director of the Office of Engagement, loves this Tibetan Buddha Gautama located at the Freer Sackler. “Visually, I am drawn to the contrast of the gilded body and the rich blue of the hair. The artist captures both the compassion and serenity of the Buddha through the simple, curvaceous lines.  The way his fingers delicately dangle and almost enter the viewer’s space makes one feel like one is present in the moment when the Buddha becomes enlightened. Beyond the aesthetics of the piece, it is also one my favorites about which to teach. If approached in the right way, it can be a great experience for young learners. It forces them to look closely and explore the sculpture’s iconography. In this picture we are looking at the lotus flower on which the Buddha sits. Before we visited the Museum, we had fun playing with a lotus flower sensory bin full of real mud. It helped the children understand the significance of the lotus, a flower that grows up from the murky water into the sunlight.”

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Honoré Daumier Busts

Kindergarten teacher, Sharon Jensen, loves the Honoré Daumier busts at the National Gallery of Art for personal and professional reasons.  “I admire the artistic talent, but mainly I find them hilarious! The satire is clear immediately, and even removed from the context of political commentary, these faces will make you aware of the artist’s opinion of each man. I love the caricature-like features and ridiculous hairdos, but the exaggerated facial expressions are my favorite part! They remind me of the grotesques and gargoyles peeking out from medieval churches. They are a wonderful way to explore emotions with children, and how our faces can show how we feel inside.”

Other objects represent parts of our personality and passion:

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The Hope Diamond

Weekend educator, Christina Reitz loves the Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History. “The diamond satisfies, for me, the two sides of being a museum-goer and a museum professional – enjoying rare objects and being inspired by the exhibit design. Both the diamond’s exhibit and the mineral and gem hall are perfectly designed to heighten a sense of wonder and awe. Every time I walk by and the room is filled with visitors, all waiting patiently for the diamond to turn toward them, I’m filled with both a simple joy at a beautiful object and a deeper appreciation for the work we do.”

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Fish by Alexander Calder

Director of Kindergarten and Toddler Programs, Maureen Leary is partial to Fish by Alexander Calder that is in the Hirshhorn collection. Maureen says the piece is special to her, “for a number of reasons. This mobile touches on my love for the ocean, my admiration for Calder as a versatile artist, and the importance of reusing/recycling, as Calder made the mobile using found objects. I have fond memories of visiting this piece with SEEC students to make a connection to the story “Swimmy” by Leo Lionni (who is one of my favorite children’s authors!).”

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Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit

Nature lover and infant teacher Mallory Messersmith enjoys the entire Nature’s Best Photography exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. “I love the variety, all the different colors and perspectives. I also like that it changes! Sometimes my favorite thing is just to go walk through and enjoy a little nature through a photographer’s lens!”

Other objects are favorites because of their function and purpose:

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Beaver

Nicko, age five, loves the beaver in the Mammal Hall of the National Museum of Natural History, “because I like when they cut down trees.”

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Acorn

While many of us are partial to objects within the museum complex, Dr. A’damski, our resident science teacher, favors an object that can be found outside of the museum: an acorn. He reasons, “It represents food for a host of animals large and small. And if it doesn’t get eaten may grow for a few hundred years into a majestic tree…”


Want to learn more about using objects to engage young children? Come to our Learning Through Objects workshop on March 14 and 15.

Thinking it Through: The Logistics of Community Visits

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Getting out into the Community


If you are familiar with us, you know that learning in the community is a hallmark of SEEC. Part of our mission is to share our teaching strategies with other educators. We would be remiss though if we didn’t address the elephant in the room. Sure – getting out into the community is great, but is it realistic? And even if you can do it, is it worthwhile? We recognize that getting a group of ten toddlers out the door, especially during the winter, is no easy feat.

We believe, however, that young children are capable and when given, simple routines to follow, young learners can manage to get from point A to point B safely and in relative harmony.

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Trains

We have a few key routines, one of which is SEEC trains. Trains means that either one child has either an adult or another child’s hand and walks in pairs or triplets with faculty members placed strategically throughout the train. We are lucky at SEEC and have higher ratios, so that when our younger groups go out they are always on a teacher train. Our preschool children can walk on “free” trains.

