The Summer Blues: How Museums and Libraries Support Summer Learning

Summer Camp 2013Summer conjures up images of running around barefoot, catching fireflies, and endless hours at the pool. In reality though, it can be an insanely stressful time for families. Sometime in February (at least in the DC metro area), parents start enrolling their children in summer camp. In the nation’s capital there is no shortage of camps, but that is assuming you can pay between $300-600/week tuition. It doesn’t end there either. Many camps charge extra for before and after care, tacking on an extra $50-100. Now, multiply that times the number of children you have and you wind up with a pretty hefty price tag.

Many parents turn to alternative options: in-home daycare, families, neighbors or child-homeworkthey adjust their own work schedule. Your checkbook is likely to appreciate the break, but parents and educators worry about their children forgetting what they learned during the school year. While your child might have brought home a packet of worksheets or a mandatory reading list, neither are particularly engaging. The dilemma remains: How can we support children to learn in fun ways that support and maintain school year gains and not break the bank?

The Institute of Museum and Library Services recently published a paper entitled Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners. With the national discussion on early childhood education at the fore, this paper examines the important role that museums and libraries play in supporting learning within the community. It makes particular mention of how museums and libraries can serve to lesson what many refer to as the “summer slide.” Utilizing libraries and museums makes a lot of sense for budget-minded families who are looking for ways to engage their children. Firstly, many of these institutions often offer free/reduced admission and programming for families. Secondly, their offerings are diverse in subject and increasingly, hands-on in nature. These institutions are more often taking into account what and how your children are learning in school and are offering programs that extend current studies or prepare them to be successful learners. Moreover, the museum and library environment lends itself to a family experience. Generally, child and caretaker can go together where they both can observe, experience, and discuss an exhibit or program together. Having a shared experience brings families together for one-on-one time and can inspire more learning at home or in the community.

What if you can’t make it to the museum, you ask? Go on-line! Museum and library resources are becoming increasingly child-friendly and parents can be assured that their children are having a safe and educational experience. Take a look at some of the tips below and get rid of those summer blues!

Parent Tips:

Spend time looking at what your local museums offer and have your child choose a few exhibits that interest them. Choice is the key word here – the more interested a child is in something, the more likely they are to want to learn.

Don’t forget about Smithsonian Story Times and Play Spaces:

Check out the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s new engineering game, Tami’s Tower 

Link the library and museum visit by checking out books pertaining to an exhibit or object of interest.

Find a good parent blogger (We love KidFriendlyDC and Beltway Bambinos) and follow them for ideas of what to do and special deals!

Visit the National Gallery of Art’s website for interactive on-line games.

 

Object Feature: Louise Bourgeois’ Spider

It was during a recent conversation with one of our faculty, that made me pause and consider Louise Bourgeois’ Spider at the National Gallery of Art. To be honest, I wasn’t immediately drawn to this piece. I’m admittedly not a big fan of spiders, but, as is often the case, when you learn more about something it opens up new doors.i-k7Trf6j-X2

Size and Location

On the surface, this piece has a lot of elements that make it ideal for young audiences, most noticeably its location. I truly enjoy being in sculpture gardens. They are an all-ages space – conducive to movement and activity for children and still, contemplative, and provocative in a way that appeals to adults. The sculpture garden is a community space akin to a central square or other public space that features art. It is family friendly space that speaks to different generations who can learn and be inspired.

The piece is also worth highlighting for its size and 3-dimensional nature. While I rarely say “no” to using smaller artworks, a large piece that allows a child to move around it and view it from multiple perspectives, is always ideal. So caregivers and educators, if you visit, make sure that you leave time for ample careful looking. Notice things like the texture of the material, the details of the legs, and how it looks from different perspectives.i-ctMrDxC-X2

Content Connections

The artwork is an ideal segue into STEM, social emotional, and literary learning. First, it’s a spider. Spiders, while not always a crowd favorite, serve an important and definitive purpose in ecology. As an insect eater…. Young children don’t always see spiders as important or as helpers, but this immense artwork provides the opportunity to introduce the spider in a way that is new to a child. This makes me particularly excited as we think about museums as catalysts for children for learning about and protecting their community. In this case, being able to impart some information about the importance of spiders in our ecosystem, one can help children connect to their environment and understand that all living things play a valuable role.

i-mrJb3V9-X2Meaning

My colleague recently shared with me about the significance of the spider. Ms. Bourgeois created spiders in the latter part of her career as a symbol of her mother. Like the spider, she saw her mother as a protector. She viewed her as strong, but also vulnerable. While these are abstract concepts for young children, they can be illustrated by looking closely at the spider. Notice that it is large and tall, yet its legs outstretched like a hug. The spider is a childhood recollection, so the spider’s size is like that of an adult. Have the children imagine a favorite adult, how do they express their love or what do they do to help keep you safe.

