Word Expeditions

PrintIn the fall of 2015, the Friends of the National Zoo, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater, and the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, together with the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) were awarded a two-year grant through Grow Up Great, PNC’s initiative focused on early childhood education, to launch Word Expeditions. The grant’s objective is to build vocabulary in preschool students from the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Northeast DC. DCPNI works exclusively with this neighborhood supporting all members of the Kenilworth-Parkside and describes its mission as “improving the quality of their own lives and inspiring positive change in their neighborhood.”  The group has a strong foothold with families of young children and so it seemed natural to integrate Word Expeditions into their already existing Take and Play structure. Once a month, Smithsonian representatives visit Neval Thomas Elementary School during which time, families participate in activities that teach about the Institution’s collections, build vocabulary, and support a child’s development. The evening concludes with a meal and families take home a kit from DCPNI outlining fun and simple ways to incorporate learning and vocabulary skills at home.

DSCF1330A few weeks later, families are invited to come to the museum that co-hosted the
Take and Play. During their visit, families engage in similarly fun activities that reiterate the vocabulary and theme from the Take and Play. In addition to the literacy component, the Smithsonian wants to create a welcoming experience that will make families feel at-home and inspire them to visit again. We also hope that through these programs, they will begin to see how museums can be used as a place to learn and explore together as a family.

As part of the grant, SEEC was tasked with creating a unique map featuring the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The map displays the museums on and off the Mall and includes the Smithsonian Gardens and Discovery Theater. Each one is represented by an object, which isWord_Expeditions_Map Word_Expeditions_Map2accompanied by what I like to call, conversation starters. These conversation starters include key vocabulary terms that help families define some big ideas they can use to discuss the object. They also pose open-ended questions and suggest easy ways to engage with the object and use the vocabulary in ways that will help children understand and recall the word’s meaning.  For example, The Smithsonian Gardens description asks families to look closely at an elm tree and find its parts. The children will walk away with a concrete understanding of terms like roots, trunk and bark.  The National Portrait Gallery’s entry asks families to imagine what they would see, hear and taste if they jumped into the portrait of George Washington Carver and suggest that parents use the term five senses and, of course, portrait.

These conversation starters also motivate families to stop and take a look – conveying the importance of observation and careful looking. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden encourages families to walk around Juan Muñoz’ Last Conversation Piece and try to pose like the figures. The description features the words pose and conversation and also asks families to imagine what their conversation is about. Using a concrete analogy to the vocabulary is so important for young learners.

To keep families returning, we offer them four free tickets to Discovery Theater after visiting five museums, and a free book after visiting ten. Perhaps more important to the map’s success is the presence of Ariel Gory, Education Specialist for Early Learning, from the National Museum of American History. She speaks directly to families about the map. Her presence has been important in communicating the purpose of the map, encouraging families to use it, and creating a sense of community. She shares her experiences:

DCPNI NASM Photo1 (002)I find that dinner time at the Take and Play program provides the perfect opportunity for me to get to know families on a deeper level as I talk with them about the maps and their museum visits. Recently, I engaged in a conversation with two families who have become “regulars” at the workshops and museum visits.  When I asked what museums the families had visited lately, the mothers immediately began to list all of the museum trips they had been on since the program’s inception in the fall and what’s more, they described their visits in detail – recalling the vocabulary that was introduced and the activities in which they participated. It was exciting to see their enthusiasm for the program and it was clear that the map had helped foster and grow their interest in museums.

 Getting to see the map in action is one of the most uplifting aspects of this program. During a spring visit to the National Museum of American History, I noticed one mother rustling through her backpack before pulling out a well-worn map. “I can’t forget to get this signed!” she said. As I took a closer look at the map, I noticed that she had a signature for the National Air and Space Museum. I asked her when she had visited and she responded that they had gone the day before because her children had the day off from school. She noted that even though they weren’t in school that day, she still wanted them to “learn something.” Seeing that this mom had used the map to independently seek out a museum to expand her children’s learning shows the importance of programs like this.

