Sewing: Bisa Butler Project

This is part four of a six-part blog series on textile artist Bisa Bulter. The previous blogs were on Inspiration, Batiks, and Collage. The future blogs are on Kente Cloth and a Reflection on the project. This blog is on Sewing. 

A child holds up their artwork to add stitch, their art work is a piece of self created batik style fabric mounted to a piece of cardstock, fabric scraps have been collaged on top and holes hammered around the edge for the child to use to add stitches.  At the bottom are the words "Sewing/Bisa Butler Project/A SEEC Story"

After the children finished collaging, Carolyn gathered up their artwork. Carolyn then started the labor intensive and noisy process of hammering holes using a leather working tool along the border of each of the pieces. Carolyn noted that using a hole punch would not have been ideal because it would have been hard on her hands and might have hurt the fabric that the children had already glued onto their art.  

Top left, Carolyn helps a child turn their project as they choose where to start their stitching, bottom left, a child has run out of yard for their stitching and is cutting off the extra, right, Carolyn demonstrates how to use a small folded rectangle of cardstock to thread a needle.
Children used large plastic sewing needles to thread yarn through the holes Carolyn created on the edges of their projects. They were invited to add stitches wherever they liked, even through the middle of their work.  

Carolyn then replayed the video of Bisa Butler and had the children focus on her sewing techniques. The children loved watching Bisa use her huge sewing machine. It reminded them of driving a car or using a joystick to play a game. Carolyn encouraged the classes to observe how Bisa used the machine to make different types of lines with the thread. Carolyn explained to the class that they “don’t have to go around the outside. You can make lines going through the middle” with their thread. Knowing that they could stitch in any pattern they wanted was very freeing for the children; it really let them be creative. 

A child places the end of a piece of yarn into a small folded rectangle of cardstock.  This "hotdog" will be used to help the child more easily thread the needle
Children learned to thread their needles by folding the end of their yarn into a piece of paper, they would then use this “hot dog” into the eye of their large plastic needles.  

The children had to be taught the basic components of sewing. To show them how to thread a needle, Carolyn taught the children to use a “hotdog bun” technique that she learned from art teacher Cassie Stevens. Carolyn explained that “sewing is very different from any other art making activity” and the children had to learn a new skill set. But rather than getting frustrated, “they loved the stitching” and continued to use the techniques learned in future projects.  

On the left, a child pulls a piece of yarn through the eye of a plastic needles, on the right, a child pulls up a piece of yarn from a ball of yarn, the ball of yarn is contained in a spherical clear plastic compartment of grocery store apple packaging
Carolyn set up a yarn station where children were able to choose and cut their own yarn. She repurposed the plastic packaging used to hold a set of apples from the grocery store to corral balls of yarn as children pulled and cut.    

Learn more about the last step of the project in our blog about exploring Kente Cloth and read Carolyn’s Reflection on the entire project. If you would like to learn more about this project you can access our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection based on this lesson.

Fabric Collage: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part three in a six-part series. The first blog post focused on the inspiration and preparation of the Bisa Butler focused project. The second blog post showed how the children made their own batiks which would serve as the base for the rest of the project. Part four is about sewing. Part five is on exploring kente cloth and part six is a reflection on the whole process. This blog post focuses on how the children approached the fabric collage.  

An educator sits at a table next to a child, they both point to a piece of cloth the child has glued to their projects.  At the bottom Text reads " Collage/ Bisa Butler Project/ A SEEC Story"

After making their batiks, the next step for the children was to add fabric to their piece. To show Bisa Butler’s process, Carolyn showed the children a video that starts with Bisa Butler walking through a fabric store and touching fabric. After watching the video, the class talked about how Bisa Butler used both her sense of sight and her sense of touch to choose fabric. Carolyn wanted to emphasize the role of touch and texture in Bisa Butler’s process. The classes looked closely at Bisa Bulter’s portrait of Questlove for the New York Times Magazine and noticed the lace and beading that she used to emphasize the texture of his afro. Then Carolyn gave the children swatches of fabric to touch and asked them how they might correlate with elements of their personalities. 

On the left, a child holds out a flat basket with several pieces of green and yellow fabric scraps, on the right a child adds fabric scraps to a flat basket from a large tray of fabric
Children were given baskets and invited to “shop” for the fabrics they wanted to use in their pieces. 

Carolyn set up a store in the art studio where the children could go shopping and choose their fabric to use for the collage. Each child had their own shopping basket and she encouraged them to choose whatever fabric they wanted from the wide variety that she had placed out. The textiles in the class’s store included sequin flip fabric and themed fabric like Zelda and Cars. As the children shopped, Carolyn observed and noted, “it was interesting to see what they picked.” 

A child sits and uses scissors to cut a scrap of patterned fabric
Children approached working with fabric in many ways. Some cut them up into very small pieces while others added them onto their pieces directly. Some kept the fabric to the edges of the batik fabric they created, and others opted to cover it up completely. 

