Never Too Young


This blog was first published last spring during NAECY”s Week of the Young Child. We decided to re-post it as we so often get ask the question, “What do you do with babies in a museum?” We hope this answers some of your questions. If you are interested in seeing our work in action, families are welcome to join us for one of our Infant Investigators  classes that occur most first Saturday and Sundays of the month.

When I first discovered that the theme for NAEYC’s 2016 Week of the Young Child™ was “Celebrating Our Youngest Learners,” I was excited by how clearly it related to my work as an infant and toddler teacher. Most people who read the phrase “Celebrating Our Youngest Learners” would immediately think of children older than the ones I work with every day. Even among the early childhood community, the term “young learners” often refers to Pre-K and Kindergarten students. I believe that we should include infants and toddlers in our celebration of the youngest learners. In my mind this is something that is both natural and necessary. In fact, it has so permeated my life that I sometimes forget that not everyone feels the same way that I do.

As an infant and toddler teacher at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, I take my class on daily outings into the museums that line the National Mall. Upon seeing a group of infants or toddlers in a museum, visitors often remark on how amazing it is to see so many young children or how engaged my class seems. But far too often we get another response; people will come up to my class and say “Aren’t they too young for a museum?”

While I understand that a class of infants and toddlers may be an unusual sight in a museum, I can’t help but be baffled by the very premise of their question. My audible response to this accusation is a cheery “Never too young,” but my inner dialogue consists of wondering “Too young for what? Too young for learning?” I believe that museums make ideal places for self-directed learning. For an infant or toddler to be considered too young for a museum, then the extension of that logic is that the child is too young to learn, which cannot be further from the truth.

Infant’s and toddler’s brains are ripe for learning and processing. In fact, they are learning at a faster rate than at any other time in their life. They are learning language, how to move their bodies, pre-literacy skills, how to interact with others, and whether or not their world is a safe and secure place. Beyond that infants and toddlers are discovering what interests and motivates them. All of these things and more can be learned in museums. Below are a couple of examples:



We visited Shirin Neshat’s The Book of Kings, My House is Burning Down (2012) at a recent Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden exhibit as part of a unit of Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe. We were looking at the parts of the body and a favorite movement came from the line “I am a gorilla and I thump my chest. Can you do it?”



To discover more about different types of shoes, such as wooden clogs and ballet slippers, we went to the National Gallery of Art to see Paul Gauguin’s Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven (1888)For a toddler, shoes represent a way for them to start creating a sense of autonomy. In my class, my students often come dressed in pink cowboy boots or purple rain boots that they picked out themselves. They are expressing their new found independence by choosing what shoes or clothes they want to wear.



Infants and toddlers expend much of their energy discovering how they can move. Here my class of mobile infants visited a termite mound, which they were able to crawl through.

Infants and toddlers expend much of their energy discovering how they can move. Here my class of mobile infants visited a termite mound at the O. Orkin Insect Zoo in the National Museum of Natural History, which they were able to crawl through.


Getting new teeth impacts so many aspects of the lives of infants and toddlers. It allows them to transition to eating solid food, affects their mood, and is often detrimental to their sleep. What better way to learn about what is happening inside their own bodies, than to examine the jaw of a great white shark and touch a replica of some of the shark’s teeth?

Getting new teeth impacts so many aspects of the lives of infants and toddlers. It allows them to transition to eating solid food, affects their mood, and is often detrimental to their sleep. What better way to learn about what is happening inside their own bodies, than to examine the jaw of a great white shark and touch a replica of some of the shark’s teeth in the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.

Great strides have recently been made in explaining the importance of Pre-K and Kindergarten to the public. People across the nation now believe in the importance of these early learning experiences. While there is more work to be done, it is important that do not waver from celebrating and supporting the youngest of the young learners — infants and toddlers.

Infants and toddlers are active learners, so the environment and the people they interact with impact their learning. Infant and toddler educators need extra support and should be encouraged to see the myriad of possibilities for learning that occur with infant and toddlers every day. I hope that one day everyone who hears the term “youngest learner” will automatically include infants and toddlers in that group. I am excited for the day that I am greeted with “What are they learning about?” when I am walking in the museum with the infants and toddlers in my class.


