Parents Are Part of the Class Too

Besides being an educator for the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, I am also a mom. I know all too well what it is like to be unsure of oneself as a parent. That is one of the reasons we have set up our programs with the parent in mind. We want to encourage your confidence as a parent and, as your child’s first teacher.

One of the ways we do this is by encouraging one-on-one _MG_4086interaction during the museum visit. Often we ask parents to lead simple activities in the galleries that are open-ended and encourage observation and conversation. For example, we might ask infant/toddler parents to find all the boats in a gallery space or simply describe an object. If it seems odd to talk about having conversations with your little one, remember recent research is making direct correlations between how much a parent talks to their child and their literacy.

_MG_0715_72dp_webiPreschooler families might be asked to create a story  or make a list of questions they have about an object. In both of these scenarios, we are encouraging independent thinking, literacy and providing time for you and your child to learn together. It is also giving the parent practice having  open-ended conversations and ideas of how to use museums when there is not an educator around.

All of our classes include a classroom component, where teachers have carefully thought out and prepared art projects, dramatic play areas and sensory experiences. The classroom experience is less structured and gives you and your child time to explore their interests. In order to help our parents make the most of their time, we make the following suggestions:

_MG_4125_web

1. Let your child choose the activity and how long they want to stay at that activity.
2. There is really no wrong way to do something – let them be creative and get dirty.
3. If they are frustrated, ask them if they want help. Otherwise, let them solve the problem on their own.
4. While you observe your infant, narrate what they are doing. Ask older children about what they are doing or why they made certain choices.

With these guidelines, parents can feel confident that they are giving their child autonomy and encouraging their interests. They are also giving them space to figure out problems on their own – this will lead to more confidence.

Are there things that you struggle with as a parent when participating in classes with your child? Let us know, we would be happy to help.

 

 

 

What is a Smithsonian Early Explorer?

Recently SEEC and the National Museum of Natural History formed a new partnership. We are already lucky enough to have two spaces inside this amazing museum and now, we will be offering a very special program in NMNH’s Q?rius jr. Discovery Room. This brand new early learning initiative, Smithsonian Early Explorers (SEE), builds on SEEC’s 25 years of success combining the best in early learning practice and the rich environments of the Smithsonian Institution. A small cohort of young learners, together with their caregivers, will have access to the best of the Smithsonian Institution and a curriculum focused on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Here’s a small taste of what to expect.

Museum

Classroom

Free Play

Learn More

Smithsonian Early Explorers FAQ’s
Registration
Cynthia Raso: rasoc@si.edu or 202-633-0121

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!

     

     

     

    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.

    Image 280

    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!!

    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

    Renaissance Composition 2

    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).

    F2003.2

    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!