Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Vacation

There are countless reasons I love traveling for family vacation. I love leaving our stuff - toys, books, clutter - behind. I love going places that are not packed with new stuff - toys, books, clutter - so we are practically forced to get out and discover new natural things. I love having our entire family unit together from dawn 'til dusk. Me, my amazing husband, and my two awesome kids on adventures together every day - it just doesn't get any better than that!

This summer we had the privilege to spend a week at Crystal Mountain Resort in northern Michigan. The resort was beautifully landscaped with ponds for hunting frogs, a slackline for us to practice being balanced, pools for splashing and an ice cream stand. But the highlight for me and for my preschool engineer was the Michigan Legacy Art Park - though for different reasons.

I liked the Art Park because of its beautiful setting in a forest of rolling hills, densely-packed native trees, and the historical inspiration for each sculpture. I liked dragging my family up and down the paths, exclaiming whenever I found something that tickled my fancy. I liked having our morning snack while sitting on a boulder and breathing in the fresh midwestern air. Two hours spent away in the woods was rejuvenating.

My son liked the Art Park because of the dirt, the sticks, the occasional trail maps to read, and the surprise of discovering sculptures of tools - most notably, the saws. Here are there we came across circular saw blades that had been integrated into the surroundings. (They represented Michigan's historical logging economy.) These repurposed saws and larger-than-life sculptures were his favorite pieces of art.

I am pleased that we were able to get out. I am tickled that we found something so appropriate for my preschool engineer. It makes me wonder where are other unsuspecting places we will find things to fascinate my preschool engineer...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Golf Ball Retriever

Picture from www.golfdiscount.com.
I am not a golfer. In fact, I don't really play any sports that involve swinging a mallet, bat, or racket. So in my own home I am at a loss when it comes to introducing my children to such games. Luckily, we have friends and relatives who do play swinging sports and all the gear that goes along with them. Case in point, my parents, who golf, and the JTD Enterprises Golf Ball Retriever.

Mikey and Anna have enjoyed playing together with this funny little tool. Anna, a toddler obsessed with throwing, tosses golf balls all over the yard. Mikey then retrieves them using this magic wand. It is a unique golf tool because it can be pushed and pulled (much like the Nut Wizard) and the golf balls get stuck between the rubber-coated plastic wheels. This is unique because most golf ball retrievers that I've seen hold one ball at a time and act as scoops of some kind. JTD Enterprises made this tool to hold three golf balls that roll one over the other as it is pushed around.

Since I am not an avid golfer, or a golfer at all, I have watched Curious George episodes about golfing sideways with my nose in a novel. But for the sake of this post, I tap Curious George and include "Castle Keep" and "Low High Score" for you to watch. My favorite parts of "Castle Keep" are about physics and engineering - George learns about levers. In "Low High Score" Curious George makes his own mini-golf course...admired by this Preschool Engineer for inventiveness and construction more than for the sake of mini-golf.

What makes golf, or other swinging sports, interesting for your preschool engineer?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Camming Devices

Photo from usoutdoor.com
When I lived in Colorado I discovered the rock climbing community. I was never destined to become a true rock dweller but that didn't stop me from enjoying some climbs and admiring the gear. Now that I have a preschool engineer to educate, I have knowledge of camming devices as a surprise up my sleeve.

From Wiki:
A cam is "a piece of rock climbing or mountaineering protection equipment. It consists of two, three, or four cams mounted on a common axle or two adjacent axles, so that pulling on the axle forces the cams to spread farther apart. The cam is used by pulling on the "trigger" (a small handle) so the cams move together, then inserting it into a crack or pocket in the rock and releasing the trigger to allow the cams to expand."
 Here is a visual aid:

Just Another Toy
So there you have it...another "toy" idea for a preschool engineer to figure out. As we head out for weekend camping trips I can hardly wait to see where my son sticks his cam to get it stuck.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ride the Worm Gear

Picture from www.thewoodwhisperer.com
It was a hot summer afternoon. Mikey and Mama had just finished reading Flotsom and it was time to prepare food for cooking dinner. They were going to make chicken burritos but but first the peppers needed to be chopped and the chicken needed to be ground. Mikey had never helped grind meat before and he was excited.

When Mama took the KitchenAid stand mixer out from the cupboard, Mikey knew that grinding was going to be awesome. Then he watched Mama assemble the grinding attachment. There was a funnel, a worm gear, and a propeller blade. What an incredible group of tools! Once everything was safe and secure, Mama let Mikey turn the mixer on and peer down the funnel where he could see the worm gear slowly and powerfully turning.

Slowly, Mama lowered pieces of chicken into the funnel. Mikey watched and waited and before too long he saw the chicken pressing through the sieve. It was a quick job in the kitchen - setting up and cleaning up took more time than the grinding - and Mikey felt inspired.

While Mama cleaned the grinder and put away the stand mixer, Mikey found his old Play-Doh factory. Like the grinder, his factory had worm gears but they had been stuck for a long time. Mikey asked Mama if they could try to fix it.

Together, Mikey and Mama unscrewed the toy and disassembled it piece by piece. It was even better than the grinder attachment! Ten screws held the cover together. Each of the three worm gears stood alone as beautiful plastic piece. Four more screws undone revealed the geared mechanism that connects the crank drive to the worm gears. A bevel gear, one nested gear, plus four more gears easily disassembled for cleaning.

Mikey helped clean all the plastic gears. Then he followed Mama's instructions to put the gears back together. It was like being inside a big clock, just like Curious George "On Time." They tested the gears to make sure they worked. Then, while Mama fastened the first screws of reassembly, Mikey played with the worm gears. He said, "I'm going to keep these forever! If they don't work in the factory then I can make them into an auger truck."

Next, it was time to put the worm gears back in the factory. Mikey tested the crank to be sure the worm gears worked. Then Mama reattached the cover and they tested again. Everything seemed to work!

The final test came when Mikey rolled a piece of homemade play dough into a noodle and put it into the factory. He cranked the toy and the play dough balls started coming out...but they were cattywampus. The worm gears weren't lined up right!

So Mama disassembled the toy again, aligned the gears better, and reassembled it while Mikey had a snack. Sure enough, the Play-doh factory worked! The balls were just right. Mikey and Mama were both happy.

I call this post "Ride the Worm Gear" because of all the different versions of a "worm gear" that we encountered (for real or in our minds): four worm gears, lots of screws, the auger, not to mention the regular gears and the bevel gear! It was fun for Mikey to see and discuss everything with me. It was fun for me to listen to Mikey while I assembled the device without a blueprint. I was amazed by the engineering of the toy and that I could easily disassemble and reassemble it (although I have to warn you that I have very good spatial relations). I wonder, what kind of adventures have snowballed from your work in the kitchen?