Smithsonian Early Explorers

We are about embark on our fourth year of the Smithsonian Early Explorers program. The upcoming anniversary is a little bittersweet as some of our long-time families are leaving the program and moving on to preschool. The toddlers who began this program have grown into competent three-year-olds who are capable, empathetic, and ready for their next big adventure. The adults will also be missed as they have become part of our SEEC community and really helped us reflect on the overall program.

To celebrate the development and growth of the program and it’s students, I thought it would best to tell the story of SEE through photos in the hopes of capturing what makes this program so unique.1

Like many early education programs, we begin our day with a schedule. SEE also includes a “Question of the day.” Our belief is that asking questions can lead to a life-long habit of analysis and critical thinking. These questions also help caretakers who are not present learn about their child’s day.

Each morning we invite our students to play and often include real objects or materials.  This helps create authentic experiences that support a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. By including real objects, children can have concrete experiences that engage their senses. The photo here shows a lesson in which children explored different types of green as part of a larger study on forests.

We also create imaginative spaces using traditional toys. Our class meets in the Natural History museum’s Q?rius Jr. space and our educators are thoughtful to design a learning environment that encourages imagination and creativity.  We also believe in getting dirty and having fun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another cornerstone of our program is routine. Each morning the children look forward to ringing the bowl to indicate it is time to gather. Following that, we welcome each other with a our hello song. We often choose books that are regularly reread over the course of the trimester. As the children become familiar with a piece of literature, they delight in knowing what will come next and matching photos to the text. When we depart for snack and our museum visit, the children get on “trains.” They hear the sound of the whistle and know that they need to grab an adult hand and walk safely to their next destination. These routines help the children feel safe, know what to expect, and help the whole group transition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are a museum school and therefore, regularly visit the museums on the National Mall. Learning in museums can be beneficial to young children especially because they are better able to learn when they connect more concretely with subject matter that they actually experience. SEE does not limit itself though – we see our classroom as extending beyond the National Mall and museums. Some of our highlights this year were the DC Circulator and the National Arboretum. We also take advantage of new exhibitions even when they don’t tie into the curriculum, as was the case with the Kusama show at the Hirshhorn Museum. Really, who could pass up such a fun experience?!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We believe in play and we believe it should happen in museums. I know for some that might seem contradictory to museum etiquette, but we believe that play can and should happen in museums. With some forethought it can be done successfully with young children. Below you will observe how bringing some loose parts allowed one child to build a structure of his own. He was no doubt inspired by the house on view in the American History gallery where he was You can also see how we transformed a lesson on maple leaves into a game of placing leaves onto a tree. Finally, and perhaps one of my favorites, watch both the children and adults have fun practicing their penguin walk at the Natural History Museum.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SEE is a program that not only supports the child, but the parent/child relationship. Our educators help parents in their role as their child’s first teacher. We try to educate our parents on issues of child development and assist them as they navigate specific situations with their child. Caretaking is hard work and we use daily interactions, weekly emails, and conferences as ways to help parents navigate these early years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It takes a village and SEE is a community which relies on it’s families and staff to help cultivate a diverse learning experience and strong community. Below are just a few examples: one grandmother shares her sticky rice after viewing bowls from the Sackler Gallery, our resident science educator, and retired entomologist, shares his expertise and live specimens, a small potluck marks the end of a trimester, and one child focuses during their monthly visit to our art studio.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

We are proud of the Early Explorers program for not only its use of museums, but its approach to educating the whole child, supporting families, and creating community. We wish our graduates well and look forward to meeting our new students in the fall!

7

Do you have a child who will be between the ages of 18 – 24 months this fall? You may want to consider joining the SEE program. We are hosting our Prospective Student Day on May 24. During the day, we invite families to participate in the program to experience it for themselves and have the opportunity to talk to other families. Join us by registering here.

 

 

Color, Color, Everywhere

DSCN6760One of the first things we do with our young children is teach them the colors. As I sit and write this blog, I can hear families arriving for school and parents talking to their children about what they see in their environment and describing how they look – and most often I hear parents describing colors. Color helps us identify, sort, and can even elicit an emotional response. All too often though we, parents and educators, think of color in terms of art. No longer! The Smithsonian Libraries’ exhibit Color in a New Light will open up a whole new world and make you think about color in ways you haven’t before.

To put it in perspective, Sara Cardello, Education Specialist, at the Smithsonian Libraries has provided us with four fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) facts about color that will get you excited to learn more about color with your little one.

