Teacher Feature: Pre-K Class Explores Treasure

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This week’s Teacher Feature highlights a four-year-old class’ exploration of treasure and pirates at the National Museum of African Art.  Over the past few months, the class, led by Jessie Miller and Will Kuehnle, has been creating a film written and starred in by the children. The teachers created lessons to learn about the aspects of the story that the children wrote. Without spoiling the film too much, pirates who steal treasure was a plot development, so they spent a week exploring pirates and treasure. This particular lesson explored what treasure actually is and how pirates steal it. The lesson included objects, play, literature, and even their puppet friend, Pirate Pete, and challenged their beliefs about treasure and pirates. Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from the teachers. 


On their way to the museum, the class remembered the parts of a ship that they had learned about the previous day. The sail seemed to be of particular interest to the children, and one child even “flew his flag” the whole way to the museum. Before entering the National Museum of African Art, the children noticed Wind Sculpture VII by Yinka Shonibare and commented that it looked like a sail blowing in the wind.

During our walks to and from visits, we like to observe and discuss the environment we are in. It is exciting to see the topics that arise just from looking around! This is also a great time to build upon concepts we have already learned about. For example, when we were crossing the National Mall, some children remembered the time we made and flew our own kites, after learning about the letter “K”. This topic came up moments later when the children spotted Wind Sculpture VII and described how it looked as if it was blowing in the wind like a kite. This helped reinforce previous knowledge and can sometimes bring up new questions we didn’t have before. It is important to address these inquiries when they arise so the child feels his or her thoughts and opinions are valued. Asking questions and knowing how to find the answers is a crucial skill to build at this age and it can guide our lessons and curriculum in new and exciting ways.


Upon entering the Currents: Water exhibit in African Art, Jessie told the class to search for something that looked gold. When the group reached the weights by Akan artists from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the children took some time to look closely at the weights. Jessie narrated what she noticed and wondered about the objects.

When using museum spaces with young children, there are many obstacles that can arise. The objects we decided to visit on this day were small and placed high up from the ground, making it difficult for the children to see. For this reason, I encouraged the class to get close and observe the objects for a few minutes before we sat down for circle time. This gave them a chance to casually chat and ask questions before we began the formal lesson.

Modeling how to do things is an important tool when helping children develop problem-solving skills. When they hear me asking questions and sharing my ideas about the objects, they get a sense of what observation and reflection are. Even basic descriptions such as “that looks like a shell” and “I wonder what that is made of?” give the children a chance to chime in with their ideas and creates a space for them to feel comfortable sharing.

I chose to use the Akan weights for this lesson for a few reasons. When the class decided to make a movie, we brainstormed all of the places we wanted to go and characters we wanted to include. Boats, pirates, and treasure were all topics of interest to the class. I felt it was important to explore these subjects in a realistic way through books, objects, and definitions that the children could understand and relate to. It is common for a child to think a pirate is a person who sails around and steals treasure. One of the big goals of this lesson was to challenge the students’ ideas about who pirates are and have been throughout history. The Akan weights allowed us to have a discussion about what treasure is and the other lesson materials we brought gave us an opportunity to ask the big question “do pirates only steal treasure?”

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After making a seated circle in front of the weights, Jessie asked, “What do you think these objects are?” Responses included, “they’re treasure from a chest” and “it’s animals that are now dead and someone painted them.” Jessie thanked the children for sharing their predictions and observations, and said they would talk more deeply about the weights in a few minutes. 

Although it is important to address questions that arise organically in the moment, it is also beneficial to let children have time to think about and reflect on things they are curious about before handing them an answer. After we shared some of our questions, we dove into the lesson with a variety of other materials. This left the kids curious about the unfamiliar objects we had observed and challenged them to try to figure out what they were as we navigated through the lesson. Throughout our circle time, you could see them start to make connections and by the time we brought our attention back to the museum objects, they had even more ideas and questions.


Jessie brought out a world map, and the class reviewed the directions and continents through the “7 Continents” song. Next, Jessie asked the children to tell her what they knew about pirates. Many children focused on physical characteristics that a pirate might have including an eye patch, a hook or peg leg. One child pointed out that pirates are people who take treasure. Jessie said that pirates don’t have to have a hook, peg leg or eye patch, but they do all steal things. She read the definition of piracy and then read from the book Treasure by Philip Steele to learn about real pirates in the Spanish Main.

Songs are a great way to recall information and the “7 Continents” song is one we like to use every year. Throughout the movie the class was making, we “traveled” to many places throughout the world and consistently used maps and songs to reinforce their understanding of geography and the world around them. A song is also a great way to get the children involved during a lesson and spark their attention.

