Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How To Read a Seek-and-find Book

For about a month my two year old chose "Treasure Hunt for Girls" as her bedtime book. I had a lot of issues with this book. First, it is pink. Second, why is it just for girls? (They make one for boys, too.) And, OMG, I had to give over control of the speed of bedtime to my child. At 7:30PM when I am ready to do a quick read, snuggle, and say "good night," my daughter wanted to take her time to point to all the things to find. On the up side, reading the same thing over and over again challenged me to be a little creative with the book to keep it interesting. I learned that there is more than one way to read a seek-and-find book.


All our seek-and-find books come with directions. In "Treasure Hunt for Girls" each page asks "Can you find these ____ things?" Then it goes on to list things to seek-and-find. "Can you find these fairy things?" is followed by "1 leaping frog, 2 swimming swans, 3 pretty fairies..." all the way to 10 items. Each page spread has a similar list. Naturally, we started by following the directions. I would read the instructions and Anna would point to what she could find. The first night, we looked for all ten items and that took forever. On the second night, I set a limit and found a way to reduce the amount of time we spent seeking-and-finding and follow the instructions. We searched for 1, 2, and 3 items on each page on that night. The next night we searched for 4, 5, and 6 items. Then 7, 8, and 9 items and, finally, 10 items. That bought us a good week's worth of seeking-and-finding but Anna wasn't done with the book.

I recognized that reading this seek-and-find book was great learning. A child like mine practices patience to seek and find. She counts. He names things. They learn descriptive words like colors and location (on top, left, right, near my thumb, etc.). So I started to make up my own instructions. Each night we would pick a new color. "Let's find all the blue things on each page," I suggested. As you can imagine, every night we looked on each page for a different color. Then, as you might imagine, after two weeks of reading the book I was pretty familiar with the images. I could improvise easily. So I started prompting my daughter to find things on the page that weren't listed in the instructions by the author. Looking at the jungle page, I asked "Who is looking through binoculars?" After we did improv seeking-and-finding we began to count: "Let's count! How many spiders are there?" And, finally, the most complicated way to read the seek-and-find is to make up stories for each page. On the kitchen page we could make up a story about the party for which the mother and child are preparing. Together, we realized that the seek-and-find book spurred all sorts of learning...not least of which was the creative process of making something "new" of the experience.

Here is a quick list of new ways for reading an old favorite seek-and-find:
  • Find all the green things on each page. Change the color each time you read the book.
  • Find something new. Ignore the author's instructions and do a quick seek yourself to prompt your child with a new item he or she hasn't already sought.
  • Count all the ____. For each page, choose something you haven't already sought and count them along the way.
  • Make a story about an item/animal/person on each page. 
So go out there and reinvent ways to read your child's favorite seek-and-find! If you need a place to start, here is a list of four seek-and-find books at our house on Amazon. (affiliate).

[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, December 6, 2014

More Small Toys

Magic Scarf.

When we were checking out at the grocery store the clerk, a retired preschool teacher, couldn't resist doing a little magic for my kids. My kids loved it and it gave me an idea for a gift...the color-changing hanky. It is mechanically interesting, appropriate for small children (I think), and relatively inexpensive. What is funny about this scarf is all the ways my child has discovered for playing with it. Of course, figuring it out was first on the list. Then it turned into a snake (because snakes are big around here these days). Lastly, and I don't know why this surprised me, my kid discovered how centripetal force can be exploited. He could change the colors by twirling it around like nunchucks.

The rest of these are on our wish lists but I don't actually have experience with them. They are just ideas I'm saving for later...

Bug Lite.

In search of gifts ('tis the season), I was perusing all sorts of things in our local small toy shop (Into the Wind). I could imagine spending all of our money in that store because it is jam-packed with interesting and fun toys. But that is beside the point. The point is that I found this little "Bug Lite" there. It is a great take on a flashlight as a small gift because it has bendy arms and legs. Those bendy arms and legs make it wildly versatile because it can be mounted just about anywhere. Plus, it looks like a bug, which is a plus around our house.

Picture provided for scale.

Glow in the Dark Stars.

