Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Birthday Gifts

A birthday is coming up and there is a lot of excitement around here. My daughter announces to everyone that her birthday is coming. She'll turn three years old! And while I'm not big on adding clutter to the house, I appreciate the excitement of presents, cake, and celebrating with friends. Here is what is on the docket:

1) An Experience. My daughter has been asking for a year now to cut her hair short like her brother's bowl cut. Her hair is very fine and does not hold a rubber band and it is constantly in her face. I had originally promised to cut it after her auntie's wedding in June and I had hoped she would forget the request because I love her blond locks. But she hasn't forgotten. So for her birthday I will be giving her the experience of going to a salon. This is certain to go over because of her interest in Strawberry Shortcake Berry Bitty Adventure's Lemon Meringue and her salon.
Lemon working at her salon.

1.5) Strawberry Shortcake Dolls. I heard through the grapevine that an auntie and uncle are sending Strawberry shortcake mix-n-match dolls. This will be playing on a theme for my daughter. And, mixing and matching are fundamental science skills; color and shape exploring are pre-math. For those of you short on space who have a preschooler who is interested in exploring the technology of salons, cutting, etc., the Bridge Direct makes single dolls.
Bridge Direct

Mix and Match

2) A Book. As you might expect, I always have a book on the list of gifts for holidays and celebrations. This year I've chosen "Bob and Otto" by Bruel. It is a great story about friendship. It explores the different interests of friends and how those interests sometimes take each friend on their own path. But despite pursuing different interests, the friends reunite, still friends! This is her favorite book right now and she is always sad to return it to the library. 

3) A Toy - Magnifying Glass. As much as I love seeing my daughter look through empty paper towel rolls and exclaiming that she's using her magnifying glass, I think she might just love a "real" one of her own. There are various sizes, offering diffferent levels of magnification, and at all different prices. But here is one for sale at Fat Brain Toys. It is called the "Jumbo Magnifier" and would be a great add-on to a larger order. 
Jumbo Magnifier

4) Twig Building Blocks. A generous grandparent sent a check and asked me to decide on a gift. So, I ordered some new blocks to add to her stash. These Twigs should be received well because one of my daughters favorite things to do is build houses (complete with block furniture) for LEGO people. Twigs are made by Fat Brain Toys, with whom I am affiliated, and before you baulk at paying for shipping, rest assured that the shipping is super fast and the customer service is impeccable. (The quality of their products and their service is why I am very excited to have been invited to join their team.)
So there you have it. She will be receiving an experience, a book and a toy, plus some builders and dolls. I am currently brainstorming the party favors for her party, which will resemble the engineer stashes we gave for my son's, but will be decidedly inspired by my daughter's interests in painting.

[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. ]

Friday, January 23, 2015

Start with Observation

I recently read an article called "Rocket Science" on sproutling.com about how to encourage girls to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM). It was filled with great ideas that echo themes that what I have come to think of as "Women in STEM" education movement: girls need role models, support their pursuit of long-term/challenging goals, and "help her be fearless." But among the list of things to do I found some advice that is equally valid for preschool engineers and their parents and caregivers:
"4. Do science-related activities together. Regardless of your expertise in science, math or engineering or technology, participate in fun activities related to them with your kids.
"It's hard to actively encourage your children to pursue study in subjects that can feel overwhelming. But expose your girls to math and science at a young age, and make it fun and cool by doing experiments together. it's okay if you don't know how it will work out, that is what science is about - trial and error, learning from your mistakes, creating a new hypothesis, and doing it again until you succeed. Tell your kids that you are learning, too. Make it fun and very interactive." - Erin.
5. Provide opportunities for her to engage - on her own time. Making sure that girls get time to explore their interests by themselves is equally important - nearly all of the moms remembered spending time alone with science kits, a computer, or during a trip to Space Camp." (http://www.sproutling.com/parentage/rocket-science/)

These two pieces of advice represent the paradox that is teaching and learning. I imagine that #4 is especially intimidating for someone who does not feel confident in their own STEM prowess. But I'm here to tell you that doing STEM with your preschooler does not have to be a complicated or intimidating thing. Just start by making an observation. Keeping yourself open to new (to you) discoveries, I think, is enough for getting preschoolers well on their way to be comfortable with STEM. Of course, this is mainly because when a young child makes an observation or is introduced to something new by a loved one, they immediately follow it up with a question. The observation followed by the question is exactly the beginning of the scientific process! 
Pic courtesy Danielle Harlow, PhD., UCSB.
I feel like there is an added benefit for us as aspiring STEMy adults, too. Keeping our heads up and our eyes ahead takes us decidedly away from our smart phones. It helps us to slow down mentally and see the world around us. In these circumstances, my most cherished moments are the times when I allow myself to honestly get excited about seeing something small or interesting - the bud on a tree in the spring, a fantastic ice crystal growing from a tree branch, or an interesting cloud floating in the sky. A mere exclamation, "I see a beautiful flower," or "What an interesting machine!" is enough for me to 1) make a STEM observation, and 2) strive toward gratitude for this amazing world. I believe that those two things are healthy for me, my children, and the planet!

