Teacher Feature: Preschoolers Explore Calder

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Justin Pyles. Justin is our Art Enrichment Educator who works with all of our classrooms. Based on the interests of the preschool children he decided to spend some time teaching them about Calder. Below you will find a reflection from Justin and images from some of his lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

In this lesson we were looking at the artist Alexander Calder and exploring the concept of balance. This was accomplished through circle time, art activities, and a trip to the National Gallery of Art (NGA), to look at his epic mobile in the foyer of NGA East Court.

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

The learning objective for the students was twofold. First, I wanted the students to understand the concept of balance and how it applies in art. Next, I wanted students to meet Sandy (the affectionate name given to Alexander Calder). Calder has a unique child centered attitude towards the creative process that makes him a perfect introduction into the lives of the people behind the art.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I thought the museum activity was particularly effective and innovative. Giving the students the opportunity to understand the concept of balance through the use of wire, beads, and shapes in front of the large scale mobile created an authentic experience of the concept while observing it in practice.

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

I think there are many variations on how to enact any lesson and would encourage teachers to be flexible, positive, and respond to the needs of the children and the museum environment. It is such a blessing and asset to have the resources available to the educators at SEEC!

Here are a few images from his unit on Calder:

DSCN0875Justin began his lesson by introducing Alexander Calder to the group. He explained that his nick name was “Sandy” and that he loved to make lots of different types of sculpture. He read the group Roarr: Sandy’s Circus  by Maria Kalman and showed them some images of Calder’s work on the iPad. Justin also brought out some of the materials and tools that Calder would use to make his sculptures.

DSCN0884The group then headed off to the National Gallery of Art to see a large example of Calder’s work.

DSCN0893Justin explained to the group that this type of work is called a mobile because it is a moving hanging sculpture. He encouraged the children to spend time watching the mobile to see how it moved slowly around in the space.

DSCN0896Justin then described how the mobile had to be perfectly balanced so that it would move around without tipping over. To demonstrate that concept he used a slightly bent wire with shapes attached on one side. On the other side of the wire he gradually added beads to balance the wire on his finger.

DSCN0898 DSCN0902 DSCN0903 DSCN0907The children had a wonderful time working together in teams trying to balance their own mobile sculptures.

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

Teacher Feature: Kindergartners Explore Insects

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Cathryn Kis. Her kindergarten class was learning about insects and decided to spend a day learning about mosquitoes. Below you will find a reflection from Cathryn and images from some of her lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

We set out to explore what insects are, what makes an insect an insect, how many insects are in the world and other fun filled facts that caught our curiosity. We worked on defining the characteristics of insects and how they are the same or different. The class was particularly interested in the most unique or dangerous. We had fun using the Insect Hall in National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) as well as Dr. Adamski, an entomologist at NMNH, to get a wonderful hands on experiences with insects.

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

I wanted the children to learn about the mosquito through both folklore and scientific research. I liked the idea of being able to use one topic and make it span across many different areas of learning. We read the story Why Do Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema and I wanted the children to work on sequencing. Since the group enjoyed this story, I used it as a way to practice as well as a way to define the various story elements. The children worked collectively as a team on this activity and had open discussions about which parts of the story went where. From the science aspect,  I wanted the children to use the museum as a way to learn facts and identify the different parts of the mosquitoes.

What was most successful about your lesson?

What I found most successful, was the fact that the children were able to retell the story, put the parts in the correct sequence and have fun doing the activity. They were able to take the information they learned and play a chase game on the playground using the mosquito buzzing sound and acting out some of the other parts of the story.

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

I might have had an additional set of story cards to sequence. By dividing the class into two small groups, the children would have needed to collaborate and also take on more responsibility in the activity. This may have led to even deeper discussions of the story and given me an opportunity to see which kids needed more practice with this skill. In addition, I think that providing puppets for each character in the story would give the children a wonderful opportunity to become the storyteller for their peers.

