Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Wonderful Thing

A Wonderful Thing
My husband doesn’t usually bring his work home. It is only when things are going extraordinarily well or extraordinarily bad that he talks about his work life. And so I get snippets of the best and the worst aspects of his work life. He celebrates when his idea comes to fruition or when his machines work as they should. He despairs over crashing computer programs. Sound familiar? I think many people have similar aspects of work that give reason to celebrate or to feel discouraged.  
Did I mention that he is a scientist (a physicist to be exact)?
Being a scientist has its ups and downs like any other profession. Will his equipment work? If not, he will have to fix it or find someone who can. Will the work be done on time? He spends more time at work on the days immediately before deadlines. Will the work be good enough? Breakthroughs are exciting and gainful! The more high-quality work he does, the more he gets to do, which is good for his job satisfaction as well as our family’s health and well-being.
Conversely, being a professional scientist also requires a type of work that is different from other professions. Scientists are paid to discover things that have never been found before. The work modern scientists do is deeply entwined with historic science, which means they are responsible for knowing details of previous discoveries and how those previous discoveries inform future discoveries. Like Isaac Newton, in 1676, saw further by standing on the shoulders of giants, scientists in the twenty first century must consider how their work fits into the landscape of science.
The most unnerving thing about scientists passing information between each other is that they are bilingual. They use mathematical symbols interchangeably with english (or whatever is their native language) in their prose. When I explained this to my college students I used to joke that it is due to laziness. It is easier to write “x 0” instead of “the limit as x approaches zero.” So not only are scientists observing and studying things that have never been observed or studied before, they are talking about it in a way that makes it difficult for people who are not fluent in mathematics to participate.
However, more likely than not, you are not aiming to participate in professional science; nor is your child (for now). So you are lucky that Albert Einstein was right when he said, “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.” Without being bogged down in the logistics of being a scientist, you have a unique opportunity to enjoy it. You are not responsible for discovering something that is new to humankind. It just has to be new to you. What is even better is that you are not limited to the world of academic science.
You are not bound to reading and writing articles in peer-reviewed journals or textbooks. You can read children’s books like “My Light” by Molly Bang or listen to “Fossil Fuels” by Jeff and Paige to learn about the energy cycle. You can watch television programs on the Science Channel or the Discovery Channel or other videos on YouTube like “Smarter Every Day.” You can listen to podcasts. You can play online games like the ones developed by Physics Educators at the University of Colorado. In short, you can learn from any media you choose!
Plus, in order for you to learn about or do science on your own, you do not have to work in highly specialized laboratories. You can start simply by playing with smart toys (yes, grown-ups can play with toys). You can learn at home in your garden or in the kitchen with Alton Brown as your guide. You can find and visit a Science Museum near you. You can even learn some science on vacation by visiting National Parks or volunteering. No matter what avenue for learning you choose, you have the pleasure of learning science as a playful, independent person.
What’s that? You want more direction? Consider planning your own lessons by perusing the Next Generation Science Standards and finding an activity to match. Maybe you just want to work your way through the free online lessons at the Khan Academy. And if you really crave a teacher-student relationship, you can enroll in continuing education programs or college courses.

Whatever way you choose to learn science is fine by me. The point I want to make here is that science learning is available to everyone, not just scientists. More importantly, I want to invite you to see science learning as a playful endeavor. It is something you can do and enjoy alongside your young child.
Think about bath time. It is something you will do with your child from the time he or she is an infant for many years. It will become part of the daily routine, at times merely offering the structure you need to make it to the end of a challenging day. At other times it will be a delightful place to connect with your child. It is during those times when you are happily enjoying the splashes and the bath games of a young child that I invite you to learn. See how simple it can be by reading the “Invitation to Learn Buoyancy” I made for you:

Invitation to Learn Buoyancy
Context: Babies, toddlers and preschoolers seem to have two favorite places to learn about buoyant force: in the bathtub and at the lakeshore. You will probably be right there with them to keep them safe but if you can step into their world you can learn some physics alongside your young child, too.
Purpose: To learn about buoyancy.
Growing with the Child - Levels of Experimentation
Baby Experiment: Throw or place something in the water. Observe if it sinks or floats. State your observation.
Toddler Experiment: Building on the baby science, collect the items from the water (if you can). Sort them into groups based on their buoyancy - sinkers, floaters, etc.
Preschooler Experiment: Before throwing or placing items in the water, guess what will happen. Will it sink or will it float? Continue with the toddler experiment.