So often we realize that local families are unfamiliar with the Smithsonian or feel that it is a place that they don’t belong. We hope that the map and the Word Expeditions program not only help to build young children’s vocabulary, but also encourage families to explore the opportunities for wonder and learning located in their backyards.

Supported by:
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In cooperation with:

Friends of the National Zoo
Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian Associates/Discovery Theater
DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative

Museum Visits: Autumn Edition

Congratulations parents, you made it through the summer and the first month of school! By now, I hope you are settling into a routine and finding that you have a few free afternoons to enjoy this glorious time of year. While many of you are out apple-picking or in the pumpkin patch, the National Mall is another viable option. It can offer a cost-friendly opportunity where you can divide your time between the museums and taking in the beauty of the Nation’s Capital.

For this year’s fall picks, we have two categories: autumn-inspired exhibits and newly-opened features.

Autumn

PreK class making their own Arcimboldo portraits.

PreK class making their own Arcimboldo portraits.

Four Seasons in One Head is tucked deep inside the National Gallery’s main level in a room that is often forgotten but should never be ignored. Arcimboldo, known for his distinctive portraits in which faces are formed from natural materials, depicts the four seasons in this image. This portrait has an element of mystery that will pique a child’s curiosity and it offers a strong connection to what your child is observing everyday outside. To make deeper connections bring along straw and autumnal fruits for the child to touch and interact with during your visit (note: keep all materials in a sealed plastic bags).

Artifact Walls- You Must Remember This at the National Museum of American History is a no-brainer when it comes to fall-themed visits. Situated adjacent to the Warner Brothers Theater in the Constitution lobby of the National Museum of American History Museum, the cases showcase a selection of Hollywood costumes. In the past, it has featured such classics as robes from the Harry Potter films and Super Man’s cape. With Halloween fast approaching, this is a great stop for the family who wants to brainstorm costume ideas. It is also a learning opportunity for children to think about the process of costume making. PreK children might enjoy sketching their Halloween costume or working with an adult to make a list of materials you will need for the costume.   These simple activities will encourage fine motor development and planning skills. Younger children might enjoy reading a book where one of the costumes are featured or simply bringing a favorite book in which a character wears a costume.

image (7)Food: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 also at the National Museum of American History is the perfect stop as we begin to approach Thanksgiving.   This exhibition demonstrates the inclusive nature of American culture as seen through food. Young children can see examples of our multicultural food identity in their everyday lives as they accompany you to the grocery store or eat at a local restaurant. Before your museum visit, identify foods in your kitchen that originate from countries other than America and then see if you can find them in the exhibition. Infants and toddlers, on the other hand, might enjoy taking a stroll through the space and matching cooking implements from home with ones on display. End your visit by sitting at the large table planning your Thanksgiving meal or reading a book about family meals.

What’s New

Don’t forget that the Smithsonian is also home to the Discovery Theater. On November 23 and 24, the theater will host Mother Earth and Me: Sister Rain and Brother Earth. This interactive musical uses life-size puppets to tell the story of Mother Nature and her determination to save the Earth from drought – with the help of the audience. Recommended for ages 4-8, this story conveys the importance of working together to protect the Earth.

The Great Inka RoadThe National Museum of the American Indian has it all! It is brand new and showcases the museum’s cutting edge collaboration with the company ideum to capture 3D imaging of the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. The images can be viewed on an interactive touch table and are completely spherical. This technological innovation allows visitors to move through the images in all four directions and transports viewers into the space of the pictures. But that is far from the only interactive element. The exhibit also features several video and audio elements which include bilingual storytelling and two “flythrough” stations where you can take a virtual tour of Cusco.

IMG_3588

Family workshop participants heading into the Sackler Gallery.

Sōtatsu: Making Waves opens October 24th at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and based on prior experience, this will be a great stop for the family. The spacious galleries in the Sackler are often quiet and work well for families who might need a little space. If the two screens highlighted on the Sackler’s website: Waves at Matsushima and Dragons and Clouds  are any indication, the exhibition will be full of lively, dramatic imagery that will capture a young child’s imagination.  In addition to featuring large-scale Japanese screens (perfect for young viewers) hanging scrolls and fans will also be included. It is a great opportunity to introduce young children to these mediums and experiment with making your own versions. Don’t forget to check out the ImaginAsia classroom schedule on the Sackler’s website for the all-ages offering tied to this exhibition!

