Monday, March 28, 2016

Beautiful NonFiction

I stood in front of the nonfiction section in our local library looking for a good book about birds for my preschooler. And since I'm the one reading to her I wanted it to be good for me too. I pulled a stack of bird books from the shelf and sat down to read through them with my daughter. Two books stood out: "Sweep Up the Sun" and "I See a Bird."

"I See a Bird" is a simple and age appropriate book about birds for preschoolers. Young children learning to read might be able to work through the words, too. It seemed like a standard nonfiction book for kids. It was informative but dry. Good enough. But I was looking for something great.

"Sweep Up the Sun" is exactly what I was looking for. The information is told through easy-to-read poem. I felt warm and happy when I read it to my daughter. And the images were stunning.

I think the best way to depict the difference between the two books is by simply showing you their covers. Sure, sure. I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover. I think that is very true for a novel. But for picture books, the image on the cover is representative of what you will find inside the pages of the book. Case in point: "I See a Bird" and "Sweep Up the Sun."


Now tell me: which book makes you want to read it? 

There is no reason we have to suffer through bad books. That doesn't just apply to our own grown-up reading of novels, newspapers, magazines or cookbooks. Reading with our children should be a pleasure, too. In fact, I believe there is so much we can learn in toddler-sized lessons. We merely have to be open to learning with our children...and have access to books we can enjoy with them. 

Monday, March 14, 2016


Technology Smarts

noun: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.
  • machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge.

In our modern day life the word “technology” is generally accepted as the catch-all that refers to computer-based machines. It seems to include everything from desktop computers and tablets to phones, watches and next-generation eyewear. In fact, technology has a much broader meaning. It is anything and everything that applies science for practical purposes. By considering “technology” from this perspective, I think we can understand our way of living (and parenting) better and to a fuller extent.

Let me start with a story about a hammer. I wanted to hang a picture on the wall of my house. I had the framed picture and a nail and hook from which to hang it. But the hammer had mysteriously disappeared. I wondered where I would find it. Maybe my husband had put it down next to his project somewhere in our messy garage or my preschooler had decided it was his and put it away in the toy box. Either way I was feeling lazy and thought to myself, “I don’t really need a hammer, do I?”

I tried pushing the nail into the wall with the bed of my finger. It was “just” drywall after all...softish. As you might expect, the nail didn’t simply pierce the surface. Instead, the nailhead left a lovely round imprint on my thumb. Next, I tried a hard-covered book as a hammer substitute. Unfortunately swinging a book offers much less precision than the head of a hammer. And pressing it against the nail is only a little better than using my thumb. I imagined trying to improvise a hammer with a kitchen utensil but decided that the problem had been solved thousands of years ago. The tool I needed was a hammer.

The hammer is the perfect amalgamation of the science of levers and the need for banging on things with some degree of accuracy. It is old technology but it is technology none-the-less. By including old-school tools in our definition of technology, we might start seeing the world and our way of being in it a little differently.

Imagine how our world would be different without these technologies:
  • Knives, scissors and ice skates are wedges.
  • A washcloth uses friction to make cleaning easier.
  • Anything with wheels - automobiles, bicycles, scooters, skateboard, and rollerskates - changes the way we get around.
  • Books could be considered some of the first information technology - they were equipment where pictures and symbols could be kept for sharing ideas and information.
  • Medicine applies science from many scientific fields like physiology, neurology, and chemistry.

As you can see from this small list (and probably imagine an even larger list of your own) technology surrounds us. It changes how we are able to work, what we can do for our play, and how we learn. What becomes imperative is how we choose the right technology for the task at hand.

I encourage you to take a look around yourself. Pay attention to how you use technology. And, for goodness sake, don’t try to use a book as a hammer.

Running in Circles

I have written before about how my daughter surprised me with her deep understanding of preschool geometry. And I continue to think about and watch how she learns math with her body. In celebration of Pi Day, I am offering some insights from my world about preschoolers using big movement to learn math.

First, let's talk about running in circles. It seems to be a wonderful past time of young children. But it is also a really amazing way for children to understand their bodies in the world. Consider this video of my daughter running in circles:

She is not just making a circle with the path of her feet. Her body is leaving the path of the circumference of a cylinder behind her. Her little brain must be lighting up neurons all over the place.

My son's version of circular body motion is also popular among young children - especially autistic children - spinning. Our "Johnny Jump Up" should have been called a "Sammy Spinner." He would spend his time spinning himself on his toes as much as he did jumping and swinging. Not only was his body and brain making connections about the world, he was learning circular motion.