Levels of Understanding: Benefits of Learning with a Grown-up (or as a Grown-up)
My favorite thing about learning with my kid is that I can read and do internet research to learn more or answer questions that arise. If I want to then I can think deeper, considering more complex things. Here are some things to guide your investigation into buoyancy.
Guiding Questions
❤ What is the most interesting, most important or most useful thing about buoyancy?
⨳ What are the limitations or advantages of studying buoyancy in a bathtub? In a lake? In a river?
՞ What if the bathtub was filled with olive oil instead of water?
⊜ How would you explain what you’ve learned to an older child?
Resources
Picture Books: A picture book is worth a thousand academic words.
Online Learning:

With this small amount of encouragement I hope you feel drawn to play and to learn with your child. As I see it, the benefits of accepting my invitation are numerous. Here are some of the benefits I consider the most valuable:
  1. Learn science at your pace. Buoyancy is a topic that can be visited and revisited in small amounts over the course of your young child’s life.
  2. Learn science at your convenience. The experiments are things you can do within the routine of your daily life. They can easily be expanded during a vacation to the beach. The follow-up research can be done with a trip to your local children’s library or while you watch TV in the evening.
  3. Learn science to your satisfaction. You choose what you will study, when you are done and when you are ready for more. There are no deadlines, no bosses, no stresses from broken equipment that could determine your career.
  4. Learn science with your child. We are constantly looking for ways to enjoy “quality time” with our children. An invitation to learn science provides you a little direction for ways of being open and active in things that interest your child.  
In all reality I realize that a micro-burst of time and energy is about all you have for learning science. And that is OK. Pint-sized learning is better than none at all. That being said, I hope you accept my invitation to learn science. Because science is a wonderful thing.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Airplane Travel Ideas for Young Children (or People who are Children at Heart)

I have chosen a handful of toys and activities based on the following criteria:
  • *.....They are the right size to take in a carry-on
  • *.....They are mechanically interesting
  • *.....They are new to my family


Read the list on Fat Brain Toys...

Every Night: A Winter Poem

Every night they ask, 
“Can we go on a twinkle light walk?” 
And every night I answer, 
“Yes!” 

The rest is on Fat Brain Toys...

Not Seeing Santa

"Is there a story to tell about our trip to see Santa? Yes. Of course, there is always a story to tell. But my story is not a typical story of seemingly endless waiting and crying children. My story begins in memories of long ago and stretches into my life as a parent."


Read the rest at Fat Brain Toys...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

No Means No

"What I offered was a nugget of parenting brilliance. It was one of those rare times that I felt like I knocked it out of the park as a parent. (It seems like nine times out of ten I falter or flounder through this journey of parenting.) And here it is…"

Read the rest on Fat Brain Toys...

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Relatives Came

My mother-in-law should get a lot of credit for the treasures I write about on Preschool Engineering. She is the one who introduced us to Magna-tiles and keeps us flush with great books. "The Relatives Came" is no exception. This book arrived for my family just in time for the holiday travel and it is one you should know about.

It is a story about all that happens when relatives come to visit from far away. It begins with the far-away relatives packing up and making the long long trip. Once the far-away relatives arrive, everyone greets each other, share space, and make plans for more visits. Between the prose and the pictures, this book depicts the way the energy changes through transitions toward and away from each other.

As a yogi, my favorite part is about something small yet profound - breathing together:
"They are up all our strawberries and melons, then promised we could eat up all their grapes and peaches when we came to Virginia.  
But none of us thought about Virginia much. We were so busy hugging and eating and breathing together."
That breathing together. It is so different. It is special and invigorating in some ways, intrusive and suffocating in others. And everyone experiences it...the visitors as well as the hosts. By acknowledging these experiences, all the way down to breathing together, we are able to be mindful of ourselves and of our guests, moving in and around each other with as much grace as possible. And this book brings that to light.

