Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pedialyte Tea Party

Has anyone else noticed that it takes a LOT for a child to actually rest when he or she is sick? My kids have to be really laid out before they will crawl in their bed and chill. In December we had just that happen to my 3yo daughter. Our whole family was passing a GI bug around...back and forth...each time with a new mutation and new symptoms. But it was Christmas! And Anna had received a tea set that she was dying to try out.

I fast-realized that the appeal of having a tea party was mixing. She didn't want to pretend there was tea and milk and sugar. She wanted it to be there. She wanted to scoop sugar, dump it into water, and mix it together. It seemed like almost the entire appeal of having a tea party was the process of mixing and stirring. But I didn't want her binging on sugar water. She needed bananas and toast and to stay hydrated.

Inspiration struck. Pedialyte could double as sugar for the mixing necessary in a tea party! We were happy. She got to scoop and dump and stir Pedialyte powder into her tea cup. I got to rest easy knowing that she was not binging on raw sugar water but keeping herself hydrated.

Not only that, but tea parties are AWESOME places to learn some pre-STEM. The tea pot, sugar bowl and creamer each contain a different material. Combining them looks like pre-chemistry to me. Pouring, scooping, and dumping are all wonderful studies of technology (tea pots, spoons) and volume. And the way powder dissolves in liquid is endlessly fascinating (and, in fact, something that Albert Einstein pondered at great length).

So take a small amount of comfort in times of stomach flu...there are wonderful compromises to be made, learning to be done, and rest to be had.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Makes it "Princess" Engineering?

My daughter turns four soon. Over the last year she has opened my eyes to the world of princesses, art, and music in a new way. I have written about what I recognize as valuable pre-STEM education but she has necessarily put the A in STEAM. As we approach her birthday (that she has requested to be a princess party) I have been making note of activities that are mechanically interesting but also echo the life of princesses. As I have shared activities and decoration ideas on the Preschool Engineer Facebook page, I have pondered "Why do I tag these things as Princess Engineering?"

Without getting into a discussion of gender equity and gender roles, I want to offer some answers to the question "What makes something "princess" engineering?" My short answer is: it is something that interests my daughter. But that isn't really fair, nor is it complete. The long answer includes discussion of context, topic, and seeing pre-STEAM learning in toys and/or experiences that are not at first recognized or valued for everything they offer.

Princess Engineering is finding pre-STEM learning in a new context. There are opportunities for children to learn pre-academic skills in just about anything that they find interesting. It is just a matter of adults taking the time and energy to see, however fleeting it may be, something valuable in the play. Just because my daughter in playing with dolls and sparkly things does not make her pre-academic learning any less valuable. Here are some examples of pre-STEM learning that I think I see:

- The process of sorting princesses is simple but, to me, looks like pre-Science. My daughter classifies her books - Disney princesses, Tiara Club Princesses, other Princesses like Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious, and so on.
- Pre-math is evident when we count princess dolls and their things or when we discuss their sizes (large dolls, small dolls).
- When my daughter cuts the hair off her My Little Ponies or Barbies she is learning so much about length (pre-math) but also about technology - how we use tools (scissors) in our everyday lives.
- Sewing, needlepoint, crochet, and knitting are typically considered a princess-y things, perhaps reserved for the old-fashioned housewife. But the spatial relations required to do that kind of work will blow someone's mind. Not to mention learning a new technology or process to make something - sewing machines, needles and thread, hooks and yarn... (And, yes, my four year old is experimenting with needles and thread.)
- Princess Engineering is learning about materials and processes in the context of fashion. Not only is there something to be learned about how fabric and shapes can change someone's appearance from everyday to fancy, but science is also infiltrating design.
- Making snowflakes is one of those classic winter activities with preschoolers and other young children. It is a lovely pre-math activity to study multiplication and shape. By turning the snowflakes into skirts for "Snowflake Ballerinas" turns this preschool engineering craft into a princess engineering craft.

- My favorite way princess play supports pre-STEM learning is when my daughter uses her dolls to take it to the next level. She has the princesses build things from everything from houses to boats and trains. They have used magnifying glasses and telescopes. They have ridden with the Octonauts on an underwater adventure and explored Narnia with Aslan. The adventure of learning is the best and most wonderful thing I see in my daughter's princess life.

Princess Engineering is exploring topics that are relevant to engineering but not necessarily considered pre-academic. School-based learning is becoming more and more narrow with acute focus on academic skills. Over the last decade, early learning has become measurably and markedly different. There is now a hyper-focus on math and reading/writing over any other learning. That is where I see a HUGE win for princess engineering topics. Self-discovery, teamwork, and self-expression are all things that come up in princess life.

