Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fine Motor Skills for Preschool Engineers

Picture from smartfirstgraders.com

My son's fine motor skills are atrocious and the always have been. When he was a toddler I did everything in my power to invite him to scribble with me with crayons or hold a utensil or tinker with blocks or duplos. He would have NOTHING to do with it. It troubled me a little but he was responsive enough and certainly smart enough to meet dozens of other developmental milestones so I didn't worry about it.

A year passed and his hands lacked so much dexterity that it was starting to be a problem. He couldn't grasp his own clothing to get it on or off, he couldn't feed himself with a utensil, he had trouble turning pages in his favorite books. That is when his behavior became more and more worrisome. He was so frustrated and so incapable of expressing himself (due to language delay) that he would physically lash out - seriously hurting himself or others.

Then I introduced the iPad. At first, he couldn't touch the iPad appropriately but was intensely curious about it. The situation presented a unique opportunity to learn about his sense of touch. So over the course of a plane ride, I worked with him to touch the screen just the right way. We discussed too hard, too soft, swiping up and down and left and right. We had so many successes that we started to spend a little too much time with the device...

Mikey would goggle in and play educational games or watch Curious George. His screen time was easily more than two hours per day (as a 3 year old!). His sleep quality, which was already horrid, got worse. He would only eat if the iPad was propped in front of him. He always chose the screen over a three dimensional toy. It turns out that Mikey and I learned experientially what the UK's Telegraph reported last month in an article called "Infants 'unable to use toy building blocks' due to iPad addiction:"

“I have spoken to a number of nursery teachers who have concerns over the increasing numbers of young pupils who can swipe a screen but have little or no manipulative skills to play with building blocks or the like, or the pupils who cannot socialise with other pupils but whose parents talk proudly of their ability to use a tablet or smartphone.”

 I would be embarrassed of my parenting choices if I had stayed the course. Luckily, I started making changes the day Mikey insisted that watching Curious George would make his hunger pains go away. Over the course of a year I was able to reduce screen time to 30 minutes a day (none on our best days and 90 minutes on our "worst" days). Sleep quality, eating habits, and play habits have drastically improved.

If I had it to do over again I would have prevented the screentime from getting out of hand. But that breakthrough of learning how important it is to use fingers just the right way is priceless to me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Counting in Japanese!

Picture from thetruthaboutcars.com

Our best friends are Japanese and children are little language sponges. So it was no surprise to me when my kids asked how to count in Japanese. This cute little YouTube video was a wonderful introduction to counting in Japanese. My kids both sing along and even on their own. But there is something way more interesting about counting in Japanese than the superior language-acquisition skills of young children...it is the math learning that counting in Japanese affords us.

Not long after learning to count from one to ten in Japanese, Mikey asked how to count to twenty. So I did a little internet homework and learned that knowing to count to ten means you know how to count to 100.

1 - ichi
2 - ni
3 - san
4 - yon
5 - go
6 - roku
7 - nana
8 - hachi
9 - kyu
10 - ju

Get this: eleven is ju-ichi! (10 + 1), twelve is ju-ni (10 + 2), and so on until you get to twenty, ni-ju (2x10). Twenty one is then ni-ju-ichi (2x10 + 1).

Maybe it is the algebra teacher in me but the Japanese representation of numbers is so powerful!! I can hardly contain my excitement for using Japanese counting as a reference for helping Mikey and Anna with their math learning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Raising Money for the National Autism Association

Last year I wrote a few articles for the Fat Brain Toys blog called "Play:" "For the Love of Dirt" was the first and my favorite but "Why Toy Design Matters for Mom" was the best. Then I started making some purchases from them and I started getting really excited about their customer service. I mean, who can argue with a few dollar bonus for merely reviewing a toy you've purchased? (This isn't exclusive to me...I'm pretty sure all customers have that opportunity.) And to top it off Fat Brain Toys is a "small" American business from the heartland.

You can imagine that I was honored to be invited to join their exclusive advertising team. So, along with links to Amazon to track down some of my favorite Preschool Engineering books, I will also include links to Fat Brain Toys for you to track down some of my favorite Preschool Engineering toys. At no cost to you, I get a referral bonus, and as stated on my "Philanthropy" page, the first $100 I earn plus thirty percent thereafter will be donated to the National Autism Association.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring's Most Popular Preschool Engineering Tidbits

Here is a quick summary of the most popular items I have shared on Facebook in the last 90 days.

1. This is a video I shared and called it "Learning about Fluid Dynamics." It is very cool and is a wonderful example of experiential STEM learning.

2. This is a link to an article that I skimmed and found some good but pedestrian science experiments for kids. My favorite was one I had not seen before - the Marshmallow Catapult. It is also the one I thought would interest my readers the most!

3. Number three I discovered via Tinkerlab, a favorite resource of mine. "Oh boy! Projectile Motion" is a link to a PBS page with video and instructions for making an "indoor" slingshot from everyday items.

4. A current popular debate is happening about whether or not the "best" building toys come with instructions to follow. This is a blog post from Planet Smarty Pants called "Tips on Open-ended Lego Building."

5. Learning about Kandinsky and sneaking in math, fine motor and spacial awareness at the same time

6. This one is all mine. After reading "iggy peck, architect" I have two newly inspired architects. Here's a link to my review.