Presentation Inspiration

SECA Conference                                            “Conference Selfie” Is that a thing?

My favorite kind of presentation is the one where I don’t have to do a whole lot. No, not because I am lazy, but because it means the conversation has taken off and all I have to do is guide and nudge it to make sure it stays on track.  That is exactly what happened at the Southern Early Childhood Association conference in New Orleans. My opening questions and activities were met with growing excitement and suddenly the conversation was catapulting off with a lot of voices lending their expertise.

I scribbled notes furiously and wanted to share a few of the really great observations with you here.

Just to recap, this presentation was called “Locally Source Culture: Creating Meaningful Community Partnerships.” The point was to get participants to think critically about their community and all the potential resources that existed and then spend a little time discussing how to “make contact” and start establishing a relationship. It was an extension of my article in Teaching Young Children but really aimed at getting people to rethink whether there was “nothing” in their community they could use (hint: that is almost NEVER true!)

Here are the inspiring points that the attendees brought up

  • Never underestimate the power of the little things: Maybe a big truck, a train ride or just a really cool tree. It is easy as adults to look at things through the wealth of life experience we have. Young children are not there yet! The most simple aspect of your community will be met with a sense of wonder
  • Bring the community to life that they may only see through a window: In communities where the main type of transportation is a car, many children may only SEE their community, not really experience it. Look for ways that you can bring them out into the community so it brings it to life for them and makes them feel connected
  • Connecting to the community helps humanize the people who are in it; One teacher shared how her class had a new appreciation for vegetables after meeting “Farmer Joe” and another shared they always make a point of welcoming police officers in the classroom to help children whose relationship with the police in their neighborhood is not as positive. She said she wanted them to see that police are people and can be friendly and helpful to them also
  • Your families are your first community: Look to your families first for ways to connect with the rest of your area. There are so many talents and skills among the parents and caregivers that can be shared with your class.  This might take some digging, they might not realize that they have anything worthwhile to share, but ask and encourage.Not only will there be a wider range of things you can expose the kids to, but think how it encourage those families! It gives them a chance to be the expert, gives the student a chance to “show off” the pride they have in their family. One teacher shared a wonderful tradition where they did a field trip to each child’s house. It let the child show off and allowed the whole class to appreciate how everyone has things about their home life that are the same and things that are different. That particular method will not work everywhere, but the spirit of it can be channeled.
  • Community partnerships benefit all kids: Whether you have English Language Learners, children with special needs or a mixed-age classroom, looking at community partnerships is a great way to make something approachable for all learners. “Learning through doing” is a cornerstone for many places and they will be able to support you in your planning.
  • The community wants to get to know you: Many individuals, businesses and organizations in the community are eager to get to know you and your students. They may be just as unsure as you are about how to connect! They will need guidance on how to work with young children, how to engage with children with special needs or English Language Learners but they can be helped along the way. Your school can be a direct link for them to families and help community networks, agencies and community resources assist families.
  • Mutually Beneficial: Working within the community will help everyone feel more connected and engaged, and that seems like a good thing for everyone.
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Holiday Season- Conference Season

I didn’t mean to take a month “off” from writing. It just sort of…happened. Holidays, travel, a toddler hitting a “stage” and first trimester exhaustion came together in a perfect conglomerate of excuses to push it aside.

Like any skill or hobby (or…dare I say…New Years Resolution) once you fall out of the habit it is so much harder to start up again. Luckily, we are heading out of “holiday season” and into “conference season.” Conferences always get me fired up again about what I’m doing. After a session I am always scribbling notes and ideas in the margin of my outline and come away with about six new projects that I want to start IMMEDIATELY!

I’m making quite the round of conferences this spring. If you are going to any of them, come and find me!

I just got back from the Southern Early Childhood Association Conference but coming up there is….

* Virginia Association of Museums

* Virginia Association for Early Childhood Education

* American Alliance of Museums

I’m also trying something for the first time, I’ll be part of a Google Hangout sponsored by the National Arts Education Association all about young children and museums. This is online, free and happens over a lunch break (Feb. 11th at 1pm EST).  You will be able to join through their Google+ page (the main page is here). I’d love to have a lot of voices contributing and asking questions!