Though I would not likely add onto this during a single lesson with young children, its worth noting that spider’s figure is also very delicate. I encourage you to look closely and find what areas of the sculpture look vulnerable or contradict its overall looming presence. Interestingly, Bourgeois’ memories of her mother reflect her father’s ten-year affair with her governess.

Finally, for learners of all ages, connecting art to literature is a way to enhance and build on both the literary and visual experiences. The first thing that came to mind was Charlotte’s Webb, but of course there are many child friendly stories out there that would accompany this sculpture. For example, Eric Carle’s The Very Busy Spider.

i-ZwMc9ms-X2Learning Extensions

Go on a hunt for spiders and spider webs.

Create a web together using string.

Visit the Insect Zoo and look for different types of spiders or Learning Lab – notice similarities and differences.

Spiders have eight legs, but did you know that most spiders have eight eyes too.

Make spider webs by laying paper down in an aluminum pan and moving tiny balls around that have been dipped in paint.

Object of the Month: Calder Gallery at the National Gallery of Art

As was the case in September, this month’s Object of the Month is actually an entire gallery. This gallery is dedicated to the artist, Alexander Calder, and is located in the newly re-opened East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. The latest iteration of this gallery is bright, airy, colorful, and full of shadows. It is in many ways the perfect art space for a young child can while away their time looking and getting lost in their imaginations.
The objects within the gallery can be used in conjunction to several age-appropriate themes.

  • Shadows – The sundial just outside the Smithsonian Castle in the Haupt Garden  + Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch would round out the experience.
  • Color – Calder’s bold color palette is a great way to introduce your child to colors.
  • Shape – Circles, triangles, even a quadrilateral (the elephant’s ears)!
  • Ocean – Finny Fish offers an imaginative take on our ocean friends- combine it with a trip to the Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall.
  • Balance – His mobiles are a great way to introduce children to the concept of balance.
  • Movement/Wind – Take notice, Calder’s mobiles move and come alive!
  • Space – Many of his pieces reminiscent of the solar system, especially Vertical Constellation with Bomb.

 

Infants, Toddlers, and Twos

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Visit the NGA’s website to learn more about each of these objects.

The animals in the center of the gallery are a perfect height for your infant and toddler, especially those who are in the stroller and struggling to see what is around them. I like the idea of pairing these objects with Sandra Boyton’s Are You a Cow or Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo. I am also very fond of the Crinkly Worm and pairing it with one of my all-time favs- Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. Whichever literary direction you go, you can also choose to bring photos, stuffed animals, or even watch a short video featuring one of the animals. Head out to the nearby terrace and see if you can imagine moving like a bull or a worm.  If worms, cows, and bulls aren’t your thing, then focus on the elephant. This sculpture is a playful interpretation of the animal and is certain to capture your child’s attention. Enjoy an elephant hunt though the 3Smithsonian and stop by the Sackler Gallery to see the Seated Ganesha, the rotunda of the Natural History Museum to see Henry the Elephant and of course, the Zoo. Take a photo of each visit and display it somewhere at home where your child can see it (you could make a mobile if you want to stay true to the Calder theme). By documenting their experience, it will help them connect events and see their own learning.

Threes and Four

I was recently in this gallery with a group of adults as part of a workshop and I was asked to work with a partner to create something Calder–inspired with paper and some scotch tape. We don’t often think about it, but museums, with the right materials, can also be art studios.  I love these types of activities not just because they support creativity, but because they encourage young children to look carefully. Here are a few gallery-safe ideas:

  • Sketch the shadows on the walls2
  • Use pipe cleaners to make shapes and forms.
  • Add pieces to a mobile that you have started
  • Have them tear a piece of paper into one of the shapes they see  (just remember a trash bag).

Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget to share your ideas with us too!

A Playful Experiment

Originally posted May 2014:

This past week I had the chance to attend one of SEEC’s seminars: Play: Engaging Learners in Object Rich Environments. During the two-day workshop, we explored the meaning of play and how to use it when teaching with objects. We began the seminar by defining play as a group. Some of the key words were: fun, tools, free thought, child directed, social, emotional, intellectual. To help us articulate the discussion, we also read Museum Superheroes: The Role of Play in Yong Children’s Lives by Pamela Krakowski, which distinguishes play as:

active engagement, intrinsic motivation, attention to process rather than the ends, nonliteral (symbolic behavior) and freedom from external rules.1

I reflected on these concepts and how they related to my own teaching. I wondered how I could incorporate more play into my practice, especially when I was in the museums. I decided to try out some new play strategies on a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art with a group of preschoolers.

