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

NAECY1

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.

Easy At-Home Learning: Architecture

Why Architecture

As a parent, I am always on the look out for fun and easy learning opportunities. While I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed this great blog on shadows and I began to think more about architecture. We encounter architecture everyday– it is all around us. Whether we live in the city, suburbs or country – architecture is an essential component of our environment. And if you haven’t read any previous posts, SEEC staff has been busy thinking about the importance of environment and its impact on learning. Young children connect to architecture and at an early age, begin to notice its features. Don’t believe me….Well, just take a walk with a group of SEEC students across the Mall and ask them where their parents works. Inevitably, they will identify the museum by the building’s architecture. “My mommy works in the round one (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden).” or “Dad works in the one with a lot of glass (National Air and Space Museum).”

 

Seize the Moment

Maybe your child doesn’t spend their days in Washington, DC, but I bet they are noticing their own neighborhood. Ask them to think about their friend’s homes, can they identify a feature: color, shape, number of stories? What about their school? The first words out of my kid’s mouths when they set foot in their school cafeteria was, “There are a ton of windows.” Its true, one wall of their cafeteria is ceiling to floor windows that look out onto a wooded area. That feature made a strong impression and four years later, they continue to marvel at the fact these windows connect them to the outdoors. The point I am trying to make is simple: if your child notices these details seize the opportunity to take what they are interested in and run with it.

That is exactly what our teachers did in the set of photos below of our three-year old class last year. I specifically chose to highlight this lesson because I thought it would be easy to recreate at home and inspire your inner teacher. Keep in mind, I am not suggesting that after working a 10-hour day (whether it be in an office or at home) that you whip up a lesson plus museum visit (for on-the-spot ideas, see below), but it is something to keep in mind for a weekend. These ideas encourage your child’s imagination, include some simple math and gets them to think about design, engineering and even aesthetics.

Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns that seemed like an obvious element to discuss with the class.

Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns – they were the perfect element to discuss with the class. Using the tablet, helps them visualize the idea before the headed out for their museum visit.

An over-sized can was another convenient choice - something easily pulled from the kitchen.

An over-sized can was another convenient choice for the teachers who simply pulled it from the kitchen. Each child got a turn feeling the weight of the can. This is an important step so that they experience of the weight of the can.

The teacher places the can on her 2-column building with disappointing results.

The teacher places the can on her 2-column building, made simply of cardboard and blocks. Clearly, the results were disappointing.

It turns out that by adding two columns, the house will hold the can.

It turns out that by adding two more columns, the house will hold the can.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

 

On-the-spot Ideas

Don’t have time or energy to plan – don’t worry. Here are a few simple, spontaneous ideas that will get your little one to notice the architecture in their neighborhood.

1. Ask them to count the number of windows/columns (or whatever feature interests them) and draw their shapes with their finger – identify the shapes.

2. Ask them what they like or dislike about a building or a particular part of it?

3. Ask them to draw what they see or use their imagination to draw a building.

5. Play with building blocks when you get home and design your own space.

5. Play “I spy” with a particular architectural feature while riding home and describe its physical characteristics.

Hoping these ideas inspire you to get out and learn with your little one!

Sensory Learning – What and Why?

Have you scrolled through Pinterest lately and seen all the preschool or parenting boards related to sensory play? Usually it involves some beautifully crafted photos featuring a young child participating in a hands-on activity, but sensory learning is so much more than just getting dirty. As the name suggest, it is learning through the senses. Often times, it is related to the sense o

Sensory Play

f touch, i.e finger painting, water table, playing with sand. Sensory learning is not limited to touch and can encompass all the senses.

Why bother with all of this – children and adults learn best through their senses. Sensory learning also helps children retain information. Think about it this way: if you are cooking and your child inquires about the rosemary you are using you can, A: simply describe it as something that adds flavor to your dish or, B: hand some over and give them the opportunity touch, smell and examine it. I can guarantee that your child will be able to recount their rosemary experience better if they are given the sensory option.

Once a child begins to explore something through their serosemarynses, a lot of other things can happen. They can use the experience to practice and build upon their vocabulary. Ask them questions: “What color is it?; How does it feel?; What does it smell like?. A parent can also enhance this experience by adding objects that can be used for comparison purposes. , Add parsley, for example, and encourage basic math skills by asking them to find shapes or compare the size of the two herbs. You can also stimulate critical thinking by adding elements like, scissors or water. These elements prompt children to conduct experiments: i.e. “What will happen if I cut the rosemary – will it still smell? or, What will the rosemary feel like when I pour water on it? Adding these components not only gets them to investigate and hypothesize, it also gives them the chance to practice their fine motor skills. Cutting and pouring are everyday tasks that they hope to master one day and using these skills will also aid in developing the coordination required for writing.

You can take the sensory experience a step further by adding some art supplies too. Put out some glue and construction paper, but don’t give them explicit instructions. Let them be inspired to create what comes to their mind. You’d be surprised at what they can come up with! Finally, try including a friend or sibling in the experience, which will encourage social interaction and compel them to practice taking turns and listening to one another. It also encourages them to work as a team and build on each others ideas.penguins food

So the next time you see a beautifully crafted sensory experience pop up on your Pinterest feed, don’t feel daunted. Remember, sensory learning can happen organically during the course of the day and you can add to the experience by simply including common art tools and other found objects in and around the home. Too busy to clean it up? Don’t worry leaving it out for awhile and letting your child return to the materials will actually enhance the experience.