In case you need a refresher on “conference survival” you can read this post for tips! Have a great conference season.

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Try it Again

Try it Again My friend and her daughter happily explored room to room in the Hirshhorn, stopping here and there for an endearing toddler-on-point observation. ” A cow!” she announced breathlessly under the sculpture “The Dangerous Logic of Wooing, 2002” and still later near raptures about the colors in the Morris Louis.

And me? I was in the hallway, keeping a wary eye on my own toddler who looked ready to mutiny as he huddled against the wall.

It hadn’t started out this way. He careened joyously around “Barbara Kruger:Belief+Doubt” looking for “my letters” and couldn’t get enough of the “real race cars” in SALVATORE SCARPITTA:TRAVELER . Then, like it always seems to happen with the toddler set, I had to say no to something (in this case NO you CANNOT “zoom” your toy car across the crowded hallway) and we were on a downhill slide.

Suddenly everything was a test. He wanted to zoom the toy car, he DID NOT want to see the big window, he wanted to sit in the middle of a crowded hallway, he DID NOT want to see the picture with his name on it, he wanted to push the stroller “by self” past the unprotected sculptures. And on…and on…and on….

We tried a snack break as a “re-set” and it worked, for a moment, but the minute we went back inside he was a ball of emotion and contradictions. So, I did what so many other parents have done in the aisles of grocery stores, at friends houses and in parking lots….I picked him up and we made an ungraceful dash for the door.

Through the halls of the Hirshhorn I maneuvered a stroller and carried a kicking, screaming, crying toddler. Because I had to make sure I didn’t take out a priceless work of art, I couldn’t lower my gaze and avoid eye-contact. Well, I’m glad I didn’t, because what I saw was really encouraging.

A visitor tried to make eye contact with my son and waved his hands and made silly faces…clearly an attempt to make him laugh. Someone else stepped back to so I could beeline to the elevator. All of the guards gave me sympathetic smiles and had doors open for me as I rushed through them. Of all the people we passed, not one person gave me a mean or disgusted look and everyone tried their best to be helpful in whatever way they could.

I’m not sure if the main point of this post is to tell you “I get it, I totally do, taking toddlers out can be a roll of the dice” or just to prove that even though my 2 year old is an “experienced” museum goer…he is just a regular kid. I think, actually, it is to show you that museums (and the people in them) are no more intimidating and unwelcoming then your local grocery store.They are full of people who get it. Your kid has meltdowns when you are out, but you do your best and handle the situation and keep going. That doesn’t have to be any different in a museum.

So, like my son says, “Try it again, one more time.” Maybe we’ll see you next week at the Hirshhorn?

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If You Give a Kid a Box….

If you give a kid a box….

Creative ideas with boxes Creative ideas with boxes Creative ideas with boxes Fun with boxes

Creative ideas with boxes

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They will:

* Use it as a table to collect every red thing they can find

* Have a platform the perfect height for playing cars and animals

* Create a light-weight train table that can grow or shrink as needed

* Give the cat a ride

* Use it as a car or boat

* Have the perfect play kitchen







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GUEST POST: Mt. Vernon

Sometimes when you are writing and posting online, it is hard to know if your words are having any impact. So, it is ALWAYS nice to hear back from readers that they are enjoying the blog and using the info.

When one of them asks if you want a review of a museum visit they just had…that might be even better! Jim Chandler, a friend from my hometown, recently visited Mt. Vernon and asked if I wanted an updated review. Since I haven’t been back since 2012…I jumped at the chance!

Read his thoughts below and, if you need more tips on places to visit in D.C., check out “Your Family Adventures in Washington, D.C.” Also, if you have something you are interested in writing about, let me know!


If you think that Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, is just a collection of buildings and antique furniture, you need to think again. In a 3-hour visit to Mount Vernon today, we just scratched the surface.There are many experiences for all ages. Admission is free for children under 5 and quite reasonable for adults. If you live in the area you might consider an annual pass that would pay off after the second visit. The whole region is steeped in history and you are surrounded by experiences that bring history to life. For younger children it is a chance to explore the life of colonial America as well as introduce them to real the George Washington, Martha Washington and their life. A trip to the Mansion will give people a feel for the surrounding of Washington’s life. There is a guided tour that is not too long to lose the interest of children.   However the real attraction is the Education Center and the special interactive programs that vary from day to day and from season to season.

