Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Decomposers

This week’s Teacher Feature highlights an infant lesson on decomposers. Educators Lida Barthol, Jill Manasco, and Julia Plant brought their class on two different visits which can be seen below. They first went to the O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History to look at the centipede and learn about the insect’s role in decomposing. On the next day, they walked to “Mushroom” by Foon Sham which is part of the Life Underground exhibit.Cover Photo

Preparation:

Infants look at compost
The class had been learning about compost and even had a compost bin in their classroom where they could observe some of their food scraps decompose. For this lesson, they were hoping to focus on how insects are involved in the decomposition process.

What inspired you to teach this lesson?

One of our teachers, Jill, was devoting her time to improving the school garden. We knew that the children were interested in dirt and wanted to expand upon their interest and knowledge while utilizing the revitalized garden space! Also, the children loved to eat and explore food, so we thought a fun entryway into dirt and gardening would be to talk about how decomposers help enrich the soil so that our food is able to grow.

Infants look at and touch a real worm
Before heading to the  O. Orkin Insect Zoo, the class had the opportunity to observe and touch worms, look at images of worms, and sing, “I’m a Little Wiggle Worm.”

What were your objectives?

We wanted the children to gain an understanding that all living things need to eat, and that eating is good for us. We hoped that by studying compost and learning about decomposers, the children would begin to see that although not everybody eats the same things, everybody needs to eat to live and grow.

Lesson Implementation:

Infant looks carefully at centipede Smithsonain Insect Zoo Natural History
While in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo, the educators lifted each child so they could get a better look at the centipede. As the children observed, the educators talked about what the centipede was doing and how it was moving.

What was it like viewing the centipede in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo?

When visiting the Insect Zoo, we brought with us laminated images of centipedes for the children to look at and hold. We find it beneficial to give the children something to engage with when they are sitting in the buggies and waiting their turn to get a closer look. We took each child out one by one and brought them closer to the live centipede so that they could see it and observe its movements. As we walked through the Insect Zoo, our class noticed other insects that might play a role in the decomposition process and we paused to look at the ones that caught the children’s eye. We also brought images of our compost bin at different stages of decomposition and discussed how these insects may have helped our compost to decompose.

Infants crawl through a tunnel

The infants returned to their classroom where they used their bodies to explore how different insects move. They wiggled like worms and crawled like centipedes.

How did you extend the learning when you returned to your classroom?

When we returned to the classroom, we looked at our own compost and talked about how one day the decomposing fruits and vegetables would become dirt, where centipedes could live. We wiggled through the tunnels, pretending to be worms that might live in the dirt, and crawled through them like centipedes. While moving our bodies like insects, we sang our favorite composting song “Dirt”. See lyrics below:

Dirt, dirt, dirt

It’s where you grow your plants

Dirt, dirt, dirt,

You’ve got some on your pants!

During our composting unit, we compared the movements of worms to those of centipedes and sang “I’m a Little Wiggle Worm” while wiggling through the tunnels. See lyrics below:

I’m a little wiggle worm,

Watch me go.

I can wiggle fast

Or very, very slow.

I wiggle all around

And then I go

Back, to the ground to the home I know.

Infants playing with a box while learning about mushrooms
The next day, the class turned their attention to mushrooms which they explored by watering a growing a mushroom plant and visiting “Mushroom” by Foon Sham.

Why is exploring an important part of infant learning?

We tried to set up our lesson so that everyone had a chance to participate if interested. For activities that required lots of teacher supervision, such as looking at compost, we practiced taking turns and using gentle hands. Through these activities, we are encouraging the children to explore using their natural curiosity, and to grow their independence as learners.

Infants tasting mushrooms
While viewing “Mushroom” by Foon Sham, the children were given mushrooms which they could manipulate, smell, and even taste.

 Why is it important to engage infants’ sense when teaching?

Young children are very tactile learners, and this class in particular enjoyed learning through touch. We knew that when visiting exhibits in museums that the children weren’t able to touch, we needed to bring something for them to hold to help engage them in the lesson and make the topic more concrete. Bringing a real mushroom for the children to hold, touch (and sometimes taste!) helped the them to compare the sculpture to real mushrooms.

Reflection:

Pictures of books, pots, and soil for the lesson
After this lesson, the educators invited the parents and caregivers of the children to see their outdoor exhibit on gardens. 

 What recommendations do you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Be prepared for the compost to become very fragrant! The children loved looking at the compost, but as it begins to decompose, it gets rather stinky. It might be beneficial to have an outdoor space to move the compost to so that the children can still look at it but won’t have to smell it all day in their classroom.

Teacher Feature: Infant Class Explores Farm to Table

“Teacher Feature: Infant Class Explores Farm to Table” was originally published on January 4, 2018. We are posting it again to help people embrace teaching farm to table units.

