Thursday, October 30, 2014

Comment on "Parenting as a Gen Xer"

For the first time in my life I find myself a conservative. When I read the article on the Washington Post about what it is like to be parenting as a Gen X-er, I had a pretty strong gut reaction to the author's conclusion:

"The truth is, my generation of parents are pioneers here, like it or not. We’re the last of the Mohicans. We can try as hard as we want to push back and to carve space into our children’s lives for treehouses and puzzles and Waldorf-style dolls, but in the end, our children will grow up with the whole world at their fingertips, courtesy of a touch screen, and they will have to learn how to find the balance between their cyber and real worlds. It is scary. I don’t think I even believe there is a “right way” to parent with technology. But acknowledging that what we are doing is unprecedented – that no study yet knows exactly what this iChildhood will look like when our children are full grown people – feels like an exhale of sorts."

I really was uncomfortable to read "I don't think I even believe there is a 'right way' to parent with technology." I thought, "but there is a wrong way."


I fully buy in when my pediatrician recommends no screens for children under the age of two, and limited thereafter. I have watched my son become addicted to screens and struggled through breaking that addiction (despite the good that came from it). And so as we grow, I have tried to set very strict limits on screen time. I have spent an inordinate amount of my energy and time trying to tolerate the ranting and raving and arguing about having more. I've made compromises, sure. It doesn't seem fair to cut it out entirely after we've discovered so many wonderful things out there...TV programs, apps, YouTube, iTunes, etc. But I have steeled myself to be patient with the mess that is inevitable when I invite them to help me cook, clean, or just go outside to play instead of plugging them in.

I want to conserve childhood the way I remember it - spent playing outside, helping around the house with chores, and discovering national treasures by traveling the country together in our van. I want to conserve the value of an honest-to-goodness book sitting in your lap. I want to conserve the natural childhood wonder that comes with observing leaves blowing from trees in autumn, snow melting in your palm, and seeing the first buds on trees in the spring. When my children remember back to their early years, I want them to remember how big the world felt when they rolled down the hills and climbed the biggest rock they could find. Because in this world where information is at our fingertips, I want them to know where that information came is born of curiosity, which is something everyone has access to when they are children.

Error and Approximation

When I turned and saw this "word" on our refrigerator I had to stop myself from thinking, "Well that's just plain wrong." I pondered it and realized that Mikey had approximated his name. He had M, K, and E in there well enough. But he substituted a T where I was supposed to be and again T for Y. When I asked him about it he said it was his name and, pointing to the letters one at a time, said "M, I, K, E, Y. I had to use 'T' a couple times."

I think it is because I write Preschool Engineering that I have come to recognize pre-STEM in so many places and ways. First of all, pre-algebra is evident to me because he is using symbols (T) to represent other things (I and Y), which is a fundamental skill of algebra.  I also consider this approximation of his name an experiment in error analysis, a commonly overlooked aspect of STEM learning. He saw the letters from which he could choose (the complete alphabet is missing because, you  know, they are used everywhere): A, E, E, O, O, O, U, F, G, K, M, R, S, T, T. He found as many relevant ones as he could: M, K, and E. He identified that he was missing I and Y and decided that T would be a good substitution for each of those letters. In assembling his name, "MTKET" was just right enough for him to be comfortable using it for "MIKEY."

The problem solving that this "misspelling" of his name represents baffles me. It also reminds me how important it is that I didn't squash his work by saying "well, that's just wrong, Mikey." and make him go hunt around the house for the missing letters. Instead, I asked him about it and in all truth told him, "I think that the way you approximated your name is pretty neat."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Homework Benefits for Parents/Caregivers

Shortly after my posts on homework and scribbling in which I advocate for some family time at the end of the day and how to spend that time, this article was published on HuffPost. It was titled "Coloring Isn't Just for Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress." It compliments my recent revelations beautifully!
Image from

My original argument for homework time was to schedule in some downtime at the end of the day. It helps me know what to do when we're all running a little ragged. It is something the kids look forward to every day: Anna enjoys her last milk for the day, Mikey craves the closeness and the last new thing of the day. They color, play with stickers, read snippets from their activity books, etc. I'm usually just there for support. But what HuffPost adds is that this type of work (specifically coloring) can be de-stressing for adults, too.
"In simplest terms, coloring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a particular activity, we focus on it and not on our worries."

The article goes on to suggest some coloring books for adults. They are all different from the ones I suggest in "Not Your Average Coloring Book" and I am excited to try them. Somehow reading this little article on HuffPost was all I needed to justify having my own creative outlet at homework time. Not only will I de-stress but I will be modeling homework for my kids. I can design projects large and small. I can show them trial and error, demonstrate how to handle the frustration of something not going as planned, and teach them how to be gracious and proud of a job well-done. I will show them that coloring isn't just for kids...and why should it be? After all, Picasso encourages us: "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Love this... "Using Just the RIght Amount" by Teacher Tom

When I read Teacher Tom's entry on "Using Just the Right Amount" I had to laugh. His story really resonated with me about how freely glue flows in the hands of a preschooler. Then I realized that his story represents what I would call "Preschool Materials Engineering."

