Disney “Planes” Inspired Museum Visit

Using Disney's Planes to explore and learn about historic planesIf you are looking for ways to engage your kids in a museum visit, you have a lot of options. You can let them be exhibit critics, bring some surprises with you or take strength in numbers. Something else that works really well is to tailor your visit to something your kid is interested in (read a round-up of some options here). Sure, that seems like a no brainer, but it isn’t always easy to tie in what they love with something in your area.

Well, my Dad pulled together the BEST museum visit for my 2 year old…completely on a whim. After watching Disney’s “Planes” over the weekend he decided to take him downtown to the National Air and Space Museum. Once they got there, they started hunting for the planes that they had seen in the movie. How perfect is that? It was something that my son had been talking about non-stop and it gave them a purpose for the visit.

Do you have a “Planes” fan also? I’ve done my best to pull together the reference points so you can recreate this visit. A few points to remember

  • Most of the planes in the movie are not one specific model. They are a mash-up of a few different kinds. My Dad knows planes and could figure out what was a close match, I used the PLANES WIKI
  • Sometimes, especially for young kids, it is all about the “look” and the color. They may be CERTAIN they have found Skipper…even if the make is all wrong. Nothing wrong with that if they aren’t ready for the fine distinction between types!

Also, this is important, take some to tell them the REAL story behind the airplanes they are looking at. The airplane I have labeled as “Dusty 2” is actually the Spirit of Columbus, which Jerrie Mock flew to become the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world! There are a lot of interesting and powerful stories there that kids can connect with. If they are young, it is ok to use the movie references to get ‘em hooked and then keep building on the stories when they are ready.

OK! On to the specifics….

If you are at the museum on the Mall, you can find the Jolly Wrenches, Skipper, Leadbottom, and Ripslinger

Out at the Udvar-Hazy Center you can find Dusty 1 and Dusty 2 and show them what a real Crop Duster looks like. If you go to the Restoration Hanger you might catch sight of a forklift, and get to see a lot of cool conservation work being done!

My son LOVES Chug the fuel truck. You can find that at the museum, but you can see photos in the Archives

What other characters would you like to “follow” through a museum? Maybe something from a favorite book, TV show or movie? This could be fun to continue exploring!

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My Son Wanted Pink Shoes

My son wanted pink shoes. Why did the shoe store say they were for girlsOne of the hard things about being a Mom to a toddler is figuring out age-appropriate ways to start teaching “big life lessons.” Like the idea that “no means no” or how the color you like doesn’t define who you are. 

When his best friend showed up at the door with pink and purple sneakers, my son flipped. He ran a lap around the house yelling “PINK AND PURPLE!” and then demanded we get in the car and go get him some.

Well, the kid did need new shoes for school, so the next day we drove over to the local Stride Rite. When he bounded in the clerk pointed us to the preschool section. To her credit she simply asked “What color shoes do you want?” It wasn’t until we went over to the section that we saw emblazoned GIRLS above everything pink and purple and sparkly and BOYS above all the blues and browns and Spiderman.

I mean, seriously, why? It is a children’s shoe store, it is about 20fit across at the most and is already divided into sections based on age/walking ability. There is no logical reason why it also has to have a GIRLS and BOYS designation above the shoes. Heck, put them all in rainbow order and they could say the displays are educational as well as commercial!

Thankfully, my son is 2 and can’t read. He picked out a pair of neon pink shoes with green laces, blue blazes and a few other blindingly bright colors. He wore them proudly out of the store and skipped through the mall singing “pink and green SHOES!”

So, why did he want pink shoes? No, I didn’t secretly whisper to him that he should buck gender norms. Maybe it is because his best friend had some. Maybe it is because he thinks Princess Pea (from Super Why!) is the best character on TV. Maybe, just maybe, he simply likes the way they look.