Children are Citizens: A Collaboration with Project Zero (Part II)

Book ImageChildren are Citizens

On April 25, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art several DC schools, including SEEC, and Harvard’s Project Zero celebrated the launch of a book authored by over 300 students. The book was the result of a research and professional development project entitled: Children are Citizens: Children and Teachers Collaborating across Washington, D.C. The premise of this project is the belief that children are as much part of the community as their adult counterparts. They should not only be able to voice their opinions, but also participate in their community. Through their participation children will learn to see other’s points of view, work together, and understand how we are all interconnected, thus creating an informed and thoughtful citizenry who will become active participants in our democracy.  To learn more about Project Zero and this collaboration visit here.

SEEC’s Role

The first phase of the project entailed some thoughtful discovery. Children and teachers had several conversations about what they thought of their city, what they would like to change, important people and places. The second phase culminated in a book where SEEC students focused on their relationship with the museums on the National Mall.

Three classes participated in this project—PreK3, PreK4 and Kindergarten. Our first installment in this series featured our PreK4 class (insert link) and this installment will explore our PreK3 class, the Wallabies. Their section of the book focused on their favorite parts of the Air and Space Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Museum of American History.

This interview was conducted with, Erin Pruckno, Wallaby teacher.

Erin Pruckno with her PreK3 Wallaby Class

Erin Pruckno with her PreK3 Wallaby Class

What made you want to participate in this project?

I wanted to participate in this project because the concept of citizenship and education is something I’m very interested in and was a major part of my master’s degree in International Education. In my studies, I encountered a lot of scholarship about citizenship education—how we educate students to be citizens, how students are citizens, the definitions of citizenship—however, not many touched upon citizenship and young children. This always irked me because, as an early childhood educator, I believe wholeheartedly that education at this age matters so much and that young children should be treated as citizens who have a vital role in our communities and our futures. So, I jumped at the opportunity to put to action these ideas.

Could you describe the process through which your class participated in the project?

We began by going on investigatory visits to the museums we were covering for our contribution to the book the project published. The Wallabies contributed pages on the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Air and Space Museum. During these visits, I looked for clues to what the students were interested in, as well as documenting their experiences in these spaces. Later in our classroom, we followed up with conversations on our visits; asking them about what was important about our museums, what other children should know about them, our favorite things there. I really wanted to encourage a sense of ownership from our children and to convey their passion and expertise to the book’s audience. We would then go on follow-up visits to the museums, continuing our conversations, and then later illustrating some of the things they saw or described.

Visiting the Air & Space Museum

Visiting the Air & Space Museum

Can you outline how this project was implemented in your classroom?

We tried to integrate the project into our already existing courses of exploration. For example, when we were learning about space, a trip to NASM was easy to do since it aligned with our topic and we could have a museum visit as well as research trip for the project. Other times, we set aside days to visit the museums and document our learning just for the purpose of the project.

How did the professional development portion of this project help or change your ideas of how to teach or connect children to the city in which they live?

As a professional development opportunity, the project really challenged me to think more about how I document student learning and also how I engage them in conversations. The method I’ve often relied upon with my class is to pose a question, then let students take turns to respond. However, when doing this, we have less of a dialogue among

the class and more of a back-and-forth between me and individual students. This project encouraged me to take a step back during classroom conversations and listen more—allowing students to talk to each other instead of directly to me.

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Making maps of the museums

The project seems to emphasize collaborations and discussion, is there a conversation you had among your students that really stands out?

Some of our most interesting conversations started when I would ask the Wallabies to share the most important thing to know about the museums and the students began talking about things you can’t do in museums. As I sat back and listened, letting them guide the conversation (which was, as I said, a challenge and learning experience for me), dramas would unfold about why we couldn’t touch exhibits or the planetarium screen. They came up with elaborate stories about how touching the screen would make a hole, creating a problem, workers would have to fix it, and the president and other people coming to the museum would feel sad that it was broken.

