Smithsonian Early Explorers

**Please note that the 2019-2020 school year, SEE will be meeting at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Mondays and the National Museum of American Art on Tuesdays.

We are about embark on our fourth year of the Smithsonian Early Explorers program. The upcoming anniversary is a little bittersweet as some of our long-time families are leaving the program and moving on to preschool. The toddlers who began this program have grown into competent three-year-olds who are capable, empathetic, and ready for their next big adventure. The adults will also be missed as they have become part of our SEEC community and really helped us reflect on the overall program.

To celebrate the development and growth of the program and it’s students, I thought it would best to tell the story of SEE through photos in the hopes of capturing what makes this program so unique.1

Like many early education programs, we begin our day with a schedule. SEE also includes a “Question of the day.” Our belief is that asking questions can lead to a life-long habit of analysis and critical thinking. These questions also help caretakers who are not present learn about their child’s day.

Each morning we invite our students to play and often include real objects or materials.  This helps create authentic experiences that support a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. By including real objects, children can have concrete experiences that engage their senses. The photo here shows a lesson in which children explored different types of green as part of a larger study on forests.

We also create imaginative spaces using traditional toys. Our class meets in the Natural History museum’s Q?rius Jr. space and our educators are thoughtful to design a learning environment that encourages imagination and creativity.  We also believe in getting dirty and having fun.

 

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Another cornerstone of our program is routine. Each morning the children look forward to ringing the bowl to indicate it is time to gather. Following that, we welcome each other with a our hello song. We often choose books that are regularly reread over the course of the trimester. As the children become familiar with a piece of literature, they delight in knowing what will come next and matching photos to the text. When we depart for snack and our museum visit, the children get on “trains.” They hear the sound of the whistle and know that they need to grab an adult hand and walk safely to their next destination. These routines help the children feel safe, know what to expect, and help the whole group transition.

 

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We are a museum school and therefore, regularly visit the museums on the National Mall. Learning in museums can be beneficial to young children especially because they are better able to learn when they connect more concretely with subject matter that they actually experience. SEE does not limit itself though – we see our classroom as extending beyond the National Mall and museums. Some of our highlights this year were the DC Circulator and the National Arboretum. We also take advantage of new exhibitions even when they don’t tie into the curriculum, as was the case with the Kusama show at the Hirshhorn Museum. Really, who could pass up such a fun experience?!

 

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We believe in play and we believe it should happen in museums. I know for some that might seem contradictory to museum etiquette, but we believe that play can and should happen in museums. With some forethought it can be done successfully with young children. Below you will observe how bringing some loose parts allowed one child to build a structure of his own. He was no doubt inspired by the house on view in the American History gallery where he was You can also see how we transformed a lesson on maple leaves into a game of placing leaves onto a tree. Finally, and perhaps one of my favorites, watch both the children and adults have fun practicing their penguin walk at the Natural History Museum.

 

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SEE is a program that not only supports the child, but the parent/child relationship. Our educators help parents in their role as their child’s first teacher. We try to educate our parents on issues of child development and assist them as they navigate specific situations with their child. Caretaking is hard work and we use daily interactions, weekly emails, and conferences as ways to help parents navigate these early years.

 

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It takes a village and SEE is a community which relies on it’s families and staff to help cultivate a diverse learning experience and strong community. Below are just a few examples: one grandmother shares her sticky rice after viewing bowls from the Sackler Gallery, our resident science educator, and retired entomologist, shares his expertise and live specimens, a small potluck marks the end of a trimester, and one child focuses during their monthly visit to our art studio.

 

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We are proud of the Early Explorers program for not only its use of museums, but its approach to educating the whole child, supporting families, and creating community. We wish our graduates well and look forward to meeting our new students in the fall!

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Do you have a child who will be between the ages of 18 – 24 months this fall? You may want to consider joining the SEE program. We are hosting our Prospective Student Day on May 24. During the day, we invite families to participate in the program to experience it for themselves and have the opportunity to talk to other families. Join us by registering here.

 

 

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.

The Art Room

We recently featured our art educator, Carolyn Eby, in our bi-weekly Teacher Feature.  We thought it would be great to take another look at the work she is doing with all of our age groups. Check out some of her great ideas!

Infants Explore the Arctic

Carolyn used frozen paints and invited each child to mix them with other colors on their tables. After which, she took a mono print of their work. Children later ripped the mono print to create a collage – a fun activity that also helped them build important fine motor skills!

