Monday, October 31, 2016

Terrifying Tools: A Preschool Engineer's Halloween

Squash season brings with it a unique opportunity to let our children wield tools. I have to admit that my blood pressure goes up any time hammers and nails are around but that doesn't mean I don't find times and places for my kids to try them out. Finding the right combination of materials is key...

Wood is "Too Hard"
Both of my children have had plenty of opportunities to hammer nails into wood. But oftentimes I find myself starting all the nails and then letting them pound them in. And the removing nails from wood is pretty hard to do, too.

(Not to say that it isn't worth trying.)

Play-doh is "Too Soft"
Play-doh is so soft that the children don't need a hammer to push pegs, nails, or golf tees into it. They can just push them in.

(Not to say that is isn't worth trying.)

Pumpkins are Just Right
Pumpkin flesh is a unique material for taking nails.  It is not as hard as wood; it isn't as soft as Play-doh.

Here are a few ideas to get you started...

You can start by just letting your child pound nails or golf