Fountain Fun

DSCN3881Pools, beaches, lakes, sprinklers…it’s that time again! Children all over the US are enjoying summer-time to its fullest and likewise, parents are looking for water-inspired activities. Here in DC, we are lucky enough to have a number of public fountains that are both beautiful and refreshing. Fountains capture the imagination of children, so why not take this opportunity to create a learning experience?

Duckling FountainInfants
Infants often have mixed feelings about water, it can be both scary and exhilarating. Why not introduce them to water through their senses, especially sight, sound and touch. Simply draw their attention to different aspects of the fountain.

  • Do they hear that sound? Mimic the roar of the fountain.
  • Describe the color of the water.
  • Connect the fountain to the actual feeling of water by getting their hands wet.
  • At home, identify other places where you might find water and remind them of their visit to the fountain.

Toddlers

Toddlers are excited by new things and fountains are no exception. Take the time to explore the fountain and ask simple questions about its design:

  • What direction is the water moving?
  • Is there water that is still, where?
  • From where do you think the water is coming?
  • What else do you see besides water?
  • Do you see any pictures or decorations?
  • Try making your own fountain at home with a hose and baby pool.

Preschool and UpFirefly Fountains

By now your child has seen a few fountains and you can begin to investigate the concept further. Here are some fun multidisciplinary ideas:
  • Rainbows, light and water. This blog has some nice experiments you can easily duplicate.
  • Experiment with force and getting water to move in a certain direction. You can even perform this experiment at home if you are feeling adventurous.
  • Discuss why fountains are used: are they pretty, do they help us remember something, are they for cooling off, do people seem to like them?
  • Ask them to choose a location in your community and design their own fountain.

Favorite DC Fountains

Fountain at the Hirshhorn

Fountain at the Hirshhorn

  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • National Museum of American History (Constitution Ave. Entrance)
  • US Navy Memorial Plaza
  • National Gallery of Art
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • Senate Fountain
  • WWII Memorial Rainbow Pool
  • Bartholdi Fountain
  • What is your favorite community fountain? Leave us a message!

    Summer Fun: Building Collections with Your Child

    If you have a child in elementary school, they have probably come home with some sort of summer packet. I’ve seen the “packet” take various forms: from a list of innovative ways to encourage reading to a dull packet of worksheets. Either way, parents and educators alike want to encourage learning outside of school and during a time that has been characterized as the “summer slide.”  I hope some of the ideas on how to build a collection will inspire your family to engage in playful learning this summer. Adjust as you see fit for age and your schedule.
    table
    1. Choose a topic in which your child is interested and then find a space in your home where you can place a table and don’t mind hanging things on the wall.
    2. Begin building your collection by visiting your local library and selecting several books.
    3. Find other toys and household items that you don’t mind donating tohousehold objects the cause.
    4. Use these items in a way that they can explore them with their senses, i.e. what does the flower smell like or what sound do seeds make in a bottle. Also allow them to manipulate the toys or objects so they are using they are able to discover how things work and practice their fine motor skills.
    5. Flower PartsBuild a model, draw pictures and display.
    6. Add vocabulary words.
    7. Take it outside of the home and “experience” the topic, i.e. pick flowers or keep a journal of flowers you see during your day.
    8. Looking at flowersTake to the community and visit a museum, local store, etc. Take pictures and post in the collection area.

    Helpful Hints

    • Collect, create and display together!
    • Keep the collection at their height.
    • When they are ready, change it up or expand on the topic, i.e. flowers – gardening – water cycle.
    • Let them come and go on their own and edit along the way.
    • Have fun!

     

     

     

    Saturdays with SEEC Teachers

    Posted on behalf of SEEC two year old teacher Javasa Finney:

    Javasa at the Hirshhorn with SEEC's two year old class.

    Javasa at the Hirshhorn with SEEC’s two year old class.

    This spring I decided to volunteer with the museum education team at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC) to help out with the weekend family workshops. I currently teach in one of the two year old classesthere and was interested in seeing how the experience changes once parents are involved, in the classroom and museum visit.

    During the workshops I worked with the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The theme for the infants/toddlers was “Tiny Gardeners” and in these classes the children had the opportunity to explore flowers and gardens. The theme for the older toddlers and two year olds was, “Where Does it Come From” which focused on exploring different foods and the origins of food. Every week we met at the Natural History Museum and then headed to the museum where we would find out the topic for the day by focusing on a particular object, exhibit or art work. _MG_4180After our visits, we headed back to the SEEC classrooms for some hands-on activities related to our topic of the day. Time in the classroom was spent, planting, cooking, painting, reading, singing, and additional play. It was also wonderful to see the children socializing and making new friends.

    In the museum the children did a fantastic job. They all seemed very curious and ready to explore. Everyone was respectful of the exhibits and stayed together as a group. We were often even able to sit down together to share a story and hands-on objects while we were inside the museum. Everyone seemed captivated and engaged. During our trips we visited exhibits that were directly related to what our topic for that day was. Some of the museums we visited during the four weeks include the American History Museum, Freer Gallery, the Botanic Gardens and National Gallery of Art.

    As I reflect upon my time in the family workshops, I have many great memories. It was great to see the children so involved at the end of the session that they didn’t want to leave. Since several of our families return from one session to the next, I imagine that they are also finding the experiences together both meaningful and memorable as well. Museums have so much to offer, they are inspiring and educating. They are great for introducing new topics or re-enforcing facts. The most wonderful thing I saw during my time volunteering at the family workshops was the parents and children bonding, learning, and discovering new things together at the museum. What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning!_MG_4086 SEEC’s infant, toddler and pre-k Family Workshops will start up again in the fall. We hope to see you there!