OK. Sometimes it is just hard to remember all those magical things from childhood that were just cool. When I saw Glow in the Dark Stars, I remembered. What a fun project for preschoolers to help decorate their space with glow in the dark stickers. And since we're approaching the solstice and we have an abundance of darkness during our waking hours, glow in the dark stars could be just the cure we need for a cold winter day.

Toysmith Crank Music Box

I saw the Toysmith brand music box at Into the Wind but I didn't see any available on Amazon. The Toysmith brand boxes at Into the Wind played Christmas songs. But the Kikkerland brand one available thru the link (above) are only available in other classics (including Stairway to Heaven). Toysmith ones were available thru sites that I'm not familiar with like "" and "" It appears as though they are also available on eBay. The one I handled in the store was cool. It seemed sturdy enough and the sound was nice enough for a $6 hand-crank music box. It was smallish in my hand but the right size for a preschooler, I think. Kind of fun and definitely up the alley for a mechanically-minded person. I did find a different branded one on Amazon so I put the link, below.

3D Doodle Kit.

Believe it or not this kit is recommended for 3 years and up! I think the pencils have a special device to hold them together, which is necessary for creating an image that will appear 3D through the glasses.  What a fun way to explore vision and various aspects of STEAM!

[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. ]

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

DIY Audiobooks for Preschoolers

In preparing for a recent cross-country road trip I realized that listening to books would be a great idea. Audiobooks would be a great way to change from listening (and re-listening) to favorite music. Plus, it would be a great alternative to TV or screen time. I mean, just imagine your child listening to you read them a book while you are otherwise preoccupied cooking dinner, cleaning, nursing a newborn, etc!

I had this brilliant idea with very little time until "take off." So instead of buying a pre-recorded book or recording AND then creating a CD, I just decided that I could record stories onto a recorder and play it through the car speakers. It turns out that it is a great "toy" for my preschool engineers. They love sitting quietly with the recorder listening to different stories and recording their own things.

Tips for Making and Using Audiobooks for Preschoolers

  • Choose your recording device. 
    • Do you want to burn CDs or not? (I don't think it is necessary.)
    • Does the device you choose play the way you want? (Is it equipped with USB? Can your car play USB?)
  • Find quiet time and space.
  • Watch the input volume so it is in the sweet spot of not too quiet but not too loud.
  • Start small. Read "Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you see?" before diving into "The Cat in the Hat."
  • Have your child choose books they would like to hear.
  • Don't panic if your child inadvertently erases your recording while trying to listen again. It is just a life lesson.
  • Don't worry about burning CDs. Your child can listen easily enough by having the device directly in their hands, or, depending on the brand of recorder and your car, you can play it through USB to your car speakers.

I have an old Olympus voice recorder that was sitting around collecting dust. I used that one and it works beautifully. It is easy to record, user friendly (I was able to pick it up and figure it out again quickly). And it played back nicely via USB in my car. If I had to start from scratch, I would probably skip talking into my computer's microphone and attempting to burn CDs from that. I would buy a standalone device like the Olympus VN-722PC (affiliate link below).

[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, November 28, 2014

The hidden meaning of being thankful for Legos

My son brought home a Thanksgiving Day card from school last week. On the outside there was a little turkey made by pasting layers of colored paper on each other and some googly eyes. On the inside was a fill in the blank "I am thankful for ______." Mikey had chosen "Legos" and written the word in his best pen. Beneath his filled in blank, an adult had written "and Momma, and Papa and baby sister." I smiled but wondered why the family was added second. Did Mikey add it as an aside or did the teacher coach him? It matters not (much) but I wonder: if the teacher knew the true meaning of Mikey being thankful for Legos, then would she have felt the need to (presumably) add the family? 

You see, about six months ago our family came into a set of Vintage Legos. With Mikey's atrocious fine motor skills, my husband and I knew that they would present very frustrating endeavor for our child. However, we also recognized that the mechanical interesting devices he could build might hold his attention. Sure enough, my husband spent a lot of time and a lot of patience teaching our son how to follow Lego instructions. Every morning the boys would sit down together and build. They would not finish a build in a single day but they would complete one or two steps. Slowly, very slowly, but surely Mikey's fingers became stronger and his attention longer; his confidence grew, too. Now Mikey can follow instructions for Lego sets designed for children twice his age! He still doesn't necessarily complete a build in one sitting but he doesn't REQUIRE his father's instruction/attention to do it. He can do it all on his own. 