This week’s teacher feature highlights one of our infant classes. The teachers in the class, Mallory Messersmith, Morgan Powell, and Rosalie Reyes, were inspired by National Farm to School Month to lead their class on a month-long exploration of food and community. For this outing, the class went to the United States Department of Agriculture Farmers Market to learn about locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Below you will find images from the lesson and reflections from Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie.

Teacher holding a child while looking at tomatoes

 Preparation:

Image on the left is a child in a stroller reaching for an apple
Image on the right is teachers pointing at a sign about vegetables
The preparation for this outing began well before the day of the visit. The class had spent several weeks exploring local produce before venturing out to the USDA. The teachers, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, educated themselves about National Farm to School Month and did some research of their own.

Rosalie first learned of the National Farm to School Network while attending DC Teacher’s Night: Connecting Teachers with Environmental Education at the United States Botanic Garden. This nation-wide initiative is meant to promote connections between communities and fresh, healthy foods by focusing on educational activities related to agriculture, food, health, and nutrition. After attending the teacher’s night, Rosalie joined the National Farm to School Network and was excited to see resources for early childhood education.

Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were then inspired to create a unit around the idea of farm to school because of the many diverse areas of exploration that the study of fruits and vegetables offered their class, including colors, shapes, and textures. Additionally, they noticed that many of their students were starting to eat new solid foods. They sought to align their lessons in the classroom with the developmental milestones the children were experiencing regarding eating new foods.

Variety of pictures of children playing with stamps
The teachers transformed their classroom for this unit. They carefully thought about how to organize the room to best fit the needs of their students and were excited to create experiences that were conducive for learning.

To begin preparing for their unit, Morgan, Mallory, and Rosalie chose a collection of art prints and  created their own works of art to post throughout their classroom. They paid special consideration to their students’ cubbies where they posted images of fruits and vegetables. Mallory even crocheted fruits and vegetables to add to the classroom. Since many children in their class were actively learning to crawl, the teachers taped images to ground for their class to explore while on the move. They also researched and chose children’s books to add to their classroom collection and brainstormed which produce to highlight with the class.

Variety of pictures of children exploring different fruits and vegetables
The children also took part in the preparations for the outing well before the actual day. As a class they explored fresh fruits and vegetables. They often started with the whole produce and then began cutting and breaking them apart to see what was inside. The process of exploring the fruits and vegetables quickly became a sensory experience for the infants as they touched, smelled, heard, and even tasted the various produce.

The class explored most of the produce using sight, touch, smell, and sound. The children were able to use their sense of taste when interacting with the avocados and strawberries for a more immersive experience. For both strawberries and avocados, the children looked at and touched images of the produce. They then compared the images to the real produce before and after it was cut up. Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie believed that it was important for the children to be able to make connections between the whole product, which the children do not always see, and the cut up portions that the children regularly eat at snack time. To finish the experience, the class had the opportunity to sample! The strawberries were a big hit, but many students were a little more cautious about the avocado. This immersive, multisensory experience left the children with a greater understanding of the food that they eat.

The teachers also combined this multisensory teaching approach with thinking routines including See, Think, Wonder to encourage curiosity and new understandings. Since many of their infants were preverbal, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie would verbalize out loud the different things that they saw, thought, and wondered while the children in their class were exploring the various fruits and vegetables. The teachers were careful to keep in mind that this might be the first time that their class had been exposed to many of the images and objects and allowed time for the infants to experience and make discoveries. One particularly fun lesson that built upon the multisensory and thinking routine approaches, was when the infants were exploring the red cabbage. As the children were bending, breaking, smelling, and feeling the texture of the cabbage, Morgan began to read Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. As she read, she asked questions about the colors, textures, and sounds that the class heard when they were peeling the leaves of the cabbage.

Lesson Implementation:

Children in a stroller looking at several baskets of apples
The USDA holds a Farmers Market on Fridays throughout the spring, summer, and early fall. SEEC classes regularly visit to see the produce, buy snacks, and enjoy sitting on the grassy lawn.

Mallory, Morgan and Rosalie chose to visit the USDA’s farmers market in part because of its accessibility, since it is just off the National Mall and not far from their classroom. They also wanted to embrace the community aspects of the visit, as the farmers market is a great place for people to gather. This community space has picnic blankets and open space for people (including this class) to sit, gather, and reflect on the experience of being at the farmers market. It was a perfect fit for this lesson because it encouraged the children to make connections between the familiar foods that the class eats every day and the less familiar, whole, unprocessed, muddy foods that they saw at the market. Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie brought objects with them to enhance this community visit, including soft and hard toy fruits and vegetables and a board book to read to the group.

Teacher smiling at a child while on a plot of farm land
As the class approached the farmers market, they paused at the People’s Garden. This small urban garden in the heart of Washington, DC expanded the children’s experiences in and understanding of the city that they live in.

