10 Reasons Your Child’s Rock Collection is Important


PondIf you have a child age two or older, chances are that you also have a collection of their “treasures” in your home. They may include rocks, sticks, sea shells, cars, or even stuffed animals. To children, these objects are irreplaceable artifacts to be cherished and preserved. They take their collecting seriously and we should too! Collecting provides a multitude of learning opportunities for your child. Below you’ll find just 10 examples of the many lessons your child is learning through their collections and collecting habits.

Categorizing and Sorting

As children collect, they will start to sort their objects into different categories: Big, medium, small rocks, Rough, smooth, and spiky rocks etc. Categorizing and sorting are important early math skills and build the foundation for understanding more complicated patterns in the future. Encourage your child to continue to re-sort their collection in different ways.

Looking on groundCounting

Counting is also an early math skill. As your children mature, they will become interested in counting the things around them, including their collection. Encourage them to count the number of items in their collection and then how many are in each category. With a slightly older child, take away or add an item and ask them to count again. This is addition and subtraction!

Storytelling and Imaginary Play

A child’s collection provides endless opportunities for storytelling and play. Encourage them to tell the story of how and where the object was found or make up something entirely different. Rocks and stuffed animals often take on names and personalities. They may also use their rocks as construction materials for roads, walls, and even castles. Pretend and role playing are important part of children’s social and emotional development. It allows them to work out scenarios before they encounter them in real life situations.

Care and Empathy

Have you noticed how much your children love their rocks? Sometimes you’ll find them being washed or wrapped in blankets. This is a great lesson in caring for others. If you take care of your collection it will last longer!

Memory and Timeline

A young child’s perception of time is not a straight line. Things that didn’t happen that day usually fall into a “yesterday” category, even if they happened two days or even a week before. A collection allows a child to practice recalling information and acts as a physically representation of a time in the past. For example, children may recall collecting a particular rock from the beach when it was warm out. Since it’s not warm out now, they will be able to deduce that it must have been a long time ago. If a child allows, you could even write down where the rock was found on its’ underside.  This will also help you remember where and when the rock was collected and facilitate conversations on that topic.

Stick and hand

Same, Same but Different

Very young children start by sorting items into familiar categories. For example, if you tell an infant or young toddler that something with four legs and a tail is a dog, then things that fit that description will automatically be labeled a dog until you tell them otherwise.  A collection is a great way to show how things can be in the same category, but look completely different. For example, their collection may consist completely of rocks but no two rocks are the same.


Speaking with your children about their collections facilitates vocabulary building. They are learning how to describe objects and will begin to incorporate new synonyms and adjectives into their glossary as you provide them.

Understanding Limits

Sometimes they can’t have every rock they see and it’s ok for them to hear, “no.” Collecting doesn’t automatically mean they can have every item they see and it’s a great way for them to get practice respecting limits. Make sure to take time to explain to them why they can’t have certain items. Does it belong to someone else? Is it too big to take home? This will help them understand that actions have consequences.


A child loves having something that is truly their own. A collection of rocks or sticks that have been found and brought home by children gives them a sense of ownership they might not feel for their other things. They may feel a tremendous amount of pride showing off their collection to others.

Self-Soothing and Comfort

Since children can become very attached to their collection, bringing along an item in a pocket or backpack can act as a great tool for self-soothing and comfort. Having a special item from home can remind them of family when they are at school or away from home visiting relatives or friends and begin to miss their parents.

What does your child collect? A great way to take their collection one step further is to create a mini-museum in your home. Select a low shelf and help your child arrange the items and create labels describing them. Host an opening for your friends and family and allow your child to give tours of their collection!




SEEC Faculty’s DC Summer Favorites

Summer in DC offers lots of great opportunities to get out of the house and experience nature, art, sports, and more. Our faculty shared some of their favorite DC summer activities and events. Maybe something will catch your eye and you can start a new tradition with your family this summer!

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Our art educator, Carolyn, recommends Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Located in Anacostia Park, the Gardens is hosting their annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival on July 13th. Not only will the lotus be in full bloom, but there will also be live music, crafts, and a live animal exhibit. 


Yards Park

Infant and Twos Director, Melody, loves taking a visit to Yards Park to cool off. She says, “It’s free and it’s a big area with shallow water to splash around. We haven’t been in awhile and hope to go back this summer with the new baby!”


National Building Museum 

Pre-K 4 teacher, Sara, looks forward to the National Building Museum’s summer exhibits. “Last year was the first year I went. I loved the immersive experience. It was a celebration of avant-garde architecture and also pure fun. I felt like a child, jumping in ball pits and running through streamers. I had a blast.” Check out information about this year’s exhibit, Lawn, which opens July 4th.


Nationals Park

Toddler educator, Kat, loves to go to Nationals Park to catch a game in the summer. She elaborates, “Plus, every year they have Opera in the Outfield in partnership with the Washington National Opera; you can bring a blanket and sit on the field while enjoying a show! It is one of my favorite places to be in DC. Go Nats!”


Great Falls National Park

Brittany, twos educator, enjoys hiking and climbing at Great Falls National Park. Brittany says, “Growing up in the area visiting Great Falls was a weekend tradition. It is a great space to explore and learn the local history of DC. You are able to see great beautiful views of the Potomac River gushing over rocks, plus the awesome wildlife. For the climbers, Great Falls is one of the first Climbing areas in the Mid-Atlantic area. It is a great spot to work on top skills. Plus climbing by the water is always fun!”

What’s your favorite DC summer activity? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Changes: Advice from Parents on Preparing for a New Sibling

Over the past year, we have created a blog series on potential changes that may occur in a young child’s life in the hopes that we can help provide some resources for families, caregivers, and educators. For this blog, which focuses on helping young children adjust to a new sibling joining their family, we polled SEEC educators on what they did to prepare. Below you will find their experiences and advice and since we are all always learning from each other, please be sure to comment and share what worked (or didn’t work) for you.


Take a New Sibling Class

Signing up for a sibling class or a sibling tour of the hospital can help prepare young children for the birth of the new baby. Many hospitals offer classes like these and they can help young children to feel comfortable in the hospital, which eases some of the tension that comes with meeting the new baby for the first time.

New sibling classes can also teach young children how to do tasks that will help when the new baby comes. These tasks may include diapering, singing songs to the baby, or bringing mom a snack. Practicing these tasks ahead of time means that your child will be able to start immediately helping when the baby arrives. Your child might even start seeing themselves as a “helper”. As one of our parents explains, “I made sure that I gave my oldest specific tasks to help with the baby so she would feel included. She was able to help me diaper the baby and I wonder if that wasn’t something that helped her not regress when the baby was born.”

Preparing the Room

Several parents cited the importance of having the new baby’s room or crib prepared before the baby arrives. Some parents explained that having the crib set up helped children to think of and verbalize their questions as it served as a concrete reminder that the baby was coming. Other parents said that having the crib set up ahead of time made it so that their older children did not experience too many changes at once. The older child was able to get used to sleeping in a bed or even sharing bedrooms with older siblings before the baby came.



Another great way to help families prepare is to read books together. Books can give adults language for how to discuss the changes that are coming up and they can help give children an idea of what life will be like with the new baby. Some of our favorite books about getting a new baby are You’re Getting a Baby Brother! by Sheila Sweeny Higginson, Hannah Is a Big Sister by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole, and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats.


Picking out Presents

A fun way to prepare for the new baby is to have the older siblings pick out presents to give to the baby. Take them to the store and have them pick out a special present. Children can help with the wrapping process too. When the baby is born, bring the presents to the hospital and have the children give it to the new baby. The baby can also have presents to give the older siblings. Make sure that the gift to the older siblings is hospital friendly and they can play with it when they meet the new baby.

Setting Aside Time for Older Sibling

Setting time aside to ensure that the older siblings still get individual attention is crucial. It can be as simple as going for trip to the playground without the baby or signing up for a weekend class. We recommend checking out our Weekend Family Workshops. Many parents find it valuable to set time aside for the whole year. One parent recommended joining a CO-OP preschool so the older child could have their own opportunity to learn and the parents could volunteer once a month. Another option is our Smithsonian Early Explorers program, which is a caregiver child program that meets twice a week on the National Mall.

Other Life Changes

If you want to learn about how SEEC educators teach about getting a new sibling, check out “How to Take Care of a Baby Shark (and Baby Human)”. Much of this advice can be applied to other changes that might occur in a young child’s life. For example, we believe in discussing the changes with young children in frank, simple terms. This includes talking about difficult topics including death, which you can read more about in our blog “Changes: Talking with Young Children about Death”. All children go through changes as they grow up. In fact, the act of growing up might be one of the most universal changes but it is also a change that some people do not think to discuss with young children. Our blog “Changes: Facing the Strange at the Smithsonian American Art Museum”, provides tips on how to talk about the strangeness of growing up.

The Summer Blues: How Museums and Libraries Support Summer Learning

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

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

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

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

Parent Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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:







Playing WITH Children


Young children are capable learners and at SEEC, we have strong beliefs about young children and how they learn best. One belief is that adults should play with children, be silly, sing, have fun, and get dirty. While we recognize and value the benefits of child play without adult involvement, we see many benefits for both adults and children when grown-ups join in the fun.


Adults need to play too! While society tends to view play as a pastime exclusive to childhood, research has shown that adults need to play  in order to maintain a joyful and healthy life. Play, whether it be participating in a kickball league, painting, or engaging in improv theater, maintains cognitive skills, strengthens relationships, and reduces stress. Stuart Brown, physician and founder of the National Institute for Play, feels that play is essential and recommends building playtime into our everyday lives to avoid feeling stuck and stressed. Innovative companies are even bringing play into their work spaces. For example, Tim Brown, CEO of design firm, IDEO, incorporates a preschool-like play setting that allows employees to innovate new, creative solutions through play. At SEEC, we feel similarly, which is why we use play to teach concepts at our educator workshops. Not only is it engaging, and fun, but it builds community among educators, and provides practical applications that can be used in the classroom.


Playing with children not only provides benefits to adults, but children as well. When an adult chooses to participate in a child’s play, they are sending a powerful message that what the child is doing is valuable, and their learning is important. Plus, playing with children builds strong relationships, whether that be a teacher-child or caregiver-child relationship. Not sure where to start? Try simply asking, “Can I play with you?” Generally, children will be more than willing to invite you in and tell you how you can be involved!


When adults play with children, they become models of social emotional skills. They are able to model being a graceful winner or loser in competitive games, demonstrate teamwork, and  show children how to navigate social interactions. For example, “I see that Adam is a pirate too, can we make room for him on the ship?” or “Roberta, it looks like you’d like to play! We’re building an ice cream parlor, what would you like to do?”


Adults also have the ability to open other avenues of thinking and inquiry through play that children might not think of on their own. For example, if the children are pretending to sail on a boat, asking, “Where are you going?” or “What will you do when you get there?” helps children expand their thinking and possibilities for their play. Vivian Gussin Paley, noted play theorist, believes in the power of an adult to help make connections for children that they might have otherwise missed. She likens the adult’s role to a Greek Chorus, commenting on or repeating what players have said. For example, “I heard Sally say that the baby is crying. How do you think we can make the baby feel better?”

Have we convinced you of the benefits of play as an adult? Would you like to come and PLAY with our SEEC team at the Smithsonian while thinking more about play in the community with young children? Join us for our Play in the Community seminar on May 6 & 7. Learn more and register.