But he doesn't do it all on his own. Mornings are still for building together. We all roll out of bed together and turn to the toy room. The children sit together working. Mikey gives Anna jobs. (For example, "Here Anna, put your finger here and help me push them together." "Anna, can you find this piece (pointing to a picture)?") My husband and I watch, coffee in hand, happily. All of us are rested, relaxed and enjoying our family time together before the rush of the day begins with breakfast. 

So when my son said that he was thankful for Legos, I did not think he was referring merely to the toys (although maybe he was). I let myself think of those special family times that revolved around building set after set of Legos. I also remembered something I wrote a couple years ago about toys:

The value of a toy is not merely in the having of the toy; it is realized when a child plays. The right toy played with at the right time elicits the joy and wonder of learning.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Small Toys

I've come across a handful of small toys that have been big hits in our place. Here are more small toys  (in this season, labeled stocking stuffers) for you to think about...

Party Bath Light. I discovered this toy at Michaels but I don't recommend buying it there. The price tag is $15 and is exempt from all the coupons. It is only $9.50 on Amazon so if you have time to wait for it to ship then I would head over there. This light is water proof and has provided a lot of giggle in the dark and in a dark bath. The lights change colors and provide a pretty cool light show both above and under the water.

Target Party Favors. If you find yourself in Target then consider swinging by their "party favor" section to find a handful of mechanically interesting toys for under $5:

Grabber Claw $3.

Propeller Launcher $3.

Top $2.
Spinning Top

Assemble Your Own Straws
- A version of these are available at Target as Spritz brand party favors but I can't find it online. Just keep your eyes peeled...or buy them at Fat Brain Toys...
- NUOP makes some available at Fat Brain Toys.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Child's Play is Valuable

Last week I shared a link to pictures and a video of Aelita Andre’s work. She has been labeled as an artistic genius. But like many abstract artists, her worked is judged by some as child’s play. I have been thinking a lot about how she has taken the world by storm and struggled with my own paradoxical feelings. I find some of her paintings really beautiful but I also recognize her process as child’s play. And after tumbling it around in my head, I have decided that the most important thing that could come from Andre’s success is the idea that a child’s play is serious, it is brilliant, and, when allowed to self-direct and explore, a child is capable of more than we typically give them credit for.

 Aelita Andre’s parents who saw value in her first smear when she was nine months old. They stepped back and let their child explore very deeply in what drew her interest. As a seven year old, she has a resume that rivals adult artists. She has sold out art shows and been recognized by arts scholars as a genius. Genius? Really? Perhaps… 

…Perhaps not. Maybe she is just lucky to have so many people value her process AND her product. I chuckled when I watched the video montage of her process and products. I marveled about how powerful music and beautiful videography made her work seem superb. I don’t mean to discredit her talent because I found some of her paintings truly moving. However, I think that music and videography could transform almost any child’s work/play into something more substantial and seemingly more valuable. 

And that is the point for me. Like all children, Aelita Andre’s process and product are valuable. But I guess valuing a child’s process is rare. It is so rare that A had an audience of 20,000 people watch her paint! Having adopted Magda Gerber’s tactic of watching my children play, I couldn’t believe that watching a child paint could draw such a crowd. Have those people never watched a child play? Have they never seen the value in child’s play? It seems a little absurd to me. But here at preschool engineering, I  advocate the value of child’s play. I try to help you see the pre-STEM learning that can happen in sandboxes, at the beach, in the kitchen or just on the floor of the living room. And I don’t anticipate that all of us have children who will create art, build sculptures, or otherwise hone their craft to the point of world-renowned fame. However, if we value our children and their play then they will earn family-renowned fame and that will be enough. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Comment on "7 Myths That Discourage Independent Play"

I just reread the post by Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare titled "7 Myths that Discourage Independent Play." She lists seven misconceptions about what infant play looks like and then describes the hows and whys of the play. I wish I had read this back in 2009 when I had my first baby. (Especially #7.) And today I share the bullet list with you and offer some insight from my perspective.

