Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Safety in the Kitchen

With all the mechanical interests in the house, safety is always on my mind. The kitchen is where I find myself most likely to be a helicopter-mom what with the stand mixer, immersion blender, and food processers - all of which have awesome rotating parts. But helping in the kitchen is one of Mikey's favorite things to do and all the dumping and measuring provides him with some wonderful foundational lessons in mass and numeracy.

Not surprisingly, making chocolate chip cookies is one of Mikey's all-time favorite jobs in the kitchen. He does measuring and pouring and turns the mixer on and off. He watches the cookies bake in the oven and after nine minutes he can hardly wait 'til one is cool enough to eat. Almost all the excitement revolves around watching the paddle rotate and spin on the KitchenAid, though.

The pretend play of making cookies has evolved over the last year. First, he joined some big kids at the park who were "baking" in the sand. Poor Mikey got a couple mouthfuls of sand before understanding that they were pretending. (It breaks my heart to think he was so innocent to believe in the magic that those big kids were actually turning sand into cookies!) Then Mikey directed the cooking at the park. ("Mama! You almost forgot the vanilla!")

A Kitchen Toy
Most recently, Mikey was baking by himself in our rice box. (We live in the Phoenix, AZ area and we NEED indoor sand-like stuff to pour and dig in even in the heat of summer.) He sat there using a whirly pop as his stand mixer and the rice as his ingredients. I was pleased when he invited me over and explained that he had turned it off so I could stick my hand in. Then he told me to take my finger out - he was closing the lid so that I didn't stick my finger in there while the mixer was spinning so fast! He didn't want to chop off my finger. (His concern, not mine.)

An iPad/iPhone App
Toca Boca. He can chop, saute, food process, microwave and boil any number of foods before feeding it to his guest. If you're ready to regulate some screen time then I say to start with Toca Boca!

Direct Links to Toca Boca Games

Toca Kitchen for iPhone
Toca Kitchen Monsters for iPhone Toca Kitchen for iPad
Toca Kitchen Monsters for iPad

So my little preschool engineer is learning about the technology in the kitchen. He is learning about the responsibilities of an engineer to consider the safety of others (putting lids on things). Yours can, too!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Our Favorite Truck Books

There are lots and lots of truck books out there. I have started a widget of our Favorite Truck books. I have not included the Tonka books that drive me crazy to read because they are boring, poorly written or just stupid. I have included the ones that we all like - Mikey, me, and Mikey's father. If you are looking for a good recommendation or my favorite then drop me a line and I'll tell you what I think is a good fit for your little engineer.

The Wheel

The Ideal First Race Car
When Mikey was six months old he received as a git his first Race Car. Never before had a toy gotten so much of his attention. The little handle and shape of the car made it perfect for him to push. He pushed it, flipped it, watched it roll. He chased it, laughed at it, and generally delighted in all aspects of it. For me, the most interesting thing to see was his attention on the rotational translational motion. As the wheels turned the car moved forward or backward. It was amazing to watch him gaze as he watched that simple and powerful phenomenon.

Videos, Music and Books
 Besides rotational translational motion, wheels are awesome because they are attached to amazing tools. Cars, bicycles, trucks, tractors, wheel barrows, you name it! Mikey could relate to his toy car and all the toy trucks. Together we have learned the names and jobs of trucks of every kind. We sing songs about trucks. We build with trucks. We race trucks. Cars and trucks and things that go will forever be the seed from which Mikey's "career" as a preschool engineer has sprung.

A Piece of Advice - Alongside Your Preschool Engineer, Learn Your Trucks!
As for me, I was trained as an electrical engineer and studied ultrafast optics so trucks are pretty far from being my forte as an engineer. However, as the mother of a preschool engineer I am fascinated by these new things to learn. Together we investigate mechanical topics and materials topics - always on the look-out for new and interesting ways to see the world. And just look at what we've found! A dancing Excavator!!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Habits of Mind

"Learning has...to do with curiosity, exploration, problem solving, and innovation. For example, if a baby encounters a toy she's never seen before, she will investigate to figure out the best way or a number of different ways to use it." - Laura Grace Weldon, Free Range Learning

Essentially, babies, toddlers and preschoolers are engineers. Their natural habits of problem solving and innovation with newly encountered toys are exactly what engineers aspire to do - to discover or create new tools for society to enjoy. The way I look at resources to post here for Pre-School Engineering is to see them as tools, as innovations, or otherwise intriguing as mechanical objects.

I also consider multimedia research important for anyone in this day and age, including preschoolers. For example, when I took my 18 month old son to the zoo I was sure to pack a book depicting animals so we connect what we saw at the zoo to the books we treasure at home. After seeing several animals and matching them to our zoo book my son took out one of our truck books and indicated that he would like to see the excavator. I believe that it was a turning point for him and his relationship with books. They open a whole world to him. Having failed to find an excavator cage, I found a video of one on YouTube for him to see. Again, a new resource for him to experience the wonders of the world.  So here provide links to books, videos, iPad apps, and more. Having a well-rounded approach to learning that integrates play, reading, and computer exploration is essential for tomorrow's grown-up engineers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gears Gears Gears

It seems like a logical path - Mikey's interest in wheels grew to include gears. Gears have the fabulous circular motion that first caught his interest but they also have appeal in their utility. Gears, like trucks, are powerful machines.

The Construction Toys
The Gears Gears Gears brand makes some awesome toys. You can build a two-dimensional mass of gears on a tabletop foundation that is pretty easy to snap together. Then you can build some 90-degree turns in to your creation and experiment with how to have gears spinning in all three dimensions. There is a worm gear included in the Monkey Gears and as the gears crank a monkey will ride across the worm!

The Aspiring Preschool Engineer
If your little engineer isn't ready for the "big kid" Gears Gears Gears, then consider a simpler toy like Melissa and Doug's Spinning Wheels (18 months+). The gears are very easy to get on and off, your little guy or gal can enjoy the "magic" of gear motion, and learn his or her primary colors to boot.

The iPad Apps
Have you ever been kept awake at night because your "wheels were spinning?" Mikey heard me talking about this phenomenon one day with my husband and was immediately curious about the wheels in his own head. In fact, we decided that they must be gears to make our minds and bodies work. The first of two iOS apps that I list here confirmed his suspicion that there are gears in our heads, Toca Boca Doctor. A simple matching puzzle, the child drags and drops four gears to their spots in the patient's head. The "Lite" versions are free. (Not available on Android.)

Toca Doctor for iPhone
Toca Doctor Lite for iPhone
Toca Doctor HD for iPad
Toca Doctor HD Lite for iPad

The second iOS app that I include is more complicated because the player has to solve various problems by dragging and dropping different sized gears to connect two or more fixed gears to make them all spin.

From itunes.apple.com:
"Geared is a radically new and innovative puzzle game; a unique addition to its genre. 

The first and only Gear-based game with absolutely no snap-grid. Geared delivers complete and total freedom to the player, bestowing every puzzle with a near infinite array of choices. 

Pit your intellect against 200 uniquely designed levels, original to this game. 

★ Featured in New and Noteworthy. ★ 
★ Featured in What's Hot. 
★ Featured in Awesome iOS 4 Apps. ★"

Geared for iPhone
Geared for iPad

Also available on Android: play.google.com.

A Video
In the Curious George episode called "George Meets the Press," your little preschool engineer can see some awesome gearwork in action at the Rankin's apple orchard. Click on the image below to buy the Amazon Instant Video in High Definition.