 At SEEC, teachers regularly take their classes on museum visits where they connect ideas that they are learning about in the classroom with museum objects. They often extend their lessons beyond the museum doors while still using the same techniques that they used on the community visits.

When asked to explain why it is important to take infants on community and museum visits, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie cited this quotation:

 “Our connections to the people, animals, and plants around us make us who we are. Humans are not a solitary species; we need one another to survive. In the same way that children need opportunities to get to know the natural world so that they can develop a strong relationship with it, they need that same opportunity to connect with the human and human-made community that they are a part of. When children develop a strong relationship with their community at an early age, they grow up knowing and feeling a strong sense of belonging.”

Source: https://shelburnefarms.org/sites/default/files/cultivatingjoywonder_all_smaller.pdf

Variety of pictures of children exploring soil on a farm
Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie encouraged their class to touch and explore the dirt when they noticed that their class was interested in it. Some teachers and caregivers might be hesitant to encourage their young children to play in dirt, but at SEEC we believe it is a vital part of learning.

While strolling through the People’s Garden, the class paused for a moment and reached to grab handfuls of soil. This part of the lesson was actually completely spontaneous! The teachers noticed students pointing towards the ground and saw it as an opportunity to follow their curiosity and facilitate hands-on learning. Through these early experiences with soil, children learn that soil is a living system full of healthy and fascinating relationships. The educators were also able to connect back to soil later during the visit by pointing out dirt on some of the produce the children were examining at the Farmers Market.

Children exploring a squash
As the class passed through the booths at the farmers market, they paused to examine some produce like this butternut squash.

While exploring the butternut squash, the children not only touched the smooth sides, but also noticed how the textures of the squash changed as Rosalie rotated it. When she turned the squash on its side, the children immediately reached out to touch the small, dry area of the squash. Even though the children could not talk yet, the teachers, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, were able to follow each child’s nonverbal cues. The teachers paid special attention to the things the children were pointing to, the changes in their facial expressions, and their use of sign language. In fact, throughout the lesson the children regularly signed “more” as they moved from one booth to another, signaling that they wanted to explore different types of produce. When the children signed “more”, it helped Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie know that the children were enjoying their visit and wanted to continue.

Children in a stroller, with a teacher showing them a tomato
As they walked, the class continued their sensory exploration by touching smooth red peppers, bumps on an acorn squash, and the rough stems of a pumpkin. Both students and teachers seemed to believe that their trip to the USDA’s Farmers Market was a huge success.

Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were so excited to take their class to the farmers market because this was their first trip outside as a group! The teachers had spent the month hoping that they could visit the farmers market for this unit and on the last Friday of the month they were able to make it work! Even the journey to the Market was exciting for the students; they experienced the sights and sounds of a beautiful autumn day outside in Washington, DC. The class noticed squirrels, fall foliage, and insects on the trip across the National Mall. Once the class arrived at the market, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie were happy to see their students so engaged with a variety of produce. They also embraced the unplanned moments, including feeling the dirt and meeting a big, fluffy dog which made their outing extra special.

Children sitting on a picnic blanket being read a story by their teacher
The class gathered on a blanket to play with toys from the classroom and explore produce that they had bought from the farmers market. A major component of this time was Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie singing various songs.

After the visit to the vendors at the market, the class gathered on the grass near the market. As part of the Friday Farmers market, the grassy area has lawn games set up as well as communal picnic blankets, which the class used for their outdoor story time. The teachers made sure that each child was engaged by offering them toys from the classroom and produce that they had recently purchased from the market.

Once everyone was settled in, the class looked at some pages in a book and sang a variety of songs. They sang a variety of autumnal songs that the music teacher, Ms. Allison, had introduced to the class during October. One song was about a pumpkin, big and round; another song was about autumn leaves falling down. They sang the pumpkin song as the children touched the pumpkin. As children began venturing off their blanket and started to explore the leaves they found on the ground, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie sang the autumn leaves song. It was clear that the children enjoyed the songs as they rocked their bodies to the beat and even clapped along.

Reflection:

A child sitting on a picnic blanket holding a pumpkin
While the group was engaged singing and looking at books, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie encouraged individual exploration. This child discovered that he could lift the pumpkin by its stem as the class sang the song “Orange Pumpkin – Big and Round”.

Since their class is composed of young children, much of the beginning of the year is focused on learning and supporting each individual child’s feeding and resting schedule. This complicates finding time to go on outings. However, when the opportunity arises to go on a trip, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie, jump on it, as they know the benefits of getting their class out of the classroom for experiential learning.

When thinking about what the class could have done differently, Mallory, Morgan, and Rosalie thought it would have been nice to bring food for their class to eat while on the picnic blankets. They explained that bringing food to taste would have enhanced their class’ experience beyond seeing and feeling by adding the sense of taste.

