Color, Color, Everywhere

DSCN6760One of the first things we do with our young children is teach them the colors. As I sit and write this blog, I can hear families arriving for school and parents talking to their children about what they see in their environment and describing how they look – and most often I hear parents describing colors. Color helps us identify, sort, and can even elicit an emotional response. All too often though we, parents and educators, think of color in terms of art. No longer! The Smithsonian Libraries’ exhibit Color in a New Light will open up a whole new world and make you think about color in ways you haven’t before.

To put it in perspective, Sara Cardello, Education Specialist, at the Smithsonian Libraries has provided us with four fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) facts about color that will get you excited to learn more about color with your little one.

Fun Color Facts

Science

Did you know that in 1666, Sir Isaac Newton, an English physicist and mathematician made an important observation? He noticed, when looking through a prism, clear light was not clear after all. In fact, it was made from seven different colors, which we now know as the rainbow. These colors cannot be seen by our eyes all the time, but science has proven that in the right settings we can see that our light is very colorful!

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Newton Sir Isaac Newton experimenting with a prism. Engraving after a picture by J.A. Houston, ca. 1870. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York

Technology
Did you know that before the 1880s all colors were made from natural dyes? It was not until an accident in 1856 that we got our first synthetic way to make color. William Henry Perkins, an English chemist, was searching for a cure for malaria. While experimenting with coal-tar, he noticed an oily residue left a vibrant purple stain on some silk. While the cure for malaria was not found, a new process to create synthetic dye was discovered and changed the technology of color forever.

Engineering

Henry Ford is credited with creating the affordable and mass produced automobile in America. The Model T was originally sold in red, gray, green, and black. But as demand rose for the car, production was not able to keep up. From 1914 to 1926 Ford only offered the Model T in black, because it dried the quickest. It wasn’t until a more efficient assembly line was engineered by Ford that they could begin producing the car in various colors and keep up with the booming automobile industry.

MathematicsIMG_0950

Robert Ridgeway was the first curator of birds for the Smithsonian in 1880. One of the things he noticed were all of the different colors used to describe the animals, which made it confusing for scientists. In 1886 he created A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists which helped count, sort, and order all the different colors and name them, like Warbler Green. His work helped take the mathematical guess-work out of bird watching!

SEEC and the Smithsonian Libraries will host an open Color Studio on Saturday, July 16. Don’t let the name fool you though, our color activities will be STEM inspired. We plan to mix and create our own colors, make our own paint, make rainbows and make a color-inspired mural. Following your studio experience, families will be given a guide to the Color in a New Light exhibit.

Join us for our upcoming Artful Afternoon featuring Color.

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

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.

Shared Curiosity with the Smithsonian Early Explorers

Not many of us remember when we were two years old, but imagine if two mornings a week your day had started out in the Natural History Museum’s Q?rius Jr. Discovery Room space! And, what if those two mornings were spent exploring interesting things with somebody that you cared about – maybe a grandma or a parent, special caregiver or nanny? Wait, though, it gets even better. What if those opportunities for adventure took place in the Smithsonian museums and surrounding DC community? Last year, just such an experience got off the ground!

In September 2014, SEEC launched its brand new Smithsonian Early Explorer program where two mornings a week, children and their adults came together to learn about the world around them through hands-on experiences designed for active and growing toddlers. Activities took place in the discovery room space, SEEC’s art studio, museum galleries, surrounding community, and outdoors on the playground. In collaboration with Smithsonian Early Explorer facilitators, this small multi-generational learning community explored topics ranging from safari animals and the strength of bones, to dance traditions of Bollywood and shelters from around the world.

It is now one year later and we have learned a lot. The second SEE cohort will soon get together for another year of growing and learning together. Children and adults will share moments of curiosity, awe and wonder as we encounter the amazing and authentic artifacts, objects and masterpieces that make up the vast collections of our Smithsonian. Imaginations will be sparked and creativity encouraged. We are excited for what’s in store and look forward to reconnecting with returning families and welcoming new ones. For more information about the Smithsonian Early Explorer’s program visit seecstories.com/see

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.

You Teach Art History to Preschoolers?

Written by Carrie Heflin

Art History

The lesson on emeralds.

Twenty five thousand years ago our rapidly-evolving ancestors discovered a network of caverns in the region currently known as Lascaux, France. What they did there made an indelible mark on our species and our planet.

For most of our early years, man was focused solely on our own existence. But these images on the walls of the caves at Lascaux were created by human hands. We don’t know why they were created or by whom. All we know is that, as our most ancient ancestors spent hours in the dark musty interior of the caves at Lascaux recording the world around them in a way that would preserve their thoughts and feelings for thousands of generations to come.

