SEEC at Home: Environment

For many families engaging in virtual learning the delineation between home and school has all but disappeared. Our preschool teachers thought it be helpful to share a few things about how we set up and implement different strategies in our SEEC classrooms. The tools we use at school may also be helpful for establishing routines and daily schedules at home and most strategies are easy to adapt! Today we’ll share some specific techniques about how we set up our school environment to help young children gain independence and success.

Five pillows sit on top of blankets in an alcove.

Cozy Corner/Safe Space

Cozy corners provide a safe space for children to go and are needed now more than ever. They help children to regulate their emotions by taking space and time to process. At SEEC, different classrooms set up their cozy corners differently, but they all serve the same purpose. Here is a list of items that might be in a cozy corner: 

  •  Pillows
  •  A soft rug or something to sit on
  •  Lovies
  • Sensory items like a stress ball, liquid timer, or sensory bag 
  • Calming pictures, like photos family or a favorite place
A child puts up the label "backpack" on a cubby in a classroom. Two labels are seen below: "clothes" and "Teacher Cubby".

Labels 

Labels have a several benefits. First, they help make clean up quicker! When shelves, containers, and or cabinets are labeled, children can figure out where things go on their own. Labels also help children develop their pre-literacy skills; they reinforce the idea that words have meaning. They can be handwritten or printed, as long as your child knows what they are. If you can use images of the actual object, that can be helpful. In the classroom, we label as much as we can including the following: 

  • Containers for toys and the shelves they go on 
  •  Sink, soap dispenser
  •  Art materials
A child washes their hands at a sink with photo instructions displayed on the wall above the sink.

Photo Instructions  

We try to use photo instructions whenever possible. While children can’t read written instructions, they can follow photo instructions. Photo instructions are step by step instructions using images to cue the children.  

Using photo instructions: Go over them with your child first. Say the steps as you point to the images. Over time, remind your child to follow the pictures when they need help. Eventually, they will feel confident using the image all on their own. Photo instructions are helpful in the bathroom, for getting dressed, for getting ready to go outside, and more! 

Making your own: For these, we try to use real images of the children doing the actions in the instructions, but you can use clip art images, hand drawn images, or whatever you have on hand. Just make sure that you go over them with your child before implementing them.  

A child uses a small towel to wipe a door.

Tools for Children at Their Level  

Young children are learning to establish their independence and providing them with opportunities to exercise that independence is important. In order to facilitate those opportunities, we place the tools they need in spots where children can access them. By providing them with that space and those tools you are showing them that this is a job meant for them! 

For example, later in the year we will have friends help set up for lunch. This means putting out the placemats, utensils, plates, cups and napkins. We make sure these are in a low place so they can access so they can have the independence to take on the job themselves. Children also start to help clean up after themselves by stacking chairs and cleaning spills. 

Take Your Time

This is a very trying time for families with young children. While we offer these ideas to help with structure in your home, finding time to implement them can be hard. Try doing one strategy a month, or whatever timeframe works for you. Caregivers are doing the impossible right now – you’re doing great!


Interested in what else the classrooms and the full-time school look like? Check out the dates for our virtual open houses for the 2021 – 2022 school year.

Distance Learning Discoveries

Similarly to most schools in the world, SEEC was thrown a huge curveball in March when we closed the doors to our centers and embarked on a virtual journey with the youngest of children. Faculty and families alike worked to find best practices for our children to maintain relationships and engagement while connecting through a screen. Much of our philosophy focuses on experiencing the world in person with strong social interactions, so we wrestled with how this would translate to a whole new platform. Like many others dealing with this new normal, we have been actively trying out new strategies and assessing their success as we go. We wanted to share our successes, failures, and reflections from the past five months through a blog series. Below are some of the themes we will expand on in the coming weeks.

Create a Routine

Children thrive when they have a routine. Knowing what is coming next gives children a sense of control and comfort especially in the midst of a sudden, major, lifestyle change. So it’s not surprising that our faculty found it helpful to outline the plan of the day at the start of each lesson. In addition, our teachers often began each session in the same way, for example, singing a hello song, or doing some deep breathing, and ended in the same way. These subtle cues helped children adjust to adapt to the new “classroom”

A young child sits on a chair looking at a computer in which a photo is displayed of a man playing a trumpet.

Community Connections

While we may all be physically apart from each other, we still need to connect with our community through authentic interactions. We’ve had other school community members join video calls to share their expertise in a topic that the class is learning about. For example, one of our preschool classes was learning about gardening and produce. One of our toddler educators is a gardener and was able to join them from her home and share some of her plants and tools with them. Other ways to connect to the community include sharing related videos and images of community members and safe, nearby, locations that families could visit.

Make it Silly

Life is challenging right now, for parents, teachers, kids, everyone. Our faculty wanted to lighten the mood, so they kept the silliness and fun flowing even while virtual. Some silly strategies they employ are creating characters who appear on the video calls, playing music and having a virtual dance party, and having a week of theme days such as crazy hair day or dress like your favorite book character day.

