Object of the Month: Calder Gallery at the National Gallery of Art

As was the case in September, this month’s Object of the Month is actually an entire gallery. This gallery is dedicated to the artist, Alexander Calder, and is located in the newly re-opened East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. The latest iteration of this gallery is bright, airy, colorful, and full of shadows. It is in many ways the perfect art space for a young child can while away their time looking and getting lost in their imaginations.
The objects within the gallery can be used in conjunction to several age-appropriate themes.

  • Shadows – The sundial just outside the Smithsonian Castle in the Haupt Garden  + Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch would round out the experience.
  • Color – Calder’s bold color palette is a great way to introduce your child to colors.
  • Shape – Circles, triangles, even a quadrilateral (the elephant’s ears)!
  • Ocean – Finny Fish offers an imaginative take on our ocean friends- combine it with a trip to the Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall.
  • Balance – His mobiles are a great way to introduce children to the concept of balance.
  • Movement/Wind – Take notice, Calder’s mobiles move and come alive!
  • Space – Many of his pieces reminiscent of the solar system, especially Vertical Constellation with Bomb.

 

Infants, Toddlers, and Twos

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Visit the NGA’s website to learn more about each of these objects.

The animals in the center of the gallery are a perfect height for your infant and toddler, especially those who are in the stroller and struggling to see what is around them. I like the idea of pairing these objects with Sandra Boyton’s Are You a Cow or Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo. I am also very fond of the Crinkly Worm and pairing it with one of my all-time favs- Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. Whichever literary direction you go, you can also choose to bring photos, stuffed animals, or even watch a short video featuring one of the animals. Head out to the nearby terrace and see if you can imagine moving like a bull or a worm.  If worms, cows, and bulls aren’t your thing, then focus on the elephant. This sculpture is a playful interpretation of the animal and is certain to capture your child’s attention. Enjoy an elephant hunt though the 3Smithsonian and stop by the Sackler Gallery to see the Seated Ganesha, the rotunda of the Natural History Museum to see Henry the Elephant and of course, the Zoo. Take a photo of each visit and display it somewhere at home where your child can see it (you could make a mobile if you want to stay true to the Calder theme). By documenting their experience, it will help them connect events and see their own learning.

Threes and Four

I was recently in this gallery with a group of adults as part of a workshop and I was asked to work with a partner to create something Calder–inspired with paper and some scotch tape. We don’t often think about it, but museums, with the right materials, can also be art studios.  I love these types of activities not just because they support creativity, but because they encourage young children to look carefully. Here are a few gallery-safe ideas:

  • Sketch the shadows on the walls2
  • Use pipe cleaners to make shapes and forms.
  • Add pieces to a mobile that you have started
  • Have them tear a piece of paper into one of the shapes they see  (just remember a trash bag).

Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget to share your ideas with us too!

A Playful Experiment

Originally posted May 2014:

This past week I had the chance to attend one of SEEC’s seminars: Play: Engaging Learners in Object Rich Environments. During the two-day workshop, we explored the meaning of play and how to use it when teaching with objects. We began the seminar by defining play as a group. Some of the key words were: fun, tools, free thought, child directed, social, emotional, intellectual. To help us articulate the discussion, we also read Museum Superheroes: The Role of Play in Yong Children’s Lives by Pamela Krakowski, which distinguishes play as:

active engagement, intrinsic motivation, attention to process rather than the ends, nonliteral (symbolic behavior) and freedom from external rules.1

I reflected on these concepts and how they related to my own teaching. I wondered how I could incorporate more play into my practice, especially when I was in the museums. I decided to try out some new play strategies on a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art with a group of preschoolers.

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Asher Brown Durand The Stranded Ship 1844 oil on canvas National Gallery of Art Gift of Ann and Mark Kington/The Kington Foundation through Millennium Funds 2003.71.1

My first playful endeavor was completely spontaneous. I began the discussion by asking the children to describe this painting by Asher Brown Durand. One  girl pointed toward the artwork and said:

The sun is always moving through the sky.

I took this opportunity to ask the rest of the class whether they had ever noticed the sun moving through the sky too. They immediately offered their own examples. At that moment, I decided we should play the Earth. I asked everyone to stand up and slowly turn their bodies. I grabbed a parent and had her stand in the center pretending to be the sun.  As we moved, I explained how it was actually the Earth’s rotation that made it look the sun was moving in the sky. This was a completely unexpected and child-initiated moment, which was great. I think it was the playful element though that really made the experience memorable. If I hadn’t asked the children to get up and pretend to be the Earth, they would have been less likely to understand and remember the concept of rotation. By having them participate in the experience the concept was made real, tangible.

