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!

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.

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores The Human Body

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Javasa Finney. Her twos classroom was learning about the human body and decided to spend a day learning about hair and how the human body grows. Below you will find a reflection from Javasa and images from some of her lessons.

Body_Cover

What were your topics of exploration?

During the months of October and November the Penguins were exploring the human body.  We talked about the different parts of the human body.  Some of the parts we focused on included:

  • hair
  • skin
  • mouth
  • bones
  • eyes
  • brain
  • heart

In addition to how these body parts work we had a lot of fun learning about the five senses.  We talked about nutrition, how important it is, and how what we eat affects our body. Then they made delicious food from the different food groups with my co-teachers throughout the week. We also talked about the importance of sleep and how important exercise is for the human body.  They were extremely excited to have the opportunity to go exercise at the Washington Monument.

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

I wanted the class to learn all about their amazing bodies. My main learning objective when teaching the kids about the human body was for them to learn about how important their bodies are and how to care for them. I also wanted them to learn all the bodies’ functions and abilities.

What was most successful about your lesson?

During the time we spent learning about the human body there are two lessons that I feel were extremely successful and memorable.  The first one would definitely be when a baby came to visit.  The child is currently a student in the infant class here at SEEC.  The five month old was our model for the lesson. During this lesson I talked to the Penguins about how we start out as small babies.  We talked about how different a baby’s body is compared to older people.  We talked about how when babies are born they don’t have teeth and can’t talk, walk, run, or jump.  They learned that during the first year a baby sleeps and drinks a lot and cries to communicate.  During circle time we made observations about the baby’s body and talked about how fragile it is.  Then the Penguins had the opportunity to touch him.  It was wonderful to see the children light up and respond to the child.  The second most successful and memorable human body lesson was our lesson on hair.  We learned how hair can be many colors, textures, and lengths.  We talked about the things we use to care for our hair.  Then the Penguins had the opportunity to try on wigs that were different colors, textures, and lengths. This lesson was followed up with a trip to the National Gallery of Art.  We went to look at the “Little Dancer” by Edgar Degas sculpture. First we made observations about the body and then we had the Penguins take a closer look at her braid.  The braid is made of real human hair, coated and held in place by wax.

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

During the first lesson, if I were to do this again, I wouldn’t keep the baby on my lap the entire time.  I realized later it would have been nice for the kids to see him crawling, playing, etc.   For the second lesson about hair, I would have picked a different day to go to the National Gallery of Art.  The day we went there were several trips there and the room with “Little Dancer” was extremely crowded.

Here are a few images from their unit on the human body:

DSCN1370Javasa began the week by exploring how our bodies grow and change. As a way to illustrate this development, Javasa invited a child from the infant classroom to visit. She wanted the class to look at the baby and compare his body to their own and the teachers’. Javasa explained that people start by needing a lot of help from adults but as our body changes we become more independent.

DSCN1373Javasa explained that the baby couldn’t feed himself, talk, or even walk yet. She showed how the baby would eventually learn how to do all these things as he gets older.

DSCN1382The next day the class moved on to Hair. Javasa read “Hair” by Cynthia Klingel and Robert B. Noyed to introduce the topic. The book helped students understand that people all over the world have many different types of hair and hair styles and each one is as special as the next.

DSCN1387One of Javasa’s co-teachers shared her collection of wigs as way to talk about how hair can be all different colors, textures, lengths, and styles. She explained that hair comes in a range of color but if you want certain colors (for example, pink) you would need to dye it that color.

DSCN1390She showed the group a zoomed in picture of a hair follicle. The kids couldn’t believe how the root of their hair looks.

DSCN1393Javasa went on to explain that hair can grow curly, straight, or wavy.

DSCN1397 DSCN1398The group spent a long time looking and touching their own hair.

DSCN1409Then it was time to try out new hair!

DSCN1415 DSCN1431They had a wonderful time trying on the different wigs!

DSCN1436 DSCN1438The group then walked over to the National Gallery of Art to see Degas’ “Little Dancer.” They were fascinated by how Degas used real hair for the sculpture. The children discussed the color, length and style of the dancer’s hair.

This class had an awesome time learning about their bodies! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!