After choosing the fabric they wanted to work with, the children started cutting the fabric into various shapes. Carolyn explained that the children “really connected with collage in a different way than they would have if we used paper or any other mixed media.” Cutting fabric, which requires tension to make smooth lines, posed a challenge to many of the preschoolers but they were eager to continue working with the material. Some children spent the whole class cutting fabric into tiny pieces to add to their collage and Carolyn loved seeing all their styles come through.  

For the children, being able to cut something that you might wear as clothing was genuinely exciting. Carolyn had invited families to send in clothing that they were comfortable being cut to use for the project. Families sent in a variety of clothing including clothes that belonged to people important to them like their grandmother. Some children were excited to cut up their old clothing while others did not want to cut up their old play clothes. Carolyn talked to the children about how Bisa Butler reused clothing from her family to create her portraits.  

on the left, a child examines a fabric swatch, on the right the same child child sits at a table and picks scraps of fabric from a flat basket, they are holding a paint brush used for glue in one hand.
The children were able to choose the textiles that appealed to them and add those pieces to their collage.  

As they explored the textiles through their sense of touch while shopping and cutting while collaging, the children were growing their knowledge of fabric and fiber arts. They were becoming more aware of the fabric that they wore while learning about the types of textiles that Bisa Butler used. As the sessions progressed, the children started saying, “My t-shirt feels silky” or “I feel the seams on my pants.” For Carolyn this represented a goal of the project. As she explained, the children began to make “the connection with the fibers all around them and the fibers that Bisa used.” 

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project. You can also check out part 1 and part 2 of this series. Connect more deeply with this lesson through our Bisa Butler Learning Lab collection.

Making Batiks: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part 2 in a six-part series about the Fiber Arts unit our art educator Carolyn Eby created inspired by the work of textile artist Bisa Butler. Throughout this unit children explored important aspects of Bisa Butlers works from batik to collage, to sewing, to Kente cloth and a final reflection from Carolyn. This blog is about how the children explored batik.  

Children use brushes and paints to apply color to pieces of fabric taped to plastic trays.  At the bottom is a heading reading "Batik, Bisa Butler Project, A SEEC Story"

To start their Bisa Butler inspired project, the children created their own batik inspired cloth as a base for their project. Batik fabric is one of the many types of fabric that Bisa uses in her artwork. While batiks are quite popular in West Africa with many meaningful prints, the fabric did not originate there.  Batik is a method of creating designs on fabric using wax resist that originated in Indonesia. Through 19th century colonialism, European copies of batiks became popular in West Africa where they have taken on their own unique significance.  

A group of sitting preschool looks at a picture of Bisa Butlers quilted piece "I Know why the caged bird sings" held by Carolyn. Carolyn is seated in a chair and pointing toward the picture.
Carolyn introduces the children to the art of Bisa Butler. She highlighted the different batik fabrics that Bisa used and discussed how different batik patterns can have different meanings. In this piece “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” they noticed the print called “Michelle’s Shoes.” 

Carolyn explained that while Bisa Butler does not create batiks, she purposefully chooses the batiks based on the meaning embedded in the fabric patterns. She had the class look carefully at Bisa Butler’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (2019) which shows the portraits of four African American college students sitting on the steps of Atlanta University in 1900s. For this work, Bisa Butler used a piece of batik called “Michelle’s Shoes” which represents Michelle Obama’s shoes. The children discussed how “Michelle’s Shoes” represented progress, but Michelle Obama needed to lean on the bravery of the young women in the original portrait. To help the children connect to these concepts, Carolyn had the children reflect on the principles of “fair” and “unfair.” 

Two images show children squeezing bottle of glue and using the glue to create images. On the left the child has made abstract blows, on the right there appear to be pencil lines the child is trying to follow wit the glue
Children were given glue bottles to draw their designs on their fabric. Some children used them to draw defined designs like shapes or smiley faces, while others enjoyed exploring the medium and allowed the glue to flow and pool. 

Carolyn then encouraged the children to think about the messages their own fabric art could convey. When creating their own batiks, Carolyn began by encouraging the children to think about their families or people they are close with because Bisa Butler’s first quilt was a portrait of her grandmother and grandfather. She had the children think about the lines and shapes that might represent them or their family. After brainstorming, she gave the children bottles of glue and they drew patterns with glue on white fabric. Some children immediately understood the concept of drawing with glue. They drew things like donuts, dinosaurs, or smiles because their family makes them smile. For the younger children, it was more about the experience of exploring the glue; they drew scraggles or let the glue pool into large circles. In the end, all the styles made beautiful batiks. 

Children sit a round a round table and use brushes and paints to apply color to their batiks. they are wearing masks and  smocks
To avoid colors of the batiks being mixed and muddied children chose two primary colors and then were given white and black to create tints and shades when painting their batiks. 

The next class was about color. They began the class by talking about the colors they saw in batiks. The children noticed the batiks were vibrant, beautiful, and full of colors. Carolyn then let each child pick two primary colors of acrylic paint. When mixed, the two primary colors will create a second color. She also gave the children black and white so they could create shades and tint their colors. The children used their paint to add color to their fabric with the dried glue shapes and symbols that they had previously made.  