Part of the seminar was inspired by our colleagues at Discovery Theater. This session was, as one would expect, more theater driven and honestly, really challenged me. As the class continued to describe the Durand painting, I added secondary questions to enliven the discussion. For example, when the ocean was observed, I asked them to show me with their bodies how the ocean was moving and then I asked them to make the sound of the waves.  The kids were happy to illustrate both for me so when it came time to talk about the clouds and wind, we added sound effects and movements again. These exercises captured the essence of the painting, encouraged different learning styles and made everything more fun.

photo 2 (3)As the last part of the object lesson, I laid out several objects and asked them to work together to recreate the painting. They needed no instruction, but went right to work, collaborating until the composition was complete. Was it exactly like the painting, no, but they had used these tools to create their OWN composition. They were quite proud and were completely engaged in the activity. I saw them looking back at the painting, rearranging objects and making their own decisions.

All in all, the visit felt playful and meaningful. I am continuing to think about how to make my lessons more playful and how play can be a tool for learning within the museum environment.  If you have any ideas, please share!!!!

1. Journal of Museum Education, Volume 37, number 1, Spring 2012, pp. 49-58.

Celebrate NAEYC’s 2016 Week of the Young Child™! Guest Post by Rhian Evans Allvin

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A special guest post by Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director of the National Education for the Education of Young Children

Every year, NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child™ brings together thousands of young children, educators, and families from around the globe in celebration of our youngest learners. WOYC™ is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the joy and play that are at the heart of early learning.

During this year’s Week of the Young Child™, April 10—16,  parents and teachers are encouraged to explore developmentally-appropriate activities based around five fun daily themes: Music Monday, Taco Tuesday, Work Together Wednesday, Artsy Thursday, and Family Friday. These suggested themes offer activity ideas supporting early math, language, literacy, and more, while promoting social-emotional development with diverse hands-on learning opportunities.

For this year’s WOYC™, NAEYC invites everyone to get involved in the celebration!  Make up a fun dance routine to our 2016 featured song, “One Love” as performed by Aaron Nigel Smith and the One World Chorus on Music Monday, or invite children to help measure ingredients on Taco Tuesday. Work Together to explore the world around you on Wednesday, create imaginative works of art on Artsy Thursday, and celebrate your unique family on Family Friday!

The Week of the Young Child™ is also a great opportunity to thank early educators for their hard work and dedication to the early learning profession. Research tells us that US voters overwhelmingly believe that early educators play an essential role within our communities—nearly on par with firefighters and nurses. These same voters recognize that early childhood educators have complex and demanding jobs and responsibilities, and that our national policies do not reflect the vast amount of developmental science supporting the importance of high-quality early learning experiences during a child’s most formative years. No matter how you celebrate WOYC™ this year, be sure to thank the early educators in your life, and the family members who help encourage learning at home.

As an NAEYC-accredited program, the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center has proven to maintain high-quality early learning standards and offers quality learning experiences to its students and community. NAEYC is excited to see the fun activities and learning experiences that will be taking place this year! Teachers and families are encouraged to share their WOYC™-inspired activities by sharing photos, activity ideas, videos and more to NAEYC’s Facebook or Twitter using #woyc16, or sending directly to woyc@naeyc.org. We can’t wait to see how you celebrate the early learners in your life!

NAECY2To learn more about NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child™ visit naeyc.org/woyc. To get involved in the conversation about supporting and elevating the early education profession through our nation’s public policy, join NAEYC’s Early Ed for President movement at earlyedforpresident.org.

The Art Room

We recently featured our art educator, Carolyn Eby, in our bi-weekly Teacher Feature.  We thought it would be great to take another look at the work she is doing with all of our age groups. Check out some of her great ideas!

Infants Explore the Arctic

Carolyn used frozen paints and invited each child to mix them with other colors on their tables. After which, she took a mono print of their work. Children later ripped the mono print to create a collage – a fun activity that also helped them build important fine motor skills!

Toddlers Sand Paint

This sand paint, made with puffy paint and baking soda,  was delivered straight to the toddler class in dump trucks — the perfect accompaniment to their study of, you guessed it, trucks!

PreK-3 Color Mixing

Our preschool students join Carolyn every afternoon for art. Here we see them exploring color with the help of a light table. They also used eyedroppers and watercolors to explore what happened when the colors ran together. So focused!