Definitions are a valuable tool for the students, as well as the teachers. It gives us a topic (sometimes complex) that we then need to break down and try to figure out what it really is. For example, when we read the definition of piracy, it said nothing about eye patches or peg legs like the children had mentioned. This challenged us to look closely at the words used in the definition so we could begin to unpack the true meaning of the word pirate. The definitions also give the class a chance to match the words we are talking about with the written words. We can sound out and point to letters to figure out the words as well. All of this strengthens literacy skills and engages the children in learning new concepts. We also often bring other materials such as books and large printed words we use frequently such directional words, North, South, East, and West. Bringing a white board and sounding out a word as we write it down is another way to get them engaged in the lesson with a literacy activity.


To illustrate what they read in the book about pirates in the Spanish Main, Jessie brought out a toy ship with a Spanish flag, and sailed it across the map in search of gold. She then brought out a pirate ship and asked how pirates could get to the Spanish ship to steal. The children talked about the use of guns, swords, and cannon balls. Jessie explained that the Spanish wouldn’t want their ships attacked, so they would bring lots of smaller boats to protect them called a fleet or convoy.

Using visual aids during lessons helps young children make sense of concepts that might normally be difficult for them to understand. I could describe a boat sailing to Spain and running into pirates, but this information becomes more concrete and accessible to children when they are able to see it. We used our pirate book to enhance their understanding of piracy, but giving them objects they can manipulate and play with gives them a deeper understanding. Many of the objects we use in lessons are from our school and the children have used them before. This creates opportunities for reflection and scaffolding later when they use the same materials during play back in the classroom.

Although it was not the main goal of the lesson, weapons are a part of piracy, so when the subject came up I felt it was important to address it. A weapon is an object. It is only until a person uses this object that it becomes dangerous. By ignoring sensitive topics such as guns and weapons, we leave a child feeling confused and curious about the unknown. In order to navigate safely and efficiently through their world, it is important that children have the tools to keep themselves and those around them safe. Once the children thought more carefully about the idea that the person with the weapon is the one that caused the harm, they began to think about their own opinions on the topic. I expressed to the children that I would never want to hurt anyone so I would not use a weapon in a way that might cause harm to someone. The children responded enthusiastically about feeling the same way. A sensitive subject turned into a teachable moment that left the children feeling empowered rather than confused and fearful.

I think it is important for children to experience every emotion, even if it may feel scary or uncomfortable at times. Feeling these emotions at school allows them to grow and understand themselves in a safe environment. Ignoring sensitive or frightening topics sends a message to the children that you don’t want to talk about something and just perpetuates their fears. We as teachers must educate the children, give them validation that it is ok to feel these emotions, and remind them that they are safe and loved.


The discussion about pirates stealing a ship led to the children talking about treasure, so Jessie asked, “What is treasure?” Responses included gold coins, chocolate coins, jewels, crystals, and anything special. Jessie read the definition of treasure, “something of great value or worth”.  At this point, Jessie refocused the class back to the weights. She explained that they were created by Akan artists from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and pointed these places out on the map. She said that the weights are not actually gold, but copper and were used to weigh gold to decide how much items cost. Jessie shared some objects she brought that were similar to the weights, and showed how gold can be measured against the weights to determine worth.

The children have had some experience with weighing objects, but a scale has not been available to them on a regular basis. Concepts such as weight and value can be difficult for young children to grasp. Using scales is a great way to help make sense of these topics. It is also a tool for math and counting. Although the Akan people would use the weights to measure gold dust, we decided to use coins so the materials were more familiar to the children. Understanding one weight was equal to a certain amount of coins helped them understand what value is, which was part of the definition for treasure. Pirates wanted the treasure because it was considered valuable. This created the question, “can different things be valuable to different people?”, which lead to our discussion about pirates stealing more than just treasure.

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Next, Jessie brought out their puppet friend, Pirate Pete. One of the children asked Pirate Pete what treasure he steals. Pirate Pete brought out some objects including food, clothes, and blankets. Jessie asked the class if these objects look like treasure, and they all gave a resounding, “no!” Jessie explained that pirates love when they find treasure like gold, but often they would steal other things that they needed to live like food and clothing.

If I were to do this lesson again I would split it into two different lessons. There was a lot of material to review, new concepts to learn, and questions to discuss. I liked the idea of asking questions about an object and then coming back to learn about it later in the lesson. However, because there were a lot of concepts and material to cover I would prefer to have two separate lessons on piracy and treasure/value.