Toddlers Sand Paint

This sand paint, made with puffy paint and baking soda,  was delivered straight to the toddler class in dump trucks — the perfect accompaniment to their study of, you guessed it, trucks!

PreK-3 Color Mixing

Our preschool students join Carolyn every afternoon for art. Here we see them exploring color with the help of a light table. They also used eyedroppers and watercolors to explore what happened when the colors ran together. So focused!

 

PreK-4 Shapes

Like the three-year-olds, the fours join Carolyn every afternoon. Here she took a common  theme, shapes, and added depth. On the floor, the students are participating in a drawing game in which the dice indicate a color and a shape. Then, she had the class paint with sponges cut into specific shapes. Finally, she has them cutting shapes to match an artwork. They approached the concept in a variety of ways and thus, got a deeper understanding of it and had a lot of fun!

A Intern’s Reflection: Hayon Park

This summer we had a wonderful team of interns who were involved in a variety of projects around SEEC. Hayon Park, our Art Enrichment Intern, had the pleasure of spending time with a number of our children doing art inspired activities. She assisted with the Smithsonian Early Explorer Program (our two day a week toddler class for child and caregiver), developed in-class experiences for infant, toddler, and twos classes upon request, and led afternoon art studio experiences for the pre-K classes. Below you will find Hayon’s reflection and favorite projects from her time at SEEC.

Internship Reflection 1: SEE Program

Every Smithsonian Early Explorer (SEE) class was an insightful moment for me to see how children engage with the museum resources in their own playful way. Although I only joined the last classes of the year, I sincerely enjoyed getting to know the children and their caregivers. One girl’s grandmother told me that she asked “Is Miss Hayon going to be there today?” I was amazed at how she remembered my name and was anticipating playing with me despite our limited interactions in class. I am grateful for every moment I experienced within the SEE program and hope to join the class again soon.

The image above I designed for the SEE program was printed on the end-of-the-year gifts for the family, and on SEEC’s gala brochure.

 

Internship Reflection 2: Art with Infant and Toddler Friends

For the last half of my internship, I had the opportunity to do something I absolutely love: making art with young friends. I visited the infant, toddler, and twos classrooms classes twice during the month of July.

I began every class reading a book that would trigger some ideas for the activity. A short discussion time followed, where children shared their brilliant observations. Then I introduced the main activity and gave a quick demonstration on how to use the materials. Most of the projects were sensory based and open-ended. I was quite nervous if the children would be interested in the activities, but each artwork turned out to be fun and unique. To me, just being there with the children was a joyful moment. 

Art with the Infants

With the youngest friends of the center, I explored ice painting. I first read a short storybook called “Little Blue and Little Yellow” to introduce the color-mixing activity. Then, I demonstrated how they could roll the frozen paint ice cubes on paper. As the ice cubes melted, the primary colors naturally mixed together, making an abstract piece of work. More importantly, our little friends enjoyed the sensory experience of touching and exploring the cold ice cubes.

 

Art with the Toddlers

With the toddler classes, I introduced the activity with a book called “Mouse Paint”, a story in which three white mice explore color-mixing by diving into primary color paint jars. We imagined that a white piece of yarn was a mouse and dipped it into red, yellow, and blue paint bowls. The children then made the yarn dance on the white paper. As the yarn playfully danced on the surface, curvy lines and dots appeared and created a Jackson Pollock-like abstract piece of art. They had so much fun with the yarn painting and I loved playing with the little artists as well.

Art with the Twos

I started off by reading one of my favorite children’s books, “Matthew’s Dream”. I emphasized that ANYTHING could be art, including food, landscape, and even ourselves. I briefly introduced Robert Rauschenberg, an artist who used everyday objects in his artworks, blurring the border between 2-dimension and 3-dimension works. In order to encourage children to explore different objects, I brought in small objects, such as pasta shells, beads, short straws, yarn, stickers, pieces of paper, and pompoms. I handed out cardboard pieces to each student and encouraged them to use glue to attach the different objects to the surface. Some friends were very creative and experimental.  For example, one friend glued the straws to stand on the surface, which made a sculptural piece. There were also friends who showed interest in only using particular materials such as stickers or pasta shells. Overall, everyone spent a lot of time working on their art piece, and each one of them was absolutely fun and artistic.

