Thursday, September 26, 2013

Paint Rollers

Image from
When I was a kid I really enjoyed rocks. I sometimes amazed myself at the amount of time I could spend in the rock museum at the Cranbrook Institute of Science (Michigan). I liked the variety of colors and shapes I saw. It seemed to be a magical thing that all those beautiful things could be rocks. Now I share that fascination with my preschool engineers.

It seems that as soon as they can throw, children are fascinated by throwing rocks into water. I have spent countless hours standing riverside and watching my kids pick up rocks to toss into the slowly moving water. The splash of the water, the ripple and splunk sound occupy them for hours.

But we can't always be riverside or lakeside to enjoy playing with rocks and water. We have discovered other ways to play with Water, Sand, Rocks, and Clay (which is the title and topic of a fun little song by Brady Rymer). At the children's museum, there is a big slab of rock and some paint brushes and cups of water. Until the stone is soaked, toddlers paint and paint and paint and inspired me for some water painting at home.

Living in the desert means that there is a lot of stone in the neighborhood. There are gravel yards instead of grass, cinder block privacy fences, and rock-filled ditches for water run-off during monsoon season. My favorite resource for rock and water play are the cinder block fences and the sidewalks. Arm a child with a condiment squeeze bottles that has been filled with water and watch them paint! Or you can opt for my preschool engineer's favorite painting tool - the roller. You choose a big one or a little one and change the size of the nap on the sponge and let your child get crazy painting the fence. My kid loves to paint the wall as well as the patio floor and the sidewalks.

The hidden bonus of the roller as a toy for a preschool engineer is when you remove the paint sponge and let them inspect the rotational translational motion. Pushed through the grass, the paint roller looks like a push mower. Those old-school push mowers are everywhere in Richard Scarrey's books and there is also one in "Just for You" by Mercer Mayer.

Again, I am amazed by rocks. As a parent with children of my own I remember and delight in these simple materials. And again I have been surprised by how a seemingly benign thing like a paint roller can be repurposed for a child's play.

[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. ]

Monday, September 16, 2013

Escargot Tongs

It is fun looking for a preschool for one's child to attend. Together, Mikey and I discovered new games, new toys, and new inspiration for play. We have seen the quiet rooms of a local Montessori where children are fully immersed in their "work." We have strolled the landscape and farm of a Waldorf and seen the fanciful play space where imaginations are nurtured. We have even attended a play-based school where teachers blend best practices from a variety of early childhood education philosophies. Each place has given me food for thought and I have tucked ideas away for rainy days. Here's one...

Escargot tongs fall into the claw/robot category for a preschool engineer. From a developmental standpoint, play with these tongs support fine motor growth. From my point of view, depending on the items to grab, there is opportunity for sorting colors, counting, and making funny sounds when they open and close. For you, I hope you will see the escargot tongs in a new preschool engineering light.

[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. ]

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Bug with the Only Mechanical Gears in Nature

The small hopping insect Issus coleoptratus uses toothed gears (magnified above with an electron microscope) to precisely synchronize the kicks of its hind legs as it jumps forward. All images courtesy of Malcom Burrows

Read more: 
This article was found by a Preschool Engineering fan. It is so cool that I have to repost it here... My
kiddo loves the video on this page.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Preschool STEM

There is No Reason for Miniature Versions of University Classrooms

Preschoolhood is for play. There is no time for flash cards, no reason to create a miniature version of a university classroom. It is through imitation and open-ended but intentional opportunities for
experimentation that a child learns. And given time and space, a child can learn anything.

Open-Ended but Intentional Opportunities to Play with STEM

Every day I read articles about current STEM education trends and early childhood development. When I think about how my writing about Preschool Engineering fits in to the educational landscape, I find myself gravitating toward the play-based philosophy of education. My goal is to promote play-based STEM education. Specifically, I hope to inspire parents to see their child's play in a new light.

Seeing STEM Learning in Play

I think that by understanding that pre-math, pre-science, pre-STEM learning happens when a child is playing in the sand or helping to cook dinner, parents can relax with the "teaching" and purge all those undesirable toys and just encourage their children to participate in daily life. In fact, the National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) are working to promote good beginnings:
Young children show a natural interest in and enjoyment of mathematics. Research evidence indicates that long before entering school children spontaneously explore and use mathematics—at least the intuitive beginnings—and their mathematical knowledge can be quite complex and sophisticated [20]. In play and daily activities, children often explore mathematical ideas and processes; for example, they sort and classify, compare quantities, and notice shapes and patterns [21–27]. (NAEYC and NCTM. (2002). Early childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings.)
In the article, NAEYC and NCTM go on to give specific examples of how teachers can support early childhood math learning. For parents, perhaps the idea that young children are naturally interested in pre-STEM might just need to be recognized. Then parents can find comfort in knowing that the informal education learned through imitation play is invaluable and can serve as the foundation for formal learning!

College Readiness or Preschool Prowess?

Taking this idea of play-based learning one step further, I can't help but extrapolate to college preparedness. I just read this on and thought to myself, "well, those skills are forming in my preschool engineer right now!"
Even in the field, we have amixed sense of what is needed to prepare our students for the future. More science, technology, engineering, and math, taught in traditional ways, does not a prepared graduate make. [...] Schools that can prepare students to be 'college and career ready' will have to embrace these skills and build upon them.
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneurialism
- Effective oral and written communication
- Accessing and analyzing information
- Curiosity and imagination
So, let's see. How might these things look in preschool play? This is what I think it looks like in Mikey:

Critical thinking and problem solving
  Mikey wanted a toy that was too high to reach. He started to build a tower of stuff to climb. Part way through building he realized that he should only use hard things to stack. He replaced the pillow that he had grabbed because it was close with an upside down garbage can.

Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
 I let each child choose one video to watch after snacktime. Mikey asked his sister, "Anna do you want to watch the rollercoaster?" She typically answers, "yes." to everything he asks so he chose the video he wanted to see and made it "her choice."

Agility and adaptability
For a preschooler, this is called "sharing."

Initiative and entrepreneurialism
Mikey built a new sculpture out of a roll of duct tape and a cylinder. When I exclaimed how creative it was as he rolled it, he asked if I wanted to buy it for $686.

Effective oral and written communication
Mikey has drawn pictures of his favorite toys (animals, trucks) and tells stories, like nearly any preschooler, over and over again.

Accessing and analyzing information
Mikey turns on the iPad, unlocks it, navigates to "his" screen and finds the new game, Toca Builders by Toca Boca. He opens the game and proceeds to test each of the characters, experimenting with the blocks and colors and, in doing so, creates a new and awesome and physically impossible stack of blocks.

Curiosity and imagination
Wow. Where do I begin? 

Too Much of a Small Thing? Nah...Celebrating Learning through Play

Ok, ok. Maybe I'm making too much of a small thing. Obviously, my preschooler is not college-ready. But I have felt empowered to know that play is the fundamental way of learning for a preschooler. By stepping back and letting Mikey explore and play on his own I have begun to see the power of play. I have also been amazed to see his pre-STEM learning light up his eyes and, I think, his heart.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Spontaneous Sculpture

Mikey's Signature Sculpture
Something is Amiss

Yesterday I walked into my closet and sensed that something was amiss. I wondered if I had hung the empty hangers on the drawer pulls. Possible. Did my husband drop the hangers into the laundry bins? Not likely. Then I saw it...Mikey's signature. Four hangers were hanging one from the next, leaning right and left, until the chain reached the floor.

Art Examines Physics - The Lowest Energy State

Hangers present an interesting material for a preschool engineer. Hooks make them cool; managing the balance makes them mechanically interesting. Mikey likes to work with them by building down. He likes to hang one from another. He starts by placing the proximate hook in the center of the horizontal piece of the preceding hanger. Then he slides it to its lowest energy state. One at a time he makes a chain that extends from the bar to the floor. These four hangers are his signature. The other hangers placed strategically around the room are his play.

Everyday Objects Transformed into Art - Its a Thing

Living with a preschooler is sometimes frustrating, usually entertaining, and always interesting. In the case of the spontaneous hanger sculpture I have chosen to see it as the work of a preschool engineer. He is learning about balance. He is learning to use found objects in his art. (Yes, I consider this preschooler art.) He is thinking outside the closet, being creative, and only inconveniences me a teeny tiny bit.