After the visit, the class continued to build upon what they had experienced that day. The children decorated canvas bags which would be perfect to take to the Farmers Market for shopping. To decorate, the children mixed and splattered paint with their hands, feet, and brushes. At the end of October, the bags were sent home with a small gourd inside. It was a great way to finish off the month!

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Butterflies

This week’s teacher feature shows how one of SEEC’s toddlers classes explored caterpillars and butterflies by reading books, looking at sculptures in the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden, and pretending to be butterflies by wearing wings and flapping arms. Below you will find images from the lesson as well as reflections from the educators, Nuriya Gavin, Stephanie Lopez, and Julia Smith. 

Teacher and children looking at butterflies

Preparation:

We were transitioning from a unit on construction and building to a unit on animals. A couple of weeks before this lesson, we had explored the idea that animals build different types of homes for themselves. For our lesson, we explored butterflies and talked about the process of a caterpillar building a chrysalis and becoming a butterfly.

Children playing with blocks. Children looking at a diorama of a house. A child wearing a construction vest and safety googles
Before learning about bug homes, the class had been exploring architecture and buildings. They visited the National Building Museum, the Dolls’ House at the National Museum of American History, and Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore) by Mark di Suvero at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden where they learned about principals of engineering.

In addition to connecting to the idea of animals as builders, we were drawn to learning about bugs and insects because the weather had been getting warmer and we were seeing more bugs out. We started eating snack outside and would see ants and other bugs as we ate. The children were also fascinated by the worms and grubs they dug up in the dirt box on the playground.

Children sitting in a circle listening to "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" being read
To start the lesson, toddler Educator, Nuriya Gavin, held a morning circle where she introduced the topic and read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. 

For objectives, we were hoping to show the children that some animals and bugs build homes by focusing on the caterpillar building a chrysalis. We wanted to introduce children to the life stages of the butterfly and help them to gain an understanding that even though the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly all look different, they are the same organism. Lastly, we wanted for our class to experience an outdoor butterfly habitat and have the opportunity to hunt for bugs while outside.

Lesson Implementation:

Children sitting and standing in a circle pretending to be caterpillars and butterflies
In addition to reading the book, Nuriya led the class in flapping their arms like a butterfly and passed around butterfly puppets and toy butterfly replicas for the children to hold and explore.

As a toddler class, we keep our circle times short but engaging. We typically start by asking the children what they already know about the topic we are going to explore. Then we will give them some new information usually using a book or video. In this instance, we talked about the bugs we were already familiar with and liked hunting for before turning our attention to butterflies. We discussed butterflies as we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. We picked this book because of its big format and interactive design. We had butterfly puppets which we used to demonstrate how a butterfly moves. Knowing that some of our children get nervous around flying bugs, we wanted to give our children the opportunity to explore the toy butterflies before experiencing the real thing. To finish the circle time, we gave the children a chance to move their bodies and flap their arms like wings.

Teachers and children looking at a chrysalis
The class gathered around sculptures of a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly which are part of HABITAT, a Smithsonian-wide exhibition. The caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly sculptures are featured in the Bug B & B exhibit.

For our museum outing, we chose to visit the wooden sculptures that are part of the new HABITAT installation. These caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly sculptures happen to be in the Pollinator Garden which is an area that we frequent. We often walk through the garden on our way to other visits and take the opportunity to check out the flowers and watch them grow, as well as look for bugs such as bumblebees. We noticed the new installation popping up around the Smithsonian museums and the National Mall. We were excited to make use of the new sculptures and very happy that we could tie it right in with our lessons!

Children pretending to be butterflies, while wearing wings
Educators, Nuriya, Stephanie, and Julia, found a safe space near the sculptures in the Pollinator Garden where the children could engage in free play. While playing, some children began crawling like a caterpillar which inspired the educators to encourage the children to pretend to make a chrysalis and then to emerge from that chrysalis as a butterfly.

In general, when we approach objects, we let the children look at them and explore them individually at first before explaining the purpose of our visit. This allows the children to form their own ideas and experience a deeper understanding. In this case, when we let the children look at the wooden sculptures of the butterfly, caterpillar, and chrysalis, it triggered their imagination. They began flapping their arms like wings which reinforced the simple but important concepts that butterflies have wings, that they can fly, and that the movement of the wings is called flapping.

We encouraged the children to flap their arms like wings because from a practical point of view the children in our class can only sit or stand quietly for so long before they really need to move their bodies. So, we found a nice contained space within the garden where the children could continue pretending to be butterflies. Children this age need very concrete reminders of their physical boundaries. The stone bench that encircled this area was perfect for defining boundaries and freed us to engage even more actively in the play because we didn’t have to worry about the children running off.