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Before leaving the museum, Jessie provided the opportunity for children to share their comments and questions. The first question asked was, “Do pirates kill?” Jessie responded “yes, pirates have killed”, which then prompted Jessie to ask, “Is it a good thing to be a pirate or steal?” The children emphatically said no. Some children shared some connections they made to the lesson, including, “pirates going to another ship is like in the third movie of Star Wars when Luke jumped off his ship to another”, and “cannons are kind of like fur balls in PJ Mask!” One child even said she sees pirates in boats in Old Town Alexandria. Jessie assured her that sometimes people dress up and pretend to be pirates, just like we do sometimes, but they aren’t real pirates.

Lessons can sometimes create more questions than they answer, and I consider this a good thing! It is important for the children to walk away with information they may not have known before but it is also important for them to be curious and want to learn more. During my circles, I like to offer time for comments and questions at the beginning and the end. I use a sign with a picture of a person raising their hand on one side and a line crossed through the same picture on the other side. This indicates to the children when it is time for questions and when it is time for me to talk with no interruptions. This helps us stay on topic during the lesson but still gives the children time to express their thoughts and feelings when the time is appropriate. Allowing questions at the end also allows me to gauge which areas of the lesson they were interested in and what topics they may want to explore more.


To conclude their lesson, Jessie played a movement pirate game with the children. She called two children at a time and showed them a card that showed a pirate movement to perform. The pair of children acted these out as they got back in line to leave the museum.

The teachers in our school community are always willing to share ideas and materials with one another. A different class had been learning about pirates earlier in the year and was gracious enough to let our class borrow some of their materials, including these pirate movement cards.

To transition back to our line, I wanted to incorporate something related to the topic that would get them up and moving their bodies. Because there was so much content during the lesson, using the game as a way of lining up allowed it to be a transition activity rather than lengthening the time the students had to sit and wait.


On the way back to school, Jessie pretended to be a pirate and looked through the spyglass to see if the class was using safe walking feet to cross the street.

We incorporate lots of play throughout our entire day. Any topic can be interesting to a child if you present it in a playful way. It is important for children to have a routine to follow but adding playful moments that they can engage with and connect to helps enhance their learning experience. My students have crossed streets a million times but when you add an exciting new twist like a spyglass watching them and making sure they are ready, it sparks their attention and reinforces their knowledge about a new object we learned about that week.


 Back on the playground, the children used the spyglass in their play. That afternoon the class painted their own “gold nuggets” that will be used as props in their film.

After all of my lessons, I like to have the materials I used out for the children to explore back in the classroom. I gave them the opportunity to create their own spyglass out of paper towel rolls and we collected rocks on the playground to paint gold, silver, and bronze. Later that afternoon, we filmed the pirate scene for our movie. To create our “script” I asked the students what things they wanted to say about boats, pirates, and treasure. Many of the things we had discussed that morning and throughout the week came up. This reinforced all the material we had learned about and then gave them a chance to actually act it out. Now that our movie is finished, the children will have it forever and can always reflect back on the learning experiences they had here at school.

After their week on pirates, the class continued to learn about the other concepts included in their movie such as oceans, rain forests, and Antarctica. They premiered their movie last month to overwhelming acclaim from fellow SEEC children and families.

Caregivers and Play: A Sneak Peak at Our Upcoming Seminar

Play at SEEC

Though our school is not strictly play-based, it recognizes the importance of play and incorporates it into our unique brand of object-based learning. Much like other early childhood schools, you will observe our children engaging in play during classroom choices and playground time. You can also find our children playing in the museums, but not just in the play-based spaces. We think creatively about how to safely incorporate play into our museum or community visits.

Caregiver Perspectives on Play

Over the years, we have heard from educators that often caregivers don’t appreciate or understand the value of play. I won’t lie, I too, was at one point one of those parents. Before beginning my career in early childhood education, I enrolled my daughter in a play-based cooperative preschool and one of my biggest concerns was if they would incorporate letter/number recognition into the curriculum. That was more than ten years ago and my outlook has drastically changed.

I have also observed sentiments similar in parents today. I recall a specific conversation with a parent whose child had recently transitioned from a play group to a SEEC program. The parent was happy about the transition because she felt like all the kids did “was play.” Through discussions with other educators, in and outside of SEEC, I have found that other parents share a similar concern about the role of play in the classroom.

I don’t mean to suggest that all caregivers feel that play is not important or even that they don’t see ANY value in the act of playing. In fact, there was recently a heated discussion at the school one of my children attends regarding recess. Some of the students had been missing recess due to make up work or for disciplinary reasons and that did not sit well with our parent community. I think it is important to note that there is a range of parent perspectives on play.

Starting the Conversation

At the same time that we have been reflecting on how parents feel about play, our team has also been focusing in how we can support our parent community and the community at large. It occurred to us that our upcoming workshop, Play: Engaging Learners in Object Rich Environments would be an ideal venue to explore parent attitudes towards play and strategize ways we can engage parents in a dialogue about the value of it.

