Cynthia Raso is a fellow parent in Silver Spring of two girls who is a museum educator and is the manager of community engagement for the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. She shares with us her passion for new arts learning programs offered for families of all ages.
Almost four years ago, I took the plunge and went back to work. The transition was more than just a job though, it was a culmination of all that I had experienced as a new mom with young children. Staying at home with my daughters helped me understand how critical the early years were and, having worked as a museum educator prior to motherhood, I felt strongly that museums had a role to play in developing young minds.
When the opportunity arose to join the staff of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), I felt compelled to take it and continue on this path of discovering how museums benefit young children and their families. I am so happy I did because in the last four years, I feel like our team has created a unique and friendly weekend experience for families to enjoy.
What is a SEEC family program?
We warmly invite you to experience a SEEC family weekend program. You can walk into our classrooms any Saturday morning to find a host of playful activities, all of which are chosen with your child’s development in mind – motor skills, social skills, literacy, creativity. Each activity is accompanied with a simple label that helps parents understand what skills are being developed. It also provides helpful hints for enriching the learning experience.
Watch the teachers – they will come around to every family. They will make a connection with both parent and child as they observe and engage in their play. Mornings start this way so that children have some time to acclimate to a new environment. The first time in a new classroom with unfamiliar faces can be daunting. This time also gives our families a little grace period if they are running late, we don’t want families feeling rushed, especially on Saturdays.
After our play time, we transition to our morning meeting where we set the stage for our museum visit. During this time, we come together as a group to learn. During our infant meetings, boppies and pillows are laid out on the floor and we all get together to sing a song, listen to a book and have some fun. Older group meetings look much the same, but often include hands-on demonstrations, opportunities to share ideas and ask questions.
Discovery walk to a museum
Next up – heading out to the museum. We walk from our base camp at Natural History to another museum on the National Mall. Why? Well, we know from research that children are concrete learners and getting them up close and personal with the real object is actually very important. Plus, museums are wonderful places full of mystery and excitement – taking children into this environment adds another level of interest. What about the walk, you ask? It’s true it can be hard sometimes, especially if the weather is not cooperating, but it still is very important. Think of it as a reset button. We just asked your small child to sit still (or mostly still) and listen in the morning meeting and now, they are feeling a little drained. The walk allows everyone to freely move their bodies, get some fresh air and by the time we arrive at the museum, the whole family is ready slow down and enjoy the visit.
SEEC is also a weekday early childhood school!
SEEC is not just weekend programs, it is also a school with both full and part time programs for children 2 months-Kindergarten where we have formulated a unique brand of education that focuses on the belief that children are more than just cute; they are brave, curious explorers. We have taken this format and shaped it into a weekend program that centers not just on the child, but on the parent/child experience. Learn more about the SEEC school experience for your child.
Once in the museum, what do we do? We are typically there for 20-40 minutes – depending on the age of the group. Here, we have a chance to get playful again. Our toddlers might sit in front of a landscape painting and recreate it using sounds and body movement. The infants might match the objects in a painting with scented cotton balls or our preschoolers might practice how early man made pigments to use on cave walls. We employ a variety of methods in the museum depending on the age group and object. Whatever the method though, we make sure that we get the families to look at the objects. This is true of even our infants – a song or rhythm, for example, captures their attention and you can see how their focus shifts to the object. The museum is a place where we pose questions, test out ideas and share thoughts.
Classroom wrap up
At the end of the morning we say goodbye with a song and give families a postcard to take home. On the postcard is a photo of the object we visited with a suggested activity on the back. At SEEC, we believe that learning can occur at any time and the real world offers countless opportunities for you to support your child’s development and cognitive growth. Our suggested activities are meant to be fun and effortless. We hope they spark your imagination as a parent and create opportunities for you to bond as a family.
SEEC is now offering once-a-month programs:
We also offer a Family Membership that includes discounts on classes, a free parenting workshop with Executive Director, Kim Kiehl and spring play date at the Natural History Museum. Family membership information.
Coming this winter:
BYOB – Bring Your Own Baby – caretaker program geared to adults with babies in carriers. Enjoy a cup of coffee, meet new people and enjoy the Smithsonian.
Artful Afternoons – Sundays for children aged 6-8 years will include a museum visit and lesson with SEEC’s art educator.
For even more information visit SEEC’s blog.
All images courtesy SEEC. This is a sponsored post.