 

Internship Reflection 3: Studio time

Upon starting the internship, I acquired permission to do research for my Master’s thesis at SEEC. I obtained consent from the parents of the children in the four year old classes. My research focuses on how young children’s environment affect everyday art activities and creativity, especially their drawings and narratives.

 

Sketchbook Time

We started art with drawing in our own sketchbooks. I kept the sketchbooks on a shelf, so that kids could  grab theirs as they were coming in to the studio. Amazing conversations emerged during this time while friends gathered around the table and drew.


 

Snow covered studio

One morning, we had a stack of Styrofoam donated to the school. As soon as children saw the Styrofoam, they began working together to make an igloo. Some friends worked on making windows for the igloo, and some just playfully drew on the surface. The Styrofoam broke into smaller and smaller pieces, and the whole studio space became a snow land!

Homemade play dough

With some simple ingredients, I made a big chunk of play dough and brought in to the studio. The kids loved the texture of the sticky dough. They created imaginative figures by adding other materials and color to the dough and paper plates with markers. It turned out to be pretty awesome.

 

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Egg Carton Ideas

A family donated a number of egg cartons from home. The kids loved making stuff with the cartons and used them in ways I never would have imagined. Some of them used other objects like yarn to create a container for spaghetti others created vehicles like trucks and metro trains. I loved watching them explore an everyday object in their own creative way.

 

Thank you Hayon for all of your hard work this summer! To read the full story and learn more about Hayon’s work visit here and keep an eye out for future artistic endeavors at SEEC with our new, full-time art educator, Carolyn Eby.

A Fresh Take: Back-to-School Books

It’s that time again! Many of our nation’s teachers are preparing their classrooms for the first day of school and so we wanted to share with you what some of our SEEC teachers are planning to include on their bookshelves this coming fall. Before school ended this past week, I interviewed several of our teachers to get their perspective on back-to-school books and here’s what I learned.
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HOMEMADE BOOKS

Many of our infant and toddler teachers lamented that there weren’t a lot of options for their young students. They were opting for making homemade books like the one featured to the right that documents a trip to their new classroom. This group of toddlers will be going to a new center, so the teacher thought it was especially important to have something to ease into a new location. I liked that the book highlighted the children’s feelings and pointed out some exciting new components of the classroom. I guess you could call it an end-of-the-year book, but since it will be with them in their new classroom too it still bridges their experiences and offers them continuity.  Duckling Book_2

Many of our teachers also like to create individual books for their students that include photos of family, special events or things the child likes. These types of books can be a great source of comfort at any time of the year when they need a little extra soothing. They also help classmates learn about each other.

FAMILIAR FRIENDS

At least four teachers said to me that they weren’t necessarily looking for back-to-school books for September. Rather they wanted  books with which the children were familiar. Having these books were important because they built in a familiar component that would help their students feel safe and more easily transition to their new teachers and routines. This was especially true of the teachers in our toddler and twos classes. Here were some of their top recommendations.

  1. Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
  2. Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  3. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See by Bill Martin Jr.
  4. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

MAKE IT A PROJECT

Our current Kindergarten teacher shared that when she was teaching in Europe she stumbled across the book, Mommy in My Pocket by Carol Hunt Sendarak. She said she fell in love with the book and its story of a little girl who imagines shrinking her mother so she can accompany her to school. In the end, she realizes that she will be fine on her own as she carries the memory of her mother’s hug and kiss.

Our teacher, Cathryn, took the book a step further and had her pocketstudents bring in a photo of their moms/caretakers and adhered it to the shape of a person. The children were invited to “dress” the body by coloring in clothes. When they were finished, she attached it to a heart, which was then glued on top of a cut-out pocket shape. Finally, she attached yarn to the pocket so the children could wear their “caretaker pockets” like a necklace.

After their project was done, the class sat together and talked. She recounts that she would ask about their feelings or other objects that they might want to bring to school with them.

CELEBRATING INDIVIDUALITY

Many of our PreK teachers said they like to use the beginning of the year to teach about what makes their students special or unique. One PreK-4 teacher praised Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester for not only honoring everyone’s differences, but also just being silly. Another teacher suggested Ian Falconer’s Olivia because of how it embraces the character’s unique spirit – plus, it doesn’t hurt that the book showcases a visit to the museum where Olivia encounters paintings by Degas and Pollock – a very SEEC moment.

