Empowering Young Conservationists

 

If you’ve ever driven or walked down Constitution Avenue in Washington DC, you probably have seen the larger than life Albert Einstein sculpture lounging on a bench.  But have you ever been in the building behind Einstein?  That building is home to the National Academy of Sciences, a non-profit organization of the country’s leading scientists.  Not only is it a place for the members to gather, but through the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences, the site also hosts rotating art exhibits that explore the intersection of culture and science that are open to the public.

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Greenland Sea by Diane Tuft

Diane Tuft’s The Arctic Melt: Images of a Disappearing Landscape is one such exhibit that is currently on display at the National Academy of Sciences.  A recent Washington Post article describes her Arctic landscape photographs as vivid in color, yet also notes that, “these glimpses of an unfrozen North, some of them shot from an airplane or a helicopter, are also ominous. Discharged from glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets, that picturesque water is headed this way.”

Tuft’s Arctic Landscape exhibit will be the focal point of an upcoming family day that SEEC is leading at the National Academy of Sciences on February 10th. We are excited about facilitating this topic despite the fact that some might say the concept of global warming is too complex, depressing, and scary to explore with young children. After all, they are topics that can be difficult for adults to fully comprehend.  So why create a family day around this exhibit and topic? While we do not expect to put a stop to global warming in just one day, we believe that exploring the Arctic landscape, climate change, and conservation with young children will foster a sense of environmentalism among the next generation.

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Melt Water by Diane Tuft

During the family day, children will be able to explore the landscape of the Arctic through literacy, art, dramatic play, sensory experiences, and experimentation.  By interacting with the Arctic environment, children will foster an understanding and love for the Arctic environment and those creatures living in it.  Research has shown that the more time a child spends in nature or exploring a natural landscape, the more empathetic they are towards that habitat and its inhabitants.  Developing this empathy for the natural world and its creatures leads to a strong interest in conservation that lasts through adulthood.

The family day will also feature an experiment that illustrates the consequences of climate change in the Arctic.  Through the demonstration children will begin to form an understanding of climate change, and how it effects are world.  While we want to educate children on climate change, we will also be focusing on conservation, so that children leave the family day feeling empowered to help make a positive change in the world. As Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” We aim for children to feel a sense of control that they too impact the world, and can make that impact positive.  After exploring the Arctic habitat and learning about climate change, we will have an activity that encourages families to think together about what steps they can take, large or small, to positively impact our world.

Empower your young conservationists by coming to the National Academy of Sciences on February 10th!  Get more information and register here!

Teacher Feature: Three-Year-Old Class Explores Wrecking Balls

This week’s Teacher Feature highlights a three-year-old class’ exploration of wrecking balls at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  The teachers, Amy Schoolcraft and Connie Giles, noticed a strong interest among the children in construction, so decided to start with demolition.  This lesson included play, art, observation, connection to objects, literacy, and problem solving.  Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from the teachers. 

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We noticed that our class was often playing games such as building with blocks, digging mounds of dirt, and finding inventive ways to create structures on the playground. So when thinking about what our next topic of study should be, it was an easy decision to explore construction. We hope that through this unit our class will have a deeper understanding of construction and demolition, including the various jobs, tools, and equipment needed. We also hope this unit will provide great opportunities to learn about safety, teamwork, and problem solving.

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On their way to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the class stopped several times to observe construction taking place around the National Mall.  Amy and Connie asked children guiding questions such as, “What is that?” and “Where do you think he’s going?” The children excitedly described the tall cherry picker and safety equipment they saw.

There is no better way to engage with a topic than to have first-hand experience with it. We were lucky to come across some big machines and workers on our way to our museum visit, and it was a great opportunity to get us thinking about construction vehicles. By taking the time to notice construction tools and machines on our walk, the kids were able to build context and gain a greater understanding of large machines as they observed how they move, who uses them, and for what kind of jobs big machines can be used.

