The Summer Blues: How Museums and Libraries Support Summer Learning

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

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

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

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

Parent Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Object Feature: Louise Bourgeois’ Spider

It was during a recent conversation with one of our faculty, that made me pause and consider Louise Bourgeois’ Spider at the National Gallery of Art. To be honest, I wasn’t immediately drawn to this piece. I’m admittedly not a big fan of spiders, but, as is often the case, when you learn more about something it opens up new doors.i-k7Trf6j-X2

Size and Location

On the surface, this piece has a lot of elements that make it ideal for young audiences, most noticeably its location. I truly enjoy being in sculpture gardens. They are an all-ages space – conducive to movement and activity for children and still, contemplative, and provocative in a way that appeals to adults. The sculpture garden is a community space akin to a central square or other public space that features art. It is family friendly space that speaks to different generations who can learn and be inspired.

The piece is also worth highlighting for its size and 3-dimensional nature. While I rarely say “no” to using smaller artworks, a large piece that allows a child to move around it and view it from multiple perspectives, is always ideal. So caregivers and educators, if you visit, make sure that you leave time for ample careful looking. Notice things like the texture of the material, the details of the legs, and how it looks from different perspectives.i-ctMrDxC-X2

Content Connections

The artwork is an ideal segue into STEM, social emotional, and literary learning. First, it’s a spider. Spiders, while not always a crowd favorite, serve an important and definitive purpose in ecology. As an insect eater…. Young children don’t always see spiders as important or as helpers, but this immense artwork provides the opportunity to introduce the spider in a way that is new to a child. This makes me particularly excited as we think about museums as catalysts for children for learning about and protecting their community. In this case, being able to impart some information about the importance of spiders in our ecosystem, one can help children connect to their environment and understand that all living things play a valuable role.

i-mrJb3V9-X2Meaning

My colleague recently shared with me about the significance of the spider. Ms. Bourgeois created spiders in the latter part of her career as a symbol of her mother. Like the spider, she saw her mother as a protector. She viewed her as strong, but also vulnerable. While these are abstract concepts for young children, they can be illustrated by looking closely at the spider. Notice that it is large and tall, yet its legs outstretched like a hug. The spider is a childhood recollection, so the spider’s size is like that of an adult. Have the children imagine a favorite adult, how do they express their love or what do they do to help keep you safe.

Though I would not likely add onto this during a single lesson with young children, its worth noting that spider’s figure is also very delicate. I encourage you to look closely and find what areas of the sculpture look vulnerable or contradict its overall looming presence. Interestingly, Bourgeois’ memories of her mother reflect her father’s ten-year affair with her governess.

Finally, for learners of all ages, connecting art to literature is a way to enhance and build on both the literary and visual experiences. The first thing that came to mind was Charlotte’s Webb, but of course there are many child friendly stories out there that would accompany this sculpture. For example, Eric Carle’s The Very Busy Spider.

i-ZwMc9ms-X2Learning Extensions

Go on a hunt for spiders and spider webs.

Create a web together using string.

Visit the Insect Zoo and look for different types of spiders or Learning Lab – notice similarities and differences.

Spiders have eight legs, but did you know that most spiders have eight eyes too.

Make spider webs by laying paper down in an aluminum pan and moving tiny balls around that have been dipped in paint.

Object of the Month: Rocks Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History

img_2453Our inaugural Object of the Month is actually not so much an object, but a gallery. The Rocks Gallery in the National Museum of Natural History is tucked at the back of the Janet Annenber Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. Recently renovated, this gallery is great because it is often a little quieter than the adjacent galleries, objects are at varying heights, there is space to move, and most importantly, you can touch the objects.

Twos and Under

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This gallery is an ideal space for infants and toddlers – it provides them with the chance to explore different textures and build vocabulary. With all of the touchable rocks, you can walk around the gallery feeling things that are hard, bumpy, and smooth. Don’t limit yourself to what is in the gallery though, consider bringing a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket to juxtapose them with the hard rocks. Each time you touch a rock, consider singing a song or rhyme that uses the vocabulary to describe it. While in the gallery, stop and read a touch-and-feel book. Extend the visit outdoors by collecting rocks and saving them in a clear container so their collection is a visible reminder of their experience. Return to the gallery again and again noticing different physical characteristics of the rocks like color and size.

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Preschoolers

At the back of the gallery is a window that looks out towards the Capitol.  On the ledge of the window stands a selection of rocks that were used in making important buildings around Washington, D.C. You can touch all of these materials, so a great place to begin is by inviting preschoolers to observe by looking closely and touching. Ask them questions about what they notice or how the rocks are the same or different. You might even want to write their answers down and make a chart of their observations. If it is just you and your child – do the same by adding your own observations or that of a sibling.

After exploring the materials, you could reading The Three Little Pigs and think about how different materials make for stronger buildings. Bring in some straw, wood, and bricks and compare it to the rock in the galleries. Another approach would be to match the materials with the DC buildings by sharing photos or discuss explore how rocks are taken from the ground in places called quarries.  After leaving museums you could look for rocks embedded in the ground, pick up a collection of rocks to create your own home, or visit some of the buildings referenced in the exhibit.

