Perfect Spring Break Family Museum Visit

signSpring and summer break are just around the corner and I know a lot of our parents are looking for some local, inexpensive family outings. Well, look no further than the Museum of Natural History. I am sure a lot of families have done it’s most popular features but, for this visit we are headed up to the top floor to  Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. This jem has a lot to offer the younger child in your family.

First, it’s spacious, colorful and inviting. Read our recent blog on environment – it makes a difference.

Second, there are a lot of mirrors.  From infants to preschoolers, mirrors are fascinating portals to understanding more about themselves and how their bodies work.

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One of SEEC’s classes practices their yoga.

Finally, there are interactive sections where you can listen to music, watch a video and sit at a table set with Indian food. This will give your child different types of sensory input and provide a chance for some dramatic play.

Depending on the age of your children, you can choose to approach the exhibit from several perspectives, here are some ideas:

 families6 months – 18 months: Babies are learning to recognize themselves and their families. Take the time to look in a mirror and identify baby and yourself. Describe your features and talk about your similarities and differences. Head over to the family photos and pull up a family photo on your phone. Compare it to the families on the exhibit wall. At home, share a book about families or sit down and make a toy family. This is a great opportunity to begin talking about how not all families are the same. Even at such a young age, you can begin to lay a foundation for understanding and respecting diversity.

listening station19 months – 3.5 years: Toddlers love music and dancing, so it is great that this exhibit features a listening station. Pick a couple of tracks and see if you can compare their tempo or guess the instruments. You might simply ask which their favorite was. Give them a chance to dance to the music and then go to the outer hallway and see the images of Indian dancers. Notice how the dancers are moving their body and what they are wearing. Build on the experience at home by listening to more Indian music or discovering that of another country. Look up a few videos highlighting different Indian dances and watch them together on a tablet or computer. Similar to the infant experience, introducing your toddler to the arts of other countries will help them gain an appreciation of their culture and, those of others.

photo (5)Preschoolers – Early Elementary:  A great way to connect with young children is to begin with their personal experiences. Since food is universal, the table would be a great place to begin a conversation about the foods we eat at home or at our favorite restaurants. The exhibit can teach children about food from India AND about the many cultures that contribute to the food we eat in the United States. If food doesn’t interest your child, consider talking about some of the notable Indian Americans like football player, Brandon Chillar or fashion designer, Naeem Khan.

Finally, consider going to visit the Freer and Sackler’s collection of Indian art on another visit or grabbing a bite of Indian food at the Natural History’s café.

Like with any visit, keep in mind some of these helpful tips for visiting a museum with your kiddos and enjoy!!

Upcoming Teacher Workshop

LTOWell, we have made it to January. That delightful in between month—the month where we leave the stretch of holiday breaks behind and take a deep breath before the chaos of spring begins. Our students are settling back into familiar routines but experiencing the expected adjustments that time away from school brings. As educators, we too are experiencing the adjustment, searching for renewed inspiration in the face of the winter blues, unpredictable weather, and in my case, growing preschoolers. It seems almost daily one of my students leaves early for their five year preschool check-up.

We are also in the period of resolutions: Join the gym. Use your phone less. Sleep more. Build up your savings. Be more creative in the classroom or museum. In the midst of the screaming gym ads and hyper students, come join us for some respite and rejuvenation. SEEC is offering a space to renew your creativity, collaborate with peers, and take some deep breaths. Our premier seminar, Learning Through Objects, is almost upon us (February 27th & 28th). This seminar brings together educators from a diverse set of learning environments such as classrooms, museum galleries, and cultural centers. Presented by our staff and representing work from our 25 years of learning with young children in museums, LTO may be the perfect antidote to the winter doldrums.

A LTO alum wrote of her experience, “I walked away not only refreshed and inspired, but also with a variety of ideas for how I can incorporate museums, objects, and artist studies into my classroom teaching. I am looking forward to sharing the lesson plan and field trip ideas I learned with my colleagues and of course to sharing the activities themselves with my students.” Additionally, for those in the DC area, LTO is accredited by the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education and counts as CEUs. Come be renewed, come be refreshed, and check one or two of your resolutions of the list. We look forward to seeing you.