We found it useful to both observe and actively join in on play. Sometimes watching gives us a better idea of what children are thinking as they play. For example, Julia watched the children starting to crawl along the benches pretending to be caterpillars. As she watched, she thought that they might be interested in exploring how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly so she pretended to curl up into a chrysalis and burst out like a butterfly. This was the perfect way to teach the children about one of our more complicated subjects – the idea that the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly are all the same organism. Pretending to be the caterpillar, then forming the chrysalis, and finally emerging as a butterfly helped the children to realize that it was the same animal going through different stages. Since the children were partaking in free play, Julia opted to jump right into the play by physically pretending to be a caterpillar going through a metamorphosis. She provided the example and the children were able to decide if they wanted to join in going through the stages or if they wanted to continue with their free play.

Reflection:

Toddlers playing outside pretending to be butterflies while wearing fake wings
Children were free to play and engage with the materials in whatever ways they wanted. While some children chose to partake in the metamorphosis game, others watched, others continued to play by themselves, and some went back and forth between the group game and individual play.

To follow up this lesson, we continued to learn about different bugs. When we learned about worms, we talked about how caterpillars and worms are different because worms don’t have legs. While playing with model magic, some of the children decided that they wanted to make caterpillars, so we talked about how caterpillars move. Since they had many questions and   seemed curious, we watched a few videos showing caterpillars moving, eating and transforming into a chrysalis and butterfly.

Children outdoors looking at a leaf
The educators unexpectedly found milkweed on the way to the sculptures. While this was not part of the planned lesson, they stopped to talk about the relationship between the monarch butterfly and milkweed.

For other teachers trying out this lesson, we recommend really thinking about physical outdoor spaces that you could use for free play. We don’t think our lesson would have gone as well if we hadn’t had a safe space to allow the kids to play for a long time. In a more open environment, we would likely have cut the play much shorter as the kids got more excited and wanted to run and spread out. Play always works best when everyone, children and teachers, are comfortable.

Toddlers sitting in a circle looking at different spiders
After the lesson, the toddlers continued to explore bugs. For one visit they went to the National Museum of Natural History’s O. Orkin Insect Zoo’s tarantula feeding.

If we had the opportunity to do this lesson over again, we would have incorporated the milkweed that we saw in the pollinator garden and tied it into the lesson plan more thoughtfully. We could have spent some time talking about monarch butterflies and exploring their unique relationship with the milkweed plant. It also would have been nice if we had seen more actual butterflies or caterpillars, but that is harder to plan.

It’s been quite a year!: Teacher Feature Highlights

Written by Alex Francis (Liaison and Curriculum Development Specialist @ SEEC):

What a year it has been here at SEEC!  It has been a privilege to bring you Teacher Feature each week and offer a peek into the magical experiences our teachers provide their students. As our school year comes to a close I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my favorite moments caught on camera during Teacher Feature. Being able to regularly join the classes has only confirmed how AMAZING these teachers are at creating age appropriate and exciting learning opportunities for their students! Here is visual proof of some of the things I believe they are especially great at doing! If you want to read more about the lessons be sure to look back at our archived Teacher Features and  to stay tuned in to the blog in the Fall for the triumphant return of Teacher Feature.

Teacher Feature 2014-2015 Greatest Hits:

1. Use of Authentic Objects in Museum and Classroom Experiences.

 

2.Lesson Introductions

 

3. Sensory Experiences

 

4. Classroom Lesson Extensions

 

5. Use of Technology

 

6. Community Visits

 

7. Museum Visits


Thank you teachers for a great year! We can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Oceans

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Laura Bonilla. Her toddler classroom was learning about oceans and Laura decided to create a sensory bin full of bubbles and ocean animals. Below you will find a reflection from Laura and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We were learning about the ocean as a habitat.

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

I wanted to provide an ocean inspired sensory experience.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The kids loved the experience and the bubbles nicely replicated sea foam. I was also amazed at how long the bubbles lasted.

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

I recommend teachers use a powerful mixer to create a large pile of bubbles. I would have also included more objects for the children to use in the sensory table.

Here are a few images from their unit on oceans:

DSCN3705This class had been learning about oceans all month and used this lesson as a way to review the topic. Laura began by reading Smiley Shark by Ruth Galloway. They had read the book before and the children were able to help identify the different sea life depicted.
DSCN3715Then it was time for sensory fun. Laura had the children help create the bubble mixture. She started by adding dish soap. The children used their gross and fine motor skills to help Laura.
DSCN3718Next Laura added corn starch. The corn starch acted as a binder for the bubbles making them last longer.
DSCN3719Lastly, Laura used a hand mixer to create the frothy bubbles. The children were mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get wet.
DSCN3741Then the kids were off! Some of the children liked the discovery sensation when they found a sea creature under the bubbles and other focused on washing the animals in the frothy water. Laura spent time narrating their play and sharing information about the different sea creatures in the bin.