Fun Color Facts

Science

Did you know that in 1666, Sir Isaac Newton, an English physicist and mathematician made an important observation? He noticed, when looking through a prism, clear light was not clear after all. In fact, it was made from seven different colors, which we now know as the rainbow. These colors cannot be seen by our eyes all the time, but science has proven that in the right settings we can see that our light is very colorful!

newton_prism

Newton Sir Isaac Newton experimenting with a prism. Engraving after a picture by J.A. Houston, ca. 1870. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York

Technology
Did you know that before the 1880s all colors were made from natural dyes? It was not until an accident in 1856 that we got our first synthetic way to make color. William Henry Perkins, an English chemist, was searching for a cure for malaria. While experimenting with coal-tar, he noticed an oily residue left a vibrant purple stain on some silk. While the cure for malaria was not found, a new process to create synthetic dye was discovered and changed the technology of color forever.

Engineering

Henry Ford is credited with creating the affordable and mass produced automobile in America. The Model T was originally sold in red, gray, green, and black. But as demand rose for the car, production was not able to keep up. From 1914 to 1926 Ford only offered the Model T in black, because it dried the quickest. It wasn’t until a more efficient assembly line was engineered by Ford that they could begin producing the car in various colors and keep up with the booming automobile industry.

MathematicsIMG_0950

Robert Ridgeway was the first curator of birds for the Smithsonian in 1880. One of the things he noticed were all of the different colors used to describe the animals, which made it confusing for scientists. In 1886 he created A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists which helped count, sort, and order all the different colors and name them, like Warbler Green. His work helped take the mathematical guess-work out of bird watching!

SEEC and the Smithsonian Libraries will host an open Color Studio on Saturday, July 16. Don’t let the name fool you though, our color activities will be STEM inspired. We plan to mix and create our own colors, make our own paint, make rainbows and make a color-inspired mural. Following your studio experience, families will be given a guide to the Color in a New Light exhibit.

Join us for our upcoming Artful Afternoon featuring Color.

Word Expeditions

PrintIn the fall of 2015, the Friends of the National Zoo, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater, and the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, together with the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) were awarded a two-year grant through Grow Up Great, PNC’s initiative focused on early childhood education, to launch Word Expeditions. The grant’s objective is to build vocabulary in preschool students from the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Northeast DC. DCPNI works exclusively with this neighborhood supporting all members of the Kenilworth-Parkside and describes its mission as “improving the quality of their own lives and inspiring positive change in their neighborhood.”  The group has a strong foothold with families of young children and so it seemed natural to integrate Word Expeditions into their already existing Take and Play structure. Once a month, Smithsonian representatives visit Neval Thomas Elementary School during which time, families participate in activities that teach about the Institution’s collections, build vocabulary, and support a child’s development. The evening concludes with a meal and families take home a kit from DCPNI outlining fun and simple ways to incorporate learning and vocabulary skills at home.

DSCF1330A few weeks later, families are invited to come to the museum that co-hosted the
Take and Play. During their visit, families engage in similarly fun activities that reiterate the vocabulary and theme from the Take and Play. In addition to the literacy component, the Smithsonian wants to create a welcoming experience that will make families feel at-home and inspire them to visit again. We also hope that through these programs, they will begin to see how museums can be used as a place to learn and explore together as a family.

As part of the grant, SEEC was tasked with creating a unique map featuring the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The map displays the museums on and off the Mall and includes the Smithsonian Gardens and Discovery Theater. Each one is represented by an object, which isWord_Expeditions_Map Word_Expeditions_Map2accompanied by what I like to call, conversation starters. These conversation starters include key vocabulary terms that help families define some big ideas they can use to discuss the object. They also pose open-ended questions and suggest easy ways to engage with the object and use the vocabulary in ways that will help children understand and recall the word’s meaning.  For example, The Smithsonian Gardens description asks families to look closely at an elm tree and find its parts. The children will walk away with a concrete understanding of terms like roots, trunk and bark.  The National Portrait Gallery’s entry asks families to imagine what they would see, hear and taste if they jumped into the portrait of George Washington Carver and suggest that parents use the term five senses and, of course, portrait.

These conversation starters also motivate families to stop and take a look – conveying the importance of observation and careful looking. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden encourages families to walk around Juan Muñoz’ Last Conversation Piece and try to pose like the figures. The description features the words pose and conversation and also asks families to imagine what their conversation is about. Using a concrete analogy to the vocabulary is so important for young learners.