When we cross the street, it’s hands and bubbles. We raise our hands tall so cars can see us and catch a bubble in our mouth so we can focus on walking safely. There is also the red light rule – our students know that if they need to stop for any reason, like an untied shoe, they can yell out red light and the group will stop and wait for the problem to be fixed.

 

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In the Museum

Staying on trains in the museum is necessary as well. It helps get the group safely to their destination – making it less tempting to touch or run and easier to navigate crowds. For students who have a free hand on their train, we remind them that they can place that hand in a pocket or on their stomach.

Once we get to what we want to see, we often use a circle song to get everyone seated. Our teachers are thoughtful about finding spaces where children can sit and be themselves. Young children need to move and we want to enable them to enjoy the museum experience in an age appropriate way. When we are in our circle, we consider  timing and the needs of the children on that given day. There are some days when a longer lesson might be appropriate and we are lucky to easily be able to return to the museums. If you do not have that luxury, which is also the case for our weekend programs, we recommend bringing a couple of different activities, i.e. art, books, play to see what works best with the group’s dynamic on a particular day. Recently, I’ve noticed that some our teachers are using a Montessori inspired work mat to delineate a teaching area in the museum. The children seem to respond well to this method and respect the space.

32When you make a community visit it is equally important to consider your route, where you will be able to sit and have a discussion, what sort of distractions are nearby and, if you are visiting a specific object, will it be accessible to a young child.

There are a number of other techniques that we use for successful visits, but it mostly comes down to planning, responding to the children, setting developmentally appropriate expectations, and providing clear and simple routines.

We hope you join as we consider why community visits are important and how best to plan and execute them in our upcoming educator workshop, Learning Through Objects on March 14 and 15.

Beyond the Classroom: Benefits of Learning in the Community

Have you ever read about a place you really wanted to visit –  a new restaurant or a faraway country? Have you ever been lucky enough to actually visit that place? How was the experience different from just reading about it? Once the sounds, smells, and sights flooded your senses – how did your understanding of that place change? Now imagine you are a young child with limited experience of the world. How do you think their understanding is enhanced when they get to experience the very thing they are learning about?

At SEEC, we believe that learning is richer and more meaningful when it is taken beyond the classroom and into the community. True we are fortunate enough to have access to a  complex of museums, but we feel strongly that this type of learning can take place no matter where a school is located. Learning in the community not only deepens  understanding, it also sparks interest, provides inspiration, broadens horizons, offers multiple and varied exposures, and cultivates a connection with the community.

Sparks Interest and Excitement and Provides Inspiration

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You never know what you might find when you walk out of your classroom door and into the community. One of the benefits of learning outside the classroom is the unpredictability of what you will encounter. Just being outdoors sparks wonder and inspiration. Actually experiencing something with all your senses is more exciting, effective, and memorable than just hearing about it via a traditional didactic lesson.

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While our classes generally have a destination in mind, they always take the time to explore when the children express interest in something. Educators can harness that interest to create learning experiences on-the-spot and back in the classroom. Children often become excited because they identify something related to what they are currently studying. For example, this preschool class had been learning about construction and happened to spot a cherry picker and safety equipment on their walk. These spontaneous sightings give the students autonomy over their own learning and broaden their understanding of a topic – all things that would not have happened if they had stayed in the classroom.

Connects Abstract Concepts to Concrete Examples

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Young children think concretely, so it’s important to pair new ideas with tangible examples. After talking about wind in the classroom, one of our toddler classes went to blow bubbles and watch how the wind carried them away. After that, they held up a parachute to see how the wind moved it. Similarly, our kindergarten class had been learning about a severe type of wind storm called a haboob. Luckily, they were not caught in a haboob storm themselves, but did get caught outside on a particularly windy day and were able to appreciate the affects a strong wind in a whole new light.