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When the class arrived at the museum, Amy reminded the children of “The Three Little Pigs” story, which they had read the week before, to see how the pigs constructed their houses.  She continued, “But this week, we’re going to learn about what the Big Bad Wolf was doing – demolition!”  The class decided to try to push over the museum, just like the Big Bad Wolf knocked over the pigs houses.  Although they tried with more and more classmates, none of their efforts were successful.  As they were trying, some children commented, “It’s concrete. It’s too hard”; “My arms aren’t strong enough”; and “This is hard!”

The kids really enjoyed using a familiar story, “The Three Little Pigs”, to learn about construction materials in a previous lesson. By connecting our demolition lesson to the Big Bad Wolf, we hoped to capitalize on their love of the story as we built upon their understanding of construction while also creating a mental image of what demolition is.

As an introduction to demolition, I wanted them to understand how strong buildings are and why a large machine is necessary to knock a building down. What better way to gain a more concrete (pardon the pun) understanding of these concepts than to use our muscles and experiment in knocking a building down ourselves? This activity was an opportunity to work together, problem solve, have a little fun, and give them a chance to get extra energy out in a purposeful way.

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The class decided that knocking a building over with just their bodies was way too hard, and that in order to do it, strong tools are needed.  For example, as one child said, “Like a strong drill to knock it down!”  Amy explained that sometimes smaller tools work, but for big buildings, you need a very large tool, called a wrecking ball.  She brought out a toy construction truck as an example and said that the first thing they would need in order to build their wrecking ball is a boom – the long, strong part that allows a wrecking ball to swing.  The class decided to look around the museum for something they could use as a boom.

I wanted the class to be looking for a sculpture that looked like a wrecking crane’s boom. Boom was a new term for them and by exploring the parts of a toy, they were able to identify and label a boom in a very tangible way.

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After some searching, the children spotted Kenneth Snelson’s Needle Tower and felt that it was long and strong enough to be the boom for their wrecking ball.

I chose this sculpture because of its resemblance to a wrecking ball boom. Its size and shape helped to build the perspective of how large a wrecking ball crane is.  Also its safe and open location gave us an opportunity to explore the sculpture from different perspectives.

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After finding their boom, the class continued to build their pretend wrecking ball out of the truck, and noticed that they would need to attach a string or chain from the boom to the wrecking ball.

I wanted the kids to think critically about how the wrecking ball would work. By posing the problem of how to attach the wrecking ball to the boom, they began to generate ideas from using a string, to jump ropes, and eventually a chain.

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After discussing the parts of the wrecking ball using the toy, the children set to work creating a wrecking ball with their bodies and objects.  First, a child laid down on the ground to be the foundation of the truck.  Another child was at the front of the foundation acting as the person in the truck cab, controlling the movements of the boom and wrecking ball.  Two children acted as the boom by holding the wrecking ball attached to a pulley and rope. The goal was to knock over the building (made of recycled yogurt containers), and the children had to figure out how to move the wrecking ball in order to achieve this.

As a way to apply what we learned about the parts of a wrecking ball crane, we took turns acting out the parts of a wrecking ball working together to knock down a “building”. However, it felt like the activity was getting a bit chaotic and they appeared to be missing the idea that the ball needed to hit the building instead of their hands or feet. In hind sight, shortening the chain, simplifying each kid’s role, and adding a demonstration would have been helpful.

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To round out the lesson, Amy read Bam, Bam, Bam by Eve Merriam, which had simple words, and large images of a wrecking ball that connected to the lesson.  Then she used an iPad to show a video of a wrecking ball in action.  The children commented on how loud it was.  Amy pointed out how much dust and dirt rises during a demolition and how water is used to control it.

