Embodied Learning at Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center: Educators Experience Sensory and Body Awareness, Perception, and Movement in Early Learning.

Life Is Oscillation

Photo: Tommaso Lana

Imagine you are visiting the DC’s Smithsonian Museums on a beautiful, still warm October day.
You have just left the Victory Garden behind you when your attention is attracted by the comings and goings of a giggling crowd. On the meadow in front of the National Museum of American History on Constitution Avenue, two dozens of adults are happily running around with arms stretched miming a bird or an airplane. These people are carrying a newspaper page spread across their chests and are very committed to keeping the large sheet that is sticking to their bodies from falling down. These “performance artists” are the extraordinary educators at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC). They are experimenting with movement, gravity, and balance.

Photo: Brooke Shoemaker, Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center

SEEC is a unique educational organization that is housed in the Smithsonian Institution. Its two centers are virtually the size of the whole DC Museums system, for SEEC focuses on museum-based learning. SEEC serves a community of infants to Kindergarten students, does research on “high-quality early education and programming for young children in museums and classrooms,” and shares expertise and consultancy concerning museum-based education for young children through its Center for Innovation in Early Learning (CIEL) nationwide.

Teachers learning to teach #balance #embodiedlearning #professionaldevelopment

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The first time I met SEEC educator and CIEL teacher consultant Brooke Shoemaker and former CIEL director Betsy Bowers, they summarized my Embodied Learning hands-on demo as “a very kinesthetic vision of learning.” This physiological term – kinesthetic – influenced the whole content of our future collaboration.

Learning as a Physical and Emotional Act

Photo: Brooke Shoemaker, Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center

A SEEC teacher is able to design learning opportunities in every possible spot of Washington DC, in particular, in museums. We wanted to inspire and gratify teachers for their talent and dedication with a journey through the way each child collects learning experiences at SEEC every day. Executive director Meredith McMahon, SEEC directors and specialist team, and I designed a customized professional development program focusing on learning as a physical and emotional act.

My personal goal was to enhance and increase consciousness about the joy of young children’s bodies in the endless act of discovering. Thinking of a mixed audience of informal educators and preschool teachers, I wanted to use the ability to perceive the body in movement, consciously and unconsciously, in relation to both the outside world and inner motion – this is what kinesthesia is – to extend the meaning of learning to a new level of appreciation.

Photo: Tommaso Lana

I wanted teachers not only to be able to design engaging learning opportunities but also to grasp on a practical level and anticipate the innate learning drive, which erupts from each and every child.
It only took two video calls before “Life is Oscillation” was born.

We Played All Day

Muscular oscillation is the repetitive movement I use to explain the discovery process in early childhood. In part one of the PD session, we worked on putting the body of every participant in the condition to understand, playfully, how infants and children experience a discovery, physically and emotionally, by using impulses, oscillations, and a range of everyday life materials and sensory constructions. We discovered time, pace, communication, relationship, identities, points of view, and conscious movements.

Photo: Tommaso Lana

In part two, when participants felt more fluent in the use of their bodies as a medium to discovery, we worked on experiencing the natural ability to learn directly in nature. Putting the learning body into the urban landscape and under the open sky helped us to focus on the physical limits, or – on the other hand – on extremely exciting opportunities the child in the city may experience. To foster the joy of discovery in those who face more limits than opportunities outdoors, we worked on enhancing the emotional dialogue between brain and body, which is called ‘psychomotor education.

How Did It Go?

The most impactful way to present this unique professional development session is the visual documentation that SEEC educators produced and posted on social media directly during the session.

It was a pretty magical day🌈 #embodiedlearning @siseec1 @tommasolana

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Feedback regarding implementation and assessment of the content of our professional development session came a few weeks ago when SEEC official Instagram account posted what follows:

Learning comes from children. Adults have to make sure to be aware of every aspect of it to assist them as they deserve.