While it is commonly understood that scientific knowledge is based on observation and experimentation of the natural world, the fact that Science is a Human Endeavor is often overlooked. So when my daughter is learning about topics related to humanity through princesshood I consider it princess engineering. Here are some examples:

- Self-discovery is a huge theme in many books and videos about princesses. Disney princesses, Fancy Nancy, and Pinkalicious all have some personal journey they endure. Each princess has doubts, evaluates her place in the world, and develops self-confidence - all of which are healthy practices for our next generation of scientists and engineers.
- Teamwork is a huge theme in the Tiara Club Princess books and in the Rescue Princess books. In each book a team of princesses is confronted with a problem and then work together to solve the problem.
- Problem-solving is a theme in almost every princess story. books including one of our favorites The Apple Pip Princess.

If we let our children pursue their interests deeply and to the fullest extent then anything and everything they invest their playtime in is valuable. By seeing both pre-academic learning as well as non-academic skills in my daughter's princess play, I have been able to scaffold her learning in a way that suits her as a learner and me as a teacher. So I invite you to look at princess play - really look at it - and tell me what you think.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Preschool Engineering Valentines

Last year I was forced to innovate for Valentine's Day. All the store-made Valentines were sold out and I had to find something for my son to give to his classmates. I created "You Blow Me Away" gifts for $5 + elbow grease. I was so excited about what I created that I felt inspired to think of more. Here are some Valentine's Day ideas designed for mechanically-minded toddlers and preschoolers - Preschool Engineering Valentines.

For each gift I used pre-cut labels and printed a Valentine's Day wish. Then I stuck the label onto some construction paper and fastened the note to the gift. You can invite your child to participate in the making as you see fit. He or she child can decorate with markers, stickers, or glitter glue. For each Valentine I suggest a young-child-friendly task that is specific to that Valentine...

You Blow Me Away 
Bubble Wands
Construction Paper
Labels with Cheesy Valentine Note (You Blow Me Away)
Optional: Decorations for Labels (stickers, markers, etc)

Ideas for Child Tasks:
Thread ribbon through bubble wand
Decorate Label
Sign Name

Let's Stick Together 
Glue sticks
Construction Paper
Labels with Cheesy Valentine Note (Let's Stick Together)
Optional: Decorations for Labels (stickers, markers, etc)

Ideas for Child Tasks:
Decorate Label
Sign Name
Stick Label on Construction Paper
Wrap Construction Paper Around Glue Stick

I'm Stuck on You 
Post-it flags
Construction paper
Labels with Cheesy Valentine Note (I'm Stuck on You)
Glue (to adhere Post-it container to Paper)
Optional: Decorations for Labels (stickers, markers, etc)

Ideas for Child Tasks:
Decorate Label
Sign Name
Stick Label on Construction Paper
Glue Post-it Flags to Paper

You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger 
Pipe Cleaner
Construction paper
Hole Punch
Labels with Cheesy Valentine Note (You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger)
Optional: Decorations for Labels (stickers, markers, etc)

Ideas for Child Tasks:
Decorate Label
Sign Name
Stick Label on Construction Paper
Use Hole Puncher
Wrap Pipe Cleaner around finger
Thread Pipe Cleaner Spiral through hole

You Pull My Heartstring
Yarn (about 10 feet per valentine)
Cellophane bags
Construction paper
Labels with Cheesy Valentine Note (You Pull My Heartstring)
Optional: Decorations for Labels (stickers, markers, etc)

Ideas for Child Tasks:
Decorate Label
Sign Name
Stick Label on Construction Paper
Ball the Yarn

You Put a Spring in My Step 
Construction paper
Hole Punch
Labels with Cheesy Valentine Note (You Put a Spring in My Step)
Optional: Decorations for Labels (stickers, markers, etc)

Ideas for Child Tasks:
Decorate Label
Sign Name
Stick Label on Construction Paper
Use Hole Puncher
Thread Slinky through hole in card

Friday, January 15, 2016

Spoon Catapult

I don't have too much to say about this besides, "This happened today."

Preschool Engineering in the kitchen....

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Relationships: A Journey through Books to Princesshood

So often I hear that getting a job is, "all about who you know." It certainly has been true for our family. My husband's colleagues have reached out time and again in unexpected ways propelling our family's journey from east to west and north to south and back again. And so when I see my 3 year old daughter exploring the nuances of social conduct I think to myself, "wow. She will have no trouble navigating the social network of her career." What is more, her learning journey about relationships has been supported through books and brought us, rather unexpectedly and in interesting ways to the world of princesses.