 

This class had a wonderful time learning about the ocean! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature review next week!

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Safari

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Meg McDonald. Her toddler classroom was learning about safari’s and decided to go on one in the museum. Below you will find a reflection from Meg and images from her lesson.

Safari_Cover

What were your topics of exploration?

We had been studying jungle animals and this week we focused on going on a safari. We began by discussing the items we might need to have a successful safari. We decided on binoculars, safari hats and vests. Throughout the week we spent time creating these items so everyone could have them for our safari. The day of the lesson each child was decked out in the vest, hat, and binoculars and given a wooden puzzle piece of a jungle animal.  It provided the children with something tangible to hold while we read Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andeae and took our safari through the exhibit.

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

I wanted the children to gain some understanding of the natural habitat of some of their favorite animals and how we can observe them during a safari. Many books and movies mis-represent the habitats of these animals and I wanted to provide them with authentic information and exploration. I also wanted to provide them with authentic and exploration. I also wanted them to have practice with matching through the puzzle pieces and photographs.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I feel that the most important measure of success is if the children enjoyed what they were experiencing and in this case they definitely did. They got very excited when they found their specific animals and as well as all the animals that we had been learning about previously. They also really liked the photographs and even asked to go back and see them again.

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

Instead of giving them the wooden animals I would have given them a small photo that had a more realistic representation of the animal. I think that would have made a more concrete connection to the photo exhibit.

Here are a few images from their safari:DSCN3497DSCN3506Earlier in the week the group discussed the type of gear they might need for a safari and worked on making their own for the museum safari. The group got all dressed up and then headed straight to the Into Africa  exhibit at National Museum of Natural History. DSCN3545Meg had the group gather at the front of the exhibit. She passed out different animals found in Africa and invited the children to let her know when they saw the same animal in her book: Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andeae.
DSCN3526DSCN3554They stayed very focused and attentive through the book, carefully watching for their animal to reveal itself. Some of the children worked together to help identify the animals of the different group. 
DSCN3569DSCN3570 DSCN3578Then it was time to head out on their safari. The binocular encourage lots of careful looking and sparked many conversations about the different animals.

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

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Baseball

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Ashlee Smith. Her two year old classroom was learning about baseball and decided to spend the day learning about what’s inside the ball. Below you will find a reflection from Ashlee and images from her lesson on baseball.

Baseball_Cover

What were your topics of exploration?

The Fireflies have been exploring baseball all summer. During this week, we talked about the baseball itself. We explored what a baseball looks like from the inside out and how it is made. We talked about how all baseballs (MLB) have to be the same size and weight and that baseballs are still hand-stitched.

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

I wanted the group to understand the materials used to make baseballs and provide them with the opportunity to explore textures of the materials found inside (yarn, string, and cork). I also wanted them to think critically about the shape and weight of the ball, exploring questions such as: “what other known objects are spheres?” and “why is the baseball the weight that it is?” Through the baseball lesson, I was also able to introduce the group to Alexander Cartwright (the proclaimed father of baseball).

What was most successful about your lesson?

I invited each child to help me create our own baseball with a cork, yarn and rubber. They really enjoyed the experience of using the materials to create a ball of our own.  We also ventured to the Hirshhorn Museum after circle time and they were happy to find the spheres that we just learned about!

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

The children in my class seemed to really enjoy exploring what makes up a baseball. If I could recommend something to another educator, it would be to have more materials to explore. I had materials for the kids to touch, but splitting into small groups with more materials may help them relate to the objects a little more!

Here are a few images from their unit on the baseball:

DSCN3343Ashlee began by asking the group to look closely at the ball and think about its characteristics. The group was able to describe the ball as round and Ashlee introduce the group to the term sphere. She then had the group try to guess what might be inside.

DSCN3357Each child had a chance to touch and explore the ball before making their predictions. One child exclaimed, “a tiny crocodile!” and another said, “a rock!”
DSCN3365The class was very surprised to learn that baseballs have many different layers and at the very center is cork.
DSCN3378After explaining that the next layer of the baseball is rubber she then began demonstrating how the rubber is then wrapped in string and lastly covered in leather.
DSCN3396Ashlee then invited each child to take a turn wrapping the baseball in string.
DSCN3420After a quick snack the class headed over to The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see Spatial Concept Nature by Lucio Fontana. Ashlee began having the group compare the ball to the sculpture and reinforce the concept of a sphere. She then read the group Pete the Cat: Play Ball! by James Dean.
DSCN3427 DSCN3433Ashlee ended her lesson with a fun game that asked the children to use their imagination to pretend that the ball was something else. The game is called “This is What?” The child says “this is a ___” and the group responds with “a what?” You repeat this exchange three times and conclude with the group saying “ohhhh it’s ____.” The children had a fun time playing this game! One child claimed the ball was an apple and other made it a hat!