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Full registration info can be found here. Keep that “save money” resolution as well, register before February 14th for our Early Bird Rate and plug in discount code SEECPD14 for an additional 10% off!

Onwards!

Kindergartners and Exhibit Design, Part II

exhibit eval page 1

Kindergarten Exhibit Survey, Pt. 1

exhibit eval page 2

Kindergarten Exhibit Survey, Pt. 2

In our last blog,  we discussed the first part of our experiment with SEEC kindergartners visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Golden Books exhibit.  When we left off, they had just concluded their first visit.  The following week, they went to the museum again and like the previous time, we split them up into small groups of three.  Each group had an adult and walked through the exhibit with an educator and were given a “survey.”  After these were completed in the exhibit, they headed out to a small circle to discuss their observations with another educator.

The Results

1) Look at the other people do they like this exhibit? Visitor Graph
Comments:

  • Looking closely
  • Beautiful
  • Pretty good
  • Really liking it
  • Liked it
  • Enjoying everything
  • Looking at computer
  • Looking at all sorts of books
  • Enjoying it
  • One person was normal, so…so-so
  • Some were in to it, some were not
  • 1 vote for all 5 choices
  • All the people were different

2) Look at the objects; do you like how they are displayed?Objects
Comments:

  • Lots of color, some were dusty
  • Loved them
  • They books were having a good time because they were safe in the glass and no robbers were breaking in
  • Could not see, too tall
  • Pretty good
  • Pretty good, a little bad though because it only showed one page of the book
  • Didn’t like, hard to see

3) Look at the lights; do you like how they are used?
Lights Graph

Comments

  • Dark but good
  • Pretty good
  • 1 vote for Liked
  • Orange, it was ok, and I liked it
  • ok

4) Look at the colors; do you like how they are used?
Colors Graph

Comments

  • The ceiling was green, there were good colors
  • A lot of white

5) Look at the signs, are they helpful?

Signs Graph

Comments

  • Really focused about creation, someone worked very hard

6) Look at the computers; do you like how they were used?

computer Graph

Comments

  • I clicked on two books
  • You could look at the books, I pressed the button and it read the story to us
  • Really cool
  • I touched it
  • I didn’t get to touch it
  • I chose different books, it was awesome, and not too tall
  • I liked pressing buttons
  • Zooming in was cool
  • It shows the books

7)  Look for things you can touch, did they help you enjoy the exhibit?
Touching Graph

Comments

  • Only one thing to touch
  • Touching the computer
  • Computer was just ok
  • I wish there was more stuff to touch, more computers with newer books
  • No touching uhhhhh

Outcomes

I was surprised that they found the lighting and signs appealing.  Like any exhibit featuring paper, it is a dark space, and I assumed that would be unappealing.  Interestingly when the exhibit designer talked to the students during their first visit, he mentioned that the low lighting help protect the books. I wonder if that made a difference.  I also wonder if it was the spotlighting to which they felt drawn.  Despite the overall darkness, light was strategically positioned to make the cases pop. There was minimal distraction.

I was also intrigued by their positive reaction to the signs.  Many in the group are emergent readers and I thought the labels would have been of little or no interest to them.  I wonder if they were responding to the fact that the educators, many of whom were not familiar with the exhibit’s content, used the labels to help add to their conversations.

That they responded positively to the colors and book illustrations was no shock.  Children are naturally drawn to strong, vibrant visuals.  They are also naturally drawn to things they can touch or tinker with.  The opportunity to play with the computer at the end of the exhibit got them very excited and made them notice more about the objects in the cases, encouraging them to revisit objects and think more deeply about some of their conversations.  Interestingly, the computer engaged many of the children, but not all.  Some of them were frustrated  because they weren’t certain how to work it, but I guess usability for young children is another topic entirely!

Although we didn’t measure this in the survey, its important to note that the children responded to the content of the exhibit.  They were familiar with Golden Books and could make connections to the illustrations, many of which depicted children playing.  At SEEC, we encourage our educators to utilize familiar objects or themes when teaching.  Finding this thread can be difficult when considering the often nuanced and complex nature of many exhibits. Still, I would encourage museum staff to consider how they can incorporate familiar elements as a way to engage a young child’s interest in new content.

