Before being contacted by Cynthia Raso the Assistant Director of the Center for Innovation in Early Learning at Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), I had no idea the school existed. The SEEC is a school located on the Smithsonian campus serving infants through kindergartners. What makes SEEC extraordinary? First, it utilizes the Smithsonian and surrounding community as part of its classroom. Students make daily trips to museums, parks, libraries, shops, and monuments and integrate these visits into what they are learning. SEEC is more than just museum-based learning; it is also a school that thinks carefully about educating the whole child. From social-emotional learning to practicing fine motor skills, SEEC classrooms are invested in nurturing young children by employing a range of techniques that we believe will support a child’s growth and development. SEEC utilizes their almost 30 years of experience as a school to shape their family programs while taking into account the role of the parent. SEEC wants to help parents understand how best to engage with their young child at home and in museums.
At the beginning of the summer I had the opportunity to visit Smithsonian’s Center for Innovation in Early Learning for a Preschool Pioneer class with my then four year old son. The class was focused on learning about light and colors. We met in the Smithsonian Early Education Center found in the Natural History Museum where children were allowed to wander, touch and interact with the various stations that were set-up. Each one being carefully selected and relating to the class lesson of light and color. The teacher began class with a small group lesson introducing the concept of light using CD’s and talking about colors. The group then took a “field trip” out into The Natural History Museum where we found a display on the color wheel. Kids learned Sir Isaac Newton created it and what it meant by allowing them to place various colored plastic sheets on top of one another to create a new color. Class ended with a hands-on activity of mixing paint and creating colors. It was a great chance to have my son see the museum in an up close and personal way with a sense of purpose. Research has shown that museum based-learning has many benefits for children and promotes the value of museums for kids. One of SECC’s goals is to help educate families on how to utilize museums in fun ways with their young children and I clearly saw this first-hand.