In order to have this dialogue, we feel it’s important to better understand caregivers’ beliefs surrounding play. Therefore, we have begun to collect data that will inform that understanding and thus far, we have hit on some themes:

  • It’s a waste of money to pay for someone to watch their kids just play.
  • Play doesn’t look like traditional learning.
  • Play doesn’t look like hard work, so it’s not important.
  • Playing won’t teach them how to hold a pencil, read, or write.
  • Playing won’t give them the skills to be successful in life.
  • Play looks like chaos.

Over the next few weeks, we will be collecting more feedback from parents and look forward to sharing their perspectives at our upcoming seminar in July. We are excited to think together about this as a group and look forward to sharing more broadly in future postings.

Teacher Appreciation Week – Wrap Up

Teacher Appreciation Week

Every year, SEEC celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week in a myriad of ways. Our kind and thoughtful families bring in special treats including delicious breakfast food, graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate for s’mores, as well as providing food and drink for an after work teacher social.


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We also decided to include the whole faculty and community in the celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. To do this, we pooled our teachers and asked questions about their experiences being a student and about their hopes for the future.  We also asked about the various things that we do for self-care. The answers varied from exercising, to journaling, to collecting and researching moths.


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Another way we strove to include all of the SEEC community in Teacher Appreciation Week was by debuting “Teacher Truths”, which are short audio clips where two SEEC faculty casually interview each other and share their knowledge about being an educator and working with young children. So far, we have done “Teacher Truths” with Katie Heimsath and Brooke Shoemaker as well as Meredith Osborne and Silvana Oderisi.


Teacher Appreciation Week National Mall

At SEEC, we are always interested in looking for new ways to celebrate our faculty and highlight the importance of early childhood education. It takes a highly skilled educator who is highly empathetic, creative, and willing to get dirty.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018: Looking to the Future

Earlier this week we discussed the educational experiences from our past that influenced who we are as people and educators. Today, we’ll be looking into the future and sharing our hopes and dreams for our students, and the early childhood field ten years from now.

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What do you hope your students will remember about their time in your class in 10 years?

Among all questions that we asked our faculty, this question had overwhelmingly similar responses. All our teachers shared that they hope, above everything else, that SEEC children will have a continued love of learning and knowledge of how much they were loved at SEEC:

I hope they will feel that they were valued and accepted. I hope something in my class will have sparked an interest in them that they pursue or value later in life.

Honestly, most of the children I work with are so young that they will not be able to remember or link words to those memories. This does not bother me because I believe that what they have experienced my class will have lasting impacts on their life. I hope that some of these impacts include a love for learning, the belief and freedom to explore and wonder, and the courage to keep going when things become difficult.

I would hope beyond the visits and amazing lessons that they would remember all of the love that was flowing throughout our experience at SEEC.

I want my student to remember being explorers, to remember being curious. My kids are very young so I know they will not remember all the content so I want them to remember that school is fun, they are capable of trying anything, and teachers are their partners in accomplishing their goals.

That learning doesn’t have to be filled with tests or arduous concepts but that learning is a place to ask questions, to embrace new knowledge and most importantly a place where we can laugh and learn at the same time.

I would love for my students (and/or their families) to remember the holistic approach to education and child development. Practices for empathy building, growth mindset, and resilience. I would hope that their experiences of learning through their community establishes a strong sense of advocacy and the importance of belonging/uplifting their community. “We are all the same, we are all different”

That we created a space for them to be themselves! That asking questions is always okay; and that finding ways to express yourself in your work and classroom choices is always important. That showing emotion is completely okay. Learning can be fun and creative. We are different but we are all the same.

The feeling of wonder, the fascinating experiences on our visits that they won’t get much of in later years, the memory of how much I loved them and hopefully made them feel good about themselves


What would you like Teacher Appreciation to look like in 10 years?

Several educators hope that more teachers get the recognition and appreciation that we do at SEEC:

I hope teachers are appreciated all year round by being paid more and getting lots of support from their administrations, like we do here at SEEC 🙂

I would hope teacher appreciation would be monumentally recognized (not just at SEEC but globally).

If it [teacher appreciation week] looked like it did today at SEEC everywhere in the world, I think teachers would feel much more appreciated.

Many teachers hope for more recognition for their skills through higher salaries and respect for the early childhood field:

Honestly I would appreciate a better salary for the work we do, nothing would make me feel more appreciated year round. More respect and recognition for the work we put into children’s education.

I hope that teachers are appreciated year round through increased pay and the acknowledgement that teaching takes true skill.