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

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Rainbows

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Camille Frere. Her classroom was exploring the alphabet and spent the day learning about the letter R. The children in her class are almost all 3 years old and beginning to show great interest in their names and recognizing letters. Based on this interest, the teachers decided to guide their exploration with the alphabet, spending a day or two exploring a topic based on the first letter of the word. Providing children with the opportunity to build early literacy skills by exposing them to words and letters through books, songs, language, and storytelling is extremely important in their development.  While there is no expectation that the children will be reading or writing at this point it is important to expose them to letters in a way that provides them with multiple examples of the same concept, especially as they continue to show interest. Below you will find a reflection from Camille and images from her lesson on the letter “r”.

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What were your topics of exploration?

The overarching theme was the alphabet. The day of the lesson, our class was studying and exploring the letter “R”. We looked at Rain and Rainbows to build connections between letters and concepts.

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

The basic goal was to familiarize the class with the letter “R” and offer them some words and concepts that begin with the letter so that they might recognize it in the future. Since we had been having an unusually rainy week, I thought it would be interesting to have penguins create a rain mural with tissue paper. I also wanted to explore rainbows and the different way they can be created. Since there was no chance of see a rainbow outside, we took the class to the gem hall to see some indoor “rainbows”.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I think the most successful part of the lesson was watching the kids having fun throwing tissue paper “rain” onto the mural. It was also extremely delightful to watch the class excitedly point out rainbows throughout the museum.

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

It was a busy and rainy day at SEEC. While our trip was delayed by circumstances out of my control, I believe I could have been more prepared more for the unexpected. I also would have liked to have the class create their own rainbow mural to accompany the rain collage that they made. I would recommend that a teacher create some of the materials ahead of time (pre-draw clouds and set out appropriate paints to make a smooth transition into the next art project).  It also might have been a good idea to make real “rain” from colored water and have the children use this to make their mural.

Here are a few images from their unit on rainbows:

DSCN3451Camille began by reading the group A is for Artist by Ella Doran. The class had been reading it throughout the unit so they were able to help identify the images on the page and even remember which letter they started with. When they reached “r” Camille pointed out all the different words that start with “r” on the page.
DSCN3456Camille explained that today they were going to focus on rain and rainbows. She had prepared a simple cloud illustration with the word rain. Camille put small pieces of tissue paper in the cloud to show how the moisture collects and when it gets very heavy it will start to rain.
DSCN3471 DSCN3482Camille then spread liquid glue onto the paper and invited the friends to come up one at a time and spread the rain out below the cloud.
DSCN3490Since it was a rainy day the group stayed in the National Museum of Natural History in the Gem and Mineral Hall and hunted for rainbows. They spotted one created by light passing through a prism. The group talked about the different colors in a rainbow and the ones they saw on the wall.
DSCN3494The children also discovered the rainbow colors on a map!

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

Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Nature

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Brittany Brown. Her older infant classroom decided to spend a day doing a survey exploration of nature. She wanted to introduce the group to the different aspects of nature to see what they were most interested in exploring. Below you will find a reflection from Brittany and images from her lesson on nature.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We spent the day exploring nature and the environment around us.

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

I wanted my students to have a better understanding of their environment. I noticed that the children were becoming increasingly interested in exploring the natural world they encounter every day and thought it would be an excellent topic for our group to focus on. I wanted the lesson to be as hands on as possible, and to teach them that it’s okay to interact with the different things you find (bugs, dirt, flowers, trees, grass). I tried to focus on nature in a more broad terms to start because I wanted to see which aspects in particular caught their interest. We could then move to doing a more in depth study on those topics later in the week.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I believe the most successful parts of our lesson were the hands- on materials I brought along to the museum visit. The great thing about exploring nature in the Natural History Museum is that we are able to provide the children with multiple touch points. In addition to the books and objects I brought into the gallery space, we were also able to observe real insects as well as view amazing nature photography. Seeing the children’s reaction to the variety of insects, objects, and images gave me a clear picture of their interest and provided inspiration for future lesson plans.

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

I decided to spend the entire week exploring nature. While I valued the general exploration of the topic, I think ultimately, it would have been better to break down the topic, maybe focusing on just trees, flowers, or insects. I believe the focused study would have given them a greater understanding of specific topics. Also, I would recommend using as many sensory based activities and books as possible when developing a lesson. I believe the combination really helps children better understand what’s being taught.

Here are a few images from their unit on nature:DSCN3140Brittany began by taking her group up to the Insect Hall at The National Museum of Natural History. On many mornings there is an interpreter in the gallery with different insects for the children to meet.  

