Shadow Exploration

Shadow exploration for toddlersSpend a little time on Pinterest and you’ll probably start to think that learning for kids happens best during carefully curated play experiences.

Spend any time with a toddler and you’ll soon discover that the most amazing learning occurs when neither of you were expecting it to happen!

The other night, we were watching “Sid the Science Kid” explore shadows. Since it was getting dark I pointed to the wall and told my son “See, there is YOUR shadow.” He was intrigued, he moved around to make his shadow move and then asked me to try and make MORE shadows.

I went and got a flashlight out of the drawer and showed him how to create shadows with it. After shining it in his eyes (we all saw that coming) he clamped his hand down over it. The light coming through his skin inspired a new exploration of what light looked like going THROUGH objects. We tried everything from the plastic Easter eggs in his play kitchen (creating different colors) to the blanket on the couch (it didn’t shine through at all)

By the time he was done experimenting, 30min had passed, the show was forgotten and we had explored light, shadow, translucent, opaque, and transparent. All of this was guided by him, using minimal resources (and only what I had handy) and only a few prompts from me.

Since then he has shown me shadows when we are outside, I even caught him “playing” with his shadow in the kitchen, and the flashlight comes out every now and then for more experiments. Ongoing science investigation thanks to a TV show, a flashlight and a little time to explore.

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“Reading” Wordless Books

Wordless BooksHave you ever tried to read a wordless book with your child? Even for someone who is an enthusiastic and confident reader, I get a little stuck with those. Without words to guide you, it is easy to feel a little lost on what you should “say.”

In the library today, my toddler picked out “Trainstop” by Barbara Lehman. Page by page we worked our way through. He is at the point where he likes to read a book multiple times, that really worked in our favor here.

* 1st time: I described what we were looking at

* 2nd time: I gave liberal prompts “What is she doing here?” “How do you think she feels?”

* 3rd time: On each page I just asked “What is happening now?”

* 4th time: I sat back while he narrated whatever it was he noticed or was interested in

In each “reading” his autonomy and confidence grew. He mostly pointed out things on each page he liked, but he also parroted back some of the narration that I had provided initially. This worked well with my 2yr old, but it could easily be adapted to older kids as well. They would just grow more detailed narratives as they felt more comfortable!

You could also incorporate the basics of “Visual Thinking Strategies” (VTS) a method developed to “support student growth by facilitating discussions of carefully selected works of visual art.” In VTS teachers ask:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

This can be a good guide for asking questions about what you are looking at in the book. For even more tips you should definitely turn to the internet! Reading Rockets has some tips for sharing wordless books and PBS shares some tips and also favorite books on their blog.

For more books, ask your favorite librarian (or check out the internet). I like the books by Barbara Lehman (check out “Museum Trip) and also Tomie dePaola’s “Pancakes” is a favorite at our house!

Good luck and happy reading!

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Quick Guide to the American History Museum…with Kids

Visiting the National Museum of American History with KidsFor most families, even those with museum fever, the sheer logistics of a trip can be hard to overcome. I’ve been keeping a running list on Your Family Adventures in Washington, D.C. of stroller access and good places to feed/change your little one. This week, I took it one step farther on “O Say Can You See?” the blog for the National Museum of American History.

In this post, you can get some useful tips for visiting the museum with kids, including bathrooms that are less likely to have lines! Hopefully you find it useful.

Strollers, security, and snacks: A parent’s guide to visiting the museum with kids

By Sarah Erdman 

As a mom, I know the National Museum of American History is a great place to visit with kids. There is so much to see and do… which sometimes can be part of the problem. When you are visiting with young children on a busy day, it can be hard for all of you to handle. Here is my quick list of the places and resources around the museum that might make your visit a bit easier.

Nursing/bottle feeding: You are welcome to nurse and feed your baby anywhere in the museum that you are comfortable. Most of the hallways, and some of the exhibitions, have benches for you to use. If you would like a little more privacy, the family restrooms also have a bench available. In our food exhibition, there are benches where you can also watch clips of Julia Child’s cooking shows, though the space can get a little busy…continue reading here

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When it’s “Too Nice Out” to Go to a Museum

Is it ever too nice out to go to a museum Tips for using outdoor areasToo often, people think of museums as a “rainy day activity,” something you save for when there are no better options. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! While I agree that some days are just too beautiful to be inside, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a museum. So many places have sculpture gardens, outdoor exhibits, landscaped areas just asking to be explored on a sunny day.

My new post on the blog for the National Museum of American History explores some other ways you can use that museum (or others!) for outdoor exploration.


My son spends as much time as possible outside. At two years old, he has definite opinions, and when he carries over his shoes and shoves them in my lap… I know what that means. I can’t say I blame him, it has been a beautiful summer in Washington, D.C., and we are moving into those crisp fall days that make you want to stay out as long as possible.

When the “great outdoors” beckons on a day like that, it can be hard to justify spending any time indoors, even at a place as amazing as the National Museum of American History! Sometimes, people will tell me they “save” museums for bad weather, and it is just too nice out right now to go.

I COMPLETELY understand this feeling, and, in fact, I support it. My son starts to climb the walls (almost literally) if I keep him cooped up for too long. Luckily, you don’t actually have to choose between your museum trip and outdoor adventure; you just spend your time around the museum, as well as in it!….. continue reading

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Museum Says NO TOUCHING? No problem!

Engaging children in museums where touching is NOT allowedMore and more museums are making themselves accessible to families with young children. However, that doesn’t mean that you will suddenly be able to touch everything in the museum…it just wouldn’t be good for the objects! So, what do you do with young kids at a museum that says “DON’T TOUCH?”

I wrote a post for the National Museum of American History that gives some concrete ideas for how to engage even very young children when they have to keep their hands off.

5 kid-tested ways to explore a museum exhibition (without touching)

Museum educator Sarah Erdman makes your next museum visit with the family just a little more fun with tips on how to boost interactivity when a “no touching” policy is in effect.

I’ve blogged before about strategies I use to make hands-off museum exhibitions more engaging for my students and my own toddler. I wrote about making observation active, asking your kid “visual thinking” questions, “theme-ing” your visit around a fun topic, and letting your kid be the tour guide. The response from readers? “Be more specific!”

Here are five kid-approved ways you can interact with different objects… without touching them!…read more

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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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