Bathtub Museum

When your 2 year old has been constantly asking to go to a “bathtub museum” you get your museum educator brain going and figure out what might fill that need.

Sure, lots of museums have A bathtub on display….but if she is asking for a bathtub museum I envision lots of them in all different shapes and sizes.

Which is how we found ourselves at a “bath and tile showroom” one cold Saturday. We looked at colors, shapes and patterns in the tile. We counted bathtubs and showers and she and her brother climbed in and out (with permission) of tubs of all sizes to her extreme delight.





It may not have looked much like a museum visit,  but it filled the need. The object she wanted to see was the centerpiece and we experienced it “in real life” in many forms and variations.

It was a good reminder that museum visits don’t have a certain “look” it is all about the exploration that goes on and the chance to get up close and personal with an object, a concept, a theme and ideas.



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But We Can’t Read!

I had such a cool teaching moment today. I work with 3 and 4 year olds. All I want to do is make them love books and feel like reading is something that will open doors for them. If I do that then I feel like the learning-to-read part will come when they are ready.

Well, yesterday I had my usual story time at the end of the day. As I read I ask questions, get them to notice things in the pictures and predict what will happen next. We had a little time left over so I got them to recap the story for me and we looked at the beginning, middle and end.

As I closed the book I remarked “You guys are getting to be really good readers!”

“We can’t read!” they said “We don’t know how to read!”

“Sure you do.” I replied “Maybe you can’t read the words on the page yet but you guys are really good at reading the pictures!”

I flipped open to a page with a little kid on it and asked them how he felt “Sad!” they said

“How do you know?”

“He looks like he is crying”

“See!” I told them triumphantly “You didn’t know the words on the page but you knew what he was feeling.” I could see this proud little look stealing over their faces.

Then, I drew a stop sign on the board “What does that say?” I ask them “STOP!” They all shouted.

“You read again!” I said

So today, I brought in a copy of “The Snowy Day.” I told them that I wasn’t going to read it to them….they were going to read it to me. Page by page we went through and they narrated what was going on in the picture. After, I went back and read it to them using the words that they had chosen. On each page one of them would say excitedly “Oh! This is the page that I read!”

In fancy education terms, what this is called is “emergent reading” Interacting with books, knowing beginning, middle and end, retelling stories and being familiar with common signs and symbols. All of it layering on the skills and confidence to begin reading the words on the page.

In the moment, it was all about their excitement that they themselves were actually readers. And that was a pretty good feeling.

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Processing through Play

When you have something new that is coming up, like a job interview, a party, or a trip, do you ever find yourself laying awake imagining the scene? You run scenarios in your head about how you’ll act, what you’ll say, how you’d react to different situations. Or maybe after something has happened you review it and shift and change what you’d do differently next time.

Kids do this too, they just do it through play. You may have heard the expression “play is the work of children” and that is very true. However, it is more then that. Play is also the way that children make sense of what is new and can try out where they fit in.

I saw this play out (pun intended) in my own house this week. We have not had the healthiest of months. Both kids have been to the pediatrician for various reasons and I got quite sick and even spent a week in the hospital.

Those are very worrying things for a 5 year old and a 2 year old to deal with, so the way they regained a little control is through play. Almost every day the doctor’s kit has been spread out on the coffee table and someone is being cajoled to lay down on the couch for a “check up.” The go through the whole routine, the 5 year old has even started taking your health history, and if you are good you get a sticker at the end. For maximum realism they even created a doll-sized x-ray machine (pictured at the top).

Sometimes, they bring in a doll or animal and play the worried adult, other times they are the doctor or the nurse and sometimes they get a check up themselves. Each different role lets them demystify the whole thing just a little bit more.

Watching their play tells me a lot about how they are feeling and what they understand about everything that is going on. I can see they aren’t worried or fearful but that it is still on their minds a lot. This lets me know what they might need from me to help them process.

Play isn’t just a “break” for kids, it is one of the best tools that they have to figure out what they know, where their place is in whats going on and how they’ll react. We need to make sure they have that chance.


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Make it Complex, They Can Handle It

When people tell me that teaching young children must be “easy” because you don’t need to know “hard” things like calculus I don’t launch into a whole discussion of social emotional development and differentiated learning. I keep it more simple then that.

When you teach young children you have to know a subject SO WELL that you can take difficult concepts and boil it down to the essential piece of information and then convey that in an age appropriate way. What is “easy” is thinking that to teach young children you just “dumb down” information or give them just the “easy” stuff.

Also, young children are capable of incredibly complex thinking and handling difficult information if it is presented in an age appropriate way. It is hardest on the adult, since we have to figure out how to say it in the “right” way.

This came into sharp relief for me as I was getting ready for the week before Thanksgiving. How do I avoid staying with a very comfortable narrative of American Indians and early settlers?

I would never pretend that the way I do things is the “only” way or even the “right” way. I am still fumbling my way through all of this. I just wanted to share it because it is A way.

We’d been exploring “Olden Days” through the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the “My First Little House” series. They were fascinated and what really caught them was all of the different types of houses that Laura had lived in. We’d explored a dugout, log cabin and sod house and they were still talking about them.

So, that was my hook. All of the different types of houses and how they used materials that were available and fit the needs of the people living in them. That weekend I gathered my supplies (the National Museum of the American Indian is a great resource!).