Picture from Teacher Tom's Article

"This is why when a child dumps an entire bowl of googly eyes into a lake of glue then empties a shaker of glitter onto it, I no longer see waste. In fact, I know she is using just the right amount."

A lake of glue, an entire bowl of googly eyes - the use of materials and learning about how they go together as well as learning about where the materials are sourced from (recycle bins? Thrift stores? Target?) are exactly what preschool materials engineering students should be focused on.  It is another opportunity to see STEM in the catastrophic mess of preschool play.

Response: "American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist"

There is a wonderful OpEd on Wired this week. It is about the need for citizens to learn how to discover. As I read it, I thought how sad it is that the discovery process is taken away from children as they move through a traditional K-12 system in the US. I suspect overworked teachers, crowded classrooms, and children who are not encouraged to connect personally with the material all contribute to the perpetuating the problem. Luckily, with our preschoolers we can revel in discovery - theirs and ours - for a handful of years before entering Kinder.

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You should read the entire article but I will give you a snippet here:
"We “learn,” and after this we “do.” We go to school and then we go to work.This approach does not map very well to personal and professional success in America today. Learning and doing have become inseparable in the face of conditions that invite us to discover."

Preschoolers are experts in learning by doing. Almost everything they do is "doing" from stacking blocks, to riding tricycles, to scribbling, painting, and molding. The important thing for us to do as parents is to step back and let our children do their things in peace. The more practice they get at being on their own, learning to discover, enjoying their experiments without us butting our noses in, the better equipped they will be to maintain that skill in years to come.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thinking in Pictures - Vision for the Future

"Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture-- literally a vision--in the minds of those who built them... 

...Society is where it is today because people had the perception; the images and the imagination; the creativity that the Arts provide, to make the world the place we live in today." ~ Eugene Ferguson

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jo-jo's Contraption

At my house, my kids are always on the look-out for "friends" who make interesting things. From my point of view, these "friends" are "mentors" and "role models" for preschool engineers. Their work inspires new and different kinds of building. Their stories demonstrate the impetus for building and the challenges of the nature of engineering. We know that Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck are young builders/makers and we recently discovered Tinkerbell's inspiring back-story. Dr. Seuss has long been our go-to author for seeing cool contraptions (like the who's asleep counter with it's funnels and pipes and stuff) and the movie based on his book "Horton Hears a Who" introduces us to a new maker - Jojo.

Jojo is a quiet little guy. He is not interested in the work of his father, the Mayor. But when the Mayor least expects it and needs his help the most, Jojo delivers. Jojo is an engineer of musical instruments. He has created a musical contraption from repurposed items including rubberband balls, marbles, and empty glass bottles. My kids are obsessed with Jojo and his contraption. In a one-minute scene we see what Jojo has made and we have watched it over and over and over again. Inspired, my kids have built their own musical contraptions. They have learned that musical instruments are built by people. And we have a new preschool engineer hall-of-famer.

Enjoy the unveiling of Jojo's contraption here...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cleaning Up

With all the "resources" and "learning materials" (i.e. toys and books) in the house there is a perpetual state of chaos. And in my adult life I am a minimalist so my instinct is to purge everything. So when I came across this article at "Happiness is Here" I felt inspired. Not only does it aline with my perspective on parenting (back off Mama, watch, lead by example, etc.), it proved so successful for one family that I knew I should share it with you.

 "We hoped that by leading by example we might effect more change than by trying to force them to do it. That was the idea anyway, but we didn’t have great expectations. We thought it was quite possible that they would think that this was a pretty sweet deal. That they might relax even more, thinking someone else would always clean up after them. But what else was there to do? We didn’t like how things were going, something had to change. An experiment seemed worth a shot, and we had nothing to lose. So we did it. And it has been AMAZING." From

It seems like an experiment worth trying, here, too. Not only could it help with keeping the house clean but it also can be viewed as pre-STEM learning! Sorting toys into categories is good for pre-Math. Bringing order to chaos is could be considered pre-Physics and pre-Astronomy (I'm laughing out loud at myself for that stretch). Stacking books into a spot that fits and smooshing stuffed animals into a container is good pre-Engineering...children learning about size, shape, and material. They also learn about the system of the toy room and how it works. All in all, if we are successful with modeling clean up instead of nagging for clean up, it will be a huge win for us all.

From "Too Many Toys" by David Shannon

The entire article also reminds me of a book for you to try. "Too Many Toys" by David Shannon has gone over very well in our house. David Shannon has a remarkable way of writing a story that resonates with both child and adult reader. My kids connect with the child in the story who has all the same types of toys as they do (musical instruments, animals, quiet toys and noisy toys). I love the negotiating the child and mother do. And, at the end of the story, they have chosen a good quantity of toys for donating AND discovered the best toy of all - an empty box.

[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. ]