Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thinking in Pictures: Sorting Letters

One day I went next door and saw an activity sheet my neighbor's preschooler was working on. It was a simple enough task - draw a line from the big letter to its corresponding little letter. I was wondering how arbitrary those things must seem to a child. I mean why on earth do the letters look the way they do? It is an invented system for communication and from what I can tell, little letters are just a lazy way of writing big letters. So I started thinking about symbols from a child's point of view...thinking in pictures.

Some of the big letters match the little letters very nicely, like C and c. Other letters kind of match like J and j. More letters still don't even match a little like R and r. I came up with a game for homework time to help my toddler and preschooler think about the letters in a sensible way.

26 index cards
2 sheets of paper

1. I wrote pairs of big letter/little letters on each of the 26 index cards. Aa, Bb, Cc, etc. (Your child could do this, too.)
2. Then I wrote "Similar" on one sheet of paper and "Different" on the other sheet of paper.
3. Mikey's task was to sort the letters.
4. The hardest part of this activity for me was keeping my mouth shut. I really had nothing to add. My child understood the game and "performed" flawlessly. On occasion I would ask what made the letters different and it was nice to hear him defend his choice.

Like I've mentioned before, the idea of "thinking in pictures" has helped me crystalize some hunches I have had about how children learn. This activity was borne from my continued learning about early childhood development, especially as it manifests in twice exceptional children.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Toy Review: Pedal Racer

We call it the "Doodle Bug" because it is just like the one Grandpa had when he was a kid and that's what he called it. This Kettler Kiddi-O Sport Kid Pedal Racer is the latest addition to our fleet of vehicles except instead of being part of a pretend construction crew, like the Tonka Grader, this one is for riding!

My son never wanted to ride his tricycle. He only put it upsidedown and watched the pedals turn the front wheel. If the trike was right side up he would push it around watching how it turned. He never wanted to actually sit and ride it. The same is true for his first bicycle with training wheels. He liked to put that upsidedown, too, and watch the pedals turn the chain turning the wheel. He even experimented with using the moving chain as part of an invention. (Looking back, I realize his disinterest in riding bikes and trikes was because he didn't have the coordination that he should have because his motor development was so whacky. He interests were also a little intensely focused on the mechanical workings of spinning things, another characteristic of a gifted child on the autism spectrum.) But, this Doodle Bug, this got his attention.

The Doodle Bug requires left-right coordination like pedaling a bike but the seat position offers the stability (even better stability) of a trike. Unlike the pedal brakes of a child's bike, the pedals of the Doodle Bug can be used to propel the driver forward OR backward. There is a hand brake to slow down and stop. There is a stick shift for engaging or disengaging the drive train. The steering wheel is the right place and easily used by both my four year old and my two year old. The whole thing was fairly easy but time-consuming (with anxiously waiting children) to put together. It also seems pretty tough and a safe ride.

Mind you, my two year old can barely reach the pedals and both children are younger than the manufacturer's recommended age, but this Doodle Bug is beloved by all.

[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, April 7, 2014

Book Review: Iggy Peck, Architect

"When Iggy was three, his parents could see

his unusual passion would stay.
He built churches and chapels from peaches and apples,
and temples from modeling clay."

I LOVE "Rosie Revere, Engineer" and so do my children, ages 4 and 2. The rhyming is excellent, the story of an aspiring engineer wonderful and the moral of the story is something to hang on to no matter your professional pursuits. So I had high expectations for "Iggy Peck, Architect" and was less impressed. Here are the good and the bad, as I see them:

The best part of this book is the rhyming. Every verse is like the quotation, above. There are rhymes nested within rhymes, which makes it fun to read. The pictures are consistent with Rosie's story and my children are delighted to see Rosie in Iggy's story and Iggy, and his buildings (look for the Sphinx), in Rosie's story. The idea of finding an appropriate outlet for fostering strengths and interests in young children is also a wonderful topic in this book. But the storyline is a little clunky...

The teacher is the antagonist in "Iggy" and, especially compared to Aunt Rose's role in "Rosie," she gets too much press. I think it took too long to tell "Miss Lila Greer's" background. It makes the story a little awkward and clunky where "Rosie" was more streamlined. (My husband says that I might be being nit-picky about Miss Lila's back-story; he says the author to her time to tell the story well.)

The other thing that irks me is that Iggy's interests in the book are pretty solidly in designing and building buildings. However, to save his class from certain doom he builds a bridge. I am not an architect. Maybe it isn't a HUGE stretch from buildings to bridges. So you tell me -- are there any architects out there that want to chime in on "Iggy Peck"?

I say 3 out of 5 stars for "Iggy Peck."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Regarding a HuffPost Article about Magical Chidlhoods

Image from

I read a HuffPost article that reminded me to chill out. It was titled "I'm Done Making My Kid's Childhood Magical" and the author, Bunmi Laditan who writes "The Honest Toddler," tells us that childhood is magical because it is a constant time of coming of age. 
"Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical."
I mean, why does everything fall when it is dropped...except a helium-filled balloon? Watching and listening to water pouring is endlessly engaging and relaxing. Rotational translational motion of a wheel is wonderfully powerful. Pushing the limits of one's center of gravity, or the center of gravity of a stack of blocks can keep a young child's attention for a loooonnng time. As can the sorting of nested cups. From a Preschool Engineer's perspective, the physical and mechanical properties of things in the world are pretty much magical and that is what I strive to nurture...that curiosity of natural phenomena.

But by "nurture" I don't mean designing engineering experiments every day for my children to do. In fact, I agree with Bunmi Laditan who goes on to say that, "It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis." My way of nurturing is twofold: first, I tell myself that my children are learning when they are playing in the mud (I call it preschool environmental engineering), building block stacks (preschool mechanical engineering), finger painting and playing with play dough (preschool materials engineering), throwing balls at each other (preschool aerospace engineering), and helping me bake (preschool chemical engineering); second, I try to find teachable moments to talk to them or answer their questions about what they are doing. This is my way of chilling out...seeing value in childhood play and choosing my moments to engage with my kids.

Toy Review: Remote Control Crane

Mikey got a Remote Control Crane for his birthday. He could hardly contain his excitement. I rolled my eyes to myself and wondered where this giant and cumbersome toy monstrosity was going to go.

But I guess the size of the toy is part of the appeal. It is tall and the boom is long but, if my child is careful, it is lightweight enough to be carried all over the house. Two motors control three dimensions of movement. The boom can swing around a full 360 degrees and the hook moves up and down and along the length of the boom. The base seems to be a perfect design - wide enough and strong enough for supporting the toy but not so wide that children bump into it when playing. Essentially, it is just like a real crane! It even has a place for counterweights.

Aside from the eye-rolling "OMG" of a parent, there are a couple things to know about the resilience of this toy. For $40 I would have hoped it were a little stronger. Instead of sending a nearly useless toy dump truck to accompany the crane, the manufacturers should have engineered the hooks/"chains" that secure the boom in place. In the picture, above, the black lines that extend from the top of the mast out to the end of the boom are plastic "chains" and are not strong. I have had to replace them with fishing line because the hooks broke off the ends. But my fishing line is VERY strong and we don't worry about the boom or the counterweight boom falling over.

Everyone who comes to visit loves this toy. Mikey's friends, my adult friends, Anna and her friends, the baby sitter....everyone remarks on how cool it is. Given all those reactions and the fact that it is used by my four year old boy and my 2 year old girl on a nearly daily basis (for six months) I guess it is a pretty good toy. ;)

p.s. You should also know that rechargable batteries do not work in this toy. (I do not understand why.)