Friday, June 27, 2014

Preschool Calculus

There it is - preschool calculus. My son was eating store-bought hummus by dipping saltine crackers. He proudly called me over to see his sculpture, pictured above, and I smiled. He had taken his square-shaped crackers and lined them along the edge of the circular container. It was a wonderful approximation of a circle using straight lines; it was calculus. He was differentiating the curve of the container!

A week later he was building an "ice castle" with magnatiles. He approximated the circular roof, or what he calls "frozen fractals," using the equilateral triangles. (It was actually a hexagon but in his mind's eye, it was close enough to a circle to pass muster.)

These are precisely the kind of math learning experiences that needs to be happening in preschool! Shapes, approximations, and error are part of preschool play that will form the foundation for learning the more academic aspects of math. All they need from us is peace and quiet, and perhaps a well-placed tool/toy.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Anna's Triangles

While I was cooking dinner the kids were playing underfoot with magnatiles. At some point I looked down and saw Anna's work, pictured below.

She had made it all by herself. It was constructed entirely of the square shaped magnatiles. There was a cube in the middle and on each side she had made triangular prisms and placed a square lid on top. It was beautiful and I thought of it as a teachable moment. Then I thought better. I did what I knew I should; I didn't say anything. It was so hard for me to be quiet. I wanted to say something about the shapes. I wanted to suggest she find the equilateral triangles to replace the lids of the triangular prisms. I wanted to do it for her because I'm often impulsive and want to play too. But I didn't. I quietly snapped the picture and wondered where she toddled off to. 

The next time I looked down I saw that she had replaced the square lids with the triangle lids. I quickly grabbed my camera, not quickly enough to capture both sides in complete symmetry, but enough to get the picture below. She had retrieved different triangle shaped magnatiles and added them to her creation. Again, I bit my tongue, which was exceedingly difficult for me, and let her do her work. 

It was a proud moment for me. I was proud that I heeded Janet Lansbury's advice to let our children play. I was proud that Anna built something and continued to change it and play with shapes. I was proud that Mikey kept his attention on his own work and didn't interfere with his sister. All around, it was absolutely wonderful.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Reading: Find a New Section of Your Library, Like Nonfiction Picture Books

Pic from
We are regulars at the library. My kids walk around like they own the place. They know where my books and where their books are located. Within the children's library, they know where to find the board books and the audio books. They also know where to find the librarian to help us locate something special. They even know how to check themselves out using the kiosk. What none of us knew was that there was an entire section of the children's library that we had never seen...nonfiction.

It never occurred to me that there would be a distinction between fiction and nonfiction for little kiddos. I guess I always assumed there was enough "truth," or learning, to be found in books like "Where's My T.R.U.C.K.?", "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," and "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes." But tucked away in the corner, away from board books and the easy-to-reach shelves of fiction, are the tall shelves of non-fiction...

Wow! What a discovery we have made. We have found some outstanding books by Gail Gibbons called "Clocks and How They Go" and "Tool Book." Each book offers simple pictures, words, and explanations of how/why things work. We liked her work so much that we will be seeking out some of her other 50 nonfiction picture books!

We found a series called "Simple Science" by Caroline Rush and Mike Gordon that includes preschool-level picture books about "Levers," "Pulleys," and more. It is another preschool-level series for you to learn some basic physics alongside your Preschool Engineer.

"The Sun, the Wind and the Rain" is a pretty awesome book that tells two stories alongside one another: "This is the story of two mountains. The earth made one. Elizabeth in her yellow hat made the other." It is a very nice picture book for preschoolers with not too much text and pretty pictures. For us, it opened up discussions about erosion, or as I called it "Environmental or Civil Engineering," because of all the water and mud work my kids do in my back yard and at the sandy parks nearby.

"Erosion" was the next book that we've discovered but it is way above the paygrade for preschool. But if you have a preschool engineer who is a book junky with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and attention surplus disorder for this kind of thing, then you should check it out.

