Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thinking in Pictures

The World Needs All Kinds of Minds

 I recently watched the TED Talk called "The world needs all kinds of minds" by Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is probably the most famous autistic person in the US and, in addition to her scientific work with livestock, she is a spokesperson for autism awareness. In the talk, she shares her own experiences as an autistic person and argues that more support should be available for autistic children...but that isn't what makes me write about it here. What made me think of Preschool Engineering was her description of "thinking in pictures."

Dr. Grandin explained how she thinks in pictures. When someone says a word, her brain acts like Google Images and flashes very specific images to her. For example, "dog" would conjure up a picture of her own pet dog followed by images of other dogs she knows or has seen pictures of. This might be different for neurotypical grown-ups like me who might just think of a nondescript dog. And this got me thinking about the life of an infant, toddler and preschooler who must also think in pictures!!

No wonder our toddlers and preschoolers are Preschool Engineers. They begin learning physics almost before learning anything else! They watch parents drop diapers in a can; they feel their bodies negotiate gravity and use their arms for leverage; they hear evidence of the Doppler effect when riding in a stroller past a park full of noisy big kids. Given the opportunity, a young child must be stockpiling images and sounds in their little brains. As parents, our job is to provide the language that accompanies our kids' observations. For example, when my toddler built a stack of blocks I observed by saying, "you built a small stack of green blocks." In doing so, I offered pre-STEM words to support her learning. I identified Color, Size, and Material.

It may seem so simple that it is a duh-ism...children think in pictures. What is really cool is that thinking in pictures is valuable. So valuable that STEM curriculum is constantly being refined and redefined to include "real world" experience. So valuable that innovative business companies offer "Visual Thinking" as an "innovative" approach to business. So valuable that Dr. Grandin has built a career by embracing her ability to think in pictures and capitalizing on the value of thinking in pictures in a scientific setting.

From myaspergerschild.com.
Somewhere along his or her educational career an important strength of the young child (thinking in pictures) is ignored. In its place English language is emphasized as the "common" foundation on which students, teachers and parents can operate. It seems like a convenient thing to do but, in an increasingly complex educational scene, maybe taking advantage of and paying attention to a student's ability to think in pictures is a more sensible approach - one that would invite a diverse set of learners into the academic world.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Review: Meeow and the Big Box

My absolute least favorite picture books are spin-offs. They feature characters from movies or TV shows and are typically a bore to read. For example, I enjoy the "Mater's Tall Tales" video shorts by Pixar. They are a silly follow-up series to the first Cars movie...one for Mater-lovers out there. However, I detest reading the "Mater's Treasury of Tall Tales." It is as though an editor picked the skeleton of the script for each video, crammed a few screenshots of the appropriate video in, and called it a day. It is no fun to read aloud.

There are so many better books out there! "Meeow and the Big Box" is, perhaps, the antithesis of a character book like "Mater's Treasury of Tall Tales." The main character is a black cat named "Meeow." I am not impressed that the author, Sebastian Braun, couldn't come up with a better name. His choice to name the cat Meeow (and the dog Woof, the sheep Baa in his other books in the "Meeow" series) is why I give "Meeow and the Big Box" four out of five stars. It otherwise would earn five out of five stars.

In "Meeow and the Big Box," Meeow takes a big brown box, paints it red, cuts a hole in it and creates a fire engine. It is a great book for a preschool engineer who likes to build. (In fact, empty boxes are often listed as favorite toys for children.) It is also a great book for preschool engineers who are interested in trucks. My daughter was pleasantly surprised at the crux of the book when the author/illustrator unveils that Meeow has made his very own fire engine!

It is a simple book. The backgrounds are not cluttered with "extras." The brown box painted red goes from being a brown square to a red square. Nothing is drawn in perspective or colored with crazy colors or patterns. And, in this book, I like that the pictures are simple. It helps drive home the moral of the story - imagination is the key to turning something simple like an empty cardboard box into a full blown fire engine. Let your preschooler imagine the possibilities!

[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. ]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Salt Lake City Children's Museum

For our family ski trip we hauled the kids to Utah. Of course, a four year old and a two year old are not going to spend a day on the slopes with us. Nor did we want to drop them in daycare for an undisclosed amount of time while we got our turns in. My husband and I don't have the stamina for downhill skiing we once had and we prefer to keep everyone happy about these "family" vacations. So we blended the activities each day. Children's Museum for the kids in the morning, skiing for a parent in the afternoon. Coloring the snow with food coloring in the sunny morning, skiing for the other parent in the afternoon. It all worked out wonderfully.

The Salt Lake City Discovery Gateway Children's Museum is located on "the mall" right down town. Overall, I wasn't impressed. I probably wouldn't get a membership if I lived in SLC. However, there were some mechanically cool things to discover and our children were entertained for a couple hours.

Good Highlights:
- Before even paying the entrance fee there are some cool contraptions for your preschool engineer to take delight in. Pictured above, a wheel that is easily turned by a preschooler propels a huge machine of belts and gears.
- The ball room is filled with a crank-operated conveyor belt that lifts balls up and drops them into a tube to roll around and down.
- A construction zone with a child-sized crane and soft blocks (~10" cubes, cuboids, and triangular prisms) kept everyone occupied for a while. Lifting blocks, building with them, sending them down a tunnel slide...all good gross motor and planning work.
- A "sand" box filled with plastic/rubber for scooping and dumping.
- A Magnetic Board with pipes for building giant marble run machines...keep your eyes peeled for this one. It hides in plain sight on the second floor.

Frustrating Things:
- There were cool building materials (blocks here, magnet tiles there) but they were on tables too tall.
- There were no "baby zones" for the littles to stay safe while older siblings were working.
- The water table was nice to look at but not easy to play in.
- If you need a snack you have to go all the way back to the exit to eat.

So if you go, I would aim for the ball room (called "The Garden") and the construction crane area (called "Kids Eye View"). And if your child is interested in something then let them exhaust that interest because there might not be anything else that will amuse them. (This was our case.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Toy Review: Bruder Conveyor Belt

I don't know about you but my preschool engineers have been interested in the power of conveyor belts for a long time. First, blankets were used to convey things across a table. Then leftover screen material from a home improvement project was sewn together (obviously with my help) so the conveyor was a belt. Bulldozers were turned up side down so the tracks could be repurposed as conveyor belts. Finally, my sister-in-law delivered a treasured toy - the Bruder Conveyor Belt.

I had no idea that this toy existed. I didn't see it on the shelves of any of the toy stores I have been in between October and December. It never popped up as one of those recommendations from Amazon (you know the ones..."Customers who bought this truck also bought this conveyor belt.") But on Christmas morning when Mikey tore into the gift from my brother's family none of us could believe our eyes. It is a bonafide conveyor belt. The boom can be raised and lowered. The track is sticky enough to carry all sorts of rubble up (blocks, cars, creatures, sand, rocks, playdough...you name it). The crank is simple, sturdy and uses a level of power that my two year old can turn but my four year old doesn't break.

This toy is an easy one to recommend. It is the toughest Bruder toy we've tried and it fills a niche that is otherwise sometimes tricky/frustrating to approximate.

[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. ]