PNC, Smithsonian, and DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative Partner to Promote Vocabulary Development

Two Washington D.C. institutions team up to help families engage preschoolers with fun vocabulary workshops!

Word EXpedtions

Thanks to a $1 million grant through Grow Up Great, PNC’s initiative focused on early childhood education, several Smithsonian units and the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) have embarked on a two-year program, Word Expeditions, that serves families with young children in the Kenilworth-Parkside communities in Washington, DC!

Word Expeditions focuses on improving early language skills with monthly workshops and museum visits. Smithsonian partners visit a local school where they host playful learning centers that highlight a theme and a part of their collection. These learning centers are constructed in a way that introduces new vocabulary and encourages caretakers to use the vocabulary as they engage in the activity with their children. The evening also includes dinner, a parent support component, and a take-home kit for the families.

Later in the month, families visit the corresponding Smithsonian museum where they can experience real objects and hands-on experiences. Their museum visits serve to reiterate the vocabulary they were introduced to during the community visit and acquaint families with how they can use museums as learning environments. PNC’s generous funding will, in part, provide for transportation and meals during these museum days — ensuring a fun and easy experience for the families.


So where does BookPal come in?

The grant recipients also include the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), a museum-based school located on the Smithsonian campus. SEEC produced an interactive map of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC that encourages families to visit and learn. Each unit is represented by an object in their collection and each object has what Cynthia Raso, Manager of Community Outreach, calls “conversation starters.” These conversations starters highlight a few key vocabulary terms, encourage families to do some careful looking, and then engage families in a conversation that supports their understanding of these new words.

Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii by Nam June Paik, in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is one of the conversation starters in the Word Expeditions program. Photo courtesy of SEEC. © Nam June Paik

Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii © Nam June Paik, in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is one of the conversation starters in the Word Expeditions program. Photo courtesy of SEEC.

The goal, again, is to introduce vocabulary, spark interaction between the child and caretaker, and give families ideas about how to use museums for learning. Once they visit ten of the museums, they receive— you guessed it — a free book!

SEEC reached out to us at the beginning of the year to order a couple of hundred copies of Mouse Makes Words for their program. The organization chose this book because it is a great literacy tool that can grow with the child. Cynthia Raso noted, “I liked the idea that the caretaker could read the book to the child and then as their skills developed, the child could read to the caretaker.”


We love how SEEC, the Smithsonian, DCPNI, and PNC are working together to creatively engage families and promote vocabulary development in Washington, DC and we can’t wait to hear about what they do next!

Supported by:

PNC Grow Up Great

In cooperation with:

Friends of the National Zoo
Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian Associates/Discovery Theater


How is your organization promoting literacy and bringing people together with books? Share your story by leaving a comment below.

This post was written by Elizabeth Lee, the marketing associate at BookPal. She is currently reading The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin and The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS