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.

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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.

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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: 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!

Teacher Feature: Infant Classroom Explores Flowers

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Noel Ulmer, Nessa Moghadam, and Katy Martins. Inspired by the spring weather and blooms, their infant class decided to paint with flowers.  Below you will find images from their painting experiences with flowers.

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Here are a few images from their unit on the flowers:DSCN2973Nessa began the lesson by reading Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. The team had the children sit in high chairs so they could have a nice flat and accessible surface to do their painting.

DSCN2977The children were first provided with silk flowers to touch and explore.

DSCN3003The children used all their senses!

DSCN2999Then it was time to try out painting with the flowers.  The teachers had pre-made sheets with a vase for the children to add their flower prints.

DSCN3008The teachers added a clothes pin to the shortened stem of the silk flower so they would be able to get a better grip. This was great activity for them to work on their fine motor skills. In addition, the babies began to notice that the painted blossom leaves marks where ever it lands.

DSCN3012DSCN3030The children were interested in exploring the painted flower in many different ways, including smelling and touching the wet paint.

DSCN3023They had a great time!


DSCN3045The teachers decorated their room with images of flowers, art prints, and images of the children. After painting, this little girl came over to check out the paper flowers on the wall.

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

Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores Liquid

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Logan Crowley. His two year old classroom was learning about the senses and decided to spend a week learning about how a liquid, solid, and a gas feel. Below you will find a reflection from Logan and images from his lesson on liquid.Liquid_Cover

What were your topics of exploration?

We were learning about the five senses. During the week of this lesson, we were exploring the sense of touch and learning how to describe how things feel. We also wanted to compare the textures and properties of various things. I chose to focus on the three different states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) and for liquid, water seemed like a great choice.

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

I didn’t expect my toddlers to necessarily be able to identify and define the states of matter, but I wanted to get their brains firing and thinking about how things felt when they touched them and what words they could use to describe what they’d felt. I also wanted to engage their sense of touch in general and give them an opportunity to experiment with water.

What was most successful about your lesson?

Even though a lot of them just ended up pouring the water on the ground rather than into the empty cup, I think I was definitely on the right track in that they loved to practice pouring and it let me know that they’d probably enjoy more opportunities to pour in the future. I was also surprised with how engaged they were with the book. Finally, even though we ran into some trouble with our original plan (we were told the kids could not walk barefoot in the water feature), the kids were great about it and still had a fantastic time playing with the water.

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

I would have organized the pouring activity a little better, perhaps demonstrating first or having them come up one at a time. I also would have had a backup plan ready for them to be able to play in the water (having them bring sandals or water shoes, perhaps), since I found myself having to improvise when they could not go barefoot.

Here are a few images from their unit on liquid:

DSCN2670It was a cold day but that didn’t keep this class from learning and playing with water. Logan bundled up his group and walked up to the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian American Art. This in door space is large and equipped with a beautiful glass ceiling. It makes for a wonderful environment to be in when the weather is not ideal.

DSCN2678DSCN2696Logan began his lesson by providing each child with a pitcher of water and a cup. He invited the children to pour the water and watch as the liquid moved from one container to the next. A number of the children touched the water with their fingers and also sampled it from their glass.

DSCN2683He then read a story Water by Frank Asch. The story explains the different states of water and Logan explained that today they were experiencing water as a liquid.


DSCN2717Logan picked this space because there is large fountain that produces a very thin film of liquid on the floor. Guests are encouraged to interact with the fountain by walking through (with shoes on) and touching it. The children really loved being able to interact with this liquid in so many different ways.

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

Teacher Feature: Infant Classroom Explores Mail

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Jill Manasco. Her infant class was learning about communication and decided to spend time learning about mail. Below you will find a reflection from Jill and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?:

Our topic of exploration was mail/communication/writing letters. We looked at the different types of mail like magazines, letters, bills etc. We also talked about where our mail comes from and how it gets from place to place.

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

I wanted them to see where our mail comes from and how it gets to other people. Also, I wanted them to see what kinds of things are sent and received through the mail.

What was most successful about your lesson?:

Our trips to the post office and NH mail room were the most successful things about our lesson. They enjoyed mailing a letter to our friend Emerson and also picking mail up for the school.

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

The entrances to the post office were tricky for us since we are in buggies. The doors were not automatic and they were really hard to open but with an older group that would not be a problem.

Here are a few images from their unit on mail:

DSCN2721The group got all bundled up and headed straight to the post office for their lesson!

DSCN2725Earlier in the week the group worked together to write a letter to a friend who had moved. Jill showed the class the mailbox where they were going to drop off the letter but explained that they needed stamps to make sure it got all the way to their friend in a different state!
DSCN2731In the post office, they stopped to check out some of the boxes where people get mail.

DSCN2737Jill showed and re-read the note to the group.

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DSCN2748She invited each child to help participate in the mailing process. Above a child is adding the letter to the envelope and below he is helping to seal it up!

DSCN2755Then it was time for Jill to weigh the letter and purchase the postage. Jill narrated the whole process to the friends.

DSCN2761Last step was the postage! This little boy loved how sticky it was!

DSCN2767Then it was time to mail the letter! When the letter arrived at its location the group was able to Skype with the recipient and see how their letter had traveled all the way to her.

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