How do you think your students views of DC changes during the course of the project?

My hope was that my students expanded their understanding of other children in D.C. They already have a strong understanding of their families’ communities (coming from neighborhoods all over D.C., Virginia, and Maryland) and of our SEEC community, but I wanted them to think more about other students in D.C.  By asking them to think of what other children need to know about the museums, I think they became more aware of how there are children outside our community who do not know the museums as intimately as they do, and that these other students might have different perspectives on D.C. that we can both learn from and share our knowledge with.

What was one of your more challenging moments during the process?

As I mentioned, facilitating conversations in a way that encouraged students to have a dialogue among them was a challenge, but a good learning experience for us. Initially, some questions were difficult for students to answer such as those that asked them to think about D.C. broadly, but over the course of the project it became easier to provoke conversation as we broke down things into more manageable pieces, like discussions about individual museums.

Visiting the Hirshhorn as part of their study of light and dark.

Visiting the Hirshhorn as part of their study of light and dark.

What was one of the most rewarding moments during the process?

During one conversation, a student exclaimed to the class, “Guys! I know something!” I loved her enthusiasm, eagerness, and confidence in sharing her knowledge. This moment also summed up the project for me. I wanted to help my students show that even though they are young, they know something, many things in fact, about their community and Washington, D.C and that their contributions to our understanding of our city are to be valued and heard.

Springtime Fun: Full STEAM Ahead

Parent as Teacher_MG_0715_72dp_webi

It has been a long time coming, but spring is finally here and it is the perfect time to introduce your child to some of the changes that are occurring right in front of their eyes. I recently did a lesson on clouds for a family workshop and that, coupled with, some fantastic lessons from my fellow teachers was the inspiration for this blog. These ideas are a blend of natural observation, art, science and museum visits and have all the components of STEAM. STEAM is a popular and important educational movement, which advocates for using science, technology, engineering, art, and math as a means through which children can learn and develop critical thinking skills.

Parents, remember you are your child’s teacher too. When you teach them you are expanding their world,  sharing your interests and bonding. Don’t feel like you have to be a Pinterest guru and spend hours developing a lesson or buying materials. Instead, keep it simple and have fun by using ideas that are easily accessible and follow your own interests.

Clouds and Rain

Natural Observation

  • Walk outside during a light rain and enjoy the feeling of the water or notice the water droplets on the leaves.
  • Feel the ground after a rainstorm and notice the difference in texture and weight when it’s wet.
  • Notice how the sidewalk changes color after its wet.
  • Take a picnic to a nearby park and spend time observing the clouds. Look for shapes and movement.

Science Experimentfile (7)

  • Fill a cup with water and top it off with shaving cream. Add food coloring. Eventually the food coloring will begin to fall when the shaving cream is too full, just like rain falls when a cloud is too full of water.
  • For infants and toddlers, they will enjoy watching the color and might not understand the concept of the cloud, it will help them understand from where rain comes.  Consider using different colors and having fun with it.

Literacy

  • Eric Carle’s The Cloud works well for infants through preschoolers. When you are reading to your child, remember to include them in the book too. In this book, for example, you could ask them what sounds a sheep makes or encourage them to move their arms like a wave when the cloud passes over the ocean in the story.
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3-year-olds at the National Gallery of Art

Museum Visit

  • Choose a straightforward piece like Ships in Distress of a Rocky Coast by Ludolf Backhuysen at the National Gallery of Art and bring a few simple scarves to reenact the wind from the storm.
  • Choose something more imaginative like the Dangerous Logic of Wooing by Ernesto Neto at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. We made  tactile clouds by filling white nylons with marshmallows. Even the adults loved them.
  • Don’t live in DC? Visit your local museum or explore these pieces online with your child–that is some worthwhile screen time.

Art Project

  • Make your own clouds with blue construction paper, cotton balls and glue.
  • Make umbrellas using a half paper plate and Popsicle stick. We used do-a-dot markers to decorate them. These are not messy and the perfect size for older infants and toddlers to use.

Gardening

Now that you have had some fun with clouds and rain, your child might be interested in other, related topics. Here are a few more ideas!