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/relatives-came#cart/cleanup


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tinsel Games

"One of the hardest lessons I have learned since becoming a parent is that I cannot (and should not) control everything. 

Before having children I organized my life with checklists. I would write down my list of things to do and then do them in a timely manner. I held myself accountable to doing things well if I were to do them at all. Once I had completed my task to my satisfaction then I could cross it off my list. 

After becoming a mom I still organize my life with checklists but I do not do them in a timely manner. Everything seems to have turned into a group effort, which means tasks are not necessarily done well or even to completion. A good case in point is decorating."

Read more at Fat Brain Toys...


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rainbow Dress-Up

When your child thinks out of the box, it is not a surprise to see him wearing socks on his hands. These rainbow sleeves are actually sold as leggings. Sometimes they are even worn as leggings. But sometimes they are superhero sleeves.

Find yours on Amazon today! And I would love to hear how your child plays with them!!


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Child at Heart

"There is an expression about being a "child at heart." It usually means that a person maintains some playful part of his or her life that is carefree, joyful, and uninhibited by the responsibilities of growing up. What it rarely refers to is the amazing and unabashed way children learn. I like to think that being a child at heart includes all of those things. I also believe that we can support each others' childish qualities (and inspire each other to become unabashed learners) when we when we give gifts."

Read the rest at the Fat Brain Toys PLAY blog: https://www.fatbraintoys.com/play/2015/12/2/child_at_heart.cfm.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Invitation to Learn

"As Partners in Play we occupy a unique part of the educational world. As learners and as teachers, we are not bound by conventional places and ways of learning. We can teach and learn outside of school and without curriculum that might be too scrupulous for its own good. We get to choose what to study and how to study it. We also determine for ourselves when we are satisfied with having learned. Teaching and learning through play is therefore the most meaningful and the most satisfying way to experience the world."

Read the rest of this article at the Fat Brain Toys PLAY blog...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Color Me Curious

The Fat Brain Toys catalogue arrived in the mail today. As I flipped through the pages a handful of toys piqued my interest. They are all mechanically interesting. Just in case you value my critical eye, I am sharing them here. And in the event you have experience with any of these treasures, please let me know!!



















Ukelele (This one we played with at Grandrabbits and the sound is lovely. I think because it is made by an instrument company, not a toy company.)







Monday, November 16, 2015

Inviting My Reluctant Son to Do Art

Yours truly, featured over on the Fat Brain Toys PLAY blog.


"I want to encourage you to listen to your children and find ways that support their creativity. If you need to know how then just try this: make something they've created valuable by connecting it to something big. For example, find your child's version of Mikey's Zentangle Starter Page. Or read a book that shows value in different ways of being creative, like Art, Beautiful Oops, or The Dot. Get them a coloring book that values the scribble. Slowly but surely you and your child will discover the value of his or her art."

Read more here...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Even Onions Blossom



After hearing about "Leo the Late Bloomer" I had to give it a read. It was a lovely story about a tiger who was not doing all the things his peers were doing. He couldn't read or write. He was a messy eater. And Leo's father worried. Leo's mother advised, "Just wait." Sure enough, left to learn and play and grow, Leo, in his own time, learned to read and write and eat without being too messy.

Teachers, doctors and parents often use flower metaphors to describe children coming of age. They blossom, bloom, and grow. Children are seeds in a garden, requiring some the right amount of care in order to grow. They cannot be rushed. A lover of all things outdoors, I like these metaphors.

Many years ago my friend took me for a tour of his garden. I marveled. I am not a gardener and I was surprised that he was. I admired as he pointed out the potatoes coming up just beneath the soil and the strawberries hiding beneath their own leaves. All these beautiful things he had cultivated. Then I asked what the beautiful flower was. He seemed embarrassed to tell me it was an onion and that it should not have gotten to bloom. But he was a new father and in those mid-summer days the garden was taking care of itself more than usual.