OTHER FAVORITESImage 3346

  1. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by David Henkes

Though not really about back-to-school, this book features the relationship between student and teacher and introduces children to the concept of having different perspectives.

2.  The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing

This one is for the parents out there! It is a personal favorite that helped both my children transition to Kindergarten.

2.  Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton

3.   If  You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff

4.   Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois

DON’T FORGET THE SPACEphoto 4

Creating a cozy corner, can be as important as the books. Have fun creating a space that is quiet by sectioning it off from the classroom buzz. Use inviting colors, comfortable furniture and include soft, soothing objects. Such a space will undoubtedly help with those first day transitions as well as difficult moments throughout the year.

Hope these give you some fresh ideas! Happy back-to-school.

New Classrooms: Welcoming Environments

The First Week of School

This week marks the start of a new school year at SEEC and I took the opportunity to walk around and see the classrooms. SEEC teachers have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks, so I was pretty excited to check out all their hard work. I was especially interested because the classroom environment has been a hot topic amongst my colleagues and over the course of the last year, I have really seen the teachers contemplating the meaning and importance of their surroundings. This shift was well illustrated in an earlier blog by one of our teachers entitled:  Rethinking the Environment

The Power of the Environment

As early childhood educators, we think about arranging classrooms in ways that make sense – i.e. put the art area next to the sink or don’t put a reading area next to a noisy music area. We also think about safety and logistics too — all important. But the environment can be so much more – it can be a comforting, soothing locale that inspires children to learn, create and gain independence. Teachers are challenging themselves to think about how their classroom can engage and empower their students. The question of environment is, of course, of much broader scope than this blog, but I thought it would be great to look at some photos of our classrooms to see how our teachers are thinking about their classroom environments.

 

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Research has proven that bright colors like red, yellow and orange, can often be over-stimulating. These colors solicit a calmer, more welcoming feeling.

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This cozy corner provides a space for reading and a nook where a child can deal with feelings of frustration or anger. The canopy makes it feel especially protected and the green pillows evoke nature and feelings of calm.

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These photos were posted along a seated area in one of our toddler rooms. It portrays something that all children can relate to from multiple perspectives adding a multicultural component.

"Computer lab" has never looked so good. The bench and the table are the perfect height for the 4's intro to technology.

“Computer lab” has never looked so good. The perfectly sized bench and table encourage the four’s to tinker with the computer.

Visual reminders of how a preK class wants to approach apologies.

These visual cues help SEEC’s preK class remember their classroom conversations about apologies.

Your Feedback

Teachers – do you have a space you are particularly proud of? Please share it with us. Museum educators – we would also love to see photos of learning spaces in your museums.

Parents Are Part of the Class Too

Besides being an educator for the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, I am also a mom. I know all too well what it is like to be unsure of oneself as a parent. That is one of the reasons we have set up our programs with the parent in mind. We want to encourage your confidence as a parent and, as your child’s first teacher.

One of the ways we do this is by encouraging one-on-one _MG_4086interaction during the museum visit. Often we ask parents to lead simple activities in the galleries that are open-ended and encourage observation and conversation. For example, we might ask infant/toddler parents to find all the boats in a gallery space or simply describe an object. If it seems odd to talk about having conversations with your little one, remember recent research is making direct correlations between how much a parent talks to their child and their literacy.

_MG_0715_72dp_webiPreschooler families might be asked to create a story  or make a list of questions they have about an object. In both of these scenarios, we are encouraging independent thinking, literacy and providing time for you and your child to learn together. It is also giving the parent practice having  open-ended conversations and ideas of how to use museums when there is not an educator around.

All of our classes include a classroom component, where teachers have carefully thought out and prepared art projects, dramatic play areas and sensory experiences. The classroom experience is less structured and gives you and your child time to explore their interests. In order to help our parents make the most of their time, we make the following suggestions:

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1. Let your child choose the activity and how long they want to stay at that activity.
2. There is really no wrong way to do something – let them be creative and get dirty.
3. If they are frustrated, ask them if they want help. Otherwise, let them solve the problem on their own.
4. While you observe your infant, narrate what they are doing. Ask older children about what they are doing or why they made certain choices.

With these guidelines, parents can feel confident that they are giving their child autonomy and encouraging their interests. They are also giving them space to figure out problems on their own – this will lead to more confidence.

Are there things that you struggle with as a parent when participating in classes with your child? Let us know, we would be happy to help.