That first introduction to school for our children is important to us parents. We want their early associations with being part of a class in an educational environment to be good ones. We want our kids to be engaged, to feel inspired, to find learning fun.
The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), a model lab school with a museum-based curriculum, understands that. In their words, “SEEC invites children to be extraordinary, to wonder and to explore the world around them. SEEC teaches children to search for knowledge rather than simply be fed information.”
I got to see this in action all for myself on a recent visit to observe the Smithsonian Early Explorers, one of their preschool groups. It started in Q?rius jr. at the National Museum of Natural History, where the class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays. (Already I have to note how great that is — “school” in the activity center in one of the coolest museum’s in the city!)
There are currently two open spots in that class, and applications for the 2015-2016 school year will be accepted in late spring. But the SEEC also hosts Family Workshops on weekends, four consecutive Saturday sessions that meet for approximately two hours, the next series beginning January 31. They are structured just like the class I joined, and while it’s recommended that participants sign up for all four, they are offered individually as well.
The sessions explore various concepts, and this particular one was “Under the Sea.” Stations were set up around the room with simple activities that related to the theme, so as the two-year-old children arrived, they had about 15 minutes to get hands-on with the subject. There were seashells to touch and trace, stamps with sea birds and creatures that corresponded with a book, a light box to examine transparencies of marine animals, a dress-up area with pirate and and other sea-themed outfits. The class is led by a teacher, who roamed the room and guided the kids through the projects, but parents and caregivers stay with their children and enjoy the experience with them.
After that initial introduction to the topic, the class met for Circle Time, where they did a familiar welcome song that gave each student a chance to stand up and dance. That was followed by a story and group activity, again associated with the theme. After that, we all grabbed our coats and got ready to head out. That’s right — the class doesn’t necessarily stay at Natural History every time; they sometimes venture to other museums on the Mall to tie in different kinds collections to the lessons. Even though we could have gone right downstairs to the Sant Ocean Hall for some straight-up sea exhibits, we went to the Hirshhorn to incorporate art, too.
Once there, the teacher read a book in the lounge area, then we strolled through the main walkway to a couple of sculptures, where the kids “saw” sea creatures in the modern designs. The teacher also brought some visuals along to add to the experience (plus the hands-on opportunities were a good distraction in a no-touch museum).
The Hirshhorn portion lasted about 45 minutes and took us to the end of the class. The entire session runs from 9:30-11:30am, so parents can take advantage of being on the Mall to do some more museum-hopping. Or, they can head home and anticipate another great outing at the next class.
To learn more about the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center and register for the Family Workshops, visit the website.