In fact, open-armed twirling might be the perfect Pi Day activity because the fully extended arms are your child's circle's diameter, the trace of his or her fingers are the circumference of the circle, and the relationship between them is Pi. So go ahead, let your young children run in circles or spin in circles on Pi Day. Those big movements might be the way to celebrate such a special number!

Book Review: My name is not Isabella

We recently had the opportunity to read "My Name is Not Isabella: How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?" by Jennifer Fosberry.  The Scholastic website provides a perfect description of the book.

About This Book
Join Isabella on an adventure of discovery and find out how imagining being the extraordinary women of history teaches the importantce of being one's own extraordinary self. With a great message about self-identity and self affirmation this delightful book is also a terrific way to spark young reader's interet in women's history.

The main character, Isabella, spends the day pretending she is any number of famous and extraordinary women. The pictures are nice and the prose is fine. But this book only gets three out of five stars from us. It is lacking two important things that we look for when we read books for my daughter (and her brother): a good protagonist and her compelling story and/or a powerful story about negotiating the ins and outs of a relationship.

In this book Isabella seems to be a walking talking facade. We don't really get a sense for her as a young girl. Instead, it feels more like a sneaky way to teach about extraordinary historical women. I rather would have read six books, each one a historical fiction treatment picturebook-style. Something like "On a Beam of Light" is for Albert Einsein or "ManFish" is for Jacques Cousteau, perhaps?

There are great books that teach about powerful and amazing women, both fictitious and real. Rosie Revere, Engineer comes to mind as does The Apple Pip Princess. And A Mighty Girl is an entire website dedicated to finding resources along those lines.

So, while I might recommend that you check this book out from the library and see what you think for yourself, I won't recommend that you buy it.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Preschool Engineering Egg Hunt

It seems like there are so many opportunities to think of something small to give to a child to light up their eyes. I have written about small toys before including ideas for everything from stocking stuffers to party favors to valentines. The Easter Egg Hunt is another opportunity for discovery.

There are a lot of reasons you might not want to stuff the plastic eggs with candy. Allergies, nutrition,  and melting chocolate are all things that come to mind. So I am going to suggest that you think outside the chocolate box for the egg hunt this year and imagine what else you might put inside a plastic egg.

Construction Materials
- Ball of yarn
- washi tape
- miniature glue bottle
- stickers
- Post-it flags
- googly eyes
- puff balls
- miniature clips
- Squigz
- 1.25 oz Elmers glue
- glitter
- paint

Small Toys
- hot wheels cars
- creatures
- bubbles

Experience Gifts
- tickets for a ride on a carousel
- a trip to the ice cream store

You can find a variety of age-appropriate things to put inside your easter eggs. Let your imagination and your common sense be your guide.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Butterfly Basket

Ever since they saw the Jeff & Paige album release concert, where performers dressed as monarch butterflies for the finale, my children have been asking for their own wings. So this spring we will be celebrating new beginnings with a butterfly-themed basket.

Dreamy Dress-up Wings available at

I love this theme because it is a lovely blend between science and art, which is essentially engineering. While they have pretended to emerge from chrysalis (a blanket) as butterflies (with imaginary wings) before, a new toy will enhance their play. With wings dangling from their shoulders and wrists, I am certain they will have newly affirmed confidence in their ability to be butterflies. They will feel the drag on the wings when they flap, they will see the color of bright orange as it shines in the spring time sun. They will read about butterflies and they will revisit the Jeff & Paige song "The Great Monarch Migration" to learn music and science.

"The Great Monarch Migration" is the last track on this science-packed music CD. Available at

And when they are ready to curl up and read, we will open our new copies of our old favorite library butterfly books including "Butterfly Colors and Counting" and "My oh my, A butterfly!"

A simple but beautiful book that depicts (and names) real creatures.

A longer and more informative butterfly book by Scholastic.
So there is a simple list to make a Butterfly Basket for your preschool engineer. A toy, some books, and CD of great musical science. You can always toss in some butterfly wall stickers,  arts & craft stickers, or tatoos if that suits you.

Peel and Stick

Ooh! I almost forgot something for our smallest butterfly lovers out there. Check out this push and pull toy! I have recommended it before but I'll put it at your fingertips here for you... Not all push toys are created equal. There are little lawn mowers, popping ball push toys, animals that move, and more. But the Hape Dancing Butterflies Push and Pull Toy puts them all to shame, mechanically speaking. It is your child's first bevel gear. It is your child's first Rube Goldberg machine. As the wheels move forward, a rubber ring connects to the horizontal platform to make it spin. As it spins, the dangling butterflies begin to rotate and "fly."