Play Myth # 1: Babies can’t do it.Play Myth #2If a baby cries when she’s placed down, she must not like playing.
Play Myth #3Play means “doing” something.
Play Myth #4Gated play areas are restrictive “jails”.Play Myth #5Independent play means leaving children alone.
Play Myth #6When children get frustrated or ask for help, we should solve the problem for them.Play Myth #7It’s our job to entertain and play with our children

These all apply to preschoolers as well as babies. However, if you and your preschooler are new to this style of parenting/childing then there will be some growing pains. For us, the combination of #3 ("doing" something) and #7 (my role as a parent) was where my child and I struggled for a long time. It seemed like he had a very hard time knowing what to do without me sitting beside him doing something he could observe. So we had to ease into it. When he wanted me to build for him or otherwise "entertain" him, I said "let's do it together. I'll put one block on the stack, then you put the next one." There was disagreement. He wanted me to do more than I would. Sitting and watching him didn't seem to be enough to meet his needs. However, I borrowed a line I learned from Janet. "I like to watch you play." That simple phrase seemed to comfort him. It seemed to encourage him to know that his work was valuable and that merely observing it was enough to make it so.

This brings me to my next point. Janet wrote

"Often the richest, most productive play doesn’t look like much because it’s dawdling, imagining, daydreaming, big picture thinking. To encourage this kind of play we must: first, value it; second, observe it; and lastly, not interrupt..." 

My aim here at Preschool Engineering is to help you see the value of your child's play. Nevermind that independent child's play means you get freed up to do work, chores, enjoy a beverage in peace. That could be considered valuable enough. But there is more value in your child's play. They are building a foundation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning. Putting blocks together they are experiencing shapes, colors, and quantity. Identifying, sorting, and classifying toys and other household items is pre-Science learning. Nesting pots and pans on the kitchen floor is pre-Math when your child is comparing size and shape. Banging a hammer onto pretend nails is pre-Technology and pre-Engineering learning because he or she located a tool to use to accomplish something that needed to be done. Pre-STEM can be seen everywhere...and having had oodles of formal engineering training I'm here to help you see it.

Sticker Dress-up

When I was shopping for an activity book at the local bookstore, I looked over and was furious to find my toddler ripping stickers from a book of her own. Frustrated, I purchased the book. But I am happy to report a wonderful silver lining. The "Sticker Dolly Dressing" book by Usborne is a huge hit!

Our current homework routine requires that we all sit at the table and work. For my toddler, this Sticker Dolly Dressing book was a wonderful activity to work on. At first glance, I figured it was just a different context for her to play with stickers. But upon closer observation I noticed some preschool engineering learning available to her. First of all, the shapes are new. Shirts, dressing, scarves, and shoes are distinctly different shapes than our typical sticker supply which is primarily variations on circles (faces), flowers, and characters like TInkerbell. Second of all, the layers created by putting a shirt on the "dolly" first and then the skirt, sash, cape, and jewelry were pretty complicated pictures.

The engineering of the images and the stickers that Usborne did is pretty cool and provides, I think, a kind of visceral pre-engineering experience as the child works through the book. You can see from the picture that these South African women are dressed in a base layer as well as a cape and some headdresses. They also have jewelry on their legs and arms. This page started as a picture of three women wearing undergarments. A corresponding page with the stickers was marked with the page number and each woman had her own set of clothes. My daughter would choose the people she wanted to dress. Then I helped her find the stickers and told her things like "it says to put this shirt on [name] first. then this cape."

A page spread in the Sticker Dolly Dressing book.
Anna could not get enough of this Sticker Dolly Dressing book. Even when all the dollys were dressed, she still chose it as her canvas for homework sticker work. So, beyond the dolly stickers she began integrating new sheet stickers with the Sticker Dolly Dressing book. The work she was doing amazed me.

One night she chose a sheet of ladybug stickers. SHe didn't need my help for this so I just watched. She would peel the ladybug off the sheet and then look at the Sticker Dolly Dressing page and put the bug down. At first I didn't pay much attention to her. Then I started to notice some things. Anna had started sorting the bugs. She had a grouping of all open-winger ladybugs in one spot...

Open-wing ladybugs.

