Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Class Explores Butterfly Wings

This weeks’ teacher feature shows how one of SEEC’s two-year-old classes were inspired by Oscar de la Renta’s Ikats in the To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia exhibition at the Freer|Sackler Galleries. Educators Brittany Leavitt, Brittany Brown, and Melinda Bernsdorf used these iconic ikats to facilitate a learning experience that focused on the colors, patterns, and symmetry that can be seen in both butterfly wings and these dyed fabrics. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as reflections from the educators.  

Cover Photo

Preparation:

Eggs, Chicks, InsectsAt SEEC, our faculty uses an emergent curriculum, which means they follow the interests of the children to create units and lesson plans. They were able to connect the class’s interest in various topics including eggs, frogs, and bugs by exploring the life cycle of the butterfly.

We were inspired to teach this lesson because of our class’s interest in the metamorphosis of frogs and other things that grow from eggs. Additionally, our class was really into finding insects including worms and potato bugs on the playground. We decided to explore their interest more by getting a butterfly kit for the classroom.

Butterfly Review

Brittany Leavitt began the day by gathering the group and led the class in a discussion about the butterfly. She began by reviewing previous topics on butterflies, including the number of wings butterflies have, and by reading Waiting for Wings by Lois Elhert.

After our metamorphosis unit, I decided to spend a week on exploring butterflies. Butterflies can be such a big topic so I wanted to narrow in on just one focus: the wings of a butterfly. We started by breaking down and labeling the parts of the butterfly. Then we started focusing on the butterfly wings. In particular, I wanted my class to understand butterfly wings are a multifaceted tool which are used for both protection and transportation. I also wanted to introduce the idea of symmetry with the wings.

Lesson Implementation:

Ikats ButterfliesThe class’s museum visit began on their walk to the Freer|Sackler Galleries. They were able to weave this walk into their lesson as the class tried to spy butterflies.

As we walked over to the Freer|Sackler Galleries, I had my class turn on their “spy eyes” to look for butterflies in the gardens. We had the chance to observe a butterfly on a flower. While looking at it, we revisited the topic of butterfly wings and talked about the butterfly’s bright colors and camouflage.

Anytime they spotted a butterfly on a flower or in the air, I would ask, “What do you think the butterfly is doing?” or “Where do you think it’s traveling?” These are great, simple questions that help to start a conversation. I was sure to ask questions that prompted critical thinking and creativity without being overwhelming for the two and three-year-olds in my class. In general, this walk was a great way to refresh the key words and topics we were going over throughout the week.

Copy of Ikats ButterfliesThe class gathered around the Oscar de la Renta designs. The class looked closely at the textiles and discussed the colors and patterns that they saw.

I chose to visit the Ikats from Central Asia because of its parallels to the symmetry, color, and patterns of the butterfly wing. When we entered the gallery, we took a few minutes for each child to look closely at the ikats. Then we began describing the ikats with words. As the class described the ikats, I noted that the pattern on some ikats was symmetrical. The class worked together to define symmetrical and then related it to butterfly wings. We concluded our time in the gallery by singing the fingerplay song “Butterflies”.

Butterfly wings, songs

After visiting the galleries, the class went outside to the Haupt Garden and continued to explore butterfly wings. Brittany handed out paper butterflies that the class had previously created so they could continue to observe the symmetry of the butterfly wings.

I brought butterflies that the class made earlier in the week and continued our discussion on symmetry. We did a three step process to help us further understand symmetry.  First we looked at our butterfly creations as a whole. Then we folded the butterfly wings like we were closing a book. We followed this up by observing how both sides of the wings look the same.

Reflection:

Butterfly artThe class loved being outside and singing about butterfly wings. They were able to play with and further explore butterflies that they previously created.

To extend this in the classroom, we played a simple symmetry puzzle that I created by printing off large pictures of butterflies and cutting them in half. We also used paint to create our own butterfly patterns.

reflection butterflyOn the walk back, the class went through the Pollinator Garden. As they walked the teachers engaged the class in casual conversations about which plants the butterflies might prefer.

For teachers who want to try out this lesson, I recommend creating a small pollinator garden if you have space in your outdoor area. You can buy butterfly kits online. They are a great way to watch the stages in the classroom. You can later on do a special butterfly release.