To keep families returning, we offer them four free tickets to Discovery Theater after visiting five museums, and a free book after visiting ten. Perhaps more important to the map’s success is the presence of Ariel Gory, Education Specialist for Early Learning, from the National Museum of American History. She speaks directly to families about the map. Her presence has been important in communicating the purpose of the map, encouraging families to use it, and creating a sense of community. She shares her experiences:

DCPNI NASM Photo1 (002)I find that dinner time at the Take and Play program provides the perfect opportunity for me to get to know families on a deeper level as I talk with them about the maps and their museum visits. Recently, I engaged in a conversation with two families who have become “regulars” at the workshops and museum visits.  When I asked what museums the families had visited lately, the mothers immediately began to list all of the museum trips they had been on since the program’s inception in the fall and what’s more, they described their visits in detail – recalling the vocabulary that was introduced and the activities in which they participated. It was exciting to see their enthusiasm for the program and it was clear that the map had helped foster and grow their interest in museums.

 Getting to see the map in action is one of the most uplifting aspects of this program. During a spring visit to the National Museum of American History, I noticed one mother rustling through her backpack before pulling out a well-worn map. “I can’t forget to get this signed!” she said. As I took a closer look at the map, I noticed that she had a signature for the National Air and Space Museum. I asked her when she had visited and she responded that they had gone the day before because her children had the day off from school. She noted that even though they weren’t in school that day, she still wanted them to “learn something.” Seeing that this mom had used the map to independently seek out a museum to expand her children’s learning shows the importance of programs like this.

So often we realize that local families are unfamiliar with the Smithsonian or feel that it is a place that they don’t belong. We hope that the map and the Word Expeditions program not only help to build young children’s vocabulary, but also encourage families to explore the opportunities for wonder and learning located in their backyards.

Supported by:
GUG_RGB

 

 

 

In cooperation with:

Friends of the National Zoo
Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian Associates/Discovery Theater
DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative

Museum Visits: Autumn Edition

Congratulations parents, you made it through the summer and the first month of school! By now, I hope you are settling into a routine and finding that you have a few free afternoons to enjoy this glorious time of year. While many of you are out apple-picking or in the pumpkin patch, the National Mall is another viable option. It can offer a cost-friendly opportunity where you can divide your time between the museums and taking in the beauty of the Nation’s Capital.

For this year’s fall picks, we have two categories: autumn-inspired exhibits and newly-opened features.

Autumn

PreK class making their own Arcimboldo portraits.

PreK class making their own Arcimboldo portraits.

Four Seasons in One Head is tucked deep inside the National Gallery’s main level in a room that is often forgotten but should never be ignored. Arcimboldo, known for his distinctive portraits in which faces are formed from natural materials, depicts the four seasons in this image. This portrait has an element of mystery that will pique a child’s curiosity and it offers a strong connection to what your child is observing everyday outside. To make deeper connections bring along straw and autumnal fruits for the child to touch and interact with during your visit (note: keep all materials in a sealed plastic bags).

Artifact Walls- You Must Remember This at the National Museum of American History is a no-brainer when it comes to fall-themed visits. Situated adjacent to the Warner Brothers Theater in the Constitution lobby of the National Museum of American History Museum, the cases showcase a selection of Hollywood costumes. In the past, it has featured such classics as robes from the Harry Potter films and Super Man’s cape. With Halloween fast approaching, this is a great stop for the family who wants to brainstorm costume ideas. It is also a learning opportunity for children to think about the process of costume making. PreK children might enjoy sketching their Halloween costume or working with an adult to make a list of materials you will need for the costume.   These simple activities will encourage fine motor development and planning skills. Younger children might enjoy reading a book where one of the costumes are featured or simply bringing a favorite book in which a character wears a costume.

image (7)Food: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 also at the National Museum of American History is the perfect stop as we begin to approach Thanksgiving.   This exhibition demonstrates the inclusive nature of American culture as seen through food. Young children can see examples of our multicultural food identity in their everyday lives as they accompany you to the grocery store or eat at a local restaurant. Before your museum visit, identify foods in your kitchen that originate from countries other than America and then see if you can find them in the exhibition. Infants and toddlers, on the other hand, might enjoy taking a stroll through the space and matching cooking implements from home with ones on display. End your visit by sitting at the large table planning your Thanksgiving meal or reading a book about family meals.