I chose this book because the rhythm and rhyme make it a fun and easy read but also because it had clear illustrations of the different parts of a wrecking ball and its job. The video we watched helped our class to see and hear a wrecking ball at work. It inspired a great discussion about some of the draw backs of using a wrecking ball, such as the noise and dust, which are two reasons why they are now rarely used on construction sites. In our classroom, we use technology to help bring a topic to life. Although I feel that teachers need to careful not to use technology as a substitute for hands-on experiences, it can be a great resource for exploring new ideas, initiating discussions, and building observations and insights about a topic.

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Before heading back to school, the children ran around the sculpture getting a closer look.  They noticed the silver color and the cables holding it up.  They even lay underneath the sculpture observing the shapes from a new perspective.

I hadn’t planned to let the kids explore the artwork on their own. I typically walk around the sculpture with the kids to point things out and encourage observation. However, with such an open and safe space, it was a perfect opportunity to allow them to experience the artwork in their own way. Before I knew it, they were pointing out the shapes, materials, and experimenting by finding new ways to look at the sculpture. It all happened very organically and the kids had a great time in the process. Our kids are comfortable around artwork and are aware of the rules, such as no wandering away or touching the art, so I did not worry about reviewing the rules with them before setting them loose. While they did a pretty good job, it would have been a good idea to review the rules anyway.

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Back on the playground, Amy set up an art activity where children had turns moving a “wrecking ball” and seeing how the paint hit the paper.

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The children were able to swing the wrecking ball in different ways and saw the result of their efforts on the paper.

I was excited about this art activity. I hadn’t tried it before but I found it on Pinterest and thought it would be a great way to make some “wrecking ball” art and experiment with the way a wrecking ball moves. We used a plastic water bottle with a squeeze glue lid and filed it with paint. We attached the bottle to a table using string and had the kids swing the bottle over a paper to create a design. Unfortunately, this project did not work as well as it had on Pinterest. The paint was too thick and instead of leaving a stream of paint creating a design, dots of paint ended up scattered on the page instead. All in all, the kids had a lot of fun and were still able to experiment in swinging the “wrecking ball”. A colleague suggested that a variation to try in the future would be attaching a paintbrush to swing back and forth instead. I am looking forward to giving it a try.


After learning more about demolition, the class continued their exploration of construction by exploring building materials, safety equipment, planning, tools, and more!  For more ideas, see our construction Pinterest board!

Family, Love, Traditions – SEEC Quotes

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While we do our best to document and accurately share what happens at our school, we recognize that when we share the children’s perspective it’s still through our adult voices. In an effort to capture the children’s unadulterated voices we decided to try out a new type of blog entitled, “SEEC Quotes”. For the first installment, we focused on family, love, and traditions.  Any names included have been changed. Enjoy!

Who do you love?

 

3-year-old: “Dog, and mom, and dad.”
Me: “Anybody else, do you love anybody else?”
3-year-old: “Levi (friend).”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Mark.”
Me: “Who is Mark?”
3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”

2-year-old: “My mommy and daddy and Mina.”
Me: “Your mommy and daddy and Mina? Who’s Mina?”
2-year-old: “A baby.”

Other quotes:

3-year-old: “My mommy.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “My daddy.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Mark.”
Me: “Who is Mark?”
3-year-old: “A baby that lives in my house.”

“My friends and whole family.” – 6-year-old

“My family and my teachers and my friends and my cousin and my grandma and grandpa. I love them so much I don’t even want them to die.” – 5-year-old

“My family…I think that’s maybe all…maybe my friends too.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “My mom and dad and sister.”
Me: “Anyone else?”
3-year-old: “Myself!”

“I love my mamma, my dada, my puppies.” – 2-year-old

“The kitties the most…except they got me right there..one got me right there (showing cut on hand).” – 3-year-old

Who loves you?

 

5-year-old: “My friends and whole family.”
Me: “What about your teachers?”
5-year-old: “Oh, I love my teachers.”
5-year-old: “I love my cousins.”
Me: “Do you think your teachers love you?”
5-year-old: “Oh yea!”
5-year-old: “They always love you, even when they die.  They will still love you. They’ll always love you.”
5-year-old: “No matter what.”

