Object-Based Learning: More than You Think

Object-based Learning

Museum educators have been practicing object-based learning (OBL) for years. It has been written about and discussed extensively. This blog isn’t so much meant to expand on that literature as it is meant to explore how OBL is used within the SEEC model.

First, let’s define SEEC’s learning environment. We are so much more than a daycare. We consider ourselves a school whose approach is defined by high quality early childhood practice. Our curriculum is emergent, and we use the community – not just museums – as part of the learning experience. Moreover, our Office of Engagement focuses on family learning via both long-term and stand-alone programs.

Definition

How does SEEC define OBL? At the center of our definition is, of course, the objects on display at the Smithsonian. All of our classes, even the infants, visit the museums regularly. While the experience will look different for each age group, all children benefit from being in front of an object. There could be an entire blog on this topic, but we recognize the importance of seeing the real thing – the awe and wonder it inspires. For children under two, who can not necessarily grasp the significance of these objects, the value often resides in their exposure to new spaces, things, and environments.

Tactile

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Because our children are young, we add an additional layer to the OBL experience – the tactile component. Children are concrete learners who explore using their senses and therefore, employing objects that can be handled or physically experienced adds to their learning. This can be a toy, like the boat pictured here, or it could be an element that somehow better describes an object. For example, manipulating a ballet shoe while looking at one of Degas’ dancers.

Sensorial

i-7TcWGD7-X2At SEEC, we expand upon this idea to curate a sensorial experience by adding components like feeling the wind while looking at this painting at the National Gallery of Art by Winslow Homer. The moving air, though not a physical object, certainly takes on that role with the learner. What’s important for the young learner is that they get to observe the wind portrayed in an actual object, like a painting, and feel the air moving on their faces. These experiences enhance their understanding.

Experiment

i-dRHXWcf-X2Likewise, the “object” can also be defined as an experiment. Imagine that a class visits the transportation hall at the American History Museum or observes vehicles moving on a street. The group could experiment with wheel shapes. A teacher constructs a car out of cardboard and uses a simple ramp to demonstrate how the car moves with wheels that are square, circular and triangular. Students quickly see the benefits of having a circular wheel and begin to recognize differences in shapes and how they connect to things in their everyday life.

Nature

i-VpKNHf2-X2For educators working in or using informal learning environments, object-based learning should be considered through a wider lens – one that helps young children to experience and explore via multiple modes. Finally, OBL also corresponds to nature-based learning. Just this week I observed how a lesson on nests with toddlers incorporated both museum objects and nature. The lesson started out by looking at nests sculptures displayed outside the Natural History Museum and concluded with the children making their own nests by collecting twigs, grass, and leaves. To add an additional layer and to help the children better interact with the animals, the children helped throw birdseed and watched as the birds came to eat.


To learn more join us for our Learning Through Objects seminar on March 13th and 14th.

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!