If you are planning to use this lesson in a museum I recommend arriving early. At times it was difficult to hear the sound of the mosquito despite the speaker we brought along to use in the space. I also suggest having a hands on specimen of a mosquito to better explore the different parts of the insect.

Here are a few images from their unit on mosquitoes:

DSCN1712Cathryn began her morning gathering with a fill-in-the blank activity. The chart outlines for the children what their day will look like and also gives them an opportunity to practice their writing.

DSCN1720 Before the lesson, Cathryn made cards ahead of time that had images of the characters and labels that sectioned the book into categories. The class had been reading Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema so they were familiar with the characters and plot line during this lesson. She asked the group to remind her of the different characters in the story.

DSCN1724As Cathryn read the story, she worked with the group to move the characters to the different categories.


DSCN1739During their journal time she had the students create their own characters to further emphasize the different components of a story.

DSCN1744The group headed to the museum in search of a mosquito. They found one in the Last American Dinosaur exhibit located in the National Museum of Natural History (http://www.mnh.si.edu/fossil-hall/last-american-dinosaurs/).

DSCN1764Cathryn showed the group images of the different varieties of mosquitoes and pointed out the parts of their body. 
DSCN1784She then had the group listen to the sound that a mosquito makes.

DSCN1792Cathryn also brought along images from the book and had the group think about the differences and similarities between the story and scientific facts about the mosquito.

IMGP8084At the end of their unit on insects, the class hosted an exhibit!

IMGP8102Parents and other educators were invited to visit their version of the insect hall and meet with the student entomologists.


IMGP8088Each child conducted a research project on a particular insect and was available to relay that information to visitors.


IMGP8090They also created 3-D models of their insect. The models were housed in their “enclosures” which often featured the types of food and habitat of that insect.

IMGP8096 IMGP8097The exhibit even featured a reciption complete with insect inspired treats and snacks.

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

Teacher Feature: Infants Explore How Things Move

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Meredith Osborne. Her mobile infant classroom was learning about how things move and decided to spend a day comparing how birds fly and fish swim. Below you will find a reflection from Meredith and images from some of her lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

We were exploring “How Things Move”. I always like to start with the concrete/familiar and move to the abstract, so we began the month looking at how we, as mobile infants, move our bodies. It was particularly fitting to focus on how we move, as this is a skill that all the children in my class are working on, experimenting with, and perfecting.

On this particular day, we had expanded to “How Things Move: By Land, By Air, and By Sea”. We started by visiting “The Birds of D.C.” and “Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America” exhibitions. To keep with the idea of starting based in the concrete, we went outside earlier in the week to look at the birds on the National Mall, which introduced the ideas of birds and flying. Since we were not able to touch any of the birds in the exhibitions, I brought toy stuffed birds ( falcons, mallards, and cardinals) with us to hold and explore while in the exhibition. We also listened to bird songs, tried our best to mimic the birds by flapping our arms, and attempted to copy the bird calls. Later that day, we played with feathers, felt their textures, dropped them through the air, and blew air through them.

After visiting the bird exhibitions, we moved on to “How Things Move: By Sea” and watched the fish swimming in the coral reef aquarium. While watching the fish, we talked about what we were observing and sang the song “Let’s Go Swimming” by Laurie Berkner.

In the afternoon, we dropped objects in water to see what would float and sink. I asked the group, “did anything swim like a fish?” To finish up the lesson, we did a semi structured story time (structured for the teachers in that we built a routine, but mostly unstructured for the children), where we read “The Little Blue Truck Leads the Way.” I laminated images of the characters in the books for everyone to hold while we read the story. While “The Little Blue Truck” by Alice Schertle did not fit perfectly into the lesson for the day, it did fit perfectly into the overall lesson of “How Things Move” and we had been reading it all week to become familiar with it. By reading it daily, the book quickly became one of our favorites. We ended the storytime by singing our closing song, “If You are happy and You Know It!”

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

For this lesson, I was interested in introducing the large concepts of what floats and flies. I was also hoping to practice some gross motor skills through flapping our hands like birds and to provide a sensory experience through touching water and feathers.