Other quotes:

“My grammy and pop pop and my aunt.  I know they love me because they always give me lots of hugs when they see me.  And they give me kisses and I already know they love me.” -5-year-old

“My dad.” – 2-year-old

“My mommy, grandmas…I have two grandmas…grandma Susie and grandma Courtney.” – 2-year-old

“My mama and my dada and my puppies.” -2-year-old

Who is your family?

 

5-year-old: “Grammy and pop pop and my sister and my sister.”

Other quotes:

5-year-old: “My mom and my dad…that’s it. That’s my normal family.”
Me: “Who is in your non-normal family?”
5-year-old: “My cousins, my grandma…she’s 92 years old.”

What do you do with your family that’s special or makes you feel happy?

 

“Eat chocolate.” – 3-year-old

“I like to hug my cousins and my family” – 3-years-old

“I like to play frisbee with my dad.” – 3-year-old

“I like to make silly faces at my other cousins.” – 3-year-old

“My family celebrates Christmas and we always go somewhere for Christmas, with my best cousins, my best grandma and grandpa, and my best friends.  We have special food, we invite guests, and we have a special party at the end.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “Going for a walk.”
Me: “Where do you go on walks?”
3-year-old: “Far away.”

Other quotes: 

“We play with blocks. We make a tower.  I like eating.  I eat apples and pears.” – 2-year-old

“Play games, I don’t really have a favorite game, but I like playing the Shopkins game with my grammy and pop pop” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes I go to the driving range.  Sometimes I go to the movie theaters.” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes I spend time with my family at Christmas, I’m going to do that at Christmas, yea I am.  My family members are traveling to us.” – 5-year-old

“Open presents.” – 6-year-old

“We paint, and we celebrate Hanukkah, and we open presents.” – 6-year-old

 

What do you with your family to help others?

 

“My daddy is a superhero and because he has special blood that he gives to people who are super sick.” – 5-year-old

3-year-old: “Give bags to homeless people.”
Me: “What’s in the bags?”
3-year-old: “Stuff.”
Me: “What’s in the bags, do you know?”
3-year-old: “Love!”
Me: “Love?”
3-year-old: “Yes.”
Me: “How do you put love in a bag?”
3-year-old: “A zip bag!”
Me: “And you put real love in it?”
3-year-old: “Yes!”

Other quotes:

“We give money to charities. We give money to them because they don’t have any homes or anything.” -5-year-old

“Clean up my mom and my dad. Sometimes I set my table. Sometimes I help someone like my grammy and my mommy mostly with setting the table and cleaning up.” – 5-year-old

“Sometimes we give money to homeless people.  We give food to homeless people.” -5-year-old

“We donate and give money, that’s it, and give food, that’s all we do, and we donate other things that I have.” – 5-year-old

 

 

 

Top 5 – DIY Gifts from Kids Edition Take Two

Are you scouring the internet for a gift that your child or students can create to give as a gift for family members?  It’s tough to find something that’s budget friendly, useful, and actually fun and meaningful for children to make.  That’s why we’ve rounded up seven (we just couldn’t keep it to five!) more ideas for exciting DIY gifts that your children will actually enjoy making.  And if these aren’t enough, check out our Top 5 from last year!

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Hand Print Key Chains

How great are these hand print key chains from Grey House Harbor? Not only are they useful, stylish, and personal, they also look like a ton of fun to make! Mix science with art as you watch the shrinky dinks shrink in the oven.

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Paper Plants

Not only are these paper plants from The House that Lars Built beautiful, they require no watering or light!  Grab some paper, markers, scissors, and a box or cup to make these colorful plants.  Children will let their imagination loose as they practice their fine motor skills.