Natural Observationfile (1)

  • Get out the sand toys and play in the dirt. If you want to keep things a little neater, you can always grab a large tub and fill it with dirt. I find that a little goes a long way. The sensory experience will give infants and toddlers the chance to experience different textures and to practice filling and dumping.
  • Preschoolers might enjoy the opportunity to plant a few seeds and watch the outcome of their efforts. Not only will they see the physical changes that will occur, but they will likely take ownership and pride in their planting.

Museum Visit

  • Local gardens are everywhere! Even if you just visit a neighbor’s garden.
  • Visit a farmer’s market.
  • My top DMV choices are: the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History, the US Botanical Gardens and Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring

Fun in the Kitchen_SAM0126

  • Use this chocolaty recipe for making dirt and include some gummy worms for added realism. The kitchen is a great place for a young child to learn because of the countless learning and developmental opportunities like: math – sorting, counting measuring, fine motor skills – pouring, stirring, sensory input, practice working together and following directions.

Literacy

  • Lois Ehlert’s books Eating the Alphabet or Planting a Rainbow.
  • Flower Garden by Eve Bunting and Kathleen Hewitt

Keep visiting us for more ideas. Enjoy your time together and the beautiful spring weather.

 

 

Cherry Blossoms, Friendship and the National Archives

This post was written by the Center for Innovation in Early Learning’s Director, Betsy Bowers

PartnershipFriendship Between Nations Family Day

Friendship was the theme for the National Archives Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day, and SEEC was excited to help plan a variety of activities for the event. Our goal was to engage families of all types and provide fun but informative activities that spoke to multiple generations and varied interests.

Geography

The GeoFind Challenge gave visitors an opportunity to learn interesting facts related to gift giving between nations. For example, did you know that the King of Siam offered President Lincoln an elephant to help with farming but he graciously declined? While several participants already knew, others learned that the city of DC’s many cherry blossom trees were originally a gift from Japan. We met students from all over the world who enjoyed the geography, history and political connections tied to this mapping challenge.

Cranes

Origami Workshop Tutorial

For visitors that had family members more interested in using their hands to create a special souvenir to remember the day, many made origami cranes.   A Japanese legend says that if you fold 1000 cranes you are granted a wish.  Over the years, thousands of origami cranes were sent to the American people and US presidents, along with good wishes from the people of Japan.  These are now found in the National Archives’ holdings.  Folding the origami crane was a popular activity enjoyed by many visitors. Younger participants were encouraged to try creating the slightly simpler samurai helmet – which also has interesting connections to the diverse holdings of the Archives. Did you know that President Reagan received a very large framed origami samurai helmet made of over 3000 pieces of paper folded by Japanese children?

Treaties

Especially meaniTreaty Boxngful was the amount of time that families took to work together to create a family treaty. Many took the task to heart as they learned that this type of agreement between two nations required conversation, cooperation and compromise. A wide variety of ideas were discussed. For example, younger family members agreed to clean up their rooms in exchange for time to play with a special toy. Teenagers agreed to balance their screen time with in person family time together. And, members of a high school color guard worked on agreements that supported their group and bound their friendship.  After using language from a treaty between the US and Japan and writing the document in special script, families worked together to bind them with a fabric cover. Once finished, this personal connection to treaties inspired visitors to find out more and the discovery boxes which included the examples of materials that were used to make historic treaties.  From there, they were encouraged to find an authentic treaty on display in the Archives’ galleries.

Benefits of Working Together

SEEC and NARA worked together to create additional activities that accommodated different Treatyages, learning styles and interests. As NARA and SEEC colleagues reflect on the planning experience, we are reminded of the synergy that these types of collaborations evoke. Each team member brought a different area of expertise to the planning process. We encourage you to refresh your own practice and seek out a similar partnership. Your results may be similar: positive multigenerational learning experiences for families from near and far. More important to us, though, was to see families of all ages having fun together in this national treasure known as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

 

Teachers

Want to turn these ideas into classroom-friendly projects? Just visit NARA’s blog for some great adaptations.