 

Smithsonian Pre-K Classes

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Acting out a Renaissance Composition

In our first blog, I talked about what the museum education department does at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Just to recap, we have two educators who work specifically with our classes here at the lab school. Our director, Betsy Bowers, heads our professional development efforts (more on that later) and my main responsibility is to promote and coordinate our outreach efforts for families who are not enrolled in the school.

Comparing Jackson Pollock paintings

Comparing Jackson Pollock paintings

With Labor Day in our sights, I thought it was the perfect time to take a look ahead at what we are doing for our community families. Last year, we started offering preschool courses. These courses took place over a four-week period, meeting Saturday mornings. Each course had a theme (more information) and met for two hours. In the first portion of our morning, we would do some sort of introductory activity. This activity ranged from exploring a discovery box featuring cultural objects to comparing two paintings. Almost always these activities were meant to be done independently, meaning child and caretaker working together separate from the teacher. (These classes are very literally family classes, so caretakers play an important role). After our initial work, we would come together in a circle to discuss what they had done. Our discussion led us to an introduction to the museum visit.  

Cary teaching

Using hands-on objects to teach in the galleries

After bathroom breaks and the putting on of coats, we head to the museum for what is typically a 20-30 minute visit to one to two objects. During our visits, we use hands-on objects to engage the children in a multi-sensory experience and inquiry to guide the conversation. Museum educators are likely familiar with these approaches of object-based learning and the inquiry method. For educators who are unfamiliar with these approaches, let me suggest SEEC’s line of professional development seminars and/or MOMA’s inquiry course offered through Coursera (just completed it myself, very informative).

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Freer Gallery of Art
Shiva Nataraja, ca. 990
Chola Dynasty, India
Bronze
Purchase–Margaret and George Haldeman, and Museum funds F2003.2

After our visit, we head back to the classroom where we wrap up with a final project.While it’s most often an art project, I do not limit myself to that platform. This is extremely helpful for two reasons; first, sometimes it is not developmentally appropriate for children to recreate the art they have just seen and second, sometimes it’s not culturally sensitive to recreate the art either. A good example of the first scenario is when I did a lesson on the Renaissance and I wanted to talk about composition. They were not up for the challenge of creating a masterpiece that depicted, balance, dynamism and fluidity. However, they could connect to these concepts by acting out their own birthday party photo and seeing the results. And when we do our class on Hinduism and visit the Freer’s Shiva Nataraja, we opt to look at videos of Bharatnatyam dance, do a sample of mudras and keep a beat with bells on our ankles. All activities are meant to build upon the concepts introduced through the lesson in a way that is interactive and self-directed.

This year we also offering infant and toddler class, so keep an eye out for future blogs about these audiences. In the meantime, let me know what is working for you with young audiences in your museum!

An Intern’s Perspective of SEEC

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Written by: Beth Anne Kadien
Rising senior at Georgetown University – SEEC Summer Intern

I started in January doing behind-the-scenes work for SEEC’s Museum Education department, creating a database for the objects and prints that are used in SEEC classrooms. This summer I continued my internship, but in a more hands-on way. My experiences have been varied and always interesting. Moving from archival work to observing and leading classroom lessons was incredibly rewarding, both in what I had the opportunity to learn, and the witty student commentary. I came home to my roommates each day with a new story about the kids, which I have pared down to a top three favorite things overheard at SEEC:
1. One student looking over at me and asking “Hey, do you wanna put your stuff in my cubby?”
2. Asking a student where a colleague and I should get lunch, with a response of “Well do you girls like toys? Because then you should go to McDonalds.”
3. Receiving a superhero alter ego and superpower from one of the Koalas. “You’d be Star Girl, and your superpower would be shooting penguins out of your hands.”

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What I learned, while less entertaining, will have a long-term impact on my career choices. Here it is, the top 3 (okay, really 4) things I learned from SEEC.