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Suncatchers

Our preschoolers enjoyed making these wintery suncatchers and we’re sure their families will love them too!  To create these colorful creations, open up a sheet of laminating paper (our art educator, Caroyln Eby, suggests taping the paper on the table so it stays open), and decorate it with oil pastels, tissue paper, and glitter glue.  Spice it up further by adding dyed noodles and icicles made from crumpling foil.

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Twig Pencil Holder

These twig pencil holders from the Royal Horticulture Society are easy to make and functional too! Take a nature walk together to gather the twigs while noticing the nature in your neighborhood.  You could even paint the twigs to add a pop of color to a family member’s desk.

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Calendar

If your child is anything like our students at SEEC, they love to make artwork year round.  Save some throughout the year or sit down for a drawing session to make these custom calendars from Martha Stewart. For a more budget friendly version, print out a year calendar from the internet.

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Rock Photo Holder

Create a rock photo holder from Buggy and Buddy that can hold a special photo.  Painting the rock can be enjoyed by any age and putting the beads on the wire builds fine motor skills!

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Homemade Wrapping Paper

Don’t forget to wrap up all these gifts!  Include your child in the wrapping process by providing them large white paper to decorate.   If you’re child is an older infant or toddler, lay out paper and allow them to dance or move on the paper with paint.  If they’re older, provide a variety of ribbon and washi tape that they can use to wrap and practice fine motor skills.

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If you have other ideas for fun DIY gifts that children can make for their families, please comment; we’d love to hear your ideas!  And check out our DIY Gifts from Kids Pinterest board for more ideas!

SEEC Shares: Tiny Sculptures

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At SEEC, one of our core teaching philosophies is using the museums to enhance our lessons and foster curiosity. Upon hearing about a school inside the Smithsonian, many people are excited and want to know more about our practices. Other people react differently, thinking “that’s great, but I will never be able to recreate that in my classroom or at home”. We actively disagree with this assumption and argue that teachers, caregivers, and parents can bring their children out into the community to engage in object based learning. we understand that for some these community visits are not always easy to implement. For this reason, we decided that we should offer ways for parents, caregivers, and teachers to create SEEC-like spaces and activities that do not involve leaving your classroom or house. Our new blog series “SEEC Shares” aims to be a place that anyone working with young children can visit and be inspired to take ideas to mold them to fit their own needs.

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This week’s “SEEC Shares” highlights a class that taught toddlers about sculptures. This particular class was one of our recent Toddler Trailblazers Family Workshops. On the weekends we open our doors to families who come into our classrooms for play-based exploration before heading out on a museum visit with the class. For this Tiny Sculptures lesson, we transformed the classroom to allow for a wide variety of sculpture-based play and then visited Untitled (1976) by Alexander Calder and then Circle I, Circle II, and Circle III by David Smith at the National Gallery of Art. Below you will see some of the many ways that we created experiences to allow the toddler class to explore and create their own sculptures. Hopefully you will find these ideas inspiring.

Classroom & Activities Setup

Straw Sculptures on a Light Table

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For this activity, we put a colander upside down on a light table. The light table helped highlight the holes through which the children could stick the pipe cleaners and straws. As an added feature to the sculpture, we found felt flowers that we had previously made using a die cutting machine and felt.

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Since this was a standing activity, children could freely enter and leave the activity without having to seat themselves in a chair. The freedom of standing can help children tap into their creative side. Additionally, putting the pipe cleaners and straws through the colander holes was challenging and provided children with the opportunity to work on their fine motor skills.

Playdough Creations

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For our playdough station, we used assorted colors of homemade playdough. Often when we first introduce playdough to young children, we do not give them any tools to use. This encourages the children to practice pinching and molding the clay with their fingers, which is crucial to development. For this project, we chose to give the children tools that sculptors would use when working with clay.

Wooden Blocks, Magna-Tiles, and Tegu

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We created a block station that was tucked away in a corner. Children were able to create their own block sculptures without fear of someone knocking it over. Mixing the different types of blocks, including wooden and magna-tiles, allowed the children to create in new and unexpected ways.