Continually pushing forward what the idea of education looks like. Having teacher voices elevated to the same audible levels as CEO’s at Fortune 500 companies. Celebrating teachers and other community caretakers with increased dedication (money & attention) to their fields.

More than just a flower or a card and having caregivers and professionals truly recognize the impact of a successful teacher.

Some mentioned their hope that more people will gain a better understanding of what it means to be a teacher:

Appreciation is defined as the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something; a full understanding of a situation. In 10 years I’d like to see parents spend a day with a SEEC class. I know parents value the work that we do daily and know that SEEC is a very special place. I think by spending a day with a SEEC class, parents will have a chance to see what educators do on a daily basis. Or parents could even volunteer to come in to help at lunch or snack or go on a visit. I believe that appreciation is more than something tangible and that doing things like visiting to get a better understanding of the work educators do daily is the highest form of appreciation.

I would teacher appreciation to encompass educating those who are not teachers of all the things we actually do.

In ten years, I hope teacher appreciation could involve parents stepping into volunteer roles to further create a home school connection.


What would you like to see changed in the educational field in 10 years?

Creating a more diverse, inquisitive educational field that is inclusive of all learning styles was a common thread among educator responses:

I would like to have more effective and nurturing standards for behavior management and classroom control. I would like more research and guidance on how to teach different subjects to children of different learning styles and developmental stages. I would like to have more information on how children learn language.

So much….but mostly an educational system that supports all types of learners and offers opportunities for growth based on a student’s strengths and interests.

Less focus on test results, more exploration and curiosity in all classrooms.

I’d like to see a bit more diversity in ALL schools and a much smaller achievement gap. We’re getting there, but it’s a slow process.

What was our faculty’s other hope for the field in 10 years? More value placed on education and teachers in our society:

I believe that educators are not respected, paid or cared for enough. Educators have the daunting task of meeting standards while still managing to extend themselves to care for and about the students that they teach all while being creative. They work beyond their scheduled time and often times will use their personal funds to make sure all of their students have the materials needed for a productive and successful school year. With the emotional, financial and mental strains, I’d like to see teachers celebrated as being important professionals in our society who can earn $100,000 per year with access to quality and affordable mental health.

I would obviously like to see pay better match the skills, education, time and effort teachers put into their work. I would like to see in general more value put the work we do. An investment banker makes a hundred times what a teacher makes but they are definitely not 100 times as important.

For early education: I would like to see a lot of change in the benefits and importance of learning at a young age (even pre verbal) For all of education: (there’s a lot) overall, I would love to see it held to a societal value that it deserves.

I would like for teachers to be more respected and acknowledged for their dedication and hard work. I don’t ever want to hear the saying “If you can’t do, teach” EVER! Teaching is something that not everyone can do and it really takes special people to do it well! I hope that in 10 years we are respected as education professionals and not just people who couldn’t do something else, but CHOSE this profession.

Education elevated to a stature that it is viewed is a linchpin for our economic and diplomatic success. Less bombs and more books.

Greater appreciation for the importance of early childhood education to the extent that pay is equivalent with other levels of teaching.

What are your hopes for the future of education? Share with us in the comments!

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018: Reflecting on our own Learning

This year to mark Teacher Appreciation Week we, at SEEC, decided to reflect on our past educational experiences as students, our present self-care practices, and our future hopes for our students and the early childhood field.  

Today, we’ll begin by sharing memories from our past experiences in school in hopes they will shed light on who we are as people and educators today. During Teacher Appreciation Week, we value being recognized as educators but also wanted to take time to appreciate and remember the educators in our lives who helped us become who we are today. Below are questions and responses from our SEEC educators.

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SEEC teachers as children.

Many reflected on how a teacher empowered them as students, and how that influences their own teaching philosophy:

One of my math teachers in high school set up the class so we as students taught each other. He would assign us homework on a completely new topic without lecturing on it first. At class the next day, each student would list the problems that confused them and other students would go up to the board and explain how they solved the problem. Sometimes two different students solved the problems in completely different ways and both were given the opportunity to “teach” their way. Some students found this technique frustrating. They just wanted the teacher to teach them. But I discovered that I loved math when it was taught this way. It became my favorite class. I even looked forward to tests because I saw them as fun puzzles and I gained confidence when teaching the other students in my class.
Now as a preschool teacher, I notice myself focusing on social emotional learning. I encourage my class to solve their own peer to peer problems and I believe in the ability of very young children (even those who cannot talk yet) to learn from each other. I have come to embrace social learning as a key component of learning!

My second grade teacher helped us make bird houses out of wood and I remember him giving us such great responsibility with tools and our safety, that’s what I want to impart to the kiddos… the ability to use the tools they have in a safe way to empower themselves. Small but mighty!

