Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Family Traditions

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Anna Wilson. Her two year old classroom was learning all about family traditions and decided to spend a day focusing on decorations.


What were your topics of exploration?

Our class was exploring family traditions and holiday celebrations. It can often be hard to address the holidays at school because people celebrate many different things, but we decided that we could explore some of these traditions together. We spoke to each family to find out what customs they observe. We then made lessons around these ideas so the students could connect what they learn in the classroom to their home life. This particular lesson focused on holiday decorations. We explored the National Botanical Gardens to see the greenery and trains that many of our families talked about putting up each year.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

The main objective for this lesson was for the students to learn about themselves and others in a way that they could connect to and understand. We wanted to give students opportunities to become a part of the classroom and community so that each child feels accepted and gains a sense of belonging. We also wanted to provide opportunities for our students to use their senses to explore the objects during the visit.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The students really enjoyed seeing all the wonderful plants and trains. They were engaged and excited.

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

I would recommend bringing manipulatives for the students to hold. They aren’t allowed to touch any of the decorations in this space, so something they can handle will help them stay engaged.

Here are a few images from her unit on holiday decorations:

DSCN1547The visit began at the U.S. Botanic Gardens. During the month of January the Gardens create lush scenes for model trains and decorate their green house with seasonal plants.

DSCN1559Anna and her co-teacher slowly wheeled the group through the gardens asking the group what they heard, smelled, and saw. The kids also enjoyed communicating with each other through pointing and squeals as they moved around the displays.

DSCN1570They especially loved the little tunnel in the space. Their teachers made train sounds and had the group pretend they were a train traveling underground!

DSCN1573Anna was very careful to give the group plenty of time to look. She would narrate what the group was seeing and ask them to predict where they thought the train would show up next.

DSCN1597After spending a long time looking at the trains, Anna found a quiet spot in front of the Christmas tree to gather the group. She asked the children to use their different senses to explore the tree in front of them. Anna then passed out jingle bells to each child so they could have a manipulative to use while she read Snowballs by Lois Ehlert.

DSCN1587The group explored the bells with all of their senses.

DSCN1602Anna noticed that the group was really enjoying the space and the bells and decided to read a second book (Jingle Bells by Darcy May). 

The class had a wonderful time studying family traditions. Check back next week for another teacher feature!


Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Trains

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Carolyn Eby. Her two year old classroom was learning all about trains and decided to spend a day focusing on the Little Red Caboose. The teachers had decided to focus on this topic because the children were showing continued interest in trains. They were pretending most objects were trains and wanted to talk about them during their walks in the community. In addition, one focus that SEEC toddlers have is walking safely together. Since they are just learning how to walk on “trains” there is a lot of interest in what trains are all about, how they stay together and, of course, train safety. This unit was able to connect all these aspects into one cohesive lesson. Below you will find a reflection from Carolyn and images from some of her lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

Our class was spending time learning about the different parts of a railroad train such as the locomotive, tank car, and so on. We had spent the week looking at different cars and their various functions. On this specific day we were talking about the Little Red Caboose and how it keeps everyone safe.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

I wanted the group to understand the safety function of the caboose and its location in the order of the cars. The class has a great sense of compassion for each other and characters in books and by personifying the caboose through the book Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter I was able to illustrate how the train “keeps an eye out” for the other cars.

We were also able to work on some developmental goals by involving dance and call and response during our circle.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I found that the most successful part of my lesson was the connection between the book and the work of art. We visited the Smithsonian American Art Museums to see Train in Cole Town by Jack Savitsky. Both the illustrations and painting had a funky feeling which made the flow from reading the book to looking at the art work very easy for the group to connect. It was really fun to spend time looking at the painting, imagining how it could be an extension of the text we were reading!

Surprisingly, right around the corner were several other train paintings! We decided to stop and spend some time discussing what we saw in those works. We wondered about the people riding in the passenger trains and where the rail road tracks may lead. These conversations were exciting and included thoughtful connections to previous units since the class had been spending so much time working on trains! Sometimes the best parts of a lesson are not planned!

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

It was difficult for me to think of an age appropriate activity that I could pack up and take with me to the museum. I loved singing with the kids and reading them a story, but I feel like the lesson could have made a greater connection with the group if they had a hands activity to do in the gallery. Also, I would have probably spent more time talking through the lyrics of the song which may have resulted in a more dynamic discussion.

Here are a few images from her unit on the caboose:

DSCN1509 Carolyn introduced her topic for the day by creating a small red car to add to their bulletin board train. She reviewed the parts of the train that they had previously studied and asked the group where they thought they should put this car. Carolyn then explained that this car was a caboose and it had a very special job.

DSCN1513Carolyn then played a video for the group with the tablet. It showed a musical group singing “The Little Red Caboose.”

DSCN1515Carolyn wanted to provide multiple exposures to the same song so she also sang a slightly different version with the class. She also showed them a few train movements to do while they were singing. The group loved them!

DSCN1530Following the story, the class walked up to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see Train in Cole Town by Jack Savitsky (http://bit.ly/1xh3FWZ). They spent some time looking at the work and talking about the different parts of the train. They thought about where it might be going and how quickly or slowly it might get there. Carolyn then read The Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter.

DSCN1539Carolyn asked the group if they could see similarities between the book and the painting. The children had a lot to share and were able to talk about the role of the caboose in both the book and the work of art.