 Loose Parts

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At the center of the room was a large station that was composed of loose parts. Before the lesson we gathered blocks of different shapes and sizes. Since blocks that link with one and another are not technically loose parts, we were careful to make sure that none of the blocks in the loose part area connected with one another either through magnets or through linking mechanisms like legos. We also cut up pool noodles, found cardboard tubes of various sizes, and added scarves to our loose part collection.

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To make our loose part area interesting and to hopefully spark creativity, we added materials that we thought the children would never have had a chance to experience before. We filled nylon socks with rice to make a unique form of bean bags and put out a large, white, stretchy tube to manipulate and explore. We also tried to display the loose parts in a way that showed that we valued these pieces without defining what they were or how they should be used.

Found Object Art

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To finish up the classroom part of the class, the toddlers were encouraged to create their own art using colored popsicle sticks, rocks and pebbles, and feathers. This activity allowed the toddlers and parents to reflect on what art is and what defines a sculpture. For this project, no directions were given. Children were able to be inspired purely by the materials and create truly process-based art.

We hope that you found this “SEEC Shares” inspirational and are equipped to create your own tiny sculptures activity. For more ideas check out our Pinterest Boards on Toddler and Twos Classroom, Activities from SEEC, Environments, and Learning as a Family.

 

20 Teacher Approved Gifts For The Holidays

Looking for holiday inspiration? Want to give a unique present and need help thinking outside the box? We’ve got you covered. Here are few gift ideas inspired by kid favorites in our classrooms. There are a variety of price points and some of these gifts can easily be picked up during your routine errands.

  1. Library Card

Most public libraries will allow you to open a card in your child’s name. Providing your child with their own card will create a sense of pride and ownership. Bonus: it will also help remind children to take good care of their books.

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  1. Train Ride

Have a transportation obsessed child? Why not take them on a short (or long) ride on a real train!

  1. Locks and Latches Board

These DIY boards are a great way for your child to get some fine motor practice, keep them occupied for hours, and allow them to safely play with latches and switches without risk of harm.

  1. Cooking Tools

Cooking tools that you would find in your own kitchen are often fast favorites for children. These items are particularly popular and safe for kids: spatulas, metal bowls, sifters, whisks, and pans. Keep these in a lower kitchen cabinet so that your child can easily pull them out to “help” you cook dinner!

  1. Linking Blocks

Blocks are wonderful! They allow for all types of gross motor, fine motor, and problem solving skills to develop. Our teachers especially love ones that connect, either by snapping together or sticking together with magnets.

  1. Slime/Playdough

This easy DIY item is always a favorite in any classroom. Children love the sensory experience and teachers love the endless possibilities of this fine motor activity.

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  1. Tunnels

Fun for all ages, tunnels are a great indoor, gross motor play activity. Having trouble making transitions? Use a tunnel as a physical reminder that you are changing from one activity to the next.

  1. Scooter Boards

These flat boards with four wheels can be purchased at a toy store or even a hardware store (they are listed as furniture movers). They require both arm and leg coordination and can be a great inside option for movement.

  1. Drawing Implements

There is nothing quite like a new box of crayons, pencils, or markers to inspire creativity in a young (or old) child.

  1. Water Toys

Make bath time more fun with water “toys” that can be found at the local grocery or hardware store. Some of our favorites include large sponges, funnels, turkey basters and buckets.

  1. Exercise Trampolines

Looking for more big movement activities for indoor play? This is your answer! There are small trampolines made specifically for children that include a bar or you can also use an exercise trampoline. Exercise trampolines usually have covers over the springs but do need some extra adult supervision.

  1. Scarves

Scarves are a wonderful gift that can transform into so many different things for all ages. Have a child that loves to pull wipes or tissues out of the box? Transform an old wipe container by filling it with scarves. Want to spice up your changing table? Hang colorful scarves from the ceiling to keep your child mesmerized through the process. Jazz up a song by including movement with scarves.