Today we seem to have lost sight of this earliest vision of our forefathers. As we slash budgets, we often do so at the expense of museums and their programming, art classes in schools, and extracurricular activities. Art and its history are not just some frill belonging to the upper one percent of modern society. They are an element of our most basic nature- a calling in our souls.

I am in my third year as a pre-kindergarten teacher at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center and I use my art history degree every day as part of the curriculum. I teach my children to be critical thinkers and careful observers from early on.

The Wizard of OzLooking at a pair of emerald earrings.

One of the first topics we explored at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year was Frank L. Baum’s timeless classic, The Wizard of Oz. We talked about everything Oz, from men made out of tin, to things that melt when they get wet. At the end of the unit I had two anecdotes that reaffirmed for me that the way that I implement art as an educational tool in my classroom is vital. The first was from a mother who had spent the weekend trying to design her family’s annual Christmas card with her two sons. As they sat in front of the computer trying various filters on the images, her older son became intent on using the dreaded sepia tone filter that makes everyone look like they’re in an amusement park Wild West saloon shoot. To appease him the mother clicked on the sepia option and her younger son (who is my student) immediately pointed at the screen and yelled, “Hey, it looks like we’re in Kansas!” This comment refers back to the first week we studied Oz almost a month prior when we went to the Hirshhorn Museum to look at two Wall Drawings by Sol Lewitt. One piece was in color and the other on the opposite wall was in black and white. We explored the art and how it was created and then we talked about how different color schemes make us feel and how the filmmakers in the Wizard of Oz used this concept to show viewers how Dorothy felt in Kansas.

The second comment was made during a morning circle on the letter “B.” We asked the students to think of words that started with “B” and one boy called out “beryl!” We asked him if he remembered what beryl is and he exasperatedly explained that everyone knows it’s the main ingredient in emeralds. He is four. Did you know what beryl was before you read this paragraph?

As much as I would like to tell you that they are, my students are not all geniuses. They are not smarter because their parents read to them in utero or played Baby Einstein movies in their nurseries. They are able to process and retain knowledge because they have learned critical thinking skills the likes of which I was still honing in high school. They answer open-ended questions with thoughtfulness and clarity that floors me on a daily basis and they remember what they have learned and apply it to their future endeavors. These are the skills that we as educators strive to instill in our students because they are the tools to success. Being able to analyze and apply what you have learned is the only thing that makes knowledge useful.

Conquering the climber with our hand-crafted emerald vision spy glasses.I firmly believe that the work we do in the museums is the key to unlocking these skills at such an early age. Every day I see my students connect with art and with objects. I see their eyes light up when I tell them stories of people who felt and questioned long, long ago and who made beautiful wonderful things that we can see and explore today. I hear their questions as we wander the halls of our nation’s most expansive art collections- “Why is that so blue? Who made those statues? Is that a sculpture or a painting? Is that Hermes or Zeus?”- and I watch them implement their knowledge in their play. My students have used dress up to be French flaneurs and turned our climbing structure into a ship sailing to see Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. They can tell you who the Neanderthals were and what their favorite Shakespeare play is. They are sensitive and passionate and insatiable learners. My greatest fear is that they will leave our school and become less curious and more focused, less passionate and more dedicated to trying to memorize information and facts.

Final ThoughtsLooking at Elizabethan clothes at the beginning of the Shakespeare unit.

As we rang in 2014 the Smithsonian was preparing itself for budget cuts that may have required our nineteen museums to close one day a week for an indefinite period of time. One day a week, we were told, we might not be able to go see the art. While it was only one day, it felt like the beginning of something very big and very bad. When the largest and most renowned museum network in our country is forced to consider closing its doors it seems like only a matter of time before other institutions must follow suit. It didn’t end up happening, thankfully, but it did make me want to sit down and put my thoughts to paper. I didn’t write this article to protest government budget cuts.

There are already plenty of people doing that. I just hope that what I have to say can make my fellow educators stop and think about the enormity of the task before us and I want to offer a suggestion for a way to make it more manageable. Use the mistakes and triumphs of our species’ long and winding path to show your students a better way into the future. Don’t let those critical thinking skills that we worked so hard to develop be lost on a future generation of people with endless knowledge at their fingertips, because the more we depend on our gadgets for answers the less we will seek them ourselves. Instead, use the tools that you have been given- tablets, projectors, laptops, and yes, museums to encourage your students to seek out and interpret knowledge. Immerse yourselves in the passion of human creation and discovery and you will be amazed the places it will take all of you.

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.

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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!!