...closed-wing ladybugs in another spot...
Closed-wing ladybugs.
...and pink, open-winged ladybugs in yet another spot.

Pink open-wing ladybugs. 

At first I wondered if she was just copying the pattern on the original sheet of bugs but I don't think so. The ladybugs had been arranged on the ladybug sheet so that each set of 16 bugs had a green ladybug with open wings, a green one with closed wings, and so on for each colored ladybug. I saw a pattern but not one that screamed "this is how the ladybugs go!" My daughter had done her own sorting and classification of these bugs. Clearly, it is pre-biology practice because the stickers represented bugs. But also I think pre-math and pre-general science.

For Christmas, I snagged the "Sticker Dolly Dressing: Action!" book for my girl and the "Sticker Dolly Dressing: Extreme Sports" for my boy from the big list of books by Usborne. I found the Usborne page is the best place to peruse the possibilities where you'll see themes from everything from fairies to warriors! Then you can scour bookstores (brick and mortar and online) for the right one for your preschool engineer.

[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, November 1, 2014

Birthday Favors - Miniature Engineer Stashes

We're celebrating around here. It is my son's fifth birthday and we are inviting some of his new friends from school to join us to play at the park, eat some pizza, and sing "Happy Birthday." And I know that party favors are sometimes the bane of existence as a fact, I struggle with whether or not they are truly necessary. But then I get inspired...and this year's favors are right along the lines of Preschool Engineering. 

First, a little history. When we read "Rosie Revere, Engineer" by Beatty, my kids were very interested on the idea that "when no one is looking she digs through the trash for treasures to add to her engineer's stash." Since Rosie entered our lives, we have a designated bin we call the "engineer's stash" that houses recycled toilet paper rolls, pipe cleaners, rinsed berry clamshells, etc.

When I suggested that we give his friends their own "engineer's stash," Mikey was very excited. I am very excited, too. Here is a picture of the "Engineer Stash" that we've assembled: 

The bucket is the foundation. A bag could have worked but the play that a good pail provides is better, I think. We've also included a small ball of yarn (I crochet so I have tons of remnants around), a clothsline clip (because grabbing things are cool), glitter glue, crayons, some foil, googly eyes, stickers (flowers that resemble gears), and a pipe cleaner snake. My hope is that these items are used with the creative joy that glitter glue seems to elicit...

Before I end, I have to explain about the pipe cleaner snake. My original plan was to just use the pipe cleaner to wrap around the crayons so they wouldn't be all jumbled around in the bucket. Then we went to the zoo, where there is an extensive exhibit of snakes. That day Mikey fell in love with snakes. He said, "Mama, I think snakes are interesting because they move like conveyor belts." Enough said. Then, his classmate had a birthday and brought origami frogs to pass out to everyone in the class (this is in lieu of food because of new school rules for celebrating birthdays). I was amazed but thought, "yeah right. I'm not folding two dozen origami anything." That night over more conversation about snakes, I felt inspired. I wondered if we could make snakes for Mikey's classmates and the pipe cleaner snake was born.

These are good little projects for small hands. I've included pictures along with instructions for you to enjoy.

You will need:
- pipe cleaners
- foam shape stickers
- marker or googly eyes and glue
- gift ribbon
- scissors

The gift ribbon, gently snipped on the end, can be pulled apart to make the ribbon appropriately sized for a snake tongue.

Peel the backing off a foam shape sticker. (Don't throw the backing away!) Place one end of the pipe cleaner onto the sticky side of the shape. Place a piece of ribbon tongue on too.

Place the backing of the sticker onto the shape. This holds the pipe clean and the tongue on. I noticed that the not-so-shiney side works better at sticking back on the foam.

Turn the snake over to get a good look at the head.

Then draw some eyes and nostrils on.

Repeat as needed and voila!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Comment on "Parenting as a Gen Xer"

For the first time in my life I find myself a conservative. When I read the article on the Washington Post about what it is like to be parenting as a Gen X-er, I had a pretty strong gut reaction to the author's conclusion:

"The truth is, my generation of parents are pioneers here, like it or not. We’re the last of the Mohicans. We can try as hard as we want to push back and to carve space into our children’s lives for treehouses and puzzles and Waldorf-style dolls, but in the end, our children will grow up with the whole world at their fingertips, courtesy of a touch screen, and they will have to learn how to find the balance between their cyber and real worlds. It is scary. I don’t think I even believe there is a “right way” to parent with technology. But acknowledging that what we are doing is unprecedented – that no study yet knows exactly what this iChildhood will look like when our children are full grown people – feels like an exhale of sorts."