This is just a small taste of what a parent or educator can do with this gallery. Have other ideas, please share them with us and the rest of our community.

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.

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Safari

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Meg McDonald. Her toddler classroom was learning about safari’s and decided to go on one in the museum. Below you will find a reflection from Meg and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We had been studying jungle animals and this week we focused on going on a safari. We began by discussing the items we might need to have a successful safari. We decided on binoculars, safari hats and vests. Throughout the week we spent time creating these items so everyone could have them for our safari. The day of the lesson each child was decked out in the vest, hat, and binoculars and given a wooden puzzle piece of a jungle animal.  It provided the children with something tangible to hold while we read Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andeae and took our safari through the exhibit.

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

I wanted the children to gain some understanding of the natural habitat of some of their favorite animals and how we can observe them during a safari. Many books and movies mis-represent the habitats of these animals and I wanted to provide them with authentic information and exploration. I also wanted to provide them with authentic and exploration. I also wanted them to have practice with matching through the puzzle pieces and photographs.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I feel that the most important measure of success is if the children enjoyed what they were experiencing and in this case they definitely did. They got very excited when they found their specific animals and as well as all the animals that we had been learning about previously. They also really liked the photographs and even asked to go back and see them again.

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

Instead of giving them the wooden animals I would have given them a small photo that had a more realistic representation of the animal. I think that would have made a more concrete connection to the photo exhibit.

Here are a few images from their safari:DSCN3497DSCN3506Earlier in the week the group discussed the type of gear they might need for a safari and worked on making their own for the museum safari. The group got all dressed up and then headed straight to the Into Africa  exhibit at National Museum of Natural History. DSCN3545Meg had the group gather at the front of the exhibit. She passed out different animals found in Africa and invited the children to let her know when they saw the same animal in her book: Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andeae.
DSCN3526DSCN3554They stayed very focused and attentive through the book, carefully watching for their animal to reveal itself. Some of the children worked together to help identify the animals of the different group. 
DSCN3569DSCN3570 DSCN3578Then it was time to head out on their safari. The binocular encourage lots of careful looking and sparked many conversations about the different animals.

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

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Baseball

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Ashlee Smith. Her two year old classroom was learning about baseball and decided to spend the day learning about what’s inside the ball. Below you will find a reflection from Ashlee and images from her lesson on baseball.

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What were your topics of exploration?

The Fireflies have been exploring baseball all summer. During this week, we talked about the baseball itself. We explored what a baseball looks like from the inside out and how it is made. We talked about how all baseballs (MLB) have to be the same size and weight and that baseballs are still hand-stitched.

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

I wanted the group to understand the materials used to make baseballs and provide them with the opportunity to explore textures of the materials found inside (yarn, string, and cork). I also wanted them to think critically about the shape and weight of the ball, exploring questions such as: “what other known objects are spheres?” and “why is the baseball the weight that it is?” Through the baseball lesson, I was also able to introduce the group to Alexander Cartwright (the proclaimed father of baseball).

What was most successful about your lesson?

I invited each child to help me create our own baseball with a cork, yarn and rubber. They really enjoyed the experience of using the materials to create a ball of our own.  We also ventured to the Hirshhorn Museum after circle time and they were happy to find the spheres that we just learned about!

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

The children in my class seemed to really enjoy exploring what makes up a baseball. If I could recommend something to another educator, it would be to have more materials to explore. I had materials for the kids to touch, but splitting into small groups with more materials may help them relate to the objects a little more!

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

DSCN3343Ashlee began by asking the group to look closely at the ball and think about its characteristics. The group was able to describe the ball as round and Ashlee introduce the group to the term sphere. She then had the group try to guess what might be inside.

DSCN3357Each child had a chance to touch and explore the ball before making their predictions. One child exclaimed, “a tiny crocodile!” and another said, “a rock!”
DSCN3365The class was very surprised to learn that baseballs have many different layers and at the very center is cork.
DSCN3378After explaining that the next layer of the baseball is rubber she then began demonstrating how the rubber is then wrapped in string and lastly covered in leather.
DSCN3396Ashlee then invited each child to take a turn wrapping the baseball in string.
DSCN3420After a quick snack the class headed over to The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see Spatial Concept Nature by Lucio Fontana. Ashlee began having the group compare the ball to the sculpture and reinforce the concept of a sphere. She then read the group Pete the Cat: Play Ball! by James Dean.
DSCN3427 DSCN3433Ashlee ended her lesson with a fun game that asked the children to use their imagination to pretend that the ball was something else. The game is called “This is What?” The child says “this is a ___” and the group responds with “a what?” You repeat this exchange three times and conclude with the group saying “ohhhh it’s ____.” The children had a fun time playing this game! One child claimed the ball was an apple and other made it a hat!

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