 

PreK-4 Shapes

Like the three-year-olds, the fours join Carolyn every afternoon. Here she took a common  theme, shapes, and added depth. On the floor, the students are participating in a drawing game in which the dice indicate a color and a shape. Then, she had the class paint with sponges cut into specific shapes. Finally, she has them cutting shapes to match an artwork. They approached the concept in a variety of ways and thus, got a deeper understanding of it and had a lot of fun!

Teacher Feature: Preschool Classroom Explores Architecture

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Jessie Miller. Her three year old classroom was learning about architecture and decided to spend a day creating models. Below you will find a reflection from Jessie and images from her lesson on architecture.

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What were your topics of exploration?

During our exploration of architecture, we talked about the process architects and builders go through to create houses. With the help of Chris Van Dusen’s book If I Built a House, we discussed what kinds of things we would want to include in our own dream house. After the architects make blueprints they often create models of what they want to build. The students used their previous knowledge of architecture and their new ideas from the story we read to create their own model of a house. Each child was given a shoe box as a starting point and they used materials such as cardboard, paper, ribbon, tape, markers, scissors, etc. to build their model homes. During this activity, we talked about making sure the houses have a solid foundation on which to build and what kinds of essential elements they needed to function as a home. It was also a way to show them how models are created to help architects visualize what they want something to look like before they actually begin building it.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

The class had been studying architecture for a few weeks prior to this lesson and I wanted them to have a hands on experience related to this topic. We had read countless books on architecture, created our own blueprints, observed the architecture around us, learned about building materials and tools, and even met with some real architects! I wanted the children to use all this knowledge they had learned and apply it to this project. After this lesson, they should understand the concept of what a model is and why they are an important tool for architects. I also wanted the class to take on the role of the architect and see how they can use their own ideas to create something. They should also be able to compare the things they were putting in their model to real life. For example, if they added cardboard to the top of their shoe box it could represent a roof or if they cut a hole in the side it may be a door.

What was most successful about your lesson?

This lesson was a great way to have the class express themselves in a creative way without many restrictions. They were given a lot of space and a range of materials to work with, which allowed them to all work on a project at the same time but at their own pace. There were three adults and twelve children so there were extra hands when the children needed help with something. I think the most successful part of the lesson was that the children were able to create something of their own and have fun with it. The lesson was structured in a way that allowed them to move around a lot and not be confined to sitting in one place or having to wait long periods of time to get a turn. The Wallabies really impressed me with all of the conversations they were having about what they were building and how they were able to take their ideas and turn them into something real. This lesson also leaves the children with a final product they can keep and be proud of.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

This was a fun activity for the Wallabies but it takes some time and effort to complete. We were able to do the activity on the floor of a large art space which was much more conducive then tables in the classroom. However, because of the amount of children and materials it could get a bit cluttered at times and the clean up is a process as well. One issue that arose was how much tape the children needed. Because they still needed help from teachers to get tape, it was hard for me to pass it out as quickly as they needed it. Therefore, I would have more of that ready for them beforehand. Doing this activity with smaller groups could be helpful as well so the teachers can work with more children one on one. It is also important to either have a set time when everyone stops or have something for them to do once they begin finishing the activity. Some children get really detailed with their models, while others may rush through it quickly so it is important to be mindful of this difference.

Here are a few images from their unit on the architecture:

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Throughout the week the group studied blueprints and worked on their own sketches.

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The group even visited with Natural History Museum’s building manager to look at blueprints for the museum and learn about the role of an architect.

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For this lesson, Jessie wanted to focus on the children creating models of a house of their own design. She read the group If I Built a House to inspire them to think creatively about what their dream house might include.

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Jessie then explained that each child was going to get a box and could use any of the materials she collected (string, ribbon, cardboard pieces, dot paint, straws, etc) to create their model. Jessie had the group work together to help build her model before beginning to work on their own.

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The children were able to get lots of fine motor and problem solving practice during their construction.

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When the children were finished, they would describe their house to one of their teachers. This little girl explained: “I love the house. The strings are woggly and there are dots on the bottoms and dots on the top. The cotton balls are windows up top.”

This class had a wonderful time learning about architecture! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!

 

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

Children are Citizens

Visiting the Smithsonian Castle

Visiting the Smithsonian Castle

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. We will begin with the PreK4 class, also known as the Cinnamon Bears. Their section of the book focused on their favorite parts of the National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian Castle and some insider tips, including that the Smithsonian Castle is not a real castle! It also featured a list of their favorite objects in the museums, a story entitled The Story of How the Security Officers Own the Museums and photos of museum collections taken by the children.

Below you will find the interview with Cinnamon Bear teacher, Carrie Heflin about her experience with the Children are Citizens project.

Carrie teaching

Carrie Heflin

What made you want to participate in this project?

Project Zero is such an influential presence in the Early Childhood community and I feel so strongly about encouraging children to be active citizens that when we were asked to participate in this project, my commitment was a no-brainer. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better idea for a worthwhile endeavor than to show the DC community and my students how capable and powerful they can be.

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

We spent a lot of time talking together as a class about our ideas for this project. Much like the process for the adult facilitators, at least the first fifty percent of the project was all planning and bouncing ideas around. We didn’t get to the actual field work—researching and putting together the data for the book until around February. I loved the sense of respect and community that I felt in the classroom when we had these discussions. It was so nice to take time to just talk about our feelings and opinions and to truly listen to each other.

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

The teachers did most of the facilitation for this project. We started out with some casual discussions about the city and about the project and then moved on to talking about the book, how books are made, and what information we wanted to contribute to the final product. A member of the coordinating team, Ben Mardell, would stop by occasionally to check in on our progress and to talk with the students about their ideas and opinions on the project thus far. The last phase was the most active. We went to all the different museums we had chosen to showcase in our portion of the book and took pictures and gathered information in small groups.

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?

I really enjoyed getting to know and hear ideas from educators at other schools. We got together about five different times over the course of the project and it was lovely to share our experiences and learn how other classrooms explore the city. I always left our meetings feeling so inspired about all of the wonderful ways other educators were making the city accessible to their students and it helped challenge me to reexamine the way I looked at the city and how I talked about it with my class.

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Bears Display at the NGA

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

One of my favorite conversations I had with the class happened after one of Ben Mardell’s visits. He had talked to a small group of students about the museums and they ended up starting a story about where the museums came from. Ben sent me the script of the conversation in an email and, when I read the story back to the class they all had something to add. Before long it had morphed into this origin story of how the museums came into being. I learned so much about my students and how they view our community. They had these wonderful ideas about how the security officers are the real owners of the museums and they protect them from all the “bad guys.” I was so taken with the story and the children were so invested in it that it ended up hedging out some other material that we had originally intended to include in the book and it is still my favorite part of our section.

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

I don’t know that their views changed so much as my views widened to include more of theirs. I don’t have any hard evidence of any of my students budging even an iota on their original convictions, but the sense of understanding we gained from each other and from all of our conversations and collaborations in the classroom strikes me as very profound- even if it wasn’t the original intent.

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

I was often challenged by trying to balance working on the project and teaching lessons on our current topic of study. I know some of the other schools that participated made the project their main focus rather than trying to add it on to their curriculum. I think I might try that track if I had it to do over again.

What was one of the most rewarding moments during the process?20150425_105806

The absolute most rewarding moment was at the book release event at the National Gallery of Art when I saw all of the students walking around wearing big red badges that said “Author” on them. The sense of pride, accomplishment and empowerment was palpable and I think that really was the point of the whole thing.

Teacher Feature: Infant Classroom Explores Mail

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Jill Manasco. Her infant class was learning about communication and decided to spend time learning about mail. Below you will find a reflection from Jill and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?:

Our topic of exploration was mail/communication/writing letters. We looked at the different types of mail like magazines, letters, bills etc. We also talked about where our mail comes from and how it gets from place to place.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?):

I wanted them to see where our mail comes from and how it gets to other people. Also, I wanted them to see what kinds of things are sent and received through the mail.

What was most successful about your lesson?:

Our trips to the post office and NH mail room were the most successful things about our lesson. They enjoyed mailing a letter to our friend Emerson and also picking mail up for the school.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?:

The entrances to the post office were tricky for us since we are in buggies. The doors were not automatic and they were really hard to open but with an older group that would not be a problem.

Here are a few images from their unit on mail:

DSCN2721The group got all bundled up and headed straight to the post office for their lesson!

DSCN2725Earlier in the week the group worked together to write a letter to a friend who had moved. Jill showed the class the mailbox where they were going to drop off the letter but explained that they needed stamps to make sure it got all the way to their friend in a different state!
DSCN2731In the post office, they stopped to check out some of the boxes where people get mail.

DSCN2737Jill showed and re-read the note to the group.

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DSCN2748She invited each child to help participate in the mailing process. Above a child is adding the letter to the envelope and below he is helping to seal it up!

DSCN2755Then it was time for Jill to weigh the letter and purchase the postage. Jill narrated the whole process to the friends.

DSCN2761Last step was the postage! This little boy loved how sticky it was!

DSCN2767Then it was time to mail the letter! When the letter arrived at its location the group was able to Skype with the recipient and see how their letter had traveled all the way to her.

This class had a wonderful time learning about communication! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!