I really was uncomfortable to read "I don't think I even believe there is a 'right way' to parent with technology." I thought, "but there is a wrong way."


I fully buy in when my pediatrician recommends no screens for children under the age of two, and limited thereafter. I have watched my son become addicted to screens and struggled through breaking that addiction (despite the good that came from it). And so as we grow, I have tried to set very strict limits on screen time. I have spent an inordinate amount of my energy and time trying to tolerate the ranting and raving and arguing about having more. I've made compromises, sure. It doesn't seem fair to cut it out entirely after we've discovered so many wonderful things out there...TV programs, apps, YouTube, iTunes, etc. But I have steeled myself to be patient with the mess that is inevitable when I invite them to help me cook, clean, or just go outside to play instead of plugging them in.

I want to conserve childhood the way I remember it - spent playing outside, helping around the house with chores, and discovering national treasures by traveling the country together in our van. I want to conserve the value of an honest-to-goodness book sitting in your lap. I want to conserve the natural childhood wonder that comes with observing leaves blowing from trees in autumn, snow melting in your palm, and seeing the first buds on trees in the spring. When my children remember back to their early years, I want them to remember how big the world felt when they rolled down the hills and climbed the biggest rock they could find. Because in this world where information is at our fingertips, I want them to know where that information came is born of curiosity, which is something everyone has access to when they are children.

Error and Approximation

When I turned and saw this "word" on our refrigerator I had to stop myself from thinking, "Well that's just plain wrong." I pondered it and realized that Mikey had approximated his name. He had M, K, and E in there well enough. But he substituted a T where I was supposed to be and again T for Y. When I asked him about it he said it was his name and, pointing to the letters one at a time, said "M, I, K, E, Y. I had to use 'T' a couple times."

I think it is because I write Preschool Engineering that I have come to recognize pre-STEM in so many places and ways. First of all, pre-algebra is evident to me because he is using symbols (T) to represent other things (I and Y), which is a fundamental skill of algebra.  I also consider this approximation of his name an experiment in error analysis, a commonly overlooked aspect of STEM learning. He saw the letters from which he could choose (the complete alphabet is missing because, you  know, they are used everywhere): A, E, E, O, O, O, U, F, G, K, M, R, S, T, T. He found as many relevant ones as he could: M, K, and E. He identified that he was missing I and Y and decided that T would be a good substitution for each of those letters. In assembling his name, "MTKET" was just right enough for him to be comfortable using it for "MIKEY."

The problem solving that this "misspelling" of his name represents baffles me. It also reminds me how important it is that I didn't squash his work by saying "well, that's just wrong, Mikey." and make him go hunt around the house for the missing letters. Instead, I asked him about it and in all truth told him, "I think that the way you approximated your name is pretty neat."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Homework Benefits for Parents/Caregivers

Shortly after my posts on homework and scribbling in which I advocate for some family time at the end of the day and how to spend that time, this article was published on HuffPost. It was titled "Coloring Isn't Just for Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress." It compliments my recent revelations beautifully!
Image from

My original argument for homework time was to schedule in some downtime at the end of the day. It helps me know what to do when we're all running a little ragged. It is something the kids look forward to every day: Anna enjoys her last milk for the day, Mikey craves the closeness and the last new thing of the day. They color, play with stickers, read snippets from their activity books, etc. I'm usually just there for support. But what HuffPost adds is that this type of work (specifically coloring) can be de-stressing for adults, too.
"In simplest terms, coloring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a particular activity, we focus on it and not on our worries."