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  1. Disposable Cameras

In a world of instant gratification this gift will teach your child patience and the art of film photography! It will also provide you with a look at the world through their eyes.

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  1. Puppet Stages

There are few children who can resist a stage. Promote dramatic play by providing your child with a platform for their performances.

  1. Dress Up Clothes

Let your child’s imagination run wild with dress up clothes. We especially love including clothes from all different professions. When a child acts out scenarios in pretend play they are developing important social and problem solving skills.

  1. Books

Continue to foster your child’s love of reading by giving them new books. Even at a very young age a child is developing pre-reading skills and should be exposed regularly to text even before they are able to read it themselves.

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  1. Tricycles

There is always a mad dash on the playground for tricycles and bicycles. Teachers love them because they require coordination and gross motor strength from the child.

  1. Steps

These could lead to nowhere and still be endless fun for a young, active child. Especially in their toddler years, they are always on the move! This is a great gift to help them safely explore and practice stairs.

  1. Magnifying Glasses

Encourage close looking with this gift! It will give children a new perspective on things they encounter in their everyday lives.

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  1. Seeds

Have a picky eater? A great way to get your child excited about trying their vegetables is to get them started at the beginning of the process. Provide them with some seeds and a small space to garden and see the wonder in their eyes as their plants appear!

Did we forget something? Share your idea in the comments!

 

SEEC’s Take on Emergent Curriculum

The following post was authored by Dana Hirsch who has been at SEEC since 2005 and has taught  almost every age group. She is currently the Director for Preschool Programs. Dana studied Child Development and Family Science at North Dakota State University, and has a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction for Early Childhood Education from George Mason University. Her three-year-old daughter is currently a student at SEEC. For this blog she drew upon her experience in the classroom, and intimate involvement with writing SEEC’s current emergent curriculum approach.

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Dana teaching a PreK-4 class

During my career as an educator, and now director, I’ve had the pleasure of working with every age from infant to kindergarten.  People often ask me which is my favorite age, and my answer is always the same; “I don’t know, I love different things about each age.” While each stage of development is unique, there is one element that permeates through all ages and is one of my favorite parts of working with young children: the way curiosity leads to connections. It doesn’t matter if you have a classroom full of five-month-olds, or five-year-olds, they are all naturally curious about the world around them and even the youngest children are able to communicate their interests.

 

The Evolution of Curriculum Development at SEEC

Until the early part of 2013, SEEC followed a curriculum that used museum and community visits as way to explore pre-set monthly themes. This type of curriculum was helpful in allowing educators to plan far in advance and demonstrated how similar topics could be approached in different ways.  However, educators began to realize that they were often competing with the interests and curiosities of their students.  For example, during the month that the school focused on clothes, there was a construction project nearby. We recognized that the vast majority of the children were interested in the site and what was happening.  Such instances encouraged us to wonder, could we focus on the children’s interests and create learning opportunities from that?

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This class is looking at setting the table after returning from the Thanksgiving break.

Simultaneously, we were working as a team to reexamine what we believed about children and learning.  This reflection launched us in a new direction that moved away from monthly themes. We began to observe our students more closely in order to understand the emerging interests of individual classrooms. This different approach was still very much steeped in our model of using museums and the community. Essentially, we took many of the guiding principles of our program – hands-on, object based, experiential learning – and used them to support an emergent approach.  Hence, the emergent curriculum we follow today.

At SEEC we believe that children who are encouraged and enabled to explore the things they are curious about will develop a lifelong love for learning.  Children learn best when they are able to make meaningful connections, so we want to foster that natural “emerging” curiosity and desire for knowledge by giving the children every opportunity to ask questions, find answers, and have hands-on, object-based experiences.  We know that all of these things together create meaningful experiences which is at the heart of learning for young children. By blending our museum-based approach with an emergent curriculum, we have seen the curiosity and inquiry of our students soar to new heights.