In addition to needing to keep the silliness, our faculty also quickly recognized the children’s need for plain, simple, social interaction. Some of our preschool classes began having virtual snack time where children signed on and ate their snack and chatted together like they would at school. This has become very popular among the children and it often lasts far longer than the teachers anticipate!

Maintain Relationships

Strong relationships are essential to meaningful learning experiences in early childhood. While more difficult to foster through screens, it is possible! Besides one-on-one video calls between teachers and students, our faculty incorporates photos of the children in their lesson presentation. The children love to see themselves in the presented topic, and are able to reflect on past learning. Each of our classes also has a shared photo album where families can upload photos from the week. This allows children to see each others’ learning and feel a connection with their peers.

A young child sits in front of an open cabinet, pulling out bowls, measuring cup, and pans.

Incorporate Objects

A cornerstone of our practice is the use of objects to teach children. We often venture into the museums to observe and learn about artifacts or artworks related to our curriculum, but we also frequently use everyday objects and find that they’re also a powerful tool. While we’re away from the museum, teachers have asked children to bring their own easily accessible objects to the class, which has served several purposes. First, children became more invested in the session because they had something to share to the experience. Having an object also allows for tactile learning that is so important in early childhood when a teacher cannot physically facilitate that from a screen. Sharing objects also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world.


We’re taking everything we’ve learned and incorporating it into Virtual Family Workshops this fall. To learn more and register, check our Family Workshops page. Also, be sure to check back for more blogs expanding on the above themes.

Honoring My Child’s Interests

This post was written by Maureen Leary, Director of Toddler and Kindergarten Programs

Value of Virtual

When the Smithsonian closure due to Coronavirus health concerns was announced in mid-March, none of us had a clear sense of how long it would last. Once it became obvious that it was going to be more than a few weeks, SEEC faculty immediately transitioned to conducting distance learning through online platforms. Teaching young children this way is neither ideal nor intuitive, but we knew we needed to quickly develop these skills to better support our families. At SEEC we believe it’s important for us to offer virtual interactions for a number of reasons. It provides personal connections during a time when we can’t experience them directly; it offers an anchor point for themes and topics that families can explore in their own way and on their own time; it inserts some amount of structure into the days and weeks that have been completely upended; it allows children to retain a level of comfort and familiarity with peers and educators during what has turned into an extended closure with no definitive end.

The Challenges of Virtual

Many families are craving the connections and routines that suddenly disappeared from our lives, and appreciate the opportunity to see each other virtually. That said, we also know that consistently participating in these interactions can sometimes be a challenge. Maybe your child is tired, hungry, grumpy, or just uninterested. It could be that you have a work conflict and you can’t prioritize your child’s meeting over your own. Perhaps you’re feeling overstretched and just don’t want to add one more thing to your day. Skipping your child’s scheduled activity might cause feelings of guilt and worry, and cause you to wonder if it’s ok to be missing these online interactions.  At SEEC our answer is always an emphatic yes. We encourage families to follow their children’s leads on what helps the day go smoothly for them. It might be that they’d rather go outside during a virtual circle time, or that they just have no interest in it at all. Maybe they refuse to talk or get frustrated with how the conversation goes. All of this is developmentally appropriate and totally ok. Enrichment can be found in so many ways, in moments small and large, and doesn’t always have to be carefully orchestrated. What’s really important right now is that all of us, children and adults, feel cared for and supported.

Tips for Virtual

If you do choose to participate in an online “circle” here are some helpful hints compiled from conversations we have been having with our SEEC community. 

  • Some children are camera-shy. Don’t insist that they talk or even appear on the screen. Giving them repeated exposure to the format and letting them develop comfort with it at their own pace is likely to increase their participation. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok, too!
  • If your child is reluctant to talk but does want to be included, suggest they give a virtual high-five or a thumbs up as a way to connect with others.
  • Check with your child’s teachers about scheduling some one-on-one screen time. Even just 10 minutes of individual attention this way can pay big dividends. 
  • Some families have found it’s easiest to pair distance learning with snack time, so the child is staying in one place and not becoming distracted by other surroundings.
  • Alternatively, if the weather’s nice and it’s hard to be inside, try bringing your screen outside and participating that way. We’ve seen toddlers actively engage in circle time while also riding a tricycle down the street!

Screen Time

One final, related note: a recurring concern with the current environment is that young children are getting more screen time than is recommended. This is an issue we are always thinking about, and while we agree it’s best to limit screen time for young children, we do believe that distance learning offers important benefits, especially as we practice social distancing. At SEEC, we generally advocate for the limited use of screens when they are a single element of a larger, interactive experience. Of course, there may be families who opt out entirely of distance learning for the screen time concern alone, and that is also a decision we respect. We always want families to do what feels right for their own well-being, and it certainly won’t be the same for everyone. We encourage you to trust your instincts, be responsive to the needs of your child, and reach out to your child’s educators if you have any questions or concerns.