The article goes on to suggest some coloring books for adults. They are all different from the ones I suggest in "Not Your Average Coloring Book" and I am excited to try them. Somehow reading this little article on HuffPost was all I needed to justify having my own creative outlet at homework time. Not only will I de-stress but I will be modeling homework for my kids. I can design projects large and small. I can show them trial and error, demonstrate how to handle the frustration of something not going as planned, and teach them how to be gracious and proud of a job well-done. I will show them that coloring isn't just for kids...and why should it be? After all, Picasso encourages us: "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Love this... "Using Just the RIght Amount" by Teacher Tom

When I read Teacher Tom's entry on "Using Just the Right Amount" I had to laugh. His story really resonated with me about how freely glue flows in the hands of a preschooler. Then I realized that his story represents what I would call "Preschool Materials Engineering."

Picture from Teacher Tom's Article

"This is why when a child dumps an entire bowl of googly eyes into a lake of glue then empties a shaker of glitter onto it, I no longer see waste. In fact, I know she is using just the right amount."

A lake of glue, an entire bowl of googly eyes - the use of materials and learning about how they go together as well as learning about where the materials are sourced from (recycle bins? Thrift stores? Target?) are exactly what preschool materials engineering students should be focused on.  It is another opportunity to see STEM in the catastrophic mess of preschool play.

Response: "American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist"

There is a wonderful OpEd on Wired this week. It is about the need for citizens to learn how to discover. As I read it, I thought how sad it is that the discovery process is taken away from children as they move through a traditional K-12 system in the US. I suspect overworked teachers, crowded classrooms, and children who are not encouraged to connect personally with the material all contribute to the perpetuating the problem. Luckily, with our preschoolers we can revel in discovery - theirs and ours - for a handful of years before entering Kinder.

Add caption

You should read the entire article but I will give you a snippet here:
"We “learn,” and after this we “do.” We go to school and then we go to work.This approach does not map very well to personal and professional success in America today. Learning and doing have become inseparable in the face of conditions that invite us to discover."

Preschoolers are experts in learning by doing. Almost everything they do is "doing" from stacking blocks, to riding tricycles, to scribbling, painting, and molding. The important thing for us to do as parents is to step back and let our children do their things in peace. The more practice they get at being on their own, learning to discover, enjoying their experiments without us butting our noses in, the better equipped they will be to maintain that skill in years to come.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thinking in Pictures - Vision for the Future

"Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture-- literally a vision--in the minds of those who built them... 

...Society is where it is today because people had the perception; the images and the imagination; the creativity that the Arts provide, to make the world the place we live in today." ~ Eugene Ferguson

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jo-jo's Contraption

At my house, my kids are always on the look-out for "friends" who make interesting things. From my point of view, these "friends" are "mentors" and "role models" for preschool engineers. Their work inspires new and different kinds of building. Their stories demonstrate the impetus for building and the challenges of the nature of engineering. We know that Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck are young builders/makers and we recently discovered Tinkerbell's inspiring back-story. Dr. Seuss has long been our go-to author for seeing cool contraptions (like the who's asleep counter with it's funnels and pipes and stuff) and the movie based on his book "Horton Hears a Who" introduces us to a new maker - Jojo.

Jojo is a quiet little guy. He is not interested in the work of his father, the Mayor. But when the Mayor least expects it and needs his help the most, Jojo delivers. Jojo is an engineer of musical instruments. He has created a musical contraption from repurposed items including rubberband balls, marbles, and empty glass bottles. My kids are obsessed with Jojo and his contraption. In a one-minute scene we see what Jojo has made and we have watched it over and over and over again. Inspired, my kids have built their own musical contraptions. They have learned that musical instruments are built by people. And we have a new preschool engineer hall-of-famer.

Enjoy the unveiling of Jojo's contraption here...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cleaning Up

With all the "resources" and "learning materials" (i.e. toys and books) in the house there is a perpetual state of chaos. And in my adult life I am a minimalist so my instinct is to purge everything. So when I came across this article at "Happiness is Here" I felt inspired. Not only does it aline with my perspective on parenting (back off Mama, watch, lead by example, etc.), it proved so successful for one family that I knew I should share it with you.