Others shared negative experiences that never-the-less influenced how they teach their students:

My anecdote has a slightly negative feeling, but it has influenced how I have come to grow as both a person and an educator. When I was in my junior year in high school, we were “required” to go to the Junior Ethics Seminar. I did not want to go. Not because I was just some kid who wanted a day off from school, but because I didn’t think my teacher or my school had any place in teaching me about ethics-beyond what they are-that was my mother’s job.
When I brought this to the attention of my teacher, my view and how I felt, he responded that I would “go to the seminar or go to in-school suspension and have to write a 10-page college level APA style paper about ethics.” Well, I’ve never been one to anything by half measures and to show how serious I was-I wrote that paper. I didn’t just regurgitate definitions and anecdotes, I went to people and asked questions. I confronted strangers and friends asking: “How do you feel about teaching children ethics in schools?” I made sure to pull from as diverse a group of people as possible. From a single mother, to a Catholic father of five, to a professor at George Mason University. I wrote about as many points of views as I could find.
I turned in my paper, proud of what I had seen in my research. Maybe my opinion hadn’t entirely changed, but learning how others felt, opened my eyes a bit more. When I received my grade for the assignment, there was a giant red F in the center of it. My teacher had torn it apart based solely on the opinions of these people I had interviewed, and not a single red mark was there about the myriad of facts on which I had expounded. I swore to myself at the time I would never become a teacher.
Fast-forward almost 20 years later and here I am teaching toddlers. Every single day I think about how I am presenting information to my students and how what I will say can impact them and their families and their future ambitions. I work hard to give them the vocabulary they need to be able to question everything.

Several SEEC educators recalled specific activities from their time in school that has stuck with them throughout the years:

I always remember a science experiment I did in third grade about decomposition. One day at the start of the school year the class set aside some of their lunch, and we put the food in some panty hose and let it rot underground for a year. It was so cool digging it up later in the spring!

I remember working in teams to move around Mesopotamia in a history class. The activity was coordinated by the teacher, but our decisions facilitated the way the play happened. Also, it was a play driven history activity.

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SEEC teachers as children.

Many shared memories of teachers that helped build their confidence to follow their interests:

I remember a language arts teacher who encouraged my writing in a very positive way and helped me enter writing contests that year. I won the short story contest for the whole junior high and I think that is what made me start truly believing that I could be an author someday and started me down that path. Not there yet, but here’s hoping.
When I was in 3rd grade I had an art teacher, Mr. Leobroski, who had a passion for art and teaching people about how important art is to growing the mind. He always welcomed us into his huge art studio ready to introduce us to artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Romer Bearden and Van Gogh just to name a few. I will never forget when we spent a few weeks learning about sculptures and Alexander Calder.
When we had a chance at the end of the unit to create our own sculptures with various media, I remember feeling really upset because my cat didn’t look like a cat to my classmates. Mr. L (as we lovingly called him) took notice and came over to see why I seemed unfocused. When I shared my frustration with him, he reminded me that with art it’s all about perspective; that my idea of a cat might not be the same as others but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a cat. It’s my work and it’s not about acceptance from others but about expressing myself. He was the reason I feel in love with art 28 years ago.

Others remembered teachers for their passion:

My music instructor during my middle school years, stands as one of my most memorable educators throughout my life. Her level of passion, care, and determination remains an inspiration for my approach to teaching and learning.

A few SEEC educators listed their colleagues as some of the most influential teachers in their careers, highlighting the importance of peer support and collaboration:

When I was in my first year of teaching, an experienced teacher who was about to retire reached out to me with support and resources. She invited me to her school, gave me supplies for my Title I classroom, and even invited me over for dinner. It was just one of the countless times a fellow teacher reached out to me when I was learning how to adjust to my first year of teaching! This has influenced me to make sure I am always doing the same for others!

Being constantly surrounded by educators who produce great work (in various ways) but also love what they do has impacted me as a teacher. It allows me the chance to stop and think through lessons I’m teaching, ways I can manipulate it, and how much love I’m giving back to each individual student.

Do you have a memorable experience from your time in school? Please share with us in the comments and be sure to check back for our continued celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week!

20 Teacher Approved Baby Shower Gifts

Yay, a baby! It’s time to celebrate the parents-to-be! Feel like going rogue and gifting something not on the registry? Here are our favorite ideas, parent/kid tested and teacher approved. Many items on this list will age with the child and be a play room staple for years!

  1. Set of Sensory Frames

If you have seen our earlier post on sensory bins you already know how much we love these sensory frames. They are a great DIY gift option and can be personalized for the colors and theme of any baby room. They can also be updated to suit the needs of the child as they grow. Just pop the glass or plastic out of a frame and fill with any tactile material.