What’s New

Don’t forget that the Smithsonian is also home to the Discovery Theater. On November 23 and 24, the theater will host Mother Earth and Me: Sister Rain and Brother Earth. This interactive musical uses life-size puppets to tell the story of Mother Nature and her determination to save the Earth from drought – with the help of the audience. Recommended for ages 4-8, this story conveys the importance of working together to protect the Earth.

The Great Inka RoadThe National Museum of the American Indian has it all! It is brand new and showcases the museum’s cutting edge collaboration with the company ideum to capture 3D imaging of the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. The images can be viewed on an interactive touch table and are completely spherical. This technological innovation allows visitors to move through the images in all four directions and transports viewers into the space of the pictures. But that is far from the only interactive element. The exhibit also features several video and audio elements which include bilingual storytelling and two “flythrough” stations where you can take a virtual tour of Cusco.

IMG_3588

Family workshop participants heading into the Sackler Gallery.

Sōtatsu: Making Waves opens October 24th at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and based on prior experience, this will be a great stop for the family. The spacious galleries in the Sackler are often quiet and work well for families who might need a little space. If the two screens highlighted on the Sackler’s website: Waves at Matsushima and Dragons and Clouds  are any indication, the exhibition will be full of lively, dramatic imagery that will capture a young child’s imagination.  In addition to featuring large-scale Japanese screens (perfect for young viewers) hanging scrolls and fans will also be included. It is a great opportunity to introduce young children to these mediums and experiment with making your own versions. Don’t forget to check out the ImaginAsia classroom schedule on the Sackler’s website for the all-ages offering tied to this exhibition!

Children are Citizens: A Collaboration with Project Zero (Part II)

Book ImageChildren are Citizens

On April 25, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art several DC schools, including SEEC, and Harvard’s Project Zero celebrated the launch of a book authored by over 300 students. The book was the result of a research and professional development project entitled: Children are Citizens: Children and Teachers Collaborating across Washington, D.C. The premise of this project is the belief that children are as much part of the community as their adult counterparts. They should not only be able to voice their opinions, but also participate in their community. Through their participation children will learn to see other’s points of view, work together, and understand how we are all interconnected, thus creating an informed and thoughtful citizenry who will become active participants in our democracy.  To learn more about Project Zero and this collaboration visit here.

SEEC’s Role

The first phase of the project entailed some thoughtful discovery. Children and teachers had several conversations about what they thought of their city, what they would like to change, important people and places. The second phase culminated in a book where SEEC students focused on their relationship with the museums on the National Mall.

Three classes participated in this project—PreK3, PreK4 and Kindergarten. Our first installment in this series featured our PreK4 class (insert link) and this installment will explore our PreK3 class, the Wallabies. Their section of the book focused on their favorite parts of the Air and Space Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Museum of American History.

This interview was conducted with, Erin Pruckno, Wallaby teacher.

Erin Pruckno with her PreK3 Wallaby Class

Erin Pruckno with her PreK3 Wallaby Class

What made you want to participate in this project?

I wanted to participate in this project because the concept of citizenship and education is something I’m very interested in and was a major part of my master’s degree in International Education. In my studies, I encountered a lot of scholarship about citizenship education—how we educate students to be citizens, how students are citizens, the definitions of citizenship—however, not many touched upon citizenship and young children. This always irked me because, as an early childhood educator, I believe wholeheartedly that education at this age matters so much and that young children should be treated as citizens who have a vital role in our communities and our futures. So, I jumped at the opportunity to put to action these ideas.

Could you describe the process through which your class participated in the project?

We began by going on investigatory visits to the museums we were covering for our contribution to the book the project published. The Wallabies contributed pages on the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Air and Space Museum. During these visits, I looked for clues to what the students were interested in, as well as documenting their experiences in these spaces. Later in our classroom, we followed up with conversations on our visits; asking them about what was important about our museums, what other children should know about them, our favorite things there. I really wanted to encourage a sense of ownership from our children and to convey their passion and expertise to the book’s audience. We would then go on follow-up visits to the museums, continuing our conversations, and then later illustrating some of the things they saw or described.

Visiting the Air & Space Museum

Visiting the Air & Space Museum

Can you outline how this project was implemented in your classroom?

We tried to integrate the project into our already existing courses of exploration. For example, when we were learning about space, a trip to NASM was easy to do since it aligned with our topic and we could have a museum visit as well as research trip for the project. Other times, we set aside days to visit the museums and document our learning just for the purpose of the project.