Hape Dancing Butterflies Push and Pull

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A True Gift

It was part of our Christmas celebration. We had traveled form Colorado to Michigan to spend a mere nine days to with my husband's family and my family. Our plan was to stay with my mother-in-law and visit my family a couple days and have my family visit her house a couple times. That way my mother-in-law could soak up all the time she could in those special moments you only get when sharing a space with another family. (For better or worse. :) ) But we would also get to see my parents, my sister and her husband, and my brother and his son.

We had left my mother-in-law to catch her breath for the first time since our arrival. We arrived at my sister's house where dozens of gifts under the tree. It was our first gathering and we were all excited to see our loved ones. Soak up hugs and kisses, smiles and tickles. The six hours together would pass in a flash and the kids were excited to open presents. Almost immediately, we sat down to begin tearing into our surprises.

My daughter, almost four years old, carefully opened her first package. Her reaction was exactly what you hope for - she started hopping up and down exclaiming her excitement for the Paw Patrol dolls in the box. She sat down and asked to play. She wanted someone to join her to make them talk, go on rescue missions, and generally adventure around. It would have been enough.

But there was a mountain of gifts still waiting to be unwrapped. My family had succumbed to the appeal of the generosity of the season. (I learned later that between my mom and my sister they had bought EVERY SINGLE THING on each child's list of ideas, which I had created with them over the course of the year. The lists were NOT meant as a shopping list.) So I heard, "No, Anna. You have too many other things to unwrap. You can't play."

We didn't see her excitement again. She stopped looking at the toys and books that were beneath the wrapping paper. Her job was to rip open the paper, toss the paper and the new acquisition aside, and open the next one. My daughter became an opening machine. With her new role, her gratitude seemed to go out the window.

This new "Opening Machine" mode became her way of accepting gifts. It persisted. She approached her birthday gifts the same way. I was horrified, my heart broken. I wanted to see her take her time, show her gratitude for her new toy or book to be treasured. I wanted to see her excited again.

There are a lot of lists and articles out there about becoming minimalist, about teaching your children to be grateful, about how gifts of experience are the most treasured ones. To be sure, we received those gifts, too - a membership to the zoo, ballet lessons, a family pass to the children's museum. And when we do those things I say, "I'm so grateful to [Nana or Grammy] for this gift." But the most amazing example of a true gift is one where the child offers, "I'm so grateful for ____."

It was a mere eight weeks since the Opening Machine monster had been born. I had used my daughter's fourth birthday as a time and space to pull her back to a slow life of gratitude. But something else happened in that  time that made me realize what a true gift looks like and how it is received.

In that eight week's time, we had also had our annual ski trip in the mountains. Friends gathered from across the country to ski, snowshoe and socialize. During that trip, one of our oldest and dearest friends, someone we encourage our kids to call "Uncle," joined us and spent a considerable amount of time on the bunny slope with us. He rode the lift with Mikey, teaching him to pass the time by making shapes with his skis. He carried Anna between his legs, going "lightning" speed and enjoying her giggles. It was a pleasure to watch them come together in the sun-drenched snow, like we do every year.

Upon our return from the mountains, we embarked on writing thank you notes for Anna's birthday gifts. We sat together at the table. Anna signed her name to each card and then drew a picture. A small pile began to form and I asked her, "Which one is for Sarah?" Which one is for Audrey?" We stuffed each card into an envelope, I wrote the name of her friend on the outside, and we set them aside to deliver the next school day or play date.

Then my daughter surprised me. She said, "I want to write a one for Uncle Noodle." He had not given her a toy or book and so I asked her what she wanted to thank him for. "For taking me skiing." was her reply.

My heart melt. Her attitude of gratitude was re-emerging. She spontaneously remembered something for which she was thankful. Then she knew the importance of expressing that feeling. Of course, I handed her a card, she "wrote" her message to Uncle Noodle, and I sent it in the mail to him.

As I reflect on the experience of parenting during this last holiday season, I realize with new clarity what an "experience" gift is. More than memberships or national parks passes or ballet lessons, all of which I really love to receive, the most potent gift of experience is doing something with a child. It doesn't need to be as extravagant as skiing. It could be as simple as offering a new doll and saying, "let's play with this together!" or giving a book and saying, "I can't wait to read it with you." That is what they really And what a simple thing to give.