Fort Mill Times

SPRINGFIELD ELEMENTARY: Learning about Africa

Related Arts teacher Lauren Butts travels to each elementary school in the district to teach object-based lessons to kindergartners and first graders through a program developed by The Smithsonian Early Education Center and sponsored locally through the Museum of York County. Last Friday, she taught Springfield Elementary students a lesson on Africa.
Related Arts teacher Lauren Butts travels to each elementary school in the district to teach object-based lessons to kindergartners and first graders through a program developed by The Smithsonian Early Education Center and sponsored locally through the Museum of York County. Last Friday, she taught Springfield Elementary students a lesson on Africa.

Got any idea what a wassakhoumba and an akogo are?

If your children are kindergartners or first-graders at Springfield Elementary school, they can tell you. Students learned about both at school last Friday, from Lauren Butts, a related arts teacher for the district who presented a series of object-based lessons developed by the Smithsonian Early enrichment Center and supported locally by the Museum of York County.

"I was teaching art here last year when [Fort Mill School District Director of Primary Education Anne] Bogan e-mailed all the art teachers about a new program we were doing this year and I jumped on it," Butts said. "I have an art education background in visual arts, so it was easy for me connect to the artists and talk about art."

Butts spends 36 days at each elementary school, 18 teaching kindergartners and 18 teaching first-graders. The lessons have three parts, a piece of children's literature, an object or artifact and something interactive.

Last Friday, Butts taught a lesson on Kenya with a hand-carved wooden giraffe, a book called "Giraffes Can't Dance" and a couple of traditional Kenyan instruments, the wassakhoumba (hand shaker) and the akogo (thumb piano).

Every student got a chance to play a wassakhoumba, and they all made one with wire and plastic buttons for the classroom.

"The philosophy fits so well with young children and how they learn," Bogan said.

Bogan reached out to MYCO officials last year to see if the two could work together on something. MYCO Director of Education Nancy Crane got in touch with Smithsonian Early Education Center Executive Director Sharon Shaffer, and she, Bogan and other district and MYCO officials went to Washington, D.C., to tour the center and learn about its outreach program.

"It's a national outreach to share resources with museums and educators all over the country," said Harold Closter, the director of Smithsonian Institution Affiliations.

Closter was in town to see how the program is working for the school district, and sat in on one of Butts' classes.

The Early Education Center initially grew out of the Smithsonian Institution offering daycare to employees. Rather than just baby-sit the children in a big room, Shaffer decided to use the resources of the Smithsonian and turn the various museums and institutions that comprise it into a giant classroom for the young children. She developed lessons around objects at the Smithsonian and incorporated literature and interaction. After a while, Closter said, the Smithsonian decided it needed to do something to help offer lessons like that to children all over the U.S. since it was being funded by taxpayers.

"Object-based learning is connecting history and traditions with the objects and bringing the richness of the culture to the children in an interactive way," Closter said. "Lauren is a brilliant example of how it works."

Joining the program cost the district only a small registration fee. Butts received training in teaching object-based lessons and a tour of the Early Education Center. MYCO has been providing her with some of the artifacts she uses, though she has had to find some on her own - apparently MYCO doesn't have any pairs of wooden shoes from Holland. Butts found a pair in an antique shop for one of her lessons.

There are also supplies for the interactive parts of the lessons she has to find. By the end of the year, she'll have gone through more than 2,000 plastic buttons making Wassakhoumbas. In light of that, Bogan said, the district welcomes donations of supplies to help continue the program locally.

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