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!

Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Nature

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Brittany Brown. Her older infant classroom decided to spend a day doing a survey exploration of nature. She wanted to introduce the group to the different aspects of nature to see what they were most interested in exploring. Below you will find a reflection from Brittany and images from her lesson on nature.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We spent the day exploring nature and the environment around us.

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

I wanted my students to have a better understanding of their environment. I noticed that the children were becoming increasingly interested in exploring the natural world they encounter every day and thought it would be an excellent topic for our group to focus on. I wanted the lesson to be as hands on as possible, and to teach them that it’s okay to interact with the different things you find (bugs, dirt, flowers, trees, grass). I tried to focus on nature in a more broad terms to start because I wanted to see which aspects in particular caught their interest. We could then move to doing a more in depth study on those topics later in the week.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I believe the most successful parts of our lesson were the hands- on materials I brought along to the museum visit. The great thing about exploring nature in the Natural History Museum is that we are able to provide the children with multiple touch points. In addition to the books and objects I brought into the gallery space, we were also able to observe real insects as well as view amazing nature photography. Seeing the children’s reaction to the variety of insects, objects, and images gave me a clear picture of their interest and provided inspiration for future lesson plans.

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

I decided to spend the entire week exploring nature. While I valued the general exploration of the topic, I think ultimately, it would have been better to break down the topic, maybe focusing on just trees, flowers, or insects. I believe the focused study would have given them a greater understanding of specific topics. Also, I would recommend using as many sensory based activities and books as possible when developing a lesson. I believe the combination really helps children better understand what’s being taught.

Here are a few images from their unit on nature:DSCN3140Brittany began by taking her group up to the Insect Hall at The National Museum of Natural History. On many mornings there is an interpreter in the gallery with different insects for the children to meet.  

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The children got to meet a live caterpillar and compare it to the Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The group practiced using gentle hands and loved exploring the texture of the caterpillar.

DSCN3157Brittany then had the group observe the display of chrysalis and butterflies. She explained that the caterpillar they just saw would eventually become a chrysalis and then a butterfly.


DSCN3164 DSCN3176To reinforce the information she was sharing with the group, Brittany read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She was sure to point to the corresponding exhibits as she read.


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DSCN3197Brittany then led the group around the gallery to look at the other insects. She brought along a sensory bag full of dirt, small insects, and foliage for the children to touch in the exhibit.


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The group went up to see the Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places photography exhibit. The class had fallen in love with the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson so Brittany read the book in front of one of the photographs in the exhibit.

DSCN3230The last stop was to the edge of the Butterfly Garden (located outside of the Natural History Museum) to interact with plants and insects in their natural environment. Brittany encouraged the group to feel the textures and smell the different plants.

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

Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores The Moon

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Melinda Bernsdorf. Her toddler classroom was learning about opposites and decided to spend a week learning about the sun and the moon. Below you will find a reflection from Melinda and images from her lesson on the moon.

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What were your topics of exploration?

In our classroom, we have been talking about opposites. This week, we looked at day and night, something very familiar to the kids, and discussed the differences between these two concepts. We talked about the noticeable differences in the level of light, and the different objects we see in the sky during day and night. We started in the atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian. There is a large skylight that has metal work resembling a sun which lets sunlight shine into the space. There is also a set of prisms, and as the outside light shines through, rainbows move across the walls. We then looked at the amazing star scape on the ceiling of Our Universes in the National Museum of the American Indian. To focus our attention, we brought “telescopes” we made earlier in the week, and found shapes in the stars. To deepen our discussion on the moon, we talked about the texture of the surface, and each child was able to imprint their own Styrofoam moon with finger shaped craters. We also talked about how our actions are different in the day and night. There was lots of discussion about sleep and play.

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

Exploring opposites is always a great way to involve our kids in scientific discovery and early math skills. I want the kids to become more familiar with the vocabulary on these subjects. We compare and contrast, and talk about observation and investigation. In this lesson, I wanted to bring the attention of the children to a more complex conversation about an everyday experience. I also wanted them to have a great immersive experience, reading about the sun and brightness in the atrium where they could see it shining through the prisms, casting rainbows on the walls, as well as talking about the moon and stars while sitting with “telescopes” under a night sky.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The kids really enjoyed the telescopes. They recognized their work from earlier in the week and felt a sense of ownership and pride as their art project became a tool. They focused on the stars and moon longer when using the telescopes, and having a tactile object that related to the lesson helped lengthen their attention span.

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

Trying to extend our lesson with the Styrofoam moon would have worked better in the classroom. I was hoping for an art activity that would lend itself well to the museum environment, however I ended up asking toddlers to sit for too long. Between the time in the atrium and then the time under the stars, we became a bit antsy. When I attempt this lesson again, I think we might talk a little more about the moon and its surface on a different day. I would also like to expand this project by having the kids paint the newly-cratered surfaces of their Styrofoam moons with a mud or clay based liquid, and decorate the other side of the Styrofoam with orange and yellow tissue paper. This will give them a tactile object that represents both the moon and the sun. Like the telescopes, these could be made ahead, and brought with us to the museum to bring both aspects of the lesson together.

Here are a few images from their unit on opposites:

DSCN3274Melinda took the group straight to the National Museum of the American Indian for their lesson. When they first pulled into the museum she had the group stop and observe the light coming from the ceiling portal.
DSCN3277Melinda then showed the group an image of the sun and asked them to compare it to the light that was coming out of the portal. They talked about the shape and the amount of light they could see.
DSCN3282Melinda gave each child the chance to look closely at the image.
DSCN3284She also referenced a book they had read earlier in the week about the sun.

DSCN3300They then headed up to the Our Universes exhibit. The ceiling of the exhibit has a moon and is covered in stars. Melinda passed out telescopes that the children had made to help them look closely at the night sky. While the children were looking, Melinda read them Moon Game by Frank Asch.
DSCN3298The group loved looking closely at the book through their telescopes. 

DSCN3317Melinda then shared with the group an image of the moon and styrafoam circle. She talked about how the moon is covered in craters and that they were going to use their fingers to squish the foam and make their own craters.
DSCN3313They enjoyed the sensation of the foam squish beneath their fingers.
DSCN3324One little girl especially liked comparing her circle to the moon.
DSCN3329Melinda also had the group look at the House Post from the Dís hít (Moonhouse) of the Kwac’kwan Clan. She pointed out the circle shape and how the carved image on each post could reflect the different phases of the moon.

DSCN3335 DSCN3337They took one final look at the sun coming through the portal and compared the two images of the sun and moon before heading back to the classroom.

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