And last but not least, "My Light" is my kid's nighttime read. It is about electricity and the energy cycle. This one is pretty sophisticated science but the pictures are cool, there are mechanically interesting things in it, and your kid will probably latch on to the simplest lesson - two kinds of light bulbs for finding and identifying in the house, at school, and all over. Plus, it is a neat thing for grown ups to learn about, too!

I can write more specific reviews of these books later. For now, you probably get the gist.

So go out there and discover a new part of your local library!

[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, June 4, 2014

Response to the NSTA Position Statement on Early Childhood Science Education

When I saw that the National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC) endorsed the National Science Teacher Association's (NSTA) position statement on early childhood science education, my interest was piqued. I respect both of these organizations and the work they do. I find a lot of comfort in NAEYC's commitment to developmentally-appropriate practices and I know that NSTA is wholeheartedly committed to making science education both important and accessible to people across the country. And when I read the NSTA's statement I was equally excited and terrified.

I was very excited to read NSTA's remarks about the underestimated abilities of our youngest scientists and preschool engineers out there:
"Current research indicates that young children have the capacity for constructing conceptual learning and the ability to use the practices of reasoning and inquiry (NRC 2007, 2012). Many adults, including educators, tend to underestimate children’s capacity to learn science core ideas and practices in the early years and fail to provide the opportunities and experiences for them to foster science skills and build conceptual understanding (NRC 2007, p. vii)."
Indeed, given the time and space, I have watched my now two year old perform little acts of science discovery. Just today she picked up a stick, threw it in a river and exclaimed, "it floats!" In that small act of childhood play she demonstrated the curiosity that must exist for science learning to happen. She performed an experiment when she threw the stick into the water and she made a little observation that it floated. Had I the time and interest in having her round out her science learning, I would have brought along a notebook where we put sticker pictures of things that floated on one page and sticker pictures of things that didn't float on another page but I am not that mom. Her play is enough and I choose very carefully when I intervene.

My four year old son, on the other hand, probably would like completing the entire scientific method (which is what we called science inquiry in the old days). Stickers work for him but he really likes to draw pictures of his science ideas...but his drawings appear pretty nonsensical to me. Taking pictures would be a more "reliable" record for him to share with his friends or family or even using his audio recording device might work, too. Even so, I feel extremely cautious about imposing a lesson plan on a four year old. Again, I consider his play enough. When he suggests recording his findings then we will proceed from there.

Which brings me to the part of the position statement that I simultaneously liked and disliked. They say:
"Adults play a central and important role in helping young children learn science." 
"Young children develop science skills and knowledge in both formal and informal 
As parents and teachers and other caregivers, we provide the opportunities for our preschool engineers to develop their pre-STEM learning. But I truly believe that those opportunities need to be exclusively play... Sure, play in different places with different materials using different tools, but it needs to be independent child-centered play. No judging, no right or wrong, no assessing...just good old fashioned play.

Luckily, the NSTA statement continues with the following, play-centric declarations about the future of early childhood science education:
NSTA recommends that teachers and other education providers who support children’s learning in any early childhood setting should 
• understand that science experiences are already a part of what young children encounter
every day through play and interactions with others, but that teachers and other education
providers need to provide a learning environment that encourages children to ask
questions, plan investigations, and record and discuss findings;

• tap into, guide, and focus children’s natural interests and abilities through carefully
planned open-ended, inquiry-based explorations;

• provide numerous opportunities every day for young children to engage in science
inquiry and learning by intentionally designing a rich, positive, and safe environment for
exploration and discovery;"

So you can see why I feel ambivalent about the statement. I LOVE that "inquiry," "exploration," and "open-ended" recur throughout the statement. I feel nervous about the possibility that Kindergarten and first grade expectations will be pushed onto day cares and places of early childhood learning and that someone is going to start assessing preschool students and their teachers. But at the end of the day, I am excited that NSTA, NAEYC and many others are beginning to see the STEM learning in early childhood play.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Music Monday: Fire Truck

To kick off our Music Mondays, I'm sharing one of the newest songs by It is a little like a rap with snappy drumbeats.

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