I’m not the first to write this rant (and many others have had more painful or powerful experiences then this one) but I’m adding my voice to the mix. Stop telling my son what colors (or toys, or jobs, or shows) are “for him”

In case my voice doesn’t carry too far, what can I do at home, for him? As far as I can tell, all I can do is smile and get him the pink shoes.

As he gets older we can have the conversation about how those marketing people don’t know what they are about, that pink is TOO a boy color. Or how his friend is wrong, he likes pink and he is a boy so pink IS a boy color. And, if he wants them, I will keep getting him the pink shoes.

*An interesting observation about myself, I was a little nervous walking out with those shoes. It wasn’t because he was a “boy” wearing “girl” shoes but because I didn’t want people to think I was deliberately trying to make a statement with his footwear. He got excited about those shoes, we got the shoes….end of story. *

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Back to School Jitters? Transition Techniques

Ways to help your preschooler and you transition to schoolMy little guy is starting preschool this week! I’ve had a lot of people asking me if I am sad about it, but I am so excited! As a recovering preschool teacher, I have seen first hand the amazing experiences that kiddos have when they go to preschool. Sure, there will be tears (maybe a lot) but in the end they just have this confidence that you didn’t even expect.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not anxious. It is a BIG transition for any kid and as his Mom I want to do anything I can to ease it for him. In the end, of course, I have to step back and let him be the big kid he is but that doesn’t mean I can’t “set him up for success” in some small ways.

Below are some resources I collected from around the web (and my own experiences) I hope they are helpful for you too.

Social Stories about School: If you have an idea of what the schedule will be like every day (even generally) you and your child can write a story about it. Social Stories are great in lots of situations (dealing with difficult behaviors, new situations etc.) and can be a resource you go back to whenever it is needed.

Make a schedule of the day/week: If you have a schedule posted somewhere it can be a reference point when your child is feeling like they don’t know if it is a “school day” or a “home day.” It can also take some pressure off YOU because you can just refer to the schedule when you get a pout about going to school…it isn’t you it is on the schedule!

Read Books: For some kids this can be a great way to get comfortable with a new situation. Like a social story, it gets them used to the routine of what is happening. Since it is about “other” people it can also be a safe way to explore some of their questions, concerns and fears. The questions can be about the character, giving them a little distance from it.

There are many, many, books about starting school so if your child has a favorite character you can probably find a book about it! Here are just a few that I’ve either used or had highly recommended.

  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
  • David Goes to School by David Shannon
  • Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen
  • First Day of School by Anne Rockwell
  • When I Miss You by Cornelia Maude Spelman
  • Take a Kiss to School by Angela McAllister
  • It’s Time for Preschool by Esme Raj Codell
  • A Pocketful of Kisses by Audrey Penn
  • Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
  • Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee
  • How Do Dinosaurs Go to School by Jane Yolen
  • Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark
  • Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin
  • I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child

(Books recommended by Krista, NAEYC and a blog I found through Pinterest)

You can also use school situations that come up in your family life (older siblings?) or on TV to help you talk about it. My son doesn’t have a lot of frame of reference for school…but he loves Sid the Science Kid! We talked about how Sid goes to school and he will get to also and pointed out the teacher, the classroom and saying goodbye to Mom.

Practice your goodbye routine! Whatever you are planning to do (two kisses and a big hug by the door, 1 book then a kiss etc.) practice it and STICK to it. Don’t get pulled into TWO books one day, trust me. (Thank you Krista for reminding me of this important point)

If your child is struggling with saying goodbye, they might benefit from some sort of transition object. Maybe there is a family picture in their cubby so they can give it a kiss if they are sad, or a small toy/book that they can bring in to “show” their teacher when they get to school. This works great for some kids, and would make the whole thing harder for others. Talk to the teacher about what they allow and encourage in school and think about how easy or hard it is for your child to put something down when you leave home/park/friend’s house.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is a great resource for parents. They’ve put out a number of different articles about getting ready for school. A simple “round up” article is 13 Tips for Starting School

As a parent, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed yourself! Like any profession, education has its own jargon and sometimes teachers don’t realize they are throwing it around without explanation! Here are a few Teacher Terms Demystified…but of course you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for clarification!

Also, if you are still trying to navigate the relationship between you and your child’s teacher, this article gives you a few tips on Talking to Teachers. The biggest thing to remember is that they are regular people and that they care fiercely about your child thriving.

One last article that has been making the rounds online is about Asking about school…without asking about school. It isn’t a perfect list (the author freely admits that) but it could give you a starting point. I had one family that would ask their daughter to tell them 3 things that happened that day, sometimes a specific conversation “goal” can be helpful!

Best of luck with the transition for you…and your kiddo!

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Letters from Camp: Miss Manners

Dealing with difficult questions from kids in the museumI am a thorough teacher. I plan curriculum, triple check materials and show up early. What I CAN’T plan for is when a kids asks a difficult questions…and you have to answer on the spot. Below are four situations I found myself in this week with my 5-8 year olds. I’m curious, how would you have said it better?

Question: “Who was the 1st human?”

Answer: People have different things they think and believe. What do you think? (At this point I got a variety of answers from “chimps” to “Adam and Eve”). You don’t have to believe same thing, if someone disagrees with you, you can say to yourself “Huh, now I know something different about how they think.”

Question: “Why are they naked” (referring to statues at the National Gallery of Art)

Answer: Just like Monet was interested in how light changes things (something we’d studied day 1) some people are interested in how the human body looks in different ways. By sculpting without clothes on they can see how the body looks in different poses.

Statement: “I’ve been here a million times”

Answer: Great! Then you are able to notice and observe a lot of different things. Scientists look at things over and over too! So after this visit you can tell me something new you noticed.

Question: “Wait…he is meat?!?” (After seeing the Magic School Bus book on dinosaurs where a carnivore is taking a bite out of a herbivore).

Answer: Yes. That dinosaur’s body was hurt and the other dinosaur did eat him. He helped keep the other dinosaur alive. Then, we talked a little about food chains and the “circle of life.” I will freely admit….I skipped past the page where the dinosaurs were running of with babies from the nest. I just wasn’t prepped to go through that with her!

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Letters from Camp: Curating an Exhibit

Using a student created museum exhibit to share and assess learningOne of the hardest “justifications” you face as an educator is proving that learning took place. Grant funders might ask it…or supervisors…or parents…or it could be just an internal question that you pester yourself with. At this camp, we were required to have some kind of “grand finale” that the parents were invited to. It turned out to be the best reflection tool for the students AND the teachers and it left us with a nice little “portfolio” about the week.

We opted to do a museum “opening” with separate exhibits for each day of camp. Throughout the week we carefully saved things the kids were working on, did little write ups and took TONS of pictures. Honestly, the pictures were the best because then the parents could really see what we had been up to and they loved being able to take them home.

We really wanted them to embrace this as a museum, so we dove into museum jobs and got them thinking about what job THEY would take on for the day. As museum curators we visited the Star Spangled Banner and looked at the light levels, plus got a sneak peek into a collection area! As exhibit designers we did a critique of a nearby exhibit and as docents/security officers we did a hands-on activity in the museum.

The day of the exhibit the kids were buzzing with so much excitement we could barely keep them contained in the classroom. They helped us write labels, planned how they would show our visitors around, created name badges and decorations and even an organizational chart!

Honestly, it didn’t take too much time out of our day (for kids or teacher prep) and the excitement they had for it was a great reward for a long week.

If kids in your life want to create their own museum, help them with three simple ideas

1. Objects: They will need to pick the objects to go into the exhibit. What story are they going to tell? Why are these objects special? This is a good chance to talk about how museums don’t save EVERYTHING but instead choose the best examples that help tell the story!

2. Labels: What kind of labels are they going to have? Basic ones that just say what the object is, or labels that help tell the story? What other information is going to be in their museum?