Three images showing the glue batik making process, in the top left a child uses a bottle of glue to squeeze blobs of glue, in the bottom left a child uses a brush to apply red and blue paint to their dried glue batik, on the right Carolyn shows examples of what the shape left by the washed away glue will look like.
Carolyn demonstrates to the children how adding paint to the glue batik will result in a result in a white resist where the glue is blocking the paint from the fabric. This technique is similar to the way wax is used as a resist in making Batiks. 

After the paint dried, Carolyn soaked the fabric in hot, soapy water and then peeled off the glue which left white marks on the fabric where the glue had been creating a glue resist batik. Carolyn washed, ironed, and adhered the newly created batik cloth to cardstock. The children would use their batik as the base for the next steps in the project.  

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Collage, Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project. You can also read part 1 of this series on Carolyn’s Inspiration. Connect more deeply with this lesson through our Batiks Learning Lab collection.

Inspiration: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part one of a six-part blog series. Upcoming blogs will be about exploring batiks, collage, sewing, kente cloth, and a reflection on the entire project. This blog is about the inspiration for the Bisa Butler project. 

Art educator holds up two pictures. One picture shows a photograph of two people. The other picture shows the same image that has been made into a quilt.

SEEC art educator, Carolyn Eby, regularly creates lessons around particular artists for our SEEC classes. When she was looking for a new artist to highlight, she came across the artwork of Bisa Butler. She was inspired and immediately knew that she wanted to highlight Bisa Butler in her classroom. Carolyn was struck by how Bisa Butler’s quilted textile artwork looked like it might be painted instead of being created with fabric. 

A class of preschoolers sits on the floor looking at an art educator who is holding a piece of textile for the class to look at and talk about.
Carolyn shows a class an example of other types of textile art.  

 As Carolyn looked at Bisa Butler’s pieces, she noted the colors, patterns, and fabric that Bisa Butler used. Carolyn was excited to create projects that encouraged her classes to explore these topics. In early childhood art classes, moving beyond crayons, markers, and paper, makes the projects particularly special. For this project, the children were able to use exciting materials and use them in novel ways. Children used fabric as their canvas instead of paper and used glue as a marker or crayon instead of using it simply as a tool that sticks things together. They were introduced to the techniques of sewing and weaving and cut up pieces of clothing that they had previously worn. Through this process the children began thinking about the fabric all around them in different ways.  

Carolyn strived to be thoughtful about how she presented Bisa Butler to the class.

While it was the artwork that drew Carolyn into teaching about Bisa Butler, she was thrilled to be able to present the class with a contemporary black female artist. Carolyn strived to be thoughtful about how she presented Bisa Butler to the class. She spent a lot of time researching her background, techniques, and philosophies.  

Art educator is holding up an early piece of Bisa Butler and gesturing as if asking a question
Carolyn shows the children an example of Bisa Butlers early textile art. The children talked about the fabric and textures that they saw.  

As she researched, Carolyn decided against the children creating their own portraits. She discovered that Bisa Butler makes portraits of people that she has kinship and ancestry with, people that she wants to dignify and whose stories she wants to share. Carolyn decided that this idea was not one that the children should try to imitate because this portrait part of Bisa Butler’s artwork felt sacred. 

While the classes did not create their own portraits as part of this project, they did spend time talking about how Bisa Butler makes portraits to dignify people and share their stories. Throughout the project, the classes looked carefully at many of Bisa Butler’s portraits and discussed the people represented and wondered about why Bisa Butler used specific fabrics with certain individuals. For example, when the class looked at The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, a portrait of Frederick Douglas, the children noticed the letters on the fabric which make up his sleeves. Carolyn used this as an opportunity to tell Federick Douglas’s story and the class talked about how it is unfair that some people were not allowed to learn to read or write because of the color of their skin. As the children added to their projects, they continued to be exposed to both the artwork and the process of Bisa Butler and learned more about the individuals represented in her art. 

An example of an unfinished piece of textile art that a child created inspired by the work of Bisa Bulter.  

Over the course of five sessions, SEEC’s preschool three-year-old and four-year-old classes created their own textile artwork while exploring the fabrics and techniques that Bisa Butler uses in her artwork. We will be posting additional blogs that focus on how the children (1) made batiks, (2) collaged with fabric, (3) added sewing elements, (4) explored weaving and Kente cloth, and (5) final reflections from Carolyn.  

Carolyn noted that Bisa Butler could not have been a better inspiration for a project like this and that the children fell in love with her artwork and her story.  

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Batiks, Collage, Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project.

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Tea is a Time 

A teacher holds a young child up to look at several Japanese tea bowls.

This Teacher Feature was meant to be published around the time SEEC closed due to Covid 19 in March of 2020.  As the weather gets cooler and many of us are back to teaching in person, it finally feels appropriate to share this lesson. 

 For this week’s Teacher Feature we will highlight a toddler class. Educators Stephanie Lopez, Abigail Marden, and Julia Smith were exploring different concepts around tea. For this lesson, the class learned about how “tea is a time” when they went to the National Museum of Asian Art’s Freer Gallery to see tea bowls while being introduced to ideas around the Japanese tea ceremony. Below you will find a reflection from toddler educator Julia Smith. 

Preparation: 

Toddlers sit in a circle in their classroom and sing a song with a teacher.

