Friday, May 22, 2015

Thinking in Very Small, Detailed Pictures

Toward the end of our first meeting with a developmental pediatrician the doctor observed Mikey, not quite four years old, laying on the floor an examining the mechanical properties of one of her toys. He was not playing with it as it was meant to be played with: he was not driving the little truck around in pretend play. She asked me if that up-close examination was typical to which I replied with a laugh, "yes!"

Like most children, my son loves to explore the world. He observes it, plays in it, tests the limits of it. And it is his way-too-up-close way of looking at things that has provided him with some powerful insights. So I wouldn't change this particular "symptom" of autism for the world. It has provided us with fodder for some pretty awesome conversations. (I'll save those conversations for another day.)

The reason I'm writing this post is because of what Mikey's up-close view on the world has taught me about picture books. Many picture books are run of the mill variety. Stories range from mediocre to inspiring. Illustrations are sometimes extraordinarily artistic. Other times the pictures are not as impressive but they are equally valuable for telling the story. Then there are handfuls of picture books that have photographs so amazing, like The Secret Life of a Snowflake or Raindrops Roll, or drawings so detailed, like Busy Builders and An Earthworm's Life, that they warrant special attention from me, for you.

Photography
New technology in photography affords us these remarkable works. In The Secret Life of a Snowflake , the artist/author is a physicist studying snowflakes and crystals. In pursuit of science, he employed some really interesting methods for capturing data, i.e. taking pictures of snowflakes. The book includes descriptions of these wintery crystals but for me the breath-taking images are enough to capture and hold my attention.
Snowflake Art
 Raindrops Roll is another demonstration of how engineering has aided new art. Cameras that can take pictures of the micro view of dew drops and raindrops are now nearly commonplace. In this book, the artist/author provides simple prose to help describe the photographs of water drops and water droplets in nature.




Illustrations
We found An Earthworm's Life at the library just in time for gardening season. The illustrations provide up-close views of earthworms...including a picture of one eating! I have never had the opportunity to actually watch an earthworm eat and this media, this tool to aid learning, this wonderful book showed me what I would otherwise not have seen.



Busy Builders is similar to An Earthworm's Life in that the illustrations provide an up-close view of each insect. In fact, each insect is introduced as an illustration that spreads the body over a two page spread! Readers can see each bod part in detail and marvel at the anatomy of these tiny creatures.



All four of these books offer pretty cool images of our world for you to enjoy with your children. They let you see things you would not necessarily see in every day life. The artists use their favorite, sometimes innovative, technology and their unique perspective to share a view of the micro-sized life that surrounds us. And in reading these books, it is a pleasure to think about how engineering is interwoven in art and in our lives.




Monday, May 18, 2015

Roadtrip!

Travel season is right around the corner. I have a handful of small trips in the works 2-4 hours car rides to campgrounds and national parks. Plus, I have one doozy of a trip planned - 20 hours in the car spread out over three days and two nights on the road. I am thinking about how long we will be traveling, what the children will do while I'm up front, where we can stop along the way, and I am sharing all my ideas with you, here.



My parents were school teachers and I spent many summer vacations on the road. We would drive from Michigan to Maine, or to Florida, or to the Grand Canyon, and back. It was a time before traveling screens and I remember the rumble of the van underneath me, playing games with my brother and sister. So, I think riding quietly in the car and watching the landscape speed by is a wonderful way to see our country.

But when we traveled I wasn't a preschooler. I was older, wiser, content with my nose in a novel to pass the time. So planning a roadtrip with my own preschoolers I realize that they might not be content to sit and stare out the window or into the pages of their books for too long. Their little minds will need a certain amount of thinking; their bodies a certain amount of wiggling.

I am approaching our summer trips the same way I try to approach many things in parenting - trying to manage the balancing act of doing what I think needs to be done (arriving at the destination in a relatively timely manner) with what my children think needs to be done (playing). That, combined with my commitment to not letting screens rule our life, have led me to this list of ideas for making our trips not just bearable but fun!

My first rule is that we will exhaust all our resources before turning on the iPad to watch "Bob the Builder." There is no reason we can't be creative in the car. We just need the right tools to use to build, to do art, and enjoy a good story. And here are those resources:

Building
Taking regular building materials and a table in the car is not practical. Blocks will topple, marbles in a marble run will rolls every way but where you want (which might be a cool experiment but not during a roadtrip), and train tracks between car seats would need a substantial amount of bridge support. So I choose things that bring their own sticking power - toys that help defy the laws of gravity.

Squigz stick to each other and to windows. I think these little "suckers" bring their own togetherness that is perfect for building in a car.


Like Squigz, magnets have a stick-to-it-iveness that make them ideal for travel. I love the Imagination Patterns by Mindware. The carrying case doubles as a magnetic foundation for free-building. It also comes with some index cards with pictures on them for your child to try to copy.
Mindware
Tegu boasts that it is the original magnetic block and I just love them. They are beautiful, wood sanded 'til they're soft, and holding them is a pleasure. Plus, the movement is inspiring. The magnet strength is the perfect amount to hold the pieces together but allow for easy spinning, reassembling new sculptures, etc.