  1. Walker

Their new baby will be up and moving before they know it. Anything a baby can push or lean on as they start to move is a perfect gift to help encourage movement. This can be a cart, wagon with a tall handle, or even a pretend lawnmower. As long as it has wheels and a steady base it will help a young child feel confident enough to take those first steps.

SEEC Baby Shower Gifts Sensory Bottles

  1. Sensory Bottles

Sensory bottles are a fun way to allow young babies to safely explore small objects. They will be a fast favorite if they are filled with high contrast noisy items. Best of all, you can also DIY and make them completely personalized. One option is to upcycle a clean wide-mouthed bottle, fill it with water and glitter, and then add laminated pictures of the family.

SEEC Baby Shower Gifts Hats

  1. A lot of Hats

Children always need hats and at SEEC we know firsthand how many hats can end up lost or forgotten at school. Provide the family with a range of hats for all seasons that coordinate with the age the child will be at that time of year.

  1. Museum Adult and Child Program

Many museums are now on board the baby train and offer programming intended specifically for this very young audience. Many new parents are often looking for excursions that are both infant friendly and provide adult interaction and stimulation. At SEEC, our programming allows adults and babies zero to twelve months a safe, welcoming, and educational environment to experience the museums. Learn more about our BYOB and Infant Investigator classes on our website.

SEEC Baby Shower Gifts Family Album

  1. Baby Safe Family Album

Create an easy baby-safe photo album by laminating pictures and securing them together with a luggage tag loop or carabiner. Select a loop or carabiner that can twist to lock and is extra-large to ensure it won’t become a choking hazard.

SEEC Baby Shower Gifts Mirror

  1. Baby Safe Mirror

Have you noticed how much babies and young children love to look at themselves? Learning to understand expressions and read emotions is a big developmental milestone for young children and a lot of practice for the child happens in front of the mirror. A baby safe mirror has rounded edges and is made from plastic. It is a perfect tool to help liven up tummy time for an infant and is sure to continue to hold their attention as they grow.

  1. Gift Card for a Baby Photo Book

A gift card is a great motivator for someone to finally get that photo book made. This will end up also being a gift for the child, who will love looking back at themselves as a baby.

SEEC Baby Shower Gifts Foam Pool

  1. Foam Play Pool

This is probably the most popular toy in our infant room. When the child is sitting up but not mobile it’s a great soft and confined place to play. As they get older it will be a perfect spot for all sorts of climbing and tumbling.

  1. Outlet Protectors

This item is often overlooked on a parent’s baby proofing list but it is an important tool to make sure a space is baby safe.

  1. Stacking Toys

Stacking toys are a great toy that will age with the child. At first, they will be great teethers and sound makers (when the cups, blocks, etc. are clapped together). Later, they can help a child develop their depth perception and hand eye coordination.

  1. Babysitting Voucher

Provide an IOU for your babysitting services. Free care giving services for a first night out with a baby will be greatly appreciated!

  1. Gift Card for Groceries or Food Delivery

Feeding yourself becomes second priority when you have a baby. Give the gift of food delivery to make sure all family members are all well fed!

  1. Travel High Chair

Encourage the parents to head out on the town with their child with a travel high chair. Many easily snap into place making the child ready to be a part of any table related activity.

  1. Onesies with Zippers

No more fumbling with buttons or snaps. A quick zip ensures a speedy change in the dark getting all parties back to bed in no time.

SEEC Baby Shower Gifts Socks

  1. Baby Socks

Like hats, one can never have too many.

  1. High Contrast Wall Art

Help decorate the nursery with baby friendly art. While a baby’s eyesight takes a while to develop they are first able to distinguish high contrast shapes.

  1. Books on Child Development

They may have read all the books on parenting but why not provide them with some great books about their child’s brain development? Check out are favorites from the SEEC book club here.

  1. Sound Machine

This will help keep adults from feeling like they have to sneak around the house.

  1. Freezer Ready Teethers

Teething will be upon them before they known it and some freezer ready teethers will be a perfect treat for baby. They can also double as boo-boo soothers.

Have some favorite gift ideas we didn’t mention? Please share them below!

Building the Next Generation of Democratic Thinkers

SEECstories.com (4)In a recent article Smithsonian Secretary Skorton posited that museums can help people regain trust in “traditional democratic institutions”. His argument centered around a study indicating that many Americans have lost faith in the institutions that are the foundation of our democratic system. He spoke to the fact that not just Americans, but citizens across the globe seem to be losing trust in their own societies and pondered how a democracy can function without the trust of its citizens. Secretary Skorton sees museums and libraries, not only as institutions that provide reliable and objective information, but also as places where questions can be posed, dialogues can be had, and a variety of perspectives can be explored. As leader of the Smithsonian, moreover, he sees museums as places where communities can come together to better understand themselves and the world around them.