Julia began the morning by inviting her class to join her in a circle where she talked to them about the ideas that they had explored earlier in the week. She reminded the class that “tea is plant” by showing them a mint plant and that “tea is a drink” by encouraging them to pretend that they were drinking tea. 

What inspired you to teach this lesson?

This lesson was inspired by our class’s  interest in what their teachers like to drink. Many teachers in our center enjoy tea and coffee. Our toddlers often requested to look inside the mugs and to smell our drinks. Additionally, I  have a personal love of tea that made me want to teach this lesson. Having recently traveled to Japan, I wanted to learn more about the traditional tea ceremonies.

A teacher shows toddlers a video of a Japanese tea ceremony.

Julia showed the class a video of a Japanese tea ceremony. She turned the volume off and narrated what was happening in the video. Julia was able to react to the children’s interest and focus the viewing experience to their wonders. 

What were your objectives? 

I find it easier to teach lessons to this age group when I can break down my ideas about a topic into very simple concepts.  I wanted the children to know where tea comes from (“tea is a plant”), how tea is made (“tea is a drink”), and why people drink tea (“tea is a time”). This idea came up when I discovered it was very confusing to learn that the word “tea” refers to several different things including the name of a plant, the name of the drink, and the activity of drinking.

To explore how “tea is a time”, I wanted to talk about how drinking tea is so often a calming experience (at least for me!) This was a great opportunity for my class to work on self regulation techniques.  We often try to sprinkle elements of self regulation and mindfulness into our lessons. Even very young children can learn to listen to their bodies and try to take deep breaths. 

Lesson Implementation: 

Toddlers look at the tools need to make matcha tea.

As the class made matcha, Julia was careful to note that they were not performing a Japanese tea ceremony but rather exploring the tools and making tea together. She showed the class the tea bowl, the whisk or “chasen” and encouraged them to use their senses to explore the green, fragrant, matcha. 

Describe the experience of making the tea in the classroom. 

Before teaching this lesson, I carefully considered a couple of things. I wanted to introduce the children to a way of making tea that is not as common in our culture (although matcha is becoming increasingly popular!) I wanted to be careful to emphasize that this was not a tea ceremony because a tea ceremony can only be performed by someone extensively trained with a large amount of cultural knowledge. Instead of going into extensive details about what makes the tea ceremony unique, I decided that it was more  important for the toddlers to be given time to observe and to be exposed to the idea that there are many ways to make tea. I tried to use the language of “same and different” to connect something potentially unfamiliar (making tea with a power and a bamboo whisk) to something more familiar (we made tea with tea bags the day before). I would say something like: “This way of making tea is the same – it makes a warm tasty drink.  This way of making tea is different – it uses different tools.”

A teacher compares a plastic tea cup to tea bowls in the Freer-Sackler

When the class arrived at the gallery, Julia encouraged the children to look carefully at the tea bowls and held up a toy teacup that the children had been playing with in the classroom to help the children make connections. 

What were the children’s reactions to seeing the tea bowls? Did they make any connections? 

We situated ourselves in the gallery so that the tea bowls were the main objects the children could see. They pointed them out when I asked if they could find the tea bowls. I then held up a play tea cup the children had been using in their play all week. This helped them create connections between the tea bowls on display and the knowledge they already had constructed through their play in our classroom. After I made that comparison, I handed the toy cups out to the children.  They pretended to drink out of their plastic cups while looking at the tea bowls. Their pretend play allowed them to make further connections about the various types of tea. 

Unfortunately, the bowls on display were up a bit high for them to see well when we were sitting on the ground. Although the viewing angle wasn’t as good, with this age group, it is much better to have them seated on the ground for the museum circle. It keeps them grounded in that location and allows them to engage in museum appropriate play. If they were standing, they are likely to be immediately distracted and want to explore everything they see in the entire space.

Toddlers pretend to drink from plastic tea cups in the Freer Sackler

To allow the children some time to explore on their own, Julia, Stephanie, and Abby gave each child their own teacup to hold. The children immediately began pretending to drink from their cups and started knocking their cups together and saying, “cheers”. 

How did you encourage your class to explore their own ideas while in the gallery? Why is this important for toddler learning?  

I am so glad that we brought the toy cups into the gallery. Having objects or something for the children to hold in the galleries is a really great way to keep their interest. It also lets them begin to play in the museum space. Children this age need to act something out or interact with it physically in order to build understanding. I should note that when you allow children to play, they sometimes will partake in activities that need redirection. In this instance, my class started banging their cups on the ground in a quiet and echo-y gallery so we encouraged them to instead take pretend slurps and saying cheers

A teacher reads a book to a group of toddlers in the Freer Sackler

Julia reminded her class that “tea is a time” and explained that sometimes people drink tea to socialize or to find a sense of calm deep inside of themselves. To further explain this sense of calm, she read “Charlotte and the Quiet Place” by Deborah Sosin. 

How did you explain the topic “tea is a time” to your toddlers? 