When I sat down for circle we looked again at the houses that Laura lived in. Then, I dove right in. I talked about how stories like Laura’s often talk about the land as being “unsettled” or “uninhabited” and say that no one lived there. I told them that was wrong, that there were a lot of people living there already. I showed them the map I had bought that had all of the names of the American Indian groups written on it.

I then went on to share that just like Laura, they lived in different types of houses depending on where they lived and what they needed. We might think of a Tipi first, but that isn’t all there is!

Each child got a picture of a different type of house. We looked at it, saw what type of material it was made of it and decided what type of environment it would work well for. Then, we put it up around the map in the right area.

The next day, I brought a whole box of different materials to circle and each child could create their own house. We talked about all of the different styles that we’d seen and why they’d been built that way (for the climate, because of materials available). I asked them to design their OWN house and think about those same things. We weren’t recreating an American Indian house, or even Laura’s, but we were using the lessons we’d gotten from how they had built.

The care they took in their building. The way they referenced the map and brought their families in to see the finished product tells me that this was not a wasted effort. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

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5 year old- “Why do all these books have girls in them?”

Me- “You know, it is strange, most books for kids have either boys as the main characters or animals! So, when I see a good book with a girl as a main character I get it.”

5- “Yeah! Because you are a girl!”

Me- “That’s right, and I’m kind of awesome”

5- “You are awesome”

Me- “Thanks! And think how your sister would feel if all the books in our house had only boys in them!”

5- “That wouldn’t be fair! Why do they do lots of boy books?”

Me- “Well, some people think that if a book is about a girl that boys won’t want to read it”

5- “What? It’s just pretend!”

Me- “Exactly! And, if the book is about a family, well, you have a family so it doesn’t matter if it is about a girl or a boy”

5- “Yeah! I like all your books Mama”

We need diverse books. If you are looking to add to your library you can check out a growing list of resources here: Early Childhood Book Resources


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We Took 26 Preschoolers on a Bus (and it was fun)

This morning we took our classes (26 kids in all) on a city bus up to the local library. Spoiler alert…it went really well. But how?

  • Realistic Planning
    • We have a bus stop right outside our school.
    • We planned a short ride that ended at the local library. That way, if we ended up needing to wait along time for a return bus we had an inside/entertaining place we could be
    • We coordinated with the library and even emailed the transit office to double check we had the details right
  • Prepping the Kids
    • I did a practice run of the trip and took pictures along the way. I made these into a book that we could read to get ready
    • We made a practice bus in our classroom and pretended to get on and off of it together.
  • Day Of
    • We made sure all the chaperones realized that the journey was our destination in this case 🙂 The bus ride was the highlight (although seeing the back-of-house in the library wasn’t bad either!)
    • We had everyone use the bathroom and we packed snack just in case

All of this went into making it a fun trip. Oh,and luck. There was lots of luck involved. The rain stopped, no one fell, we had the chaperones we needed and the kids were excited for the adventure. All of that was pure luck.

You don’t want to count on luck getting you through. If you keep your expectations realistic and do deliberate prep so the kids know what to expect you will have a much higher chance of a successful day.

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Bathtime Math

“For Families” is a blog published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  As a follow-up to my “Bathtime Science” article they asked me to write one about “Bathtime Math.”

Math in the Bath

By Sarah Erdmann

Bath time is perfect for exploring math with your young child! Not only do you have each other’s full attention, but the learning can be hands on, playful, and messy.

These explorations can also be done at a water table, sink, pool, or even a puddle! No matter what water spot you use, safety must be your main focus. Never ever leave your child alone, even for a minute! This is an activity that needs your complete attention.

Make sure that any toys or containers dry out completely between uses, and disinfect toys if several children will use them. Be sure to check toys for mold and replace them when needed. More detailed water safety tips can be found on the Red Cross’s website.

Infants and Toddlers

The very youngest mathematicians are learning what numbers are and that they mean something. Children are also learning to compare the shapes, colors and patterns they see….to continue reading follow this link

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Why are Great Museum Workers Leaving the Field

Published on “Alliance Labs” through the American Alliance of Museums

We’ve all had the conversation. Maybe it was with your work buddy, or your former museum studies classmate as you caught up over drinks. Or maybe it was you, at home with your partner. The conversation often starts with, “I love working in museums, but I don’t think I can do it anymore because of [insert reason here]. I’m thinking about getting out of museums altogether.”

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the conditions museum workers face (see the recent protest by Plimoth Plantation workers, Museum Workers Speak, Gender Equity in Museums Movement, Joyful Museums, the Emerging Museum Professionals group on Facebook, just to name a few. For further resources, see below.) We wanted to know: Are these difficult working conditions enough for dedicated (and highly educated) museum professionals to abandon their years of experience to start over in another working environment?

After the 2016 AAM conference in DC, a group of four museum professionals (Claudia Ocello, Dawn Salerno, Sarah Erdman, and Marieke Van Damme) got together to try to find out the reasons museum workers leave the field. We drafted a survey and shared it in the fall of 2016, asking for museum professionals both in the field and those who have left it. Over 1,000 of you responded (thank you!). Below is a summary of our findings. This was not created as a scientific, systematic survey, but rather one that “takes the pulse” of the situation. Here’s what we found.

To Continue Reading Follow This Link

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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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