Quiet Moments: How a Washingtonian Family Does Spring Break

Spring

DSCN3881Spring has finally sprung in DC and although the cherry trees haven’t yet blossomed, the tourists have arrived. If you are anything like me, you prefer to stay away from the crowds, but still want to make the most of spring break with your family. The trick is choosing the right destination. Living in or around D.C. means we are fortunate enough to visit museums year-around. Consider leaving the big attractions like; Air and Space and Natural History for the winter months when they are less crowded and using spring to discover some hidden gems.

The Freer Gallery of Art

Gallery Visit: Japanese Screens
The Freer is scheduled to close next year for renovations so it is an excellent time to visit. This spacious room is a great place to have a seat and do some close looking, read a book or sketch. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy or share art with your children.

Make a Connection

  • Read a book like Eliza’s Cherry Trees: Japan’s Gift to America by Andrea Zimmerman and sketch the screens.
  • Learn more about what a Japanese screen is from this teacher resource on page 65.

Finish your visit by walking out through the Sackler, which is connected to the Freer, and heading down Independence Avenue to the Tidal Basin to check out the blossoms. It will undoubtedly be crowded there, but at least you started things out quietly.

The National Museum of African Art

Gallery Visit: Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue
Inside this exhibit is one of my favorite pieces currently on display at the Smithsonian; a butterfly mask from Burkina Faso. It’s also located in a quiet nook of the Museum and perfectly situated for children to walk around and observe.

Make a Connection:

  • Children are often attracted to butterflies for their beauty and they will likely connect to this mask for that very reason. Bring photos of butterflies and compare wings. Look for shapes, patterns and color.
  • Discover the other animals represented on the mask.
  • Pose questions: Why is the butterfly important in Burkina Faso? Where is Burkina Faso? (this information is included in the link above)
  • Ask your children to design their own butterfly wing and bring paper and colored pencils to the gallery. Finish your visit up with a walk over to the butterfly garden.

The National Gallery of Art

Gallery Visit: American Masterworks from the Corcoran, 1815 – 1940 
This gallery might be a little busy, but its worth it because it closes on May 3. There are some breathtaking works in this gallery that are large and inviting for children and adults alike.

Make a Connection:
Since there might be a few more people in this space, choose what the family wants to see ahead of time by looking online. This will help you plan and will get the kids excited for the visit. Once there, find your selected works and share what you like about them. Do you notice anything in-person that you didn’t online?  If your children are too young to talk – that is ok – talk to them. They will still benefit from the experience.

Enjoy your spring break.

Early Learning in Museums: A Thoughtful Process at DAM

Denver Art Museum
Denver Art Museum

We’ve noticed that more and more museums are thinking about how to create effective programming for children under the age of 6 years old. Why do you think that is? I know we have some ideas but would be curious to know what you all are thinking.

Just last month, SEEC had the opportunity to work with one such museum.  It was inspiring to see how thoughtful they are being about the process. Over the next year, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) will systematically develop programs for early childhood programs in their area. Implementation of these programs is scheduled to start next year.

Mud Woman by Roxanne Swentzell at the Denver Art Museum
Mud Woman by Roxanne S Wentzell at the Denver Art Museum

To get this effort off the ground, the education department has created a case statement that articulates why this initiative is important and how it ties to the mission and vision of the larger organization. In addition, they have brought together a team of stakeholders that will contribute to the development of concepts, monitor progress, communicate considerations and keep the process moving forward. They have considered external factors and internal implications and are working together in new ways to better accommodate the unique of early childhood audiences – whether they arrive in school groups or with a family.

In addition, they engaged the local teacher community. On a Classroom Shotbeautiful October morning in Denver, Colorado, over 20 early childhood educators devoted their time to talking to the Denver Art Museum about what their idea of an ideal early childhood program would include. The teachers were extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities and informed the museum educators that they would like to see everything from museum experiences led by visiting artists to workshop spaces that encouraged young children in “messy” but meaningful play.

We know that many museums are doing interesting programming for young children. If you have stories to share or lessons learned, we would love to hear from you!

Denver Art Museum

Denver Art Museum