In doing my research for this lesson, I learned  how very often “tea times” around the world are used as a break from work and a chance to socialize. There is the classic British tea time but also many, many, other cultural traditions around tea as a time to relax. Japanese tea ceremonies focus on using the process of preparing tea as a time of calm and meditation. With children this age, recognizing and dealing with big feelings is a huge part of their social emotional development. Finding ways to help toddlers recognize when they are overwhelmed and giving them strategies (even as simple as teaching them how to take big breaths) are really valuable. 

I love the book Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin  (Author) and Sara Woolley (Illustrator) because it is very simple, a young girl is overwhelmed by a noisy world. She finds a quiet place in that park and realizes taking deep breaths helps her feel better. It helps introduce children to the idea of being overwhelmed (e.g. things are too loud) and that there are ways to not feel that way. Talking about tea time as a calming time was both authentic to the many cultures that consume tea and also a great opportunity to help talk to children about their big feelings. 

Reflection:

A teacher holds up a child so they can see a display of Japanese tea bowls in the Freer Sackler Museum

Before leaving, children took some deep breaths while holding their teacups so they could find their own quiet place. Then they were lifted up so they could better see the tea bowls. 

What recommendations do you have for another teacher trying out this lesson? 

If you are going to teach about other cultures it helps to ground it in something the children are genuinely interested in. I tried to avoid taking a tourist approach to Japanese culture by always connecting the knowledge to the children’s lives and grounding the lessons in their demonstrated interest in tea. 

I had trouble finding books about tea that were age appropriate and connected well to my lesson so I wrote my own! It’s always an option to make the resource you are looking for. When visiting museums that are not typically geared toward children, it helps to visit the space first to see the layout of the gallery. In this instance, I was able to determine where I would want the children to sit so that they could freely explore with their toy tea cups.

Supporting and Responding to Big Emotions  

Going back to school, especially this year, can bring up all kinds of emotions in both kids and adults. Settling into new routines can also reduce everyone’s emotional capacity leading us all to feel overloaded, even by small things. Young children often feel their feelings very intensely and strongly in their body, a frustrated child can dissolve into a tantrum, or they may yell or run around with excitement! There is nothing wrong with a child who feels things deeply but sometimes their big feelings can incapacitate them or create unsafe situations. Here are some ways we approach big feelings at SEEC.  

Let Them Feel Their Feelings

  • A foundational aspect of approaching feelings at SEEC is validating them. Even if it feels silly to us that a child is upset because they got green instead of orange scissors, we try to acknowledge that to that child whatever has happened feels like a big deal.  
  • Although we will usually offer help when a child is upset, they may not want us there. In this case it is sometimes best to just let them have some time to express themselves. For example, you could say: “I can see you’re very upset/sad right now. Do you need a hug or my help? If not, I am going to give you some space. I’ll be right over here when you’re ready for me”  

Use Your Words 

  • For young preverbal children it can sometimes be helpful to narrate what is happening. For example, if you are dropping your child off somewhere new and they are upset to see you go you could say “Are you feeling upset that I am leaving? I’m feeling a little nervous too. I know you are having a hard time right now, but I’ll be back!”   
  • It’s also important to note that even verbal children, who may be able to express themselves well when they are calm, can struggle to express themselves when experiencing big emotions. This can be frustrating for adults because we think we know what they should be capable of! However even the most verbal child can struggle to use their words when feeling something strongly.   

Modeling Behavior and Language  

  • Children are always looking at the adults around them, and often use us as examples for how to react in a situation. Try narrating your own feelings around something when you get upset or excited. For example: “I am feeling frustrated right now because I burnt the brownies. I am going to take some deep breaths to help calm my body and learn from my mistake. Next time I’ll be sure to set a timer to make sure the brownies are not in the oven for too long.”   

Acknowledge Your Own Emotions 

  • Even as adults we have big feelings too, just like the children in our lives we can get overwhelmed, upset, or overly excited.  If you do get upset with a child or feel you reacted too harshly, apologizing to your child can be an important step.  This both validates your child’s feelings, if what you said upset them, as well as models an important skill for them.  

Tantrums  

  • Tantrums are tough. Knowing they are developmentally appropriate for this age group doesn’t make them any easier. These blog posts have some great ideas for how to approach with a tantrum in the moment with your child:  

Everyone has big feelings sometimes, adults included! By giving children (and ourselves!) the space to feel their feelings and the tools to identify and manage them, feelings don’t have to overwhelming. What are some ways you approach big feelings with young children?

Distance Learning Discoveries: Making the Virtual Tactile

Digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, however it also comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. Over the last seven months our school has been engaging children through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One strategy that remains consistent with our in-person approach is the use of objects. This blog is authored by Juliana Venegas and Sarah Huffman, one of our preschool teaching teams, and shares their experience using objects with their class in a virtual format. 


Why objects? 

SEEC uses an object-based learning approach because both museum objects and everyday objects are a powerful learning tool as they tell stories, are tangible, real, and spark wonder. When we moved to virtual lessons, we wanted to keep true to the object-based approach we use in the classroom by sharing museum objects digitally and encouraging children to bring related objects to our online lessons. While some aspects of a museum object are lost when sharing digitally, we found that the addition of children bringing their own objects was a benefit we didn’t have when in the classrooms or museums. Having each child hold an object gives them a tangible way to connect lesson content to their immediate lives as the objects were coming from their own homes.

