CREATING COLLECTIONS WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

Do you have a collection? What do you collect? If you are leaning toward “no”, think again.

On June 14th we ran our day-long seminar for professional development, Creating Collections with Young Children. After establishing soap, tea, buttons, and cooking pots are all valid collections we moved on to the Why?

Why do you collect?   Is it to preserve a memory of a moment? Is it because youwere inexplicably drawn to an item? Is it out of function? Or something you’ve just done for so long you don’t know anymore?   Weather it’s a stack of family photos, a closet of shoes, stickers for scrapbooking, or trinkets from your childhood, they all tell a story.

As humans, collecting is part of our hardwiring. From the days of our hunter-gather ancestors, we still use that natural instinct to process, categorize, and understand our world. The more exposure we have to a concept, the wider our knowledge becomes on that topic. Expanding our mind’s collection of “tree” allows for flexible thinking; it is no longer only a triangle on top of a stick but can flow from a sapling to redwood to a sculpture to a print.

We’ve all discovered the end-of-the-day pockets full of treasures on our toddlers, so we know that the drive to collect it there. They may not be able to explain to us why, but these items chronicle their story.

So how can we use this universal predilection to enhance their learning?   In our seminar we explored a collection on chopsticks, containing prints, text, advertisements, and plenty of hands-on time with the object. We discovered how important is to have a varied collection that presents one idea through multiple entry points. With this basic concept you can use collections to introduce a topic, explore a topic, or expand a topic.

Matisse chat

  • Talking about patterns? Give your students collections of wallpaper and fabric swatches. Throw in Matisse prints and shells to see how they come alive in art or nature.
  • Doing a unit on birds? Sort a collection of feathers, or create a collection of nest materials. Add in Audubon prints and binoculars and magnifying glasses.
  • Interested in the food? Bring in a collection of labels to sort. Top it off with Warhol prints and various containers.

These are just a few way that our wonderfully willing audience of teachers and museum educators brought collections to life. How can you bring collections into your classroom?

Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center – Museum Education

SEEC_Castle

The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center or SEEC, as it is commonly called, was founded in 1988. It is currently housed in two locations at the National Museum of Natural History and another, at the National Museum of American History.  The school serves children ages 3 months – 6 years and boasts a staff of early childhood educators, art educators, a music educator, a resident scientist and a department of 4 museum educators.

It might seem odd for an early learning center to have a museum education department, but it makes a lot of sense when you consider all that museums have to offer young audiences.   And because of SEEC’s location on the National Mall, it is able to integrate the museum into the fabric of our students’ daily experiences.  Children are naturally curious and museums offer an ideal setting for them to explore, investigate and learn.  Encountering an object helps a child solidify their understanding of a concept and it sparks their imagination.  Whether it’s a trip to the National Zoo to see the snakes, a visit to the Castle to explore architecture or a stop at the Hirshhorn to see examples of modern art, the children are exposed to a variety of disciplines and ideas.

Sara_Vishnu1

Pre-K takes a trip to Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to see a statue of Vishnu

So, what do museum educators do here at SEEC?

  • We educate students within SEEC and the larger community – using methods unique to young learners.
  • We are a conduit between our classroom educators and the museums.
  • We maintain and offer resources to support the classroom in the form of hands-on objects, prints and books
  • We provide high quality research and information on objects within the collections and assist our classroom educators in framing that information in a developmentally appropriate way.
  • We plan special programs within SEEC and for museums across the country.
  • We have a unique understanding of museums and early childhood development and combine those perspectives to offer training to early childhood and museum educators.
  • We believe that young children can benefit from museums and we hope to encourage museum professionals to embrace them as an audience.  Similarly, we hope to encourage early childhood educators to see the museum as an informal learning environment for their students.

    Sara_Vishnu2

    Museum Ed leads Pre-K circle on Vishnu

Our hope is that our blog will open a larger dialogue about early learning and museums.  Please join us and share your thoughts!