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Asher Brown Durand The Stranded Ship 1844 oil on canvas National Gallery of Art Gift of Ann and Mark Kington/The Kington Foundation through Millennium Funds 2003.71.1

My first playful endeavor was completely spontaneous. I began the discussion by asking the children to describe this painting by Asher Brown Durand. One  girl pointed toward the artwork and said:

The sun is always moving through the sky.

I took this opportunity to ask the rest of the class whether they had ever noticed the sun moving through the sky too. They immediately offered their own examples. At that moment, I decided we should play the Earth. I asked everyone to stand up and slowly turn their bodies. I grabbed a parent and had her stand in the center pretending to be the sun.  As we moved, I explained how it was actually the Earth’s rotation that made it look the sun was moving in the sky. This was a completely unexpected and child-initiated moment, which was great. I think it was the playful element though that really made the experience memorable. If I hadn’t asked the children to get up and pretend to be the Earth, they would have been less likely to understand and remember the concept of rotation. By having them participate in the experience the concept was made real, tangible.

Part of the seminar was inspired by our colleagues at Discovery Theater. This session was, as one would expect, more theater driven and honestly, really challenged me. As the class continued to describe the Durand painting, I added secondary questions to enliven the discussion. For example, when the ocean was observed, I asked them to show me with their bodies how the ocean was moving and then I asked them to make the sound of the waves.  The kids were happy to illustrate both for me so when it came time to talk about the clouds and wind, we added sound effects and movements again. These exercises captured the essence of the painting, encouraged different learning styles and made everything more fun.

photo 2 (3)As the last part of the object lesson, I laid out several objects and asked them to work together to recreate the painting. They needed no instruction, but went right to work, collaborating until the composition was complete. Was it exactly like the painting, no, but they had used these tools to create their OWN composition. They were quite proud and were completely engaged in the activity. I saw them looking back at the painting, rearranging objects and making their own decisions.

All in all, the visit felt playful and meaningful. I am continuing to think about how to make my lessons more playful and how play can be a tool for learning within the museum environment.  If you have any ideas, please share!!!!

1. Journal of Museum Education, Volume 37, number 1, Spring 2012, pp. 49-58.

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.

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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 I)

Children are Citizens

Visiting the Smithsonian Castle

Visiting the Smithsonian Castle

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. We will begin with the PreK4 class, also known as the Cinnamon Bears. Their section of the book focused on their favorite parts of the National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian Castle and some insider tips, including that the Smithsonian Castle is not a real castle! It also featured a list of their favorite objects in the museums, a story entitled The Story of How the Security Officers Own the Museums and photos of museum collections taken by the children.

Below you will find the interview with Cinnamon Bear teacher, Carrie Heflin about her experience with the Children are Citizens project.

Carrie teaching

Carrie Heflin

What made you want to participate in this project?

Project Zero is such an influential presence in the Early Childhood community and I feel so strongly about encouraging children to be active citizens that when we were asked to participate in this project, my commitment was a no-brainer. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better idea for a worthwhile endeavor than to show the DC community and my students how capable and powerful they can be.

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

We spent a lot of time talking together as a class about our ideas for this project. Much like the process for the adult facilitators, at least the first fifty percent of the project was all planning and bouncing ideas around. We didn’t get to the actual field work—researching and putting together the data for the book until around February. I loved the sense of respect and community that I felt in the classroom when we had these discussions. It was so nice to take time to just talk about our feelings and opinions and to truly listen to each other.

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

The teachers did most of the facilitation for this project. We started out with some casual discussions about the city and about the project and then moved on to talking about the book, how books are made, and what information we wanted to contribute to the final product. A member of the coordinating team, Ben Mardell, would stop by occasionally to check in on our progress and to talk with the students about their ideas and opinions on the project thus far. The last phase was the most active. We went to all the different museums we had chosen to showcase in our portion of the book and took pictures and gathered information in small groups.

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?

I really enjoyed getting to know and hear ideas from educators at other schools. We got together about five different times over the course of the project and it was lovely to share our experiences and learn how other classrooms explore the city. I always left our meetings feeling so inspired about all of the wonderful ways other educators were making the city accessible to their students and it helped challenge me to reexamine the way I looked at the city and how I talked about it with my class.