Offers Multiple and Varied Exposures while Broadening Horizons

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For young children, many of the concepts explored at school are completely new, without much background context. Going into the community allows children to gain multiple and varied exposures to the same concept, deepening their understanding and giving it a nuance they would not have from only one example. Last school year, our older infant class was interested in the bread they had at lunchtime. Their teachers took this opportunity to learn more about bread, how it is made and its many varieties. They went to the National Gallery of Art to see James Rosenquist’s White Bread, and to Paul Bakery where the chefs were gracious enough to give the children dough with which to play and demonstrate how they bake the bread.

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Providing multiple and varied exposures also expands a child’s perspective of a topic. By going into the community children begin to see a world outside of themselves and their immediate surroundings. For example, when one of our preschool classes was learning about boats, they went to the National Museum of the American Indian to see a boat that was not as familiar to them, broadening their understanding of what a boat can be. They also went to the DC Marina where they encountered boats with which they were more familiar. They also had the chance to meet with a boat expert at one of the stores who helped them expand their knowledge of boats.

Cultivates a Connection with the Community and Fosters Citizenry

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Children are growing up in a society in which the biggest challenges are not relegated to their community alone. Global warming, immigration, and diminishing natural resources, just to name a few, are global issues that will require the future generation to  respect others and understand how humanity is interconnected. Learning in the community allows children to observe the impact of our actions and develop an appreciation for that which is different. It is also the place where children can see how we help each other and work together to solve our problems. For example, one of our preschool classes recently went to a local convenience store to replenish their first aid kit while another class helped to clean up litter on the National Mall. Inviting community members into the classroom is another way to have a positive impact on young children. Children can gain so much when they are able to interact with the very people who are responsible for cultivating and nurturing their community. These personal encounters also make students feel connected to the community as a citizen themselves.


Schools are in a variety of locales and settings, and getting out into the community can be challenging, however we strongly believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Even a patch of grass right outside the classroom opens up immense opportunities for learning.

Join us for our upcoming workshop Learning Through Objects on March 14 & 15 to learn more about taking learning outside of the classroom and into the community!

5 Books on Families

We thought it might be helpful for us to share some books that we read in our classes that focus on families. These books highlight the ideas that everyone’s family is unique and different (and that is a good thing) while making sure to draw that connection that families are defined by love. Here is our top five list of books on families:

The Family Book by Todd Parr

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The Family Book by Todd Parr provides a lovely overview of families. Its clear and simple prose along with its vibrant colors makes it appealing to even the youngest children. The phrases that are written in the book can almost become mantras for children. After reading it several times, you may hear children saying, “Some families are big” or “Some families are small”. It also touches upon more complex ideas surrounding families including death, adoption, and single parents. The Family Book ends with a message that helps children embrace their unique family.

Loving by Ann Morris

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This book shows images of families from around the world who are taking care of each other. The  photographs highlight families from around the globe that are highly relatable to young children. For example, it depicts children shopping in San Francisco’s Chinatown, eating dinner at a table in Harlem, and a mother nursing a baby in Kenya. The photos not only speak to family, but other universals like adults caring for children and food. The love between the adults and children is clear on each page and the index  provides additional context for each photograph.

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager

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This books features three children playing on a beach. Two of the children ask the other child questions about having two mommies. Both the questions and the answers to the questions appeal to young children and have a wide variety. As the child answers, it becomes clear that both mommies take care of and love the child. This books helps children to discover answers to questions about different families that they might be pondering without ostracizing others.

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer

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Stella Brings the Family is about a child whose class is celebrating Mother’s Day. Stella, however, is worried because she has two dads and doesn’t know who she should bring to the Mother’s Day celebration. She discovers that she has a family that includes Daddy and Papa and also includes Nonna, Aunt Gloria, Uncle Bruno, and Cousin Lucy. She decides to invite them all to the celebration since they all help to take care of her.

Kids Need to Be Safe: A Book for Children in Foster Care by Julie Nelson

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This book addresses a more complicated topic –  that not all children have a traditional family to take care of them. The text is simple and repeats the idea that, “Kids are important. Kids need to be safe.” Children can see this theme supported by illustrations of children being cared for by foster parents and other adults. These illustrations can allow for deeper conversations and potentially provide children who have experienced foster care the opportunity to share their experiences.