Children’s Response 

The children responded very well when bringing objects with them to virtual lessons. They could not wait to share what they brought and enjoyed seeing what their peers brought as well. They also seemed to have a sense of pride in the objects they had to share, which may have increased their overall engagement in lessons. They were quick to make comparisons between each other’s objects and the objects and images we shared in our PowerPoint presentations. Often, the children would recognize another item that we were showing but had not asked them to bring; then they would excitedly go find it in their home to point to or show us. We did not ask them to do this, but we supported these opportunities when they occurred. 

Objects Support Anti-Bias Education  

Having students bring their own objects to our virtual lessons supports the Anti-Bias Educational approach really well. Children were able to closely examine the objects they brought and compare them to the museum objects on the screen or to those of their peers. As teachers, we facilitated this by giving each student an opportunity to describe their item. Then we would go to each of the other students to ask if their object had something similar or if it looked different. It seemed that it may have been easier to have their own object than to share an object like we would do in the classroom because the children could continuously examine their objects throughout the lesson (they didn’t have to remember what they looked at before). After everyone shared, we, as teachers, would ask if all the objects did the same job and if they were all tools. This reiterated the idea that while some tools for mixing, for example, looked different, they all did the same thing. We would often connect that idea back to previous lessons: all our kitchens look different, but they are all places where we cook and spend time with loved ones. We all look different, but we are all chefs and help in the kitchen. 

a child sitting in front of an open kitchen cabinet, pulling out kitchen tools such as bowls, measuring cup, and cupcake pan.

Recommendations  

Having children bring an object to a virtual lesson is a great way to ensure you are reaching all different types of learners. Some children are perfectly fine sitting in front of a computer screen and listening to their peers and teachers, while others need to have a tangible object in their hands to help focus. 

Also make sure to think outside the box and provide options. We were very aware that families may not be comfortable or able to go out to purchase materials. When we asked families to send their child to our lessons with an object, we made sure to provide options. For example, during our unit on cooking, when learning about mixers, we asked our class to bring something they use to stir – some brought spoons, some brought whisks, and some brought hand mixers. Being general about what we asked for allowed families to use what was accessible to them and provided an opportunity for children to engage by sharing what they brought. Sharing objects in this way also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world. 

Lastly, be prepared in case a child does not bring an object. Families had a lot going on, so we didn’t want to make any family or child feel bad if they forgot to bring an item or didn’t have time to look for a particular item. In this case, one of the teachers may not show their object, instead opting to ‘not have an object’ as well. The teacher leading the lesson would reassure the students that it was okay to not have an item and would facilitate careful looking of others’ objects and the images on the screens. Even without an object, there were still ways for every child to participate. 

Routines During Quarantine

This post was written by Melody Passemante-Powell, Director of Infant and Toddler Programs.

Routines

Schedules are a big part of most of our lives, and most people recognize the importance of these routines, especially for young children. Quarantine has turned everything upside down for many families, and some are wondering, how much of a routine should we try to maintain? To help you think through this we have posed  some questions to consider first, and then outlined some tips and ideas based on structure level and age group.

Questions

What are my family’s needs? All families are different and it is important to recognize that one size does not fit all. Some thrive off of rigid schedules, while others need a lot of flexibility, and most of us fall somewhere along the middle of this spectrum. Think through what works well for your child(ren) and what works well for the adults in your home. These don’t always align so finding some sense of balance is the overall goal.

What is my family’s capacity? Unfortunately during quarantine many of us are both acting as full time caregivers and working to meet job requirements at the same time. Consider how much the adults in your family realistically have the capacity to implement in terms of routines and schedules while also giving the attention needed to other responsibilities. Also keep in mind how quarantine is impacting your child(ren) and what they have emotional/mental capacity to do on any given day.

How Your Days Might Look

High Structure: You plan your days to closely mirror each other, or if your child in enrolled in school, you can schedule your days to match what a typical day would look like at school. For example, try having meals, outdoor time (if possible), circle time, etc. around the same time of day as they would occur at school.

Medium Structure: You can plan to have some components of the day happen in the same way and at the same time, while still leaving a bit of flexibility in the schedule. One way to navigate this is to look at each day as having a loose agenda, and you can talk through what will happen during the day, but the exact details of when and how each part will happen aren’t planned out in full.

Minimal Structure: You can keep it loose and just see where the day leads you. You can let your needs/wants and your child(ren)s needs/wants guide what happens for the majority of the day.

Tips and Ideas Based on Age

Infants/Toddlers: This age group understands time in short intervals, so it’s best to find ways to break the day into smaller sections vs. talking through what will happen throughout the entire day in one sitting. It can be helpful to use the “first, then” method with this age group, using phrases like, “First we will eat snack, then we will go on a walk.” Visual cues to use as reference when talking about what will happen are also very useful for this age group. These can be in the form of timers, or photos/pictures of what will happen next.