3. Museum Jobs: We found the kids really got into the idea of being part of the museum by having their own job. Breaking it down into very simple ideas of curator (takes care of objects), exhibit designer (sets up/maintains displays), docent (helps answer questions) and security officer (pretty self-explanatory) got everyone involved and feeling like they had a role.

Summer Camp Exhibit (6)Summer Camp Exhibit (1) Summer Camp Exhibit (3) Summer Camp Exhibit (4)


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A Lesson on Simple Machines…Simply Worked!

Teaching preschoolers about simple machines I’ve made no attempt to hide the ups and downs of museum and early childhood education. I’ve talked openly about museum visits that go wrong and the ups and downs of classroom management. But, can I tell you how excited I am to share something that went RIGHT today?

I’m teaching a workshop series on the “science of superheroes” and this week we were digging into the “gadgets.” The kids were buzzing with all the gadgets used by their favorite superheroes and shared how Wonder Woman had the invisible jet and Batman “had the really bright light and he shined it, like this, and the bad guy went AHHHHHHHHHHHHH and covered his eyes!” (Just go with it….)

But, we weren’t building a ray gun or a Batmobile or even a super-computer concealed in a wristwatch. Instead, we dove into the world of simple machines. Over the course of the hour we learned about three of the classic simple machines: a pulley, a lever and an inclined plane. I kept things very simple, introducing the concept, showing them the example I had brought and then letting them play with it.

Here is what we did!

Lever: A classic spoon “catapult” using 9 Popsicle sticks, 5 rubber bands and 1 plastic spoon. Directions can be found here. I found it useful to show them a more basic lever first using a triangle and rectangle block (recreating a classic teeter-totter…sorry, I forgot to take a picture!)







Pulley: I roped together two heavy books using clothesline from the drugstore. First, I had them try lifting the books just with the string. Then, I ran the line over a rolling pin. One scientist held the rolling pin while the other pulled the rope. The only thing you have to watch out for is the books crashing down on someone’s toes!


Inclined Plane: This was the brilliant idea of Peggy Ashbrook! I bought a length of Cove Molding from my local hardware store and had them cut it into 1ft lengths. Marbles are the perfect fit to run long the grooved track. Using blocks, the scientists could construct elaborate ramps to run the marbles down. All on their own they came up with new tests, like what would happen if they used a steeper angle!


Inclined Planes

As you can see, all three simple machines are built with things you find around the house or at your local home-improvement store. A great book to bring it all together with is “Rosie Revere Engineer,”I just discovered it and think its amazing.

Thanks to Pinterest, and Peggy Ashbrook (my co-teacher from TSA Summer Camp) for the inspiration!

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Letters from Camp: Kids These Days

Ideas for working with teen volunteersWe had two “Youth Teaching Assistants” (YTAs) attached to our group for the week.  10th graders with more self possession then I could have claimed at that age! The problem was, that made it hard to remember they didn’t’ have teaching experience, classroom management techniques they’d developed or the tips/tricks that come after time spent working with kids. I’m still figuring out how to best support younger interns/volunteers but a few ideas so far.

* Figure out what their interaction style is and what kind of direction they need. Do they feel comfortable stepping in? Do they want to be told exactly what to do? A friend told me that she was always branded as “unhelpful” because she didn’t take initiative, but she really was eager to do anything…she just needed to be told!

* Establish early on that you will be stepping in and guiding them. That way, they don’t take it personally if you help steer/correct an interaction in the classroom.

* Figure out how much autonomy and leadership they WANT. You probably want to ask as well as observe. Try to give them opportunities to stretch and take charge where appropriate.

* Give them breaks throughout the day. Sometimes they aren’t scheduled to have a lunch break etc. but everyone needs that if you are teaching all day!

* Make sure the kids respect them as authority figures. Set the ground rules that while they may be young, they are teachers. You might have to step in and remind both sides of this on occasion!


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