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A 2-year old class put on a show about their favorite book, Abiyoyo.

So, What is an Emergent Curriculum?

An emergent curriculum allows educators the freedom to choose a topic that is of interest to the children in their classroom and use that topic as a platform to provide experiences and learning opportunities that naturally foster curiosity and a sense of wonder, two important elements of SEEC’s philosophy.  Educators have the ability to follow the lead of the children because the curriculum is not prescribed and does not follow a set timeline. The exploration into a topic can last as long as there is interest.  As the class explores the topic, new questions or interests may emerge that change the initial direction of exploration or bring in new elements.  Teachers follow the path that the children’s questions and exploration leads them.  The children in turn learn how to ask questions, probe deeper, and find answers they were not expecting.  They are able to make connections that are more meaningful because they are interested and curious about what they are exploring.

The other benefit of the emergent approach is that educators are able to maintain the children’s attention better because they are focusing on that which is interesting to them. The emergent approach allows educators to create lesson plans that target specific areas of development while maintaining a love for learning. For example, a child who needs a little extra support with her fine motor abilities may normally show disinterest in these types of activities. However, if she’s interested in flowers and plants, gluing small pieces of paper petals (or even real petals) may help engage her. Another child might struggle to enter into play with her peers and, as a result, avoids dramatic play with others. However, she’s shown an interest in space and rockets

so her teachers decided to create a rocket themed dramatic play area. This gives her some extra encouragement to explore this kind of play and thus, she is able to work more on developing her social skills.

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Thinking about emeralds

Emergent Curriculum’s Endless Possibilities

When I was first introduced to the idea of using an emergent curriculum, it took some time for me to figure out what that really looked like in the classroom and how best to implement it.   At first, the idea of having the freedom to choose to any topic at all was both freeing and intimidating.  Where do you start?  How do you choose where to focus?  What do you mean you cannot plan out the next month in advance?! For me, the hardest part was finding the balance between having a plan but being flexible enough with it to follow the interest and curiosity of the children. It took time and practice to notice the children’s interest. I observed them during circle time, at community/museum visits, playing with choices, and on the playground.  I learned to allow myself to spend an extra day or even an extra week on a particular topic because the children just seemed so interested rather than steamrolling ahead with what I had planned. As someone who really likes to plan things out and be organized, this really took some getting used to. However, after some time implementing this type of curriculum, I began to see how much the children’s curiosity and genuine desire to learn and explore blossomed.

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Dramatic Play

Emergent Curriculum in Practice

When SEEC first transitioned from a theme-based approach to the emergent curriculum we have today, four of our preschool classrooms decided to focus on the same overarching topic: The Wizard of Oz.  At that time there had been a lot of interest in the ruby slippers on display in the National Museum of American History.  Many of the children were interested in the movie and liked to pretend to be the different characters.  Those children who weren’t initially interested picked up on the interest of their peers and gravitated towards it as well, so it seemed like the right area to explore. What was so interesting, though, was how the direction that each classroom took differed from one to the next — each based on the group’s particular areas of interest.

emerald city

Building the Emerald City

One classroom chose to specifically focus on the characters themselves.  Their exploration involved a lot of dramatic play and costume design.  Another classroom choose to think more about the natural elements of the story such as weather, plants and flowers. From there, they even explored human anatomy using the characters as a comparison.  Two classrooms focused on the Emerald City, but in very different ways.  One classroom explored architecture as it related to the buildings in the city and the other on emeralds themselves.  This initial interest in emeralds led to a unit focused on geology – something the educators had never expected.

Using an emergent curriculum approach has transformed the way we think about teaching and learning at SEEC. There are a myriad of possibilities with emergent curriculum implementation and exploration. I think the success of this approach is largely because it supports children at every age in making meaningful connections and developing a lifelong love of learning.  I know adults often pick up on things much more quickly when interested in a topic, why would children be any different?