I smelled it and should not have been surprised that it smelled like an onion and not a rose. Still, it was breath-taking and I had to take a picture. This is the picture that came to my mind when I read "Leo." The little stinkers who seem like they will never be ready to learn to go to the bathroom themselves? Someday they will. Learn to write? Of course. Read? Indubitably. Count? Do science? Absolutely. You just have to wait and watch. Even the onions blossom.




Friday, November 6, 2015

STEAM Gifts Index

The activity that surrounds common science learning suggests that all STEM learning is always visually and viscerally exciting. The oohs and ahhs of baking soda and vinegar volcanoes are fun to hear. People enjoy their racing hearts and joyful jumping when a catapult launches. But a lot of STEAM learning is quiet and slow. It has nothing to do with chemistry and everything to do with interesting materials.



What makes these STEM or STEAM gifts?

Some gifts provide experiences at science-centered places like zoos and aquariums and national or state parks. Each of these places provide education-opportunity-rich environments for children and their adults to learn about animals, habitats, and stewardship, and the tools and processes for caring for those animals. Other places, like children's museums, offer variety and novelty of toys, tools, and activities that parents and school simply cannot provide because of logistics.

Other gifts are toys that invite children to observe, to experiment, and to learn about fundamental science, technology, engineering, art, or math subjects. Novel materials, like baby paper, encourage observation and curiosity. Variety of building materials including magnets, wooden blocks, rubber suction cups, and interlocking "fingers" allows for children to explore technology available. Building with those materials is some of the first engineering a young child will do. Sorting by material, color, shape, size is fundamental science and math.

I do not list chemistry-style toys because those toys and activities usually require a lot of parent involvement. My focus is on toys that help foster independent STEAM learning.

The lists I provide here are divided mostly by age. I provide brief description of the gifts I've selected and sometimes point out what makes the gift STEMy or STEAMy. I encourage you to browse each list and imagine the learning possibilities these toys provide!


Gear for Outdoor Adventures
STEM Gifts for Babies
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - One Year Olds
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - Two Year Olds

STEAM Gifts for Preschoolers - Five Year Olds

Five year olds are ready for more. They can play with more of everything from the list of STEAM Gifts for Three Year Olds and STEAM Gifts for Four Year Olds. They play in increasingly interesting ways with "old" materials. They can also work quieter and longer with something like Perplexus. And they can work with more dangerous things like the catapult. Take a peak below and some ideas for some STEAMy experiences and toys for five year olds.


Experiences

As young children grow, so can their experience of the world. At four years old, I think they are ready to explore national and state parks with their grown up. Consider buying admission to a park near you. By exploring the outdoors together a five year old and his or her grown will be steeped in all things STEAM.

National Parks Pass. Here is the link to learn about and purchase the American the Beautiful National Park Pass. ($80) Not sure if there is a national park near your Preschool Engineer? Search by state on this page: http://www.nps.gov/index.htm.

Junior Rangers Program. The National Parks Service have a great learning program called "Junior Rangers" wherein the child explores and learns about the national park. It is free of charge, easy to do (even my 3yo did it), and a great way to add to the experience of being outdoors.



State Parks Pass. You will have to do some digging to find your state park. Start here: http://www.americasstateparks.org/Find-A-Park. From there you will have to navigate to your state of interest and hunt around. The passes are often called "Passports." For example, this is what I found for purchase in a handful of states: MichiganColorado, and California.

And if you want to supplement your child's outdoor adventure with some gear then check out my post here.



*=*=*

My favorite STEAMy gift is a family pass to a children's museum. A children's museum is a place where children have practically free reign over the space. There are hands-on activities designed with children in mind. The museums offer variety and novelty that are just unreasonable to expect to offer at home.


All of the museums I've been to have spaces dedicated to babies (Missoula, MontanaPhoenix, ArizonaMesa, ArizonaDenver, ColoradoAnn Arbor, Michigan). The best museums have dedicated baby spaces at every exhibit, like the "Baby Zones" at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. Use the search tool at the Association of Children's Museums website to find your local museum, or just Google "children's museum [name of city]".