However, with this age learning objectives are very fluid. My goal is to provide the children with a new experience and see how they interpret it and work to make it their own.

 What was most successful about your lesson?

In a word: Experimenting. In a reflection on our classroom, one of my teaching partners explained she likes “how we try new things and are not afraid of it.” It can be hard to experiment, because you need to find the balance between routine / stability and the change that comes with trying new things. Both routine and new experiences are vitally important to the mobile infants; it is the challenge of the teacher to make sure that the classroom has an appropriate balance of both for each individual child.

Experimenting can also be a difficult thing to observe. I go into the classroom everyday knowing that I am experimenting and changing variables to see how the children will react. As a result, this means that no lesson will be the ideal. For this particular observation, we had just started doing our semi structured story time. We, as teachers, were working to establish a routine and the children, as learners, were working to comprehend the purpose of story time. It was exciting to do, but it had not been worked out fully. We have changed several things about our story time format and continued to make our stories more interactive since this lesson took place.

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

I would recommend that other teachers observe their mobile infants carefully and try to change the lesson according to the child or group of children’s individual needs and interests. Planning is very important for mobile infants. It is good to plan an experience that starts with the concrete and moves slowly towards the abstract, but do not be upset if your lesson does not fully jump into the abstract, as that is not developmentally appropriate. Provide experiences that involve all the senses if possible. Reach for ways to incorporate touch, taste, smell, and sound; do not rely purely sight. Always have new things for little hands to hold and explore while they are looking at an object. Enjoy your time interacting with the children! It is your opportunity to learn from them as much as they are learning from you!

Here are a few images from their unit comparing the movement of birds and fish:

DSCN1613Meredith began their lesson by passing out different stuffed birds for the group to hold and explore. They then headed straight to The National Museum of Natural History to see the “Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America” (http://bit.ly/16SbzAu).

DSCN1636As they wandered through the galleries they worked on matching their bird to the ones on exhibit.

DSCN1647Meredith had pre-downloaded sound bites of the different birds to share with the child once they had made a match.

DSCN1656When the duck was matched the group all quacked and flapped their “wings.”

DSCN1659The group then headed up to the Ocean Hall (http://bit.ly/1zLDrSx) to watch some fish in action.

DSCN1667The group was mesmerized and loved being able to get so close to the fish.

DSCN1672While looking at the fish, Meredith lead the group in singing “Let’s Go Swimming” by the Laurie Berkner Band.

DSCN1689After nap, the children gathered to read the Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle. Meredith had printed and laminated images from the book to give the children something to interact with during the story.

DSCN1699 DSCN1700Once they had finished, Meredith passed out feathers to the children. The group had a great time blowing on the feathers and watching them float to the ground.


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

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore the Ocean

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Dana Brightful. Her toddler classroom was learning all about the ocean and decided to spend a day focusing on anemones. Below you will find a reflection from Dana and images from some of her lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

Our topics of discussion that week were Oceans and Coral Reefs. We specifically focused on symbiotic relationships between clown fish and sea anemones and the importance of coral reefs and octopi.

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

My main goal for this particular group of children was for them to understand the importance of working together like the sea anemone and clown fish. This group is working on building their relationships with each other and to consistently work cooperatively.The activities that were included in this unit encouraged hand holding and the importance of collective responsibility in the classroom.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The children really remembered the vocabulary words like coral, ocean, clown fish and even anemone. Also, that week, the group was particularly successful walking together as partners holding hands and even beginning to identify the feelings of their classmates.

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

I would actually have done the tunnel portion (hiding from the shark) in an open space, like the classroom. The space in the museum or smaller spaces proved to be a challenge and the idea/ concept was lost on the group.

Here are a few images from her unit on anemones:

DSCN1450Dana stared the lesson by asking the group to dive into the ocean.

DSCN1458Down on the ocean floor they found coral, an anemone, and sand. The group took turns passing around the different items and reviewing the different sea creatures they had studied earlier in the week.