Fantastic crystals found last week in our neighborhood. I was surprised to discover that they were soft. When touched, they crumbled.
The quiet times we take for ourselves to observe are perfect opportunities for our children to get that alone time that, as the authors of the "Rocket Science" article assert, is equally important for developing future STEM lovers. They can walk beside us on trails, at the library, or just around the back yard. Just looking, observing, or day dreaming are wonderful preschool starts to STEM learning.

So keep in mind that STEM learning does not have to include the academic rigor of rocket science. For preschoolers (and grown-ups) it can be as simple as valuing observation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Library Technology

One of my favorite things about having recently moved to a new town is finding local treasures. In my world of preschool engineering, we are always on the lookout for machines. Roadwork, construction sites, and sculpture all open conversations about STEM. The coolest new preschool engineering discovery is undoubtably the book sorter at the public library.

It is always an important part of our trip to the library - returning the books. I give each child the opportunity/responsibility to fit books into the slot. They take turns, figure out the orientation of the book that works, and (sometimes with heavy hearts) say "good bye" to their books. We used to talk about the "scan robots" that check the books back into the library. We discussed one of the librarians' tasks to return the books to their proper place. And we talk about the other children who would get to take the books home next. Then, with all the excitement of finding something new, we would "race" to find the next set of books to check out. That whole process provide ample learning - pre-math (shapes), pre-science (classifying/sorting), and citizenry.

Now returning books to the library is even more exciting. The process is still the same but the experience is different, as are the conversations that stem from the experience. At our old library, all books (adult and child alike) were returned through the same slot where they fell into a giant wheeled canvas cart. DVDs and CDs went through a second slot to fall into their own cart. We had no chance to observe the rest of the sorting process. At our new library, there is an observation window! We get to watch a machine do the first round of sorting. All the books and movies are inserted into a slot but they do not fall. Instead, a conveyor belt (first cool factor) moves each book or DVD or CD from our space in the public entrance to the private librarian space. The conveyor belt stops for a scanner to read a bar code, check the book in and determine which of four canvas carts in belongs in. The conveyor then moves the media forward and stops it next to the appropriate cart. Next, some sort of paddle swings around (second cool factor), knocking the book, DVD, or CD into a canvas cart. This is where the machine's work ends and human works begins - pushing the cart somewhere else presumably sorting things by genre and author before shelving.

My children and I love to find clever uses of machines in our lives. Seeing innovative solutions inspire new kinds of play at home. It spurs new conversations about problem solving. We can talk about what jobs are best left for humans, what challenges arise when machines replace the work humans do, etc. There seems to be no end to the learning that can happen if we simply start with making an observation! So keep your eyes peeled and your minds open to the technology that effects your daily lives and consider using it as a place to connect with your child.


Read here for a review of a toy conveyor belt! http://preschoolengineer.blogspot.com/2014/02/toy-review-bruder-conveyor-belt.html
[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, January 12, 2015

Gingerbread Geometry

I love these Gingerbread house guides on Tinkerlab: "Seven Ways to Build a Gingerbread House." It reminded me of teaching geometry to adult learners at a community college in Wisconsin. In my class, I brought cylinders in that I had wrapped with paper. I asked my students to guess what shape the paper would be when we took it off. Guesses ranged from circle to oval but no one could believe their eyes when they unwrapped a rectangle. The lesson was to help them practice those spatial exercises to perform surface area calculations. Now that I am teaching preschoolers and the holiday season is upon us, I am recognizing all these similar pre-math activities.

Building gingerbread houses, wrapping different size and shape gifts, and winding twinkle lights around a tree are all wonderful places for children to learn pre-math skills and pre-engineering skills. They experiment with putting shapes together  when they build houses (pre-math). They learn about materials for holding sides together with rooftops as well as the aesthetic value of symmetry (pre-engineering). They learn experientially about length, circumference and surface area when they run around a tree trunk to wrap twinkle lights (more pre-math). They also learn how tightly they have to wrap or how to find "hooks" on the tree so the lights don't come tumbling down (pre-physics). The preschool STEM learning is just everywhere! No wonder it is an exciting time for preschool engineers.

So rest assured that STEM education does not take a break at the holidays. It is there. Let your child enjoy it!