DSCN1544On their way out of the museum the group spotted a few more train paintings. Subway by Lily Furedi  (http://bit.ly/1DPTbDW) served as a great way to review passenger cars. The group talked about what the people were doing on the train.

DSCN1546The children also spotted train tracks in Third Avenue by Charles L. Goeller (http://bit.ly/1BUh9yj). They wondered where they were going and what kid of train would use that type of track.

The class had a wonderful time studying trains and has now chugged along to their next topic. Check back next week for another teacher feature!


Kindergartners and Exhibit Design, Part I

That there is a national emphasis on the value of early childhood education goes without saying.  So it makes good sense that museums are starting to think more about how they serve this audience.  At the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, our students generally visit museums 3-5 times a week; it’s a space in which they are comfortable and familiar.  So when  staff at the National Museum of American History wanted to understand more about how young children interact with exhibits, they thought of SEEC.  Through a series of discussions, the staff agreed upon using Little Golden Books, an exhibit with obvious kid-appeal, to examine how children felt about their exhibit design.  Similarly, SEEC wanted to see the exhibit through the eyes of their students in order to inform our own teaching practices and professional development.  Finally, we decided to experiment with SEEC’s Kindergarten class because, at the end of the year, they will be asked to create their very own exhibitions.  The experience seemed like a great way to support their endeavor.

ClassCircleWe planned two visits to the exhibit.  The first visit was simply to familiarize the students with the content and the layout of the space.  Prior to going to the museum, Sara Cardello, Museum Educator, planned an interactive, hands-on lesson in which the students identified parts of the exhibit; i.e. object, case, label etc. and introduced them to Golden Books.  Almost all of them immediately recognized the Golden Books and were anxious to share their personal stories with the class.


We headed over to the exhibit and first, met with the exhibit designer.  We then took turns walking through the exhibit in small groups, each with either a classroom or museum educator.  During that time, the children got to look and ask questions.  Educators came prepared with specific questions to encourage them to think about the exhibit.  Below are some of the questions and some of their answers.

What do you see, notice, or what is the exhibit showing you?

  • Really old books
  • TV screen helps us read the booksExhibit2
  • Some of the books have interesting ideas
  • Each display case has a theme: doctor, transportation, mining, cooking
  • Measurements along the sides of the larger illustrations
  • Really old (again)
  • Some are dusty
  • Some are new
  • Golden strip

What do you hear?

  • Wanted to hear the stories
  • Kind of loud because we are all in here
  • No music
  • Too loud
  • Conversations about all of our observations

What are you learning, thinking about, what would you add?

  • Who is in the picture with Mickey and Donald?
  • Beautiful, looks painted
  • I see some letters, and I see the same letters, but different pictures (referring to Little Golden Books)
  • I would add a kids book, like Toy Story 3, even though these are kids books
  • I would add toys that you see in the books to play with

Who is the exhibit for, who would like this exhibit?

  • Me and my mom would like this, she read these books
  • My grandma likes to read
  • Grandma and grandpa would like them because they haven’t seen them in years
  • Bullies would not like it because they do not like books
  • Giants would be too big and they like to break stuff

In addition to these questions, we had some open-ended discussions based on their responses to the objects.  Here is an example of one such discussion. 

When looking at the case displaying the Here Comes the Parade the students quickly identified Donald Duck and Mickey, but were stumped when it came to Howdy Doody.  This was a great time for us to look at the label and see if we could get some more information.  Although the name didn’t ring a bell, it did give us a chance to talk about when the book was made and how our parents or grandparents might know about this character.  I asked this group if they could tell me where they thought the characters were and after some investigation, they concluded it was a parade.  This line of inquiry prompted me to share my own experiences watching the parade on Thanksgiving morning.  This encouraged others to share their own Thanksgiving traditions and/or recollections of parades.  It was a great conversation and before we knew it, we had been standing at that case for close to 10 minutes, which is considerable for a Kindergartner.

Following the visit to the exhibit, we had a chance to debrief as a whole group (there are 18 students in the class).  Below is a glimpse of that discussion. 

What did you notice?WrapUp2

  • A new book, Little Red Hen
  • An interesting book about cars
  • A girl cleaning up
  • Boy and girl playing doctor
  • I noticed #65 on one of the books

Who would like this exhibit?

  • Grandma and grandpa would like it because they haven’t seen them in years
  • Grandma and grandpa would like the books because they would remember them
  • Moms and dads like books, they would like to visit

How did you feel about the exhibit?

  • Really like it because they are lots of interesting books to see
  • Cool. Cool books, cool answers, moms and dads would like it too
  • I felt surprised when I saw the spine but then I realized that’s why it’s called Golden Books

What would you add or change?WrapUp1

  • More books!
  • Add books that you might know
  • You could bring your own Golden Books once you were done with them
  • Add a book or a chair to look at books
  • I love Golden Books
  • I would add airplanes, they are more interesting
  • I would add my own books

What questions do you have for the curator or designer?

  • Why did you choose Golden Books?
  • Why do they make Golden Books?
  • Dinosaurs are big and you have to think about cases and storage, you have to think about the size of objects for exhibits

How much did it cost to build this exhibit?

  • $100 because books can break easily
  • $60 because book are expensive
  • $15 because it is a really big exhibit

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

  • 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

  • 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


  • 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


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

5) Look at the signs, are they helpful?

Signs Graph


  • Really focused about creation, someone worked very hard

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

computer Graph


  • 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


  • 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


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.