DSCN1461Dana then explained how clown fish live in anemones. The anemone keeps the clown fish safe and in turn it keeps the anemone clean. To emphasize this point she used puppets to sing a song about their relationship. Here are the lyrics  (sung to the tune of ‘This Old Man’): I hide you, you clean me, clown fish and anemone, They work together can’t you see? Living in the coral reefs!


DSCN1475The group then walked up to the Natural History Ocean Hall to see the clown fish in action.

DSCN1485After they had a chance to observe the fish, they ventured over to Portraits of Planet Ocean: The Photography of Brian Skerry (http://bit.ly/1CklPMe) to see a photograph of an anemone. Sitting in front of the photo, Dana introduced the game they were going to play in the museum. She was going to be an anemone and a child was going to be a clown fish. Dana used a paper plate, streamers, and string to create an anemone hat. She also made an additional hat out of a paper plate with the colors of a clown fish. The children took turns wearing the hat and pretending to be a clown fish.

DSCN1487 DSCN1489She asked one of the other teachers to be a predator trying to catch the clown fish and Dana told the children to quickly hide in the anemone (the tunnel). The kids had a blast playing in the museum.

The class had a wonderful time studying oceans and has now swum on to their next topic. Check back next week for another teacher feature!


What is a Smithsonian Early Explorer?

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

Here’s a small taste of what to expect.



Free Play

Learn More

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

Perfect Spring Break Family Museum Visit

signSpring and summer break are just around the corner and I know a lot of our parents are looking for some local, inexpensive family outings. Well, look no further than the Museum of Natural History. I am sure a lot of families have done it’s most popular features but, for this visit we are headed up to the top floor to  Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. This jem has a lot to offer the younger child in your family.

First, it’s spacious, colorful and inviting. Read our recent blog on environment – it makes a difference.

Second, there are a lot of mirrors.  From infants to preschoolers, mirrors are fascinating portals to understanding more about themselves and how their bodies work.

Image 280

One of SEEC’s classes practices their yoga.

Finally, there are interactive sections where you can listen to music, watch a video and sit at a table set with Indian food. This will give your child different types of sensory input and provide a chance for some dramatic play.

Depending on the age of your children, you can choose to approach the exhibit from several perspectives, here are some ideas:

 families6 months – 18 months: Babies are learning to recognize themselves and their families. Take the time to look in a mirror and identify baby and yourself. Describe your features and talk about your similarities and differences. Head over to the family photos and pull up a family photo on your phone. Compare it to the families on the exhibit wall. At home, share a book about families or sit down and make a toy family. This is a great opportunity to begin talking about how not all families are the same. Even at such a young age, you can begin to lay a foundation for understanding and respecting diversity.

listening station19 months – 3.5 years: Toddlers love music and dancing, so it is great that this exhibit features a listening station. Pick a couple of tracks and see if you can compare their tempo or guess the instruments. You might simply ask which their favorite was. Give them a chance to dance to the music and then go to the outer hallway and see the images of Indian dancers. Notice how the dancers are moving their body and what they are wearing. Build on the experience at home by listening to more Indian music or discovering that of another country. Look up a few videos highlighting different Indian dances and watch them together on a tablet or computer. Similar to the infant experience, introducing your toddler to the arts of other countries will help them gain an appreciation of their culture and, those of others.

photo (5)Preschoolers – Early Elementary:  A great way to connect with young children is to begin with their personal experiences. Since food is universal, the table would be a great place to begin a conversation about the foods we eat at home or at our favorite restaurants. The exhibit can teach children about food from India AND about the many cultures that contribute to the food we eat in the United States. If food doesn’t interest your child, consider talking about some of the notable Indian Americans like football player, Brandon Chillar or fashion designer, Naeem Khan.

Finally, consider going to visit the Freer and Sackler’s collection of Indian art on another visit or grabbing a bite of Indian food at the Natural History’s café.

Like with any visit, keep in mind some of these helpful tips for visiting a museum with your kiddos and enjoy!!