Celebration of Names

A core skill at the beginning of the 3s/4s year is being able to recognize your own name. It helps the kids move through day and also builds classroom community.
This year, I decided to make it into a week long “celebration of names.” Each child had their own name puzzle (happy to give more details on how I made them if you are interested). We put them together and compared and contrasted different names. It was a chance to look at how different and special each name was.
The next day we celebrated the names of teachers in our school. We looked at pictures of all the teachers and shared the names we knew. We essentially treated them like “flash cards” practicing everyone’s name. Now the pictures are on the science table with magnifying glasses for closer examination.
Today, we shared who was in our family and wrote it on a big class family tree. This was entirely child directed. Some put in just the people who lived with them, others included pets, extended family or friends. There was no wrong answer! The tree is now up in our circle to look at by anyone in the class.
While they were sharing about their families there were a lot of comments about different family structures, pets and family members who have died and who has recently come to visit. Each child had a chance to share anything they wanted to.
I also encouraged them to look at the family photo wall in the hallway and ask their friends to show them people in their family. After meeting a little group was out there exclaiming over brothers and sisters and pointing out their families.
The concrete skill they are leaving this week with is the ability to find their circle mats more quickly and feel more confident that they know where they are supposed to be. However, what I’m hoping is that it also gave them a chance to feel proud of their name and their family!

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Raising Critical Readers

You can find anything on the internet. Because anyone can write it and put it on there. This is a lesson that many adults are learning, and one that librarians and grade school teachers are focusing on. You need to be a critical reader, looking closely and asking questions of the information you find. As more of our research and learning moves away from print sources we need to do more of the editing and vetting process.

This skill can start in early childhood education. We can teach very young children how to be thoughtful consumers of information. They have a head start, since they love asking questions!

When you read with them, ask them how the book makes them feel. Ask them if anyone is left out of the story, or how it might look from another character’s perspective. If they have a question about something that doesn’t seem right (“Why is the bear in “The Mitten” awake? He is supposed to be hibernating!”) work together to find out the answer. You can teach them about artistic license, like how animals in many books for kids talk, but treat their questions seriously.

Setting them up early on to not take what they read for granted and that it is ok to ask questions is an important skill. Not only will their future teachers be grateful, but it will make them better prepared to navigate the digital and media filled world tey are


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Where Do Your Books Live?

If you work with young children, take a moment and think about your space. Where are the books? Are they in a cozy reading corner? Think about when books make an appearance in your day. Is it just when you need a “calm down” time? During transitions?

Using books in those instances are a great teaching tool for children. You are showing them that books can be a place of escape and that they can be used to calm yourself in moments of chaos.

But….is that the ONLY place books are? Is that the ONLY time books come out? If so, then you may be unintentionally sending another message. You may be showing some kids that books are always meant to be read quietly, by yourself. Or worse, that books are something like a punishment that they “have” to do when they are “too wild” for other options.

So, keep those times and those places for books. Help kids learn that books are a refuge and a transition tool. But, also let the books come out to play.

Putting books of architecture in the block corner teaches them that books can be an inspiration. Cookbooks in the play kitchen show they are a tool that helps you do a task. Fact books about their favorite animal lets them know that when they are interested in something books can help them learn more about it. Comic books or graphic novels show them that pictures can tell elaborate stories. Books on tapes, times for them to read aloud, active books with movement and silly words teaches them that books can be as fun and as silly and as active as they are.

The place that you give books in your learning space sends a message for the role books can play. What are you saying with yours?




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Children are Watching

One morning as I was getting ready, my 2 year old came up and stood next to me. She solemnly dipped her finger in my contact case and then dabbed at each of her eyes. Next, she picked up the deodorant and waved it under her arms. Then she skipped off to find her toothbrush.

As parents, caregivers and educators we think a lot about what we work to teach children. Reading, sharing, eating healthy…the list seems endless. What we may discount is just how much, about so many different things, that they pick up from watching us. They notice what you do.

On a frazzled morning as I was trying to get everyone out the door, I was getting frustrated by lost items and lots of questions. My 5 year old put a hand on my arm and said “We can figure that out later, let’s not worry about it right now, let’s focus on getting me to camp.”

Although it seemed that every time I would encourage him to “focus” on a task he hadn’t heard me, the message had clearly gotten through. They hear what is being said, and how it is being said.

This isn’t a “mommy shaming” post. I’m not telling you to watch every word or moderate every emotion. It is more of an opportunity. You have a chance to make an impact just by doing what you do. Whether it is in the museum, the classroom, your own home or on the train ride home. Children are watching and learning from you.


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Are You Doing It Wrong?

(Photos show a collage of pictures I took over the weekend at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Industry)

Would you like to know a secret? Unless you are damaging the collections, or interfering with other visitors, there is really no “wrong” way to do a museum.

Do you like wandering through and just stopping at what draws you in? Great!

Do you read every piece of wall text? We love you for it.

Do you put your phone on silent and sink into the experience? Sounds lovely

Do you take tons of photos and post all about it on social media? I bet your followers rave about it.

Do you go by yourself? With friends? With kids?

Do you stay for 30 minutes, or 3 hours?

Do you stop by old favorites? Take in only the new exhibits?

It’s fine, it is really all fine. We are just glad you are here.

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Learning Letters Looks Like This

Learning your letters doesn’t mean sitting down and writing a B over and over and over

Learning letters means building a B out of blocks and driving your car over it

Learning letters means rolling them out in playdough

Learning letters means using your pretzels to make letters, before biting them into new shapes, and creating necklaces of letters

Learning letters means making signs for the store you created and taking orders in your “restaurant” and seeing what friend isn’t at school that day

Learning letters doesn’t mean boring books

Learning letters is reading poetry, playing silly rhyming games and getting excited by every letter your recognize in your community

Learning letters is reading the books you want to read, on things you find interesting, as many times as you want

Learning letters is telling stories and illustrating them and writing labels for your artwork

Learning happens when children play, explore and discover with their whole bodies. Don’t discount the moments that happen every day where children are discovering the power of letters, the fact that they have meaning and how they can be used. This will help them see WHY we read and write, not just how to do it.

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Technology and Early Learning

The “tech world” moves fast and there is increasing pressure for early childhood education and museums to incorporate the latest technology. Educators are interested in the possibilities, concerned about the implications and want to know what the “right” way to to implement tech in early learning.

While there are no hard and fast rules for what you “should” do, here are three guidelines for technology and education.

Technology is a Tool That Helps You Do a Job

In both classrooms and museums, going “high tech” can be a big draw. Some people truly love incorporating all of these new developments and others have expectations (internal or external) that they WILL use what is available.

No matter what, it is important to remember that at its core, technology is a tool that helps you do a job. Whatever your main goals are, the technology should support that and help you achieve it. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t an effective tool

You Use Technology, It Doesn’t Use You

Technology often comes in the form of shiny new “toys.” Maybe actual hardware, maybe new programs or even new expectations on how we can shape and communicate our teaching. As an educator, you have to remember that YOU are using the technology and not let it take over and use you. If you are spending more time figuring out how to use it, fighting to squash it in to your day or it becomes the main focus rather then the goals for your students…re-evaluate

If You Can’t Explain WHY You are Using it, You Shouldn’t Be Using It

If someone walked up to you and asked why you were using a particular piece of technology in your classroom or museum, could you answer them? If you can’t explain the purpose of why you are using it, really carefully consider whether you should be using it at all.


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