 "We hoped that by leading by example we might effect more change than by trying to force them to do it. That was the idea anyway, but we didn’t have great expectations. We thought it was quite possible that they would think that this was a pretty sweet deal. That they might relax even more, thinking someone else would always clean up after them. But what else was there to do? We didn’t like how things were going, something had to change. An experiment seemed worth a shot, and we had nothing to lose. So we did it. And it has been AMAZING." From

It seems like an experiment worth trying, here, too. Not only could it help with keeping the house clean but it also can be viewed as pre-STEM learning! Sorting toys into categories is good for pre-Math. Bringing order to chaos is could be considered pre-Physics and pre-Astronomy (I'm laughing out loud at myself for that stretch). Stacking books into a spot that fits and smooshing stuffed animals into a container is good pre-Engineering...children learning about size, shape, and material. They also learn about the system of the toy room and how it works. All in all, if we are successful with modeling clean up instead of nagging for clean up, it will be a huge win for us all.

From "Too Many Toys" by David Shannon

The entire article also reminds me of a book for you to try. "Too Many Toys" by David Shannon has gone over very well in our house. David Shannon has a remarkable way of writing a story that resonates with both child and adult reader. My kids connect with the child in the story who has all the same types of toys as they do (musical instruments, animals, quiet toys and noisy toys). I love the negotiating the child and mother do. And, at the end of the story, they have chosen a good quantity of toys for donating AND discovered the best toy of all - an empty box.

[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 26, 2014

Homework for Preschoolers

Dependable & Flexible
They say that children thrive when they have clear boundaries, a dependable yet flexible schedule, rules by which to live. As parents we all find our own ways of doing this for our children but I recently discovered the value of a "dependable yet flexible schedule" for me!

A Little Direction Goes a Long Way
In those hours between the end of dinner and bath time I was losing my mind. I wanted to just put my feet up and let the kids run free. But at the end of the day they are both too tired and too squirrelly to be left to their own devices. Or rather, the things they think to do are too messy, too crazy, and induce too much crying from them and too much redirection/discipline from me. So I redesigned our evenings and the results have been good in more ways than one.

Undirected Mayhem for All
Our evenings used to be like this:
  • 5ish - dinner
  • after dinner - undirected and unfocused mayhem for all
  • 7:30 - bedtime routine (bath, put on jammies, read, snuggle, sleep)
Rhythm & Routine
The evenings now go like this:
  • 5ish - dinner
  • after dinner - clean up dining room and kitchen
  • after clean up - outside play
  • 7PM - homework
  • 7:15 - bedtime routine (bath, put on jammies, read, snuggle, sleep)
Kinda Sorta Homework
You might be thinking "homework for preschoolers?!" Well, yes, kind of. And homework time is the single most drastic addition to our evening routine and the one that seems to have helped the most!

We all sit at the table together. The kids have their choice of fine motor work. For example, they can color, work in sticker books, sculpt with play dough, do puzzles, or string beads. If they had the mental power for Legos or other building then that would be OK but we have found that simpler work is better at this time of day.

They do end homework time at a logical place - when the picture is completely colored, the page is completely emptied of stickers that have been transplanted onto something else, or the string is filled up with beads. But it isn't so much about completing a project (and certainly not a worksheet). It is about coming together as a family (papa is not necessarily for dinner but he's always home for homework), and doing quiet creative work.

Building Good Habits for Now and Then
I have one more year before Mikey is in kindergarten. Some of his friends have already begun and I hear stories of battles over homework. When to sit a kindergartener down to do it? How much will they have to do? Will they have enough time to play and just be a kid? All of these are valid concerns and I am curious about next year and what homework will look like for us. I hope that having dedicated homework time already in our routine will help us make a smooth transition between self-directed homework and school-directed homework.

Most importantly, our new schedule helps me know what to do now. Having that routine helps me to not have to think when I am at my most tired and when I have my hands full cooking and cleaning. It helps my children know that I am only going to clean the dining room and kitchen (not all the other rooms), and they can usually figure out how long they will have to wait for my attention. It helps them know that they will have an opportunity to get their squiggly wiggles out after we eat and that we will all be together one more time before bedtime.

Anna's Sticker Work - Dolly Sticker Dress-up
Mikey's Sticker Work - Lego Ninjago

The Real Work of Being Home = Coming Together

We all depend on that coming-together before bedtime. Sometimes homework is very inventive, sometimes it is repetitive, but it always done in good company.