Preschoolers: In general preschoolers can handle a little more complexity in terms of thinking through multiple components of the day. A visual schedule is great for this age (a series of photos of what will happen along with the word label, posted in sequence, or attached to a keyring so the child can carry it around to access what will happen and in what order). Timers are another useful tool, and there are so many to choose from (sand timer, Echo/Alexa, stopwatch, or these sensory timers) so you can use what works best for you. ()

School Age: Most school age children can get a sense of a full daily schedule if you choose to use one. Visuals of some sort never hurt, and if your child(ren) can tell time you/they can create a chart (nothing fancy, you can use paper and a ruler to make the lines!) of what each day or each week looks like based on the day and time. Seeing what their day and week look like mapped out might be helpful for time management and daily planning.

Remember

Do what works best for your family on any given day. There is no right or wrong  way to do this.

Set yourself up for success. If what you are doing just isn’t working for your child(ren), or for you, change it up. The point of a schedule is to HELP everyone, if that isn’t happening most of the time, it is time to reassess!

Resist the temptation to compare. It can be hard to see or hear about what other families are doing, especially if it seems like everything is working beautifully for them. Remember the grass has a tendency to seem greener, but what you and your family are doing on any given day, even if it involves meltdowns and a to do list with zero check marks, is just fine.

Socialization

One of the reasons we enroll our children in preschool is so they learn how to interact and engage with their peers, so it makes sense that many caretakers are currently concerned about their child’s socialization.
It is helpful to remember that not too long ago, many children didn’t attend formal school until they were five. While we recognize that there is value in preschools and play dates, the quarantine isn’t going to erase what gains your child has made in this area. It will no doubt be a difficult transition when we return to our routines, but it will be temporary and you shouldn’t worry that your child will fall behind.

In the meantime, you can do some simple things at home that will help support your child’s development:

Identify Feelings – “I can see you are feeling sad because you are crying.” or “I think the dog doesn’t like that because they barked at you.” You can also use books to have deeper conversations about how characters are feeling.

How Can You Help? – When you identify an emotion, think out loud with your child about what you can do to be helpful. Maybe a sibling could use a hug or maybe there is a household chore that would help the whole family feel less stressed.


Play – Your child doesn’t need to play with their peers to learn skills like sharing or taking turns. As an adult, it is okay to say “I had the toy in my hand and it upset me when you took it away from me.” It might feel a little silly, but it communicates the cause and effect of their behavior.

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Winter

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Melinda Bernsdorf, Meredith Osborne, and Megan Gallagher in the Toucan toddler classroom.  Inspired by their change of clothing and season, the teachers decided to focus on winter. I was able to join their class for a lesson led by Melinda. She decided to focus on showing the children the different ways animals stay warm in nature. Below you will find a reflection from Melinda, Meredith, and Megan and images from Melinda’s lesson.
Graphic reading Winter, Toddler Exploration and showing toddler classroom at Natural History Museum.

What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?
This lesson was the beginning of a week in which we were exploring how to keep warm during winter. We had recently finished a unit on senses and wanted to expand the skills we were building to focus on more specific questions. Besides being seasonal, talking about how to dress during winter fits the daily needs of our students. As the weather turns colder, we spend more time in the classroom getting ready to head outside. We have noticed that this can lead to some frustrating transitions, and saw an opportunity to explore connections between our physical needs and those needs of something well-loved by our class this year, animals.

Why and how did you choose the visit?
The location for the visit was easy to pick. The National Museum of Natural History has a fantastic collection of animals in the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals, including a section focusing on animals of North America that live in the Far North, where it gets very cold. This exhibit space explores different adaptations that northern animals have made in order to comfortably live in these places, such as layers of blubber, thick undercoats, hibernation, burrowing underground, or camouflage to hide from predators.

As a class, we have visited this area of the museum frequently as we really love  animals. The students feel comfortable in this space and recognize their favorite animals. This enables us to move beyond the immediate reaction of surface interest, and go more in depth on a specific subject regarding these animals. Additionally, there is a quiet space directly in front of the animals we wanted to discuss that is well suited for a class of our size to sit and have a lesson. It is a bit out of the way of the main traffic of the museum and is shaped like a little nook, which always helps lessen the surrounding distractions.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)
We wanted to open the conversation with our students about winter clothing. We also wanted to deepen their understanding about adaptations in animals, the ways in which animals are different from each other, and the ways in which animals are similar to people and have similar needs. The idea that fur and blubber are like jackets that animals always wear is a fairly abstract concept that we wanted to make more concrete with as many connections as possible. We also wanted our students to have fun, exciting sensory experiences that engaged their thinking surrounding our discussions. We treated this like a science experiment, helping the students to ask meaningful questions, gather information, and draw conclusions in a natural, unstructured way.

What was most successful about your lesson?
This lesson turned out to have some great moments that we were able to expand on throughout our week on winter clothing. We introduced a new song that got our students excited about winter clothing. We took a song that our student knew well and allowed them to move their bodies (Head Shoulders, Knees and Toes) and wrote new lyrics to fit our lesson. We sang “Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, Scarves and Boots! Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, scarves and boots. Sometimes we even wear snowsuits! Hats, mittens, scarves and boots, Scarves and Boots!” Our students also really enjoyed exploring the ice. At one point, some of the students started bringing some soft animal toys to the ice, letting them also feel the cold. This was a great organic opportunity to talk about the fur and fleece that lambs or bears have and ask thoughtful questions that call for analysis of the information we discussed.