*=*=*

Consider finding the local zoo for your little person and buying their family a year's pass. You will open their experience of the world to include exotic animals and their care. Search the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find an animal adventure near you. Search here.


*=*=*

Toys

Some of these toys are recommended for six year olds but I'm not sure why. Please use your discretion.

Perplexus. This is a three dimensional puzzle. A small ball rolls around and the child tilts the large ball this way and that way to keep the ball on a track. Everyone in my circle who has received this gift has loved it. It is like a teeny tiny marble run that M.C. Escher designed. You get to play with gravity and shapes in a new and interesting way.

Perplexus



Catapult. In all honesty, I don't have experience with this toy. But man it looks so awesome.  Just imagine all the physics learning with projectile motion, gravity, and technology!

Catapult



Safari Binoculars. For seeing far away things, closer. Observation is the first step in doing science. And having a new tool for observing interesting things is a wonderful gift.
Backyard Safari Binoculars

Lego Ninjago Flyer. Listed for six year olds and up, this spinning flier will be a great introduction to the world of LEGO Ninjago. Some preschool engineers are so in love with trucks that they will want to pursue LEGO City and all the trucks available in that series. However, if the interest in trucks lies in the fact that they are mechanically interesting, then Ninjago is a wonderful world to discover. The vehicles that you build with LEGOs are like small Rube Goldberg machines with a lot of moving parts, interlocking gears, rubberband sprung motion, and much much more. The books that accompany the series are pretty good, too...especially the graphic novels.

Ninjago Flyer
Microscope. This microscope is not listed as a toy nor does it have age recommendations. But the price is right and it looks like it gets rave reviews. It is currently on my son's wishlist. When we acquire it I will update this with a brief review.

Beginner's Microscope

More Gift Ideas
Gear for Outdoor Adventures
STEM Gifts for Babies
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - One Year Olds
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - Two Year Olds


STEAM Gifts for Preschoolers - Four Year Olds

Four year olds are on the cusp of something great. They are able to use the STEAM Gifts for Three Year Olds in increasingly interesting ways. So those gifts are relevant for four year olds, too. But they are also rapidly approaching kindergarten. This age in between makes it hard to distinguish a gift just for four year olds but take a peak here at things to add to your list.

Experiences

As young children grow, so can their experience of the world. At four years old, I think they are ready to explore national and state parks with their grown up. Consider buying admission to a park near you. By exploring the outdoors together a four year old and his or her grown will be steeped in all things STEAM.

National Parks Pass. Here is the link to learn about and purchase the American the Beautiful National Park Pass. ($80) Not sure if there is a national park near your Preschool Engineer? Search by state on this page: http://www.nps.gov/index.htm.



State Parks Pass. You will have to do some digging to find your state park. Start here: http://www.americasstateparks.org/Find-A-Park. From there you will have to navigate to your state of interest and hunt around. The passes are often called "Passports." For example, this is what I found for purchase in a handful of states: MichiganColorado, and California.

And if you want to supplement your child's outdoor adventure with some gear then check out my post here.



*=*=*

My favorite STEAMy gift is a family pass to a children's museum. A children's museum is a place where children have practically free reign over the space. There are hands-on activities designed with children in mind. The museums offer variety and novelty that are just unreasonable to expect to offer at home.


All of the museums I've been to have spaces dedicated to babies (Missoula, MontanaPhoenix, ArizonaMesa, ArizonaDenver, ColoradoAnn Arbor, Michigan). The best museums have dedicated baby spaces at every exhibit, like the "Baby Zones" at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. Use the search tool at the Association of Children's Museums website to find your local museum, or just Google "children's museum [name of city]".

*=*=*

Consider finding the local zoo for your little person and buying their family a year's pass. You will open their experience of the world to include exotic animals and their care. Search the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find an animal adventure near you. Search here.


*=*=*

Toys

A lot of these toys are recommended for three year olds but, in my experience, they are better for four years. Four year olds have a little more dexterity and strength and are able to play with these toys with more purpose and with more independence than three year olds. 