BioMeredith Osborne is the infant and toddler specialist at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. She received her Master’s in museum education from The George Washington University and studied history and psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University. She has experience working with both children and adults including positions at Playgroup in the Park, the Children’s Museum of Cleveland, teaching adults literacy classes, and interning at the Supreme Court of the United States.

Teacher Feature: Four Year Old Classroom Explores Camelot

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Will Kuehnle. Will’s pre-k four classroom is currently learning about Camelot. Below you will find a reflection from Will and images from some of his lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

“We were exploring the world of King Arthur and Camelot. The children at the beginning of the year were enjoying the idea of dragons chasing them when we were running around on the playground. Dragons were also popping up during our chatter around the snack table. I definitely noticed an interest. My associate teacher and I put our heads together to think of a topic to explore that would quench the students interest, touch on topics we thought would be useful for the children to have as a foundation for the year ahead (chivalry, community) and also allowed us as educators to have a wide variety of ideas to teach upon, which makes lesson planning fun and flexible.”

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

“I always want my students to take away a sense of enjoyment from a unit of study. I want them to have that everyday we are together, no matter if we are going on an exciting museum visit or stuck inside the classroom on a rainy day.  For this particular unit I wanted to have each student have a strong sense of what the code of chivalry was, because that can be applied to so many routine situations throughout our day. I wanted to be able to focus my language with children around kindness, bravery, loyalty, community and justice. To be able to do that with such a fascinating backdrop as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was a real treat. Another objective I had for the students was to nurture their sense of adventure and curiosity towards learning. We can take that energy and harness it towards future lessons and topics this year, I’m really excited to see where this year leads us.”

What was most successful about your lesson?

“I believe the way the children used what we were discussing into their play was the most successful. I did not notice it at first, but after a few weeks into the unit the play structures in the classroom were really developing. The dramatic play we had in the classroom, the manipulatives the children were using, the art they were making and the games they were creating on the playground were centered around the world of Camelot. The children were so whimsical in their approach to the unit that you really saw what you were talking to them about sink in. I am able to suggest to a child that they be knightly or chivalrous and see them reflect with positive reaction to the choice they are making.”

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

“Reflecting back on the unit, which is still going on up until our knighting ceremony on December 18th, I wish that the transition of topics within the unit were more thought out and not as rushed. I think we were really excited to dive head first into something for the start of the year that we barreled through ideas that we could have taken more time on. Maybe it was because we wanted to go from looking at the places of Camelot, to the people of Camelot, to the stories of King Arthur, to the code of chivalry, to how castles were built and protected, etc. As an educator I am trying learn how best to balance all the information there is to know and all the information I believe is best for my students to know, and then unveiling that in a cohesive story line that is engaging and enriching for them. I think having a strong idea of what you want to the overall story to be in the unit when you are first venturing out is very helpful, and that is something I struggled with in this unit. At the same time you always need to be flexible.”

Here a few images from their days in Camelot:

They began their exploration of the topic with the story of the Sword in the Stone. Will had the students create their own stone from a cardboard box and painted paper. They were very surprised and excited when Merlin dropped off a sword later in the day.

IMGP8021To encourage close looking, Will asked the children to create their own illustrations of the sword for their journals.


IMGP8022The children were very thorough in their illustrations. Some even included the text found below the sword.

IMGP7996DSCN0837The children were then offered the opportunity to try and pull the sword out of the stone. Will explained that the person who was able to remove the sword from the stone would be the rightful ruler of their kingdom. He reminded the children that they might not be the strongest or largest person but the one with the truest and kindest heart would be able to claim the sword. In the end it was their center director Megan who was able to remove the sword from the stone and students talked about why she would make a great ruler of their kingdom.

file (16)file (17)Will also began to alter their classroom to take on the attributes of a castle. Above the students are painting the castle wall and below you can see it installed in their space.

DSCN1099DSCN1096In addition to the castle wall, Will wanted a way to track their their progress through Camelot so they created a board with the different locations they might travel. As part of the board, he also created popsicle sticks with images of the children as their favorite Camelot characters which will move around the board as they continue through the story.

file (14)The group was so excited about Excalibur that Will decided to do a theatrical reading of the Lady in the Lake with help from a few educators and our site director.

file (20)Their exploration of Camelot even extended out to the playground where they used pool noodles to do some jousting.

The children continue to be extremely excited about this topic and have exciting adventures in Camelot. Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!