The Education Center is a fully interactive series of displays that follow all aspects of George Washington’s life from childhood to his later years.   This is how every museum should be with hands on displays and videos that surround you with the sounds and images of the time. A particular pleasing highlight for children would be the video on Washington and the Revolutionary War , “Revolutionary War Theater” ,where you can feel the rumble of war in the seats and feel and experience the fog and snow they had to endure. Quite amazing! There are also displays that show his false teeth, agricultural innovations, life with his wife, the issue of slavery and his impact on the modern presidency. It is organized in chronological order and is very easy to follow. There is a special place within the Education Center for children 3-8 years old called the “Hand-On History Center”. It has manipulative exhibits and special programs for young children and their parents.   There is a Museum in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. I did not make it into the museum but it is advertised to cover in-depth various aspects of Washington’s life. It was created at the same time as the Education Center and I look forward to visiting it in my next visit.

Another very worthwhile part of the tour for young children is the Pioneer Farm.   George Washington was a strong believer in the power of America to produce food here and for the world. He was a very progressive farmer and the Pioneer Farm recreates his farming practices and often has seasonal demonstrations of farm life.   When I visited they were demonstrating Wheat Treading, separating wheat kernels from the straw, in the innovative 12-sided barn that Washington designed. If it looks like the hike to the farm would be too far you can take a shuttle that runs regularly from the Mansion/Education area to the farm.

Pick up a list of “Today at Mount Vernon” at the Orientation Center next to the Museum. It shows all the live demonstrations and tours for the day, some of these have an additional cost but most are free. These include a “National Treasures Tour” showing places at Mt. Vernon highlighted in the recent movie. You can meet a live “Martha Washington” who brings the nation’s first lady to life. There are also garden tours, cruises, demonstrations and much more.

Beyond all the history, the grounds and gardens are a natural feast of relaxing landscapes with plenty of places to explore and spend an enjoyable day. This is a delightful break from city life.

All in all, Mount Vernon has much to offer over and over, and from season to season for people of all ages and is well worth visiting and revisiting.

Jim Chandler, Science and Environment Educator, Bryant Pond, Maine

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Seton Hall

I have been very lucky to have support and mentoring from a number of amazing people over the years.  One of them is Claudia Ocello, who I would consider my “museum mentor” (I hope she is ok with that!). She runs Museum Partners Consulting LLC and has been my go-to for questions about everything from museum education to running a small business.

She also gave me my first opportunity to present, like a real grown-up professional, to her museum studies students at Seton Hall University. I look forward every year to going up there and talking with them about how to structure a museum visit for early childhood classes.

This year, we had an interesting challenge. We met at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange to use the show “Thou Art Mom.”  Not only did I go through my usual talking points of taking the height of objects into consideration…but we also discussed in depth how to approach nudity in the art and other tricky concepts that young children never fail to notice.

My biggest piece of advice was to always take a walk through the gallery and have some short answers prepared for any “tricky” things that you notice. Also, embrace “I don’t know, I’ll find out” since they will invariably find something you didn’t notice in advance!

If you want some other tips for “sticky situations” you can re-read my “Miss Manners” post from summer camp!

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You know you haven’t been dividing your time equally when Facebook sends you an email reminding you to update.  Whoops! I find that is what happens when I take on a new project. I have to do so much front-end work getting things set up that my other projects have to tick along with the minimum for a little while.

What is this new project, you ask? Well! I am now teaching early childhood science classes at Ideaventions, a science center focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for kids from preschool through high school! I’m really excited to have a steady opportunity to try out hands-on science learning with kids.

Although it seems like yet another left turn, I really think it dovetails nicely with my work in bringing together museums and young children. In each class we are using objects and experiments to help learn concepts, which is a great method for museums to use. Also, getting regular interaction with young children will keep me current on how they think and interact.

So, stay tuned for things I’m coming up with from this new (personal) experiment!

Oh! I am also helping run their social media outreach…so please head over and check out our Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

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