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Bears Display at the NGA

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

One of my favorite conversations I had with the class happened after one of Ben Mardell’s visits. He had talked to a small group of students about the museums and they ended up starting a story about where the museums came from. Ben sent me the script of the conversation in an email and, when I read the story back to the class they all had something to add. Before long it had morphed into this origin story of how the museums came into being. I learned so much about my students and how they view our community. They had these wonderful ideas about how the security officers are the real owners of the museums and they protect them from all the “bad guys.” I was so taken with the story and the children were so invested in it that it ended up hedging out some other material that we had originally intended to include in the book and it is still my favorite part of our section.

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

I don’t know that their views changed so much as my views widened to include more of theirs. I don’t have any hard evidence of any of my students budging even an iota on their original convictions, but the sense of understanding we gained from each other and from all of our conversations and collaborations in the classroom strikes me as very profound- even if it wasn’t the original intent.

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

I was often challenged by trying to balance working on the project and teaching lessons on our current topic of study. I know some of the other schools that participated made the project their main focus rather than trying to add it on to their curriculum. I think I might try that track if I had it to do over again.

What was one of the most rewarding moments during the process?20150425_105806

The absolute most rewarding moment was at the book release event at the National Gallery of Art when I saw all of the students walking around wearing big red badges that said “Author” on them. The sense of pride, accomplishment and empowerment was palpable and I think that really was the point of the whole thing.

Teacher Feature: Three Year Old Classroom Explores Gardening

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Erin Pruckno. Her three year old classroom was learning about Eric Carle and Erin decided to spend a week focusing on The Tiny Seed. Below you will find a reflection from Erin and images from her lesson.

Gardening_Cover

What were your topics of exploration?

In this unit, we were using the books of Eric Carle to engage with a variety of topics that our class wanted to explore, topics like animals, food, rainbows, and more. This particular lesson was from our week on plants, using The Tiny Seed to guide us. We focused on the parts of a plant, the plant life cycle, what plants need to grow, and in this lesson, how we garden to care for plants.

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

One of my objectives for this lesson was for the students to develop a sense of their role in tending plants—many of them are interested in the plants on our playground, so I wanted to encourage their sense of responsibility in caring for the natural environment. I also wanted to foster their language development by introducing new vocabulary for the different tools we use to garden, which would also add new elements to their dramatic play. Finally, we used the lesson as an opportunity to organically build letter recognition and phonemic awareness as we named and labeled the different tools.

What was most successful about your lesson?

My students really enjoyed picking out and adding tools to our poster of “Gus the Gardener.” Making it into a game by telling them to close their eyes and pick is always a hit too! I also think that the lesson was successful in encouraging my class to think about the sounds associated with letters as they matched a label with text to the corresponding image of a gardening tool. They also were quick to pick up on the new vocabulary, using the words for tools they previously didn’t know as they played with them on the playground later that day!

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

The fun part of this lesson is that it doesn’t have to just be about gardening! I’ve also used a similar format to introduce the job of a paleontologist and all the tools he or she needs to dig. It could also work for exploring other occupations, like doctors or builders. During the museum portion of our visit, we were very lucky that there were two paintings side-by-side that allowed us to compare and contrast gardening indoors versus outdoors. Another teacher could accomplish the same thing by bringing in an image of a different kind of garden in another painting, or by comparing and contrasting two different photos or prints if they can’t make it to a museum. Visiting indoor and outdoor gardens would be another opportunity for making comparisons about the kinds of gardening and the tools we need.

 

Here are a few images from their unit on gardening:DSCN2891Erin’s class was spending time exploring the wonderful world of Eric Carle and decided to spend a week on his book, The Tiny Seed.

DSCN2886The group had read The Tiny Seed several times throughout the week so Erin decided to have the class work together to re-tell the major plot points.

DSCN2889Erin then read a new book to the group: A Seed Grows by Pamela Hickman. The book introduces the different tools used in gardening.
DSCN2898Erin brought out some of the tools found in the book and introduced the group to her illustration: “Gus” the gardener.

DSCN2904 DSCN2922“Gus” needs his tools! Erin invited each child to pick a picture of a garden tool and add it to the image. They all worked together to try and identify the different images.

DSCN2937Erin then had a second bag with the names of each tool and invited them to pick a word and match it to the image on the sheet.

DSCN2939The class then headed out to the National Gallery of Art (NGA). On their way into the museum one of the NGA gardeners invited the students to check out his gardening tools.

DSCN2960The final stop was to see Miro’s The Farm and Matisse’s Pot of Geraniums. Erin asked the group to do some close looking and describe what they saw in the two paintings. She emphasized that these paintings were both of gardens but one would be found indoors and the other outdoors. Erin then brought out “Gus” and had the group work together to identify which tools could be used to plant in either garden or both.

This class had a wonderful time learning about gardening and Eric Carle! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!