B. Pop Art. There are so many novel things about these toys: color, texture, shape. If your child wants to wrap their creation around his or her wrist, or make a necklace for you, they have an opportunity to learn about length, circumference, and the relationship between the two. What wonderful toys!

B. Pop-Arty Beads

Gears. These gears adorn my refrigerator. While everyone from babies to toddlers enjoy spinning them, four year olds are the ones who start really building with them. Magnetic backing on each one is strong enough to stick to the surface of the 'frig but not so strong that a child cannot easily remove and replace it somewhere else. The prongs of the gears fit together nicely and the motion of interlocking gears is perfect. It is easy for me to recommend this toy.

Magnetic Spinning Gears

Marble Run. Marble runs are classic for a reason. Building towers and watching marbles come tumbling down is delightful. This is another toy rated for three year olds and up. And it is nice to watch three year olds experiment and learn how to build with them but things start getting really interesting when the builder is four years old. If you want to avoid plastic toys then there are wooden versions of marble runs, too.

Marble Run
Hape Marble Run

Squigz. These little suction-cup toys are so pick-up-able. Grow-ups who visit our house often where them stuck to their foreheads. Our kids play with them from everywhere from the toy room to the bathtub. And if you like them, then you can make a Squigz-themed gift-giving extravaganza and give different-sized Squigz to different people because Squigz are also available in extra large size for babies and tiny size rated for five years and up.
Squigz

Conveyor Belt. I haven't listed trucks or working machines in the STEAM gift lists yet. Instead I've focused on more open-ended stuff. But this machine is so cool that I couldn't resist including it here. When my four year old opened this gift he was delighted. It is a bonafide working conveyor belt that works indoors and outdoors. It is a unique toy for exploring how certain technology helps do our work.

Bruder Conveyor



Lastly, I recommend adding on to existing collections of builders. From my standpoint as a parent, it is easier to handle an influx of toys if they are just more of the same thing. More magna-tiles get added to the magna-tile bin. More Squigz get added to the Squigz bin. With more of the same materials, larger and more complex building can happen. Higher numbers are counted. There is more STEAM, more of the time.

More Gift Ideas
Gear for Outdoor Adventures
STEM Gifts for Babies
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - One Year Olds
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - Two Year Olds



STEAM Gifts for Preschoolers - Three Year Olds

Ah, three year olds. For some reason, rooted in development I'm sure, three year olds are ready for toys with more moving parts and smaller parts that are generally more "dangerous" than the things appropriate for babies and toddlers. Here is my list for STEAMy gifts for Three Year Olds.

Experiences
My favorite STEAMy gift is a family pass to a children's museum. A children's museum is a place where children have practically free reign over the space. There are hands-on activities designed with children in mind. The museums offer variety and novelty that are just unreasonable to expect to offer at home.


All of the museums I've been to have spaces dedicated to babies (Missoula, MontanaPhoenix, ArizonaMesa, ArizonaDenver, ColoradoAnn Arbor, Michigan). The best museums have dedicated baby spaces at every exhibit, like the "Baby Zones" at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. Use the search tool at the Association of Children's Museums website to find your local museum, or just Google "children's museum [name of city]".

*=*=*

Consider finding the local zoo for your little person and buying their family a year's pass. You will open their experience of the world to include exotic animals and their care. Search the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find an animal adventure near you. Search here.


*=*=*

Toys

Tea Set. This tea set is perfect for learning science and math concepts like chemistry (mixing sugar, milk and tea together) and pre-math lessons in volume, quantity and sorting. Don't miss the STEM learning that happens during a tea party!!



Silks. I love the geometry learning that playing with fabric provides. Scrunching, folding, rolling, or laying flat, a preschooler will be experimenting with his or her math skills when they play with these. The fabric can also double as green grass or blue rivers, or they can be used to build small tents for toys to gain shelter. I know that you could let your child play with towels, wash clothes, sheets and blankets the same way. But, oh - the touch of silk? It is special.



