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Curators in training

Preschoolers transform classrooms, hallway into museum

Kent City — The preschool hall at Kent City Elementary school was transformed into a prestigious museum, home to Van Goghs, Monets and Mondrians as well as dinosaur bones, fossils and a medieval castle.

All four preschool classrooms contributed to the museum project with art, collections and dinosaur and medieval-themed crafts. The unit gave teachers a chance to talk about different types of museums, the role of curators and ways to sort and categorize objects. Students also practiced skills like navigating to exhibits with a map and interacting respectfully with objects on display.

Four Approaches, One Museum

Although they used the same curriculum, each teacher found ways to adapt the unit to their own classroom. “It’s all the same curriculum and we’re all doing the same things in our classrooms but at the same time we’re able to tweak it so that it’s relevant for our children, to our group of kids and what’s most interesting to them, because we all have different kids,” teacher Stacy Serba said.

‘I’m hoping they think more about how there’s so much more out in the world to learn about, there’s so much more that we could experience, and going to a museum will help us learn about all of these different things in one place.’

– teacher Stacy Serba

The classes collaborated on a hallway castle display with paper knights and shields designed by students’ families, as well as lining the hall with artwork and projects. The four teachers worked together to plan the projects, the overall museum layout and what artists they wanted to focus on. 

“Everybody’s done a different spin with it,” Julie Petruska said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Preschoolers (from left) Jaxson Wiginton, Hailyn Larson and Marley Chulski created ‘collections’ for their class museum

Learning as a Team

Teamwork was emphasized across classrooms as students learned ways of sorting and practiced their writing and reading.

Serba’s students used objects from around their classroom to practice the sorting and categorizing skills needed for creating museum collections. Lynne Keller’s class also focused on sorting, using items students collected at home.

“That’s red cars, those are silver cars,” preschooler Isaac Stakelbeck said, explaining his toy vehicle sorting system: by colors and type. Isaac and his classmates practiced spelling the words they needed to label their exhibits, such as “silver” and “motorcycle.”

“I think it’s just cool that they know they’re gathering things for a collection, and what a collection is; we’ve talked about museum curators and ‘what does a curator do,’” said Petruska, whose students shared their collections of stuffed animals, hair bows, dolls and other items.

Petruska’s class constructed a castle in their room, and worked in teams to create museum ‘collections’ using feathers, beads and other craft supplies. “They had to pick out as a team what they wanted to do, how they were going to lay it out, how they were going to glue it down. It’s interesting for this age group because it is a lot of teamwork for them,” Petruska said. 

Students in Melissa Wlochal’s class practiced creating a collection together before bringing in items from home with which to create their own exhibits. Students’ favorite toys, stuffed animals, keys and shells took center stage in carefully-labeled cardboard exhibit cases. 

Preschooler Isaac Stakelbeck practiced sorting and spelling while creating his exhibit on vehicles

Post-pandemic Pedagogy

The museums unit is part of a relatively new curriculum, and this school year is the first time teachers have been able to implement it fully. Because of pandemic restrictions, “These kids haven’t had the experiences that maybe our kids from a couple of years ago would have had,” Petruska pointed out.

“I don’t honestly think most of them have been to a museum,” Wlochal said, “they don’t have a lot of background on it … It’s kind of fun to give them the opportunity to learn about something new.”

Across classrooms, the preschool teachers made an effort to introduce their students to what they might encounter in a real museum, from the idea of a curator and collections to tangible items like fossils and artwork. 

Serba’s students studied the modern artist Piet Mondrian.

“I’m hoping they think more about how there’s so much more out in the world to learn about, there’s so much more that we could experience, and going to a museum will help us learn about all of these different things in one place,” she said.

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Abigail Ham, SNN intern
Abigail Ham is an intern reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She is a junior at Calvin University. She is the managing editor of Calvin’s student newspaper Chimes and editorial assistant for the academic journal Pedagogy. She also enjoys creative writing of all sorts.

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