These are examples of books on families that we have read to children. Do you have any books that you would like to add to this list? Please let us know!

Do Yes or No Questions Have a Place in the Classroom

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Newly Verbal: Creating a Responsive Environment:

While yes and no questions are often criticized for shutting down dialogue and limiting possible answers, we have found that there is the potential for these types of questions to do the exact opposite. For the newest speakers, answering yes or no questions gives them the opportunity to say what is on their minds without being limited by their small vocabulary. Children’s ability to understand language, their receptive language, develops before their ability to fully speak. Educators can ask complex questions which the children can comprehend but do not have the ability to answer.

Yet, young children want to be part of the conversation; they want for their voices to be heard and to have the potential to impact the discussion. Asking yes or no questions can give children the ability to enter the conversation. A skilled educator can ask a question that has a definitive answer but respond in such a way that allows for responsive conversation to occur. Take this example from our toddler room:

Educator: “Where are the cockatoos?”

Toddler: Points to a cockatoo

Educator: “Where’s the other cockatoo?”

Toddler: Points to an owl

Educator: “Oh that’s an owl”

Toddler: Points to the owl

Educator: “Owl”

Toddler: Points to a different owl

Educator: “Owl”

Toddler: Points to an owl again

Educator: “Owl”

Educator: “Owl. Hoo Hoo”

Toddler: Smiles and attempts to make “Hoo” sound

While the educator started by asking a closed question, she was flexible when accepting the toddler’s response. After confirming that the child wanted to discuss owls, rather than cockatoos, she responded in a manner that showed that she valued the child’s voice. In the end, both educator and child were able to communicate about the sounds owls make. This conversation began by asking a question with a correct and definitive answer, but rather than limiting the discussion, it actually served as an invitation for the toddler to join and shape the conversation.

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Test Knowledge:

Using questions with definitive answers to check knowledge can actually lead to a deeper and more meaningful conversation. At the beginning of the conversation or when new information is introduced it can be helpful to take a pause and ask a yes or no question to make sure that the class is processing the information correctly. This lets the educator know if they need to provide more or less context before moving on. While we believe that the best way to learn is to discover and create meaning, it can be helpful to do a quick and simple check of knowledge by asking yes or no questions.

At SEEC, we try to be careful when doing this check for knowledge. We do not want to make children feel as though they are wrong, incorrect, or that their voice does not matter. So we use specific phrases such as the ones below:

I see why you might think …

“I see why you might think that the whale is a shark, but the blue whale is much larger than a shark. Let’s take a closer look and see.”

That can be confusing …

“The letters b and d can be confusing. They have similar shapes with a long line and a half circle, but they point in different directions.”

Oh that reminds you of …

“Oh, hockey reminds you of soccer? I can see why. Both are team sports, but hockey is played on ice and soccer is played on a field. Let’s see if we can spot other differences together.”

In general, our goal in testing knowledge is not to correct, but rather to explain more or in different ways so that the children have an understanding of the basic principles before moving on.

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Excitement:

Young children who are new talkers love saying yes or no. They will emphatically shake their head up and down while saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” or they will stomp their foot on the ground while declaring “No!” Asking yes or no questions with a group of toddlers can be a great way to get the class excited about something.

There can also be a social element to asking yes or no questions that can be particularly powerful for young children who are also developing a growing awareness of their peers. They like watching and copying other children. Educators can harness this by asking yes or no questions to the group and then encouraging the class to become excited about the choice as a group.

While there is certainly good reason for valuing open-ended questions, it is our experience that questions with a definitive answer have a place, especially in the early childhood classroom. Ultimately though, these questions must be responded to in a way that acknowledges the child’s interest and leads to further exploration and thus, understanding.

SEEC will be hosting an educator workshop entitled Fostering Wonder on January 17th.

Please join us to think more about questions and curiosity in the early childhood classroom.

 

 

 

 

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.