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The children got to meet a live caterpillar and compare it to the Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The group practiced using gentle hands and loved exploring the texture of the caterpillar.

DSCN3157Brittany then had the group observe the display of chrysalis and butterflies. She explained that the caterpillar they just saw would eventually become a chrysalis and then a butterfly.


DSCN3164 DSCN3176To reinforce the information she was sharing with the group, Brittany read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She was sure to point to the corresponding exhibits as she read.


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DSCN3197Brittany then led the group around the gallery to look at the other insects. She brought along a sensory bag full of dirt, small insects, and foliage for the children to touch in the exhibit.


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The group went up to see the Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places photography exhibit. The class had fallen in love with the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson so Brittany read the book in front of one of the photographs in the exhibit.

DSCN3230The last stop was to the edge of the Butterfly Garden (located outside of the Natural History Museum) to interact with plants and insects in their natural environment. Brittany encouraged the group to feel the textures and smell the different plants.

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

Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores The Moon

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Melinda Bernsdorf. Her toddler classroom was learning about opposites and decided to spend a week learning about the sun and the moon. Below you will find a reflection from Melinda and images from her lesson on the moon.

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What were your topics of exploration?

In our classroom, we have been talking about opposites. This week, we looked at day and night, something very familiar to the kids, and discussed the differences between these two concepts. We talked about the noticeable differences in the level of light, and the different objects we see in the sky during day and night. We started in the atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian. There is a large skylight that has metal work resembling a sun which lets sunlight shine into the space. There is also a set of prisms, and as the outside light shines through, rainbows move across the walls. We then looked at the amazing star scape on the ceiling of Our Universes in the National Museum of the American Indian. To focus our attention, we brought “telescopes” we made earlier in the week, and found shapes in the stars. To deepen our discussion on the moon, we talked about the texture of the surface, and each child was able to imprint their own Styrofoam moon with finger shaped craters. We also talked about how our actions are different in the day and night. There was lots of discussion about sleep and play.

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

Exploring opposites is always a great way to involve our kids in scientific discovery and early math skills. I want the kids to become more familiar with the vocabulary on these subjects. We compare and contrast, and talk about observation and investigation. In this lesson, I wanted to bring the attention of the children to a more complex conversation about an everyday experience. I also wanted them to have a great immersive experience, reading about the sun and brightness in the atrium where they could see it shining through the prisms, casting rainbows on the walls, as well as talking about the moon and stars while sitting with “telescopes” under a night sky.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The kids really enjoyed the telescopes. They recognized their work from earlier in the week and felt a sense of ownership and pride as their art project became a tool. They focused on the stars and moon longer when using the telescopes, and having a tactile object that related to the lesson helped lengthen their attention span.

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

Trying to extend our lesson with the Styrofoam moon would have worked better in the classroom. I was hoping for an art activity that would lend itself well to the museum environment, however I ended up asking toddlers to sit for too long. Between the time in the atrium and then the time under the stars, we became a bit antsy. When I attempt this lesson again, I think we might talk a little more about the moon and its surface on a different day. I would also like to expand this project by having the kids paint the newly-cratered surfaces of their Styrofoam moons with a mud or clay based liquid, and decorate the other side of the Styrofoam with orange and yellow tissue paper. This will give them a tactile object that represents both the moon and the sun. Like the telescopes, these could be made ahead, and brought with us to the museum to bring both aspects of the lesson together.

Here are a few images from their unit on opposites:

DSCN3274Melinda took the group straight to the National Museum of the American Indian for their lesson. When they first pulled into the museum she had the group stop and observe the light coming from the ceiling portal.
DSCN3277Melinda then showed the group an image of the sun and asked them to compare it to the light that was coming out of the portal. They talked about the shape and the amount of light they could see.
DSCN3282Melinda gave each child the chance to look closely at the image.
DSCN3284She also referenced a book they had read earlier in the week about the sun.

DSCN3300They then headed up to the Our Universes exhibit. The ceiling of the exhibit has a moon and is covered in stars. Melinda passed out telescopes that the children had made to help them look closely at the night sky. While the children were looking, Melinda read them Moon Game by Frank Asch.
DSCN3298The group loved looking closely at the book through their telescopes. 

DSCN3317Melinda then shared with the group an image of the moon and styrafoam circle. She talked about how the moon is covered in craters and that they were going to use their fingers to squish the foam and make their own craters.
DSCN3313They enjoyed the sensation of the foam squish beneath their fingers.
DSCN3324One little girl especially liked comparing her circle to the moon.
DSCN3329Melinda also had the group look at the House Post from the Dís hít (Moonhouse) of the Kwac’kwan Clan. She pointed out the circle shape and how the carved image on each post could reflect the different phases of the moon.

DSCN3335 DSCN3337They took one final look at the sun coming through the portal and compared the two images of the sun and moon before heading back to the classroom.

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