How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?
We were able to talk about all the things we wanted to discuss in a fluid and natural way. The students were engaged and excited about lots of different aspects of the lesson. It set a good foundation for conversations we continued to have with the students and gave them lots of experiences that connected to our topic, giving students chances to process the information in many different ways.
What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?
When visiting museums with toddler students, we try to have very realistic expectations of their abilities and needs. We bring along objects and learning aids that reinforce our message, but that also serve the function of filling a toddlers needs to touch and explore. Each student had a laminated picture of winter clothing or a Far North animal which they were able to hold, feel or stick in their mouth throughout the lesson. Because they were laminated, they were easily wiped down and used throughout the week as we revisited this topic. I also brought adult sized scarves, hats, and mittens made of animals fibers the students could put on to illustrate the idea that fur and fleece keeps warm air close to animal bodies, just as jackets and scarves keep warm air close to people’s’ bodies. One scarf, made out of buffalo fleece was especially cozy!
The students had multiple chances to touch and feel animal fur and fleece. We were able to bring some along to the museum where we could explore these objects while looking at the animals they might have come from. Again, in the classroom they got to explore these objects along with the sensory exploration of ice and cold. It was great that we were able to bring enough of these objects that every student was able to explore them at their own pace and comfort level.
The ice experiment went as smoothly as it did because of preparation. The water was frozen inside of plastic baggies, which allowed the students to see the ice and feel the cold, but kept our objects and students from getting covered in cold water. Each adaptation had its own space so that students could move from object to object, feeling comfortable with the exploration. Some of our students weren’t sure about touching the animal fur, but enjoyed feeling the ice through the fleece or with mittens on. Others loved the feel of the “blubber” bag, made of butter, but didn’t want to put their hand in the gloves.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic?
While we think this lesson went really well for an introduction to a topic, there is always the opportunity to try things another way. In choosing to wrap the ice with the pieces of fur fleece and “blubber,” we were able to let the students have a freer exploration without the necessity of taking turns, but it may have made more of an impact if we had wrapped their hands instead. The contrast of their hands directly touching the ice versus their hands covered in fur not being able to feel the cold may have been more concrete.

What was challenging regarding logistics?
Although it was early December here in Washington D.C., a time we would usually be wearing coats and hats outside every day, this December it was still really warm and we barely put on sweaters to go outside the entire week! It was a much more difficult concept to approach when our students didn’t really have a frame of reference for what it felt like to be cold outside. Because of their age, this is the first winter in which they have any agency over being warm or cold while outside due to the way they dress themselves.

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

While the museum aspect of this lesson was exciting and gave the students a great perspective on the size of the animals and the way they might look in their habitats, this lesson can certainly be accomplished in a more traditional classroom setting. Pictures of animals, books displaying animal winter activities, and larger pieces of fur (or even faux fur if necessary) can be used in the classroom to explore this topic. The ice experiment could be a great activity in a group of winter centers as well. We had out winter dress-up and a small tent covered in blankets to act as a hibernation cave, and these helped to control the flow of traffic in the room, so as to naturally limit the number of students that wanted to be at the ice experiment table.

Here are a few images from their unit on winter:

Toddlers standing underneath photograph of Arctic landscape.The class headed straight to the National Museum of Natural History to start exploring their topic! They first stopped in the Icelandic photo exhibition to find some cold environments. These two are pretending to shiver from being in the ice landscape behind them.

Toddlers listening to teacher talk about animals with fur in Natural History Museum.Their next stop was animals of North America in the Mammal Hall.
Toddlers looking at photo of person wearing hats and gloves.Melinda brought along photos of winter clothing and animals for the children to hold in the gallery,Toddlers and teacher looking at animal fur.She also brought along animal fur that corresponded to the animals in the exhibits. She explained that animals have different ways to keep themselves warm and safe in the winter.

Teacher wearing hat and gloves and showing to her students.Melinda then explained that people don’t have fur to keep them warm so we have to get dressed for the winter instead. She got dressed in winter attire and proceeded to sing a winter clothing version of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” (lyrics above). 
Child wearing a fur hat.The children then took turns trying on different winter clothing items. Melinda included some clothing that mimicked fur or were made from the wool/fur of animals so that the children could feel how warm these animals are kept by their skin. 
Toddlers touching ice.Toddlers holding bags of butter to replicate feel of blubber.When they got back to the classroom, Melinda had several bowls on the table with large blocks of ice. She then covered each block with a different material: butter bags to mimic blubber, wool, and fur. This gave the children the opportunity to feel the cold and how these materials can protect them from it. One child also tried wearing a wool glove to touch the cold butter. Toddler touching ice with stuffed animal.One little girl brought a stuffed wolf to the table because she had matched the fur in the bowl to the animal.
Toddler and teacher holding block of ice together.This lesson inspired lots of curiosity and provided many different interactions between the children and teachers!

Melinda, Meredith, and Megan finished up their unit on winter and started exploring transportation. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on winter! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!