It all began with her first true book love - "Bob and Otto" by Nick Bruel. I had picked the book up for my autistic son as a way to explore and learn about friendship. It is a story of two friends who choose different paths in life but remain friends. My son enjoyed the book enough and liked play-acting that he was the worm. My daughter was delighted to play along as the caterpillar with him. But when Mikey's interest wore off, Anna's persisted.

We renewed "Bob and Otto" as many times as possible through our library. Then we would return it only to hunt it down the following week to monopolize it again for a couple months. And when Anna's birthday came along I bought her her very own copy to keep forever and ever and she hugged it and loved it.

Her next love - "The Story of Fish and Snail" by Deborah Freedman. Like "Bob and Otto" two friends have different and opposing ideas about what story to read. They argue, disagree, go their own ways, and eventually reunite. We read this book over and over again while visiting Nana. And when we were packing to fly home Anna asked if she could pack it to keep forever. Of course, Nana agreed, and "The Story of Fish and Snail" resides next to "Bob and Otto" on the book shelf.

And then we discovered princesses. We were at our local library and searching for a new LEGO Ninjago graphic novel for Mikey. Not far from the LEGO books was a small expanse of shelf with The Tiara Club Princess series. Anna spotted them, began to flip through them, and asked to take some home. I was skeptical (not a princessy sort of person myself) but I let them check out just about anything they choose. So she picked a handful and we headed to check out.

When we got home and I started to read, Anna fell in love. The Tiara Club stories are set at a boarding school for princesses. They learn all about how to be a perfect princess including how to act with grace and dignity. They also learn to dance and how to take care of a kingdom. But the real interest for my daughter is about the social conflict in each book. (The author follows a very predictable formula but the writing is good enough that I can't complain too much.)

Each Tiara Club book features a group of six princesses who are best friends. These six princesses always end up in some sort of trouble that has been caused by two mean princesses. They have to figure their way out of the mess without pointing fingers at the naughty princesses. In the end, the six best friends work together, behave with grace, and treat the mean girls with dignity, despite their naughty and hurtful shenanigans. The social conflict and conflict resolution that was evident in "Bob and Otto" and "The Story of Fish and Snail" is taken to a whole new level because there are groups of people involved in the story...not just one-on-one conflict. Anna LOVES it.

And so we now explore every princess book we meet. Unfortunately for Anna, not all princess books have social conflict as what drives the plot. However, she is forming a picture of what it means to be a princess and it seems to me to be a really wonderful thing. She says that princesses like to dance and sing. Princesses like adventure and taking care of people and animals. Princesses are clever; they have doubts; they learn. Princesses are experts at social life...

I support Anna's journey through princesshood. Being clever, having doubts, and learning are things all preschool engineers do. Even princess engineers. I believe that when she grows up she will be very well-versed in the social skills necessary to compete in a "who know whom" world.

p.s. I recommend both "Bob and Otto" and "The Story of Fish and Snail" without reservation. The stories are well-written and compelling. The illustrations are beautiful. But the nature of relationships is the real treasure in each of these books. In reading these books, we explore conflict and conflict resolution. We watch friends choose separate paths, negotiate differences, and ultimately remain friends.

p.p.s. Another great book about friendship is "Fish is Fish" by Leo Lionni.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Especially Outside

We were camping in southwest Colorado with our friends. After setting up camp we decided to go on a little adventure from the tent pad and picnic table. Together with my friend and our four young children (ages 5, 4, 3, 3) we meandered along a trail and found a gurgling stream. There we stopped for snapping some pictures, tossing rocks and sticks in the water, and otherwise playing. 

My 4 year old friend, Noa, whose first language is Japanese, started using sticks and rocks to make English letters. I watched her make an "N" and then experiment how to make an "O." Ultimately she decided on a round rock. She kept working to make the last letter of her name while her younger sister worked similarly with found natural objects to spell her own name, "Toa." 

I was impressed and I took a picture of Noa's work. The picture was mostly for her to have after the trip as a souvenir but when I got home I realized that her work represents something profoundly important (and trendy) in early childhood education. Her work demonstrates that children can and should learn everywhere. Even outside. Especially outside.