How did the professional development portion of this project help or change your ideas of how to teach or connect children to the city in which they live?

As a professional development opportunity, the project really challenged me to think more about how I document student learning and also how I engage them in conversations. The method I’ve often relied upon with my class is to pose a question, then let students take turns to respond. However, when doing this, we have less of a dialogue among

the class and more of a back-and-forth between me and individual students. This project encouraged me to take a step back during classroom conversations and listen more—allowing students to talk to each other instead of directly to me.

file (1)

Making maps of the museums

The project seems to emphasize collaborations and discussion, is there a conversation you had among your students that really stands out?

Some of our most interesting conversations started when I would ask the Wallabies to share the most important thing to know about the museums and the students began talking about things you can’t do in museums. As I sat back and listened, letting them guide the conversation (which was, as I said, a challenge and learning experience for me), dramas would unfold about why we couldn’t touch exhibits or the planetarium screen. They came up with elaborate stories about how touching the screen would make a hole, creating a problem, workers would have to fix it, and the president and other people coming to the museum would feel sad that it was broken.

How do you think your students views of DC changes during the course of the project?

My hope was that my students expanded their understanding of other children in D.C. They already have a strong understanding of their families’ communities (coming from neighborhoods all over D.C., Virginia, and Maryland) and of our SEEC community, but I wanted them to think more about other students in D.C.  By asking them to think of what other children need to know about the museums, I think they became more aware of how there are children outside our community who do not know the museums as intimately as they do, and that these other students might have different perspectives on D.C. that we can both learn from and share our knowledge with.

What was one of your more challenging moments during the process?

As I mentioned, facilitating conversations in a way that encouraged students to have a dialogue among them was a challenge, but a good learning experience for us. Initially, some questions were difficult for students to answer such as those that asked them to think about D.C. broadly, but over the course of the project it became easier to provoke conversation as we broke down things into more manageable pieces, like discussions about individual museums.

Visiting the Hirshhorn as part of their study of light and dark.

Visiting the Hirshhorn as part of their study of light and dark.

What was one of the most rewarding moments during the process?

During one conversation, a student exclaimed to the class, “Guys! I know something!” I loved her enthusiasm, eagerness, and confidence in sharing her knowledge. This moment also summed up the project for me. I wanted to help my students show that even though they are young, they know something, many things in fact, about their community and Washington, D.C and that their contributions to our understanding of our city are to be valued and heard.

Fountain Fun

DSCN3881Pools, beaches, lakes, sprinklers…it’s that time again! Children all over the US are enjoying summer-time to its fullest and likewise, parents are looking for water-inspired activities. Here in DC, we are lucky enough to have a number of public fountains that are both beautiful and refreshing. Fountains capture the imagination of children, so why not take this opportunity to create a learning experience?

Duckling FountainInfants
Infants often have mixed feelings about water, it can be both scary and exhilarating. Why not introduce them to water through their senses, especially sight, sound and touch. Simply draw their attention to different aspects of the fountain.

  • Do they hear that sound? Mimic the roar of the fountain.
  • Describe the color of the water.
  • Connect the fountain to the actual feeling of water by getting their hands wet.
  • At home, identify other places where you might find water and remind them of their visit to the fountain.

Toddlers

Toddlers are excited by new things and fountains are no exception. Take the time to explore the fountain and ask simple questions about its design:

  • What direction is the water moving?
  • Is there water that is still, where?
  • From where do you think the water is coming?
  • What else do you see besides water?
  • Do you see any pictures or decorations?
  • Try making your own fountain at home with a hose and baby pool.

Preschool and UpFirefly Fountains

By now your child has seen a few fountains and you can begin to investigate the concept further. Here are some fun multidisciplinary ideas:
  • Rainbows, light and water. This blog has some nice experiments you can easily duplicate.
  • Experiment with force and getting water to move in a certain direction. You can even perform this experiment at home if you are feeling adventurous.
  • Discuss why fountains are used: are they pretty, do they help us remember something, are they for cooling off, do people seem to like them?
  • Ask them to choose a location in your community and design their own fountain.

Favorite DC Fountains

Fountain at the Hirshhorn

Fountain at the Hirshhorn

  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • National Museum of American History (Constitution Ave. Entrance)
  • US Navy Memorial Plaza
  • National Gallery of Art
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • Senate Fountain
  • WWII Memorial Rainbow Pool
  • Bartholdi Fountain
  • What is your favorite community fountain? Leave us a message!