Thursday, March 27, 2014

Watching Movies with a Preschool Engineer

Mikey finally decided that he could be brave enough to try watching Monsters, Inc. The things that capture his interest shouldn't surprise me by now but they do. He wants to watch and re-watch the two and half minute segment of the "garbage factory" when Sully thinks Boo is being smashed and smooshed into a garbage cube. The reason? Mikey isn't interested in the idea that Boo might be getting hurt and the amount of concern Sully has; Mikey wants to build a garbage factory.

After watching the garbage factory scene two times (first as part of the movie and immediately again to make a plan for our own factory) we immediately started looking around the house for materials. We needed a conveyor belt, a crusher, a smasher, more conveyor belts, a roller and a chopper. It is no surprise that most of these items were play dough toys and it was a fun exercise in negotiating with Mikey about the reality of engineering savvy...namely, doing the most with what you've got. (And who doesn't remember the square peg in a round hole problem solved by Apollo 13's NASA team?) And I'm very curious about the difference between Mikey being inspired by things he sees on TV or in books versus his own novel inventions.

I certainly don't want to be parent to a child with no imagination. So I think it is important that Mikey gets plenty of opportunities to learn by copying AND to learn by inventing. We talk about the entire engineering process of things he is interested in making...we discuss plans that include the purpose of the contraption, we make lists of materials, we construct and re-construct. It is fun! I also think that when we build together I have a unique chance to lead by example. I show him how to manage the frustrating moments and rejoice in small successes. I also get to step away and watch him take over the project - he directs me, he does the "important" things himself.

I guess I will be OK with Mikey watching and re-watching the most interesting segments of movies. He can read and reread books until the pages are worn. In all that repetition, he is working on a problem, drawing inspiration from the world in which he lives, and making a place for himself in the preschool engineering world.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Review: Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature

There are all sorts of reasons my 4.5 year old can't write his name. First off, his fine motor skills are WAY behind where they should be. With time and practice, his fingers will catch up with the rest of him and he will be more comfortable holding and manipulating a marker/crayon/pencil. Secondly, he has never seen the VALUE in being able to write his name. He isn't nearly as much into drawing and planning as he is into experimenting, doing and observing. The only reason he can write the first letter, "M," is probably because it is a valuable letter due to its reversibility as a "W." Enter the spiral.

Spirals are mechanically interesting. An end view of a roll of toilet paper, a rug, and my yoga mat all look like spirals and, indeed, it is interesting to unroll those things. So when I saw "Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature" on the shelf at the library I knew it had to come home with us. Mikey LOVED it. There were funky illustrations of waves, shells, galaxies, and uncurling fronds. Spirals were everywhere in this book! The writing didn't leave much of an impression but the images stick with me...and my preschool engineer. In fact, this book was my inspiration to get him to write another letter of his name.

After reading "Swirl by Swirl" I set down the book and looked at Mikey. With just the right amount of enthusiasm I said, "Did you know that you have a spiral in your name?!" His eyes grew wide and I could see him thinking, "really?!" He asked, "where? show me!" So I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and showed him the little e. "There it is," I said, "spiral 'e.'" My son grabbed the pencil and paper and started writing over and over the lower case e.

We are one letter closer to him writing his name and I'm on the look out for a mechanically interesting analogy for other letters. Can you see the spiral e?

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