Teaching this lesson was a great way as teacher to challenge myself to dig deeper into a new topic. I love watching my class become interested in a topic. When presented in a developmentally appropriate way, young children are able to explore and understand incredibly complex topics. For example, my class was able to understand the concepts of symmetry and metamorphosis. They particularly loved the word metamorphosis and would say it frequently with the correct meaning. When I heard them say metamorphosis, it let me know that this topic of butterflies really stuck with them and impacted their view of the world.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

Why Should We Care About the Arts? (or Let’s Create “Both/And” Schools)

I have been thinking about education–both in early childhood and beyond, both in school and out of school–for most of my career. Most recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about what we are, and are not, teaching in early childhood school settings and beyond.

It seems that we live in what I call an “either/or” world of education. Phonics or whole language? STEM or STEAM? Project-based or scripted curriculum? We sway back and forth from year to year on what we are focused on and what we believe is important. At the moment the arts (and sometimes the humanities) often seem to be getting lost in the shuffle. They aren’t part of the common core of what we have decided children need to learn in school. They are often viewed as things that children should pursue out of school, in private lessons, or on their own time. But what if we stopped the “either /or” conversations and started to talk more about how we can create “both/and” schools for children of all ages and all socioeconomic levels?

I spent the morning at the White House today talking about the importance of the arts and listening to youth tell their stories–stories of how writing gave them someone to talk to when nobody seemed to care, how poetry kept them from a life of incarcerations, how dance awakened a passion that they didn’t know they had. Don’t get me wrong, I love STEM—I used to be the COO of a large science museum– and I absolutely believe in the importance of providing a strong STEM curriculum to all children, in all schools. But I don’t think it should come at the expense of the arts. While it is important to have children memorize the times tables, it may be just as important to give them the opportunity to memorize lines for a play. While it is important to learn the composition of the solar system, it is just as important to learn the composition of a great piece of art. While it is vital to learn to decode the letters and words on a piece of paper, it may be just as important to learn to look carefully at a piece of art, a sculpture, or an artifact from history and decode its’ story.

Education should create a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime. For some, STEM evokes that passion. But for others there is a human passion awakened only though the arts, a passion that we often forget about in education. And many of us love, and need, both in our lives. I write to work through things that I am struggling with, but I also love the beauty and concreteness of doing math. I am fascinated by the stories of science, but I want to be exposed to the stories of the great artists as well. Good writing touches me in a way that is different from the way solving a tough math problem does. I cried when I saw Michelangelo’s statue of David for the first time because the absolute beauty of it moved me in a way that is different from the way the beauty of the solar system moves me. Other people have the exact opposite reactions to these very same things and that is exactly my point—we need education systems that support and nurture both/and. These kinds of schools will have a much higher possibility of engaging all children, not just some.

Perhaps the arts are often ignored because they are not seen to be something that teaches “content” that will make you successful in life. But the arts teach you communication when you try to write your thoughts so someone else can connect to them. They teach you perspective taking when you create a painting to look like reality or when you imagine what the artist was thinking. They teach you to take on a challenge as you write and rewrite, create and recreate, or practice a dance until you get it right. They teach you focus and self-control as you work to complete something you started and care deeply about finishing. Perhaps most importantly, they can be the thing that best encourages self-directed and engaged learning for those children who are not engaged by the more traditional “school subjects”. Better yet, what if the arts can be used to engage children in these more traditional subjects?

At SEEC last year our four-year-olds learned about light, invisibility and the electromagnetic spectrum while exploring the adventures of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Another class explored concepts of gravity and its effects on your muscles at the Hirshhorn museum using a piece by artist Ernesto Neto titled, The Dangerous Logic of Wooing and old panty hose full of rice.

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A class of our three-year-olds talked about inventing while studying the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the artists they were named after. When they studied the turtle “Leo”, they studied the artist Leonardo da Vinci and visited the National Air and Space Museum to see da Vinci’s Flying Man, followed by the students coming up with their own inventions using blocks, magnet tiles and other materials from their classroom. A class of two-year-olds began and ended a six week study of bugs by visiting Louise Bourgeois’  Maman spider sculpture at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, as well as by examining real collections of various bugs from the National Museum of Natural History’s collection.

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Our weekend workshops for preschool children and their families studied the movement of the sun by looking at the sun and the sky on their walk to the National Gallery where they then looked carefully at Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, West Faҫade and Rouen Cathedral, West Faҫade, Sunlight to see the difference in the sun and the light on the landscape.

We clearly take a “both/and” approach here at SEEC and we believe our children are better for it. I hope that our conversations around education in this country can move in this direction so we can engage more children, more often and in more ways. After all, isn’t that the point?

Springtime Fun: Full STEAM Ahead

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

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

Clouds and Rain

Natural Observation

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

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

Literacy

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

Museum Visit

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

Art Project

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

Gardening

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

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

Museum Visit

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

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

Literacy

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

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

 

 

Using Art to Teach Science

While it is not at all unusual to see a classroom of late 2- and early 3-year-olds excited about bugs, the way one of our classrooms recently explored bugs over a period of weeks was a great example of using ideas from museum education to compliment best practices in early childhood education. The teachers in that classroom–Elaine, Ashlee and Carolyn–combined art, sculpture, exhibitions, literature, real bugs, and mounted specimens to talk first about spiders and then to move to a study of insects and other crawling and flying creatures…all of which culminated in the children creating an exhibition that was “opened” to a full audience of parents and others! How these teachers combined art and science together with play and exploration to curate a learning experience for the children was nothing short of masterful. Here are some of the things they did throughout this study: – They started their discussion of spiders by visiting the large bronze spider sculpture in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. Here they did careful looking to see what they could notice about spiders and sculpture. While there they pulled out spider toys to compare to the sculpture and to the other spider toys using careful looking and  questions.

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Studying the spider sculpture at the NGA Sculpture Garden

-As they moved on to talking about spider webs they headed to the American Art Museum to look at a piece of art made with string wound in an elaborate pattern around a piece of clear plastic and mounted in a frame. They compared this to the photos of spider webs they had seen and sat in front of the piece to read Eric Carle’s Very Busy Spider. Finally, they used yarn to build a life size web of their own with each child holding a piece of the yarn to create a pattern and then balance a toy spider! -Back in the classroom, they gathered tree branches and used yarn to “spin” webs for spiders. Their careful looking made them realize they needed to look for branches that had “L” or “Y” shapes because they made the best spots for spider homes. – The classroom visited the Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History to watch the tarantula feeding on crickets! Here they were also able to see all types of real insects and carefully study things that they had seen in books and photos. – Across the course of the several weeks they also conducted scientific studies of bugs–comparing them, examining their habitats, asking questions and searching for the answers, and studying how they would help the garden we have on our playground. They looked at detailed drawings of crickets and grasshoppers to notice similarities and differences and then brought crickets into their classroom to live. They also used careful looking at photos and specimens to study the difference between moths and butterflies and brought caterpillars into the classroom to live and eventually will watch turn into butterflies. As the weeks passed they also studied worms and ants and watched the ants in their own classroom ant farm. – We feel strongly at SEEC that play is a vital part of the lives of children and we provide open play experiences that are rich and carefully curated too. Props were available for dramatic play and children spent time playing with pretend worms in dirt in the classroom sensory box and used pretend worms for painting, as well as having many other play experiences.

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Playing with worms

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Searching for bugs

-Real mounted specimens were brought in for them to look at and study. The children were thoughtful about their observations…something you can see reflected in their final exhibition. As Adele narrated to us for her exhibition label for her caterpillar sculpture “….He has a head, thorax and abdomen.”

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Studying the specimens

-To culminate their study they returned to the giant spider sculpture, this time focusing on the idea of sculpture. When they returned to the classroom they created their own insect sculptures for a final exhibition complete with an exhibition case and labels. As a result of this combination of art and science our late two and early three-year-old children know a great deal about insects, spiders, worms, butterflies and moths. They are comfortable telling you all sorts of information about these creatures and have deep knowledge about many “facts” of science without having been drilled on these facts. By providing the children with multiple exposures to an idea in a wide variety of ways we are able to build richer understanding and find that the children are deeply engaged in the topics. Linking art and science makes the science more real and the art more accessible–something that is good for all children!

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The exhibitors

 

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The Exhibition Opens!

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The Exhibition Opens!