Tegu



Arts & Crafts
Ribbon, scissors and tape are the most-used materials in the house. Together they accounted for the majority of activities for our 13 hour roadtrip last autumn. There must be something really intriguing about pulling ribbon off it's roll, something powerful about using "real" scissors to slice through things, and something peculiar about the sticky-but-not-too-stickiness of masking tape. You can pick ribbon, scissors and tape at your local craft store, using the easy-to-find 40% off coupon for Michaels or Hobby Lobby. For the sake of ease, I'm adding some fun ones to my aStore.


Carry the scissors and tape in one of the zippered pockets in an "Alex Toys Artist Studio To Go." It will also hold crayons in the second pocket and a pad of paper. (I recommend crayons because you don't need a sharpener nor will you have to worry about ink. The only concern is if they melt in an overly hot car!!)

ALEX Toys Studio To Go
Perfect! One child can build with magnets while the other is using the drawing desk.

Music
Consider yourself lucky if your children don't insist "children's music." While my kids will tolerate and even enjoy some rock n roll, their first choice is always something that has lyrics that are easy to understand and topical. My son's first love was Truck Tunes, which was one of the first things that propelled us into the life of Preschool Engineering. Other favorites are "educational," too, because my son is sooooo literal and focused on facts more than whimsy. Here are the albums I'll be taking with us:

Truck Tunes 1
Truck Tunes 2 (available only as MP3 from http://www.20trucks.com/)
Moose Tunes
Sea Tunes
(There are also albums about cows and bears by Brent Holmes that I haven't heard yet.)
Incredible Flexible You














Audiobooks
Yes, audiobooks for kids! We had great success with audiobooks on our latest roadtrip and I expect the same kind of success on our next ones. You can either DIY with your favorite books or you can search for some that have been done for you. My first glance at the library left me feeling disappointed because all the audiobooks I saw were of chapter books - clearly for older children than mine. However, I did find a pretty awesome looking collection on Amazon of Winnie the Pooh! The first listen made me feel very excited. Each character and the narrator has a different voice, performed by a different artist. I've added it to the Preschool Engineering aStore for you and if you poke around you'll see other classics like "The Cat in the Hat," "Frog and Toad" and "Frances."



Food
When adults might be able to put off eating and roll with a different eating schedule, children are less flexible. We are on the go quite a bit to geocache, hike, go to playgrounds, zoos, or museums, or just plain be out of the house. So I have developed a pretty workable system for taking snacks on the go. I always pack in two containers. Each child has his or her own snacks in a Goodbyn and all our lunches are packed together in an insulated lunchbox - sandwiches each in a plastic sandwich container plus some snack-sized cheese.  What I love about the Goodbyns is that they are easy to open and have nice deep places to contain the food. They are sturdy and dependable things for sitting on laps in the car. Check out all your options at http://store.goodbyn.com/ or just pick one up (in your choice of color blue, green, pink or red) at the aStore.



Getting the Wiggles Out
Lastly, how in the world will they get their requisite exercise? My children are movers and three hours per day outside is just about the right amount. But what happens when I don't have the option for kicking them out into the back yard to spin, twirl, run, climb, and dig? Well, I have heard that there are indoor play areas in McDonalds but I haven't tried that yet. Instead, I'm taking a page from the RVer's handbook (thanks to my parents who dipped their toes in that world last year).

State Parks and National Parks are great places to stop along your roadtrip. Along I-80 I was able to see a LOT of options that were less than 30 minutes from the highway. They are often located near lakes (good for splashing and throwing rocks) and the websites always can tell you what amenities are available like restrooms, picnic areas, and PLAYGROUNDS!

You'll have to do a little digging. Each state has their own website or you can look at reserveamerica.com. For instance, I searched reserveamaerica.com for "Everything" in Nebraska. Viewing as a map I was able to see which campgrounds were close to my route and check them out accordingly. Branched Oak State Recreation Area looks good. It is in a good location for my trip, it has a playground, and I can even check the weather forecast according to NOAA directly from the reserveamerica.com Branched Oak site.



The only downside is that I expect a day-use fee at each site. But since I'll be packing lunch I will consider the cost about the same as ordering McMeals for the whole family to play in a McPlayplace.

There you have it! I think I covered all my bases. And I have made a special folder in the Preschool Engineering aStore where you can find all these goodies to buy through Amazon: my aStore. What are your tips for traveling with preschoolers??



[Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. If you click and purchase, I receive a small referral fee at no cost to you. To see how I spend the money see my "Philanthropy" page. ]

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Gift Ideas


People are often asking for recommendations for gifts for newborns, one year olds and two years olds. Well look no further because I have started some small but awesome lists of gifts ideas. Besides surfing around in other categories, you can just navigate to the appropriate age category and see some toys I have hand-picked for preschool engineers!

Have fun shopping!!

Preschool Engineering aStore

p.s. I will add a three year old category soon. Stay tuned!