As an organization, SEEC, also sees museums, libraries, and the larger community as sources for information, discussion, and reflection. We were particularly excited when in the same article, Skorton noted the role of educators:

I have seen how our museums and centres engage visitors and transform the way they see the world—especially our youngest visitors, who light up with the joy of new discovery. Through our education programs, we reach millions of national and international students, often using objects from our collections to demonstrate experiences and viewpoints that differ from what they might have encountered. By revealing history through the lens of diverse perspectives, museums humanize other cultures and contextualize present-day events and people.

SEECstories.com (5)The Secretary’s comments made me think more about the role museums can play in supporting a young child’s civic education. When I look specifically at SEEC, I see our school and programs as supporting a child’s understanding of democracy via museums in three ways.  One of those ways, is asking them to understand the importance of objects from other cultures or historical periods. Many don’t see young children as capable of this type of perspective-taking, but with the right approach, young children can develop this type of understanding and empathy. One of the ways SEEC educators manage this is by taking what is familiar to children and applying it to the unfamiliar. Consider the collection of footwear on display at the Smithsonian Castle from the National Museum of the American Indian. The shoes, at first glance, may feel strange to a young child living in contemporary American society, but an educator can encourage a child to think beyond their own experiences by beginning with what they do know. A faculty member might inquire: “Why do we wear shoes? When do we wear certain types of shoes?,  How do shoes help us?.” By applying these answers to the American Indian collection, children begin to see the many things we, humans, have in common. At the same time, a child are also able to acknowledge and celebrate the differences they observe. This type of lesson, especially if repeated, makes a lasting impression. We might be different, but those differences can be celebrated. It also underlines how we are part of one human family who shares many commonalities.

SEECstories.com (1)Secondly, young children who consistently spend time in museums can begin to understand and appreciate the role museums can play in learning, exploring, and questioning. During a recent conversation with a SEEC educator, he shared with me that in his Pre-K classroom children are routinely encouraged to ask questions and look for answers. He tell his class, that he, himself, doesn’t always have the answers and encourages them to seek answers via trusted resources. The children in this classroom have created a shortlist of “go to” places where they can get trusted answers. Of course, at the the top of this list is the museum.  For our SEEC students who have spent much of their young lives in these institutions, they understand how museums provide not simply information, but concrete manifestations of this knowledge. Consider the toddler who is learning about colors and visits the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. His knowledge is expanded by exploring the artworks and seeing the many different hues of blue. Similarly, consider the kindergartner who is learning about Rosa Parks and after viewing her portrait by Marshall D. Rumbaugh at the National Portrait Gallery. Through age-appropriate conversation, she can gain deeper insight into Parks’ role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Both children are learning that the museum is a place where they can turn to for both factual information and for viewpoints other than their own.

SEECstories.com (3)Finally, the very nature of how we teach at SEEC (and I think you could say this is true for many museum and classroom educators) reaffirms trust in democratic discourse. SEEC lessons often begin with a question and are composed around a conversation. For example, we might pose a scientific question like, “Why do cars have wheels?” or something more abstract like, “How do you think the woman in the painting feels?.” By simply engaging young children in conversation we are helping them to develop socially and emotionally. By framing these conversations within a museum, we can also encourage children to see the institution as a place in which dialogue is part of the experience. Within that dialogue, educators can facilitate conversations that encourage children to listen to and respect the ideas of others – something which will hopefully cultivate a generation of leaders who can engage in conversations resulting in positive democratic change.

SEECstories.com (2)As early childhood educators, whether in the classroom or the museum, we have a unique opportunity to frame the museum as a place where children can acquire knowledge throughout their life. Museum education is so much more than learning a new fact. It is a place where people of all ages can apply new information in a way that helps them value different perspectives and understand the ideas of others. While SEEC is uniquely situated to achieve this as a school on the Smithsonian campus, all schools and museums can support these democratic values. Classroom faculty can engage in conversations at their schools utilizing museum objects as a focal point via online resources. Museum educators can cultivate educational experiences that are friendly to all families and and frame developmentally appropriate experiences that support young children as capable learners. If we can support learning in this open-ended way, museums can and will remains stalwarts of democracy.


Skorton, David J. “How Do We Restore Trust in Our Democracies?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Mar. 2018, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-do-we-restore-trust-our-democracies-museums-can-be-starting-point-180968448/#FsSTi0ZDsl6qSVV0.99.