1. I am more creative than I thought. One of my proudest accomplishments, making a photo projector out of a shoebox.
I wrote lessons for both SEEC classes and their weekend family workshops, with a range of topics from food to the science of colors and pigments, to transportation. These all seemed incredibly daunting when assigned, but now I know how to better think out-of-the-box so that I can create an age-appropriate and interesting lessons.
2. Even if you think you have enough work, ask for more. One of my extra assignments was helping to write family programming for a partnership with a museum in my hometown of Memphis. It was so worth it!!
3. Be mindful. One thing that is common in the various people I worked with at SEEC is that each employee takes the utmost care in considering others. Museum educators go to great lengths to be a resource to their classroom teachers; teachers know their students’ dietary needs, pet’s names, favorite things, and greatest fears better than I know my own. Each decision made is made with consideration to how it will affect the teachers and students. This is something I greatly admire about SEEC, and it is now a model to which I strive in my on-campus job.
4. Actually the most important thing I learned, is that Splash Day is the greatest day, but you need to remember a change of clothes or else it’s a very cold metro home.
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This summer has been incredibly rewarding, and I am more than grateful for the opportunities SEEC has given me.

Building Meaning for Young Children in the Museum

still lifeWhen it comes to teaching young children using the collections along the National Mall, there are some obvious candidates; Wayne Thiebaud’s cakes or traditional still lifes at the National Gallery of Art and the Mammal Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.  But, what about objects that seem less approachable from a young child’s perspective.  Do we forgo teaching about them altogether? And if we do decide to take that leap, how do we approach it?  It’s a question we consider a lot at SEEC and in effort to understand the process a little better, I share this story.

ImageA few months ago, I was teaching a course for children, ages 3-5 on different genres of art; portraiture, landscape, etc.  It occurred to me that the art of the book would be a nice topic to add to the curriculum.  I had for a long time reserved the theme of Islamic art to classes I taught for early elementary-aged children. But, I love the Freer’s collection of Islamic book art and so,  I decided to take the plunge.  Typically I correlate the beauty of the art form with the importance of the Koran in Islamic culture, but with 3-year olds as my target audience, I had to rethink that strategy.  I was plagued by questions: How do I define religion?  How do I explain the meaning of a holy book?  How do I address the topic by respecting different traditions?.  Basically, how do I teach about these objects without overlooking their cultural significance, but in a way that is developmentally appropriate?

The answer was: exposure.  Early learning often takes the form of introducing students to something new.  By simply visiting the Koran pages in the Freer, we were bringing to light a new concept.  To help them understand the unfamiliar, I built on their own knowledge of books.  Before heading to the museum, we looked at classic children’s books and discussed their different features, specifically; text, pictures and the front cover.   I featured a song that helped them remember these and by the time we got to the Freer, the children were able to identify the Koran pages as pages that would be in a book.  They also noticed the writing and easily observed that it was different from the letters we saw in our classroom books.  With a picture of the Arabic and Roman alphabets in hand, we explored the visual differences between them.  For many, the knowledge of more than one alphabet was novel.  They also compared their classroom books and noticed that the illustrations often included people and the Koran pages illuminations did not.   Armed with real flowers and leafs, we explored the similarities between these objects and the Arabesques on the pages of the Koran.  Finally, we looked at examples of book covers and talked about how we had to put the pages together to form a single book.

It felt like a good lesson, but I still had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t do the subject justice. That was when a colleague reminded me that over the course of their development and education, these children would, hopefully, return to the Freer or another museum and build on their knowledge of the Koran and Islamic art, in general.

ImageCertainly, we see that happening with students enrolled in the SEEC program.  When they pass Henry, the elephant in the Natural History rotunda as babies they are learning to identify him as an elephant.  By the time they are toddlers, they can recreate the sound elephants make and most will be able to show you from where that sound comes.  As they reach the age of two, they can learn more specifics like what Henry eats or where he lives.  By the time they are in the Pre-K program, they have a solid foundation and are ready to explore more complex issues.

Instead of cramming a lot of information into one session, I focused on encouraging parents to return to the galleries on their own.  Letting caretakers know the importance of returning to the same object and seeing it from multiple perspectives became part of all my lessons.  It really sets the stage for multiple exposures over time, that will help children understand the complexities and nuances that are often in contained in just a single object.