Pre-literacy skills are not best acquired through worksheets, tracing and mini lectures. Pre-literacy skills should not be measured or recognized the same way older literacy skills are measured and recognized. Pre-literacy is merely learning that shapes have meaning, that a person can make those shapes, and if they put those shapes together they can communicate in a new way. 

Letters and numbers do not have to be written with a crayon. They can be built with sticks like Noa did in the backcountry. They can be made with shadows, recognized in clouds in the sky, and made with their food. Letters can be played with as rubble or sorted by shape. There is not a limit to or best way for young children to play with letters. They merely need to be invited into the world of letters through books.

"Look Mama! I made a 6."

I think that there are two important details that "promote" early learning: 1. reading and 2. playing outside. If books and reading with a loving adult is a regular part of a child's life then playing with letters will happen organically and meaningfully through play. And if the play is outside then the learning materials are limitless. From the earth beneath their feet to the clouds in the sky, a child can (and will) find shapes, make shapes, and share their joy of discovery with you.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Face Painting

"That is why I decided that face painting is OK. It is her choice. 

Plus, I realized that there is no good reason to disallow it. It is safe. It is creative. It takes fine-motor and spatial-relations skills to paint her own face while looking in the mirror.

The fact that Anna had chosen this truly amazing learning experience for herself was nothing less than priceless.

And the fact that her learning experience was also a learning experience for me? Well, that is why I do what I do. I learn from my children and I write about it so I can encourage other grown-ups to learn from children, too."

Read the rest at Fat Brain Toys...

Friday, January 1, 2016

Feet Were Made for Walking

When Mikey was learning to walk I asked a friend what shoes she bought for her son who was a few months older than mine. She introduced me to pediped. At first I was horrified at the price. $35 for a pair of shoes for a 6 month old child? It seemed ridiculous. As my research continued, I learned about foot health and early childhood development. Young children collect information that shapes their brain development from their entire beings. They use all their senses - the five I knew about (sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch) and two more I had never heard of before (vestibular, or sense of balance, and proprioceptive, which is the sense of space and position). They also use their entire bodies from the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their feet. So it makes sense that the information a child gets from his or her little toes is important.

I started to compare the the pediped shoes to all the adorable baby shoes I could find. Pediped was certainly different from the rest. The bottom of the shoes are a thick leather that protects feet but is also soft enough and flexible enough that the child can feel the earth beneath them as they try to get their feet under them and take their first tentative steps. And they were just as cute as the designs from other not-so-healthy shoes.

Most children learn to walk right around their first birthday...right? Well, I have a couple stories to tell about young children walking and how changing their shoes changed their lives.

The first story was about one of Mikey's friends. She was a well-fed and well-rested baby. She was strong, had a lot of opportunity to roll around and play. I really liked hanging out with her mom and so we had fairly regular playdates at playgrounds, the library, and each other's homes. As Mikey and his friend were growing I noticed two things that were different about our children. First, his friend always had cute shoes on but that they were miniature versions of working boots. (Think lumberjack.) Second, Mikey was barefoot whenever possible but his friend wore her work boots even when she was indoors.

I merely observed the difference but I didn't bring it to the other mom's attention. Why would I? Instead, I watched our kids crawl all over the floors. Mikey's friend would army crawl all over the house, dragging her heavy feet behind her. I marveled at her strength! But one day my friend commented that she was wondering when her daughter would walk. I gently suggested that perhaps she could try letting her daughter go barefoot so she could feel the floor beneath her feet. After all, I had learned that soft-soled shoes were apparently really good for foot health... I am happy to report that I got a call later that week and all the strength of our army crawler translated right into walking and "running" as soon as she was barefoot!

My second story is about my own daughter. She had been walking for over a year when all of a sudden she started asking to be carried. She had all sorts of shoes - hand me downs from her brother, older friends but none of her own. So I bought her a pair of her own pedipeds. The day they arrived she put them on and walked everywhere with me, never asking to be lifted. I wonder - was it something developmental that she needed me to be close to her and carry her? Or was it that she needed new shoes?

You can learn more about foot health and about pediped on their website: They include all sorts of information from medical specialists including how important foot health is for healthy physical development. What they do not discuss, and what I'm sure you can imagine, is the trickle-down effect of healthy feet... The shoes you choose to put on your young child's feet offer another way of experiencing the world. Your child is getting information from the tips of her toes, learning her body and how she can navigate this big world. As she forges ahead as a crawler, toddler, and confident walker, your young child should not be restricted by anchors on her feet.

He will climb trees.
Climb Trees in pediped.

She will climb mountains.

Climb Mountains in pediped.