Nino Percussion. Musical instruments land solidly in the "A" of STEAM. And there are many instruments out these. I'm listing these two because they sound beautiful and they are mechanically interesting, which make them ideal for preschool engineers. Nino makes a variety of instruments but the Nino Shaker and the Nino Cabasa are my favs.

Nino Shaker
Nino Cabasa


Haba Block and Tackle. We have this set of pulleys and they invite comments from everyone who visits our house. Young people study physics. They also get to explore how this technology aids new ways for lifting things, which is the definition of engineering.



Magnetic Builders. Check out these two sets of magnetic builders! Our magnetic toys are our go-to toy for playdates. Magna-Tiles have been used to make "airplanes," "houses," and Octonaut's "gups."  They are solid, which make for good structures. Magformers have stronger magnets and snap together well but they have openings in each shape, which make great windows but not doors or walls. Both styles have cool add-ons like Playmags magnetic car beds, which work well with Magna-Tiles and Magformers motion set that has gears and cranks.

These toys scream STEAM. From experimenting with the ways magnets and shapes go together to building innovative structures. When people play with these toys there is counting, sorting, and building in two dimensons and three dimensions. Children explore the sometimes paradoxical relationship between form and function. And the list goes on and on. These toys grow with the child and are a perennial favorite gift...adding to the magnetic toy stash at birthday celebrations and other gift-giving holidays always go over well.

Magna-Tiles

Magformers

Traveling Magnets. Mindware makes a set of traveling magnetic shapes, complete with a container that doubles as a foundation.  Your preschool engineer can free-build some two dimensional sculptures or he or she can try to build to match a card!
Traveling Magnets

I have an entire section of my Amazon aStore dedicated to Building Toys. I break them out by Fat Brain Exclusives, Wooden Shapes, Hex Bug, and Other Building Fun. But for this list I'm going to suggest you check out these novel builders by Fat Brain Toys. They are called Joinks. In true Fat Brain Toys fashion, these builders are intuitive and unique. They are unlike other builders out there. Lessons in physics and engineering and maybe even some chemistry modeling are laying in wait in your first box of Joinks.

Joinks


Butterfly Wings. Pretending to be a butterfly is fun but it is also preschool performance art. Children flap their arms to be anything from a bird to a bug to a butterfly. Check these wings out to add to their imaginative play (available in many colors).

Butterfly Wings


For additional science learning grab a non-fiction book (My, oh my -- A Butterfly!) or some music (Mighty Wolf) about butterflies.


Speaking of Preschool Performance Art, I will add another really novel dress-up item. Jeff and Paige made bobcat shirts that have been a huge hit with 3 year olds, 4 year olds, and the grown-ups they frighten. On the front of the shirt there is the kind face of a bobcat. But there is also a flap on the front of the shirt that when lifted reveals the ferocious teeth and chomping mouth of a bobcat! Available to buy exclusively at Jeff and Paige's website.





Artist Travel Desk. My kids both love this personal artist desk. Consider it a pint-sized artcart...perfect for small spaces as well as on-the-go creative work. Don't forget to stock it with paper, stickers, washable crayons and markers, and, perhaps, scissors and glue. (For those of you in hot climates, be aware that if this is left in the car then the crayons might melt!)
Desk To Go

Last but not least is a Magnifying Glass. This tool is made for children 3 years old and older. I like the size. I like the magnifying power. And I like that it can be propped up on the ground so a child can do hands-free observation. The tweezers are an added bonus because anything that grabs usually goes over well with Preschool Engineers.

Magnifying Glass


So there you have it. My list for STEAM gifts for three year olds. I believe these gifts sustain their value because as the child grows, the gift grows. The play (i.e., learning) supported by these gifts changes, becomes more sophisticated, and ultimately makes your child smarter. That is what makes this list of STEAM gifts different from other lists you might find out there. I hope that makes it a valuable gift giving guide. Tell me, what do you think?


More Gift Ideas
Gear for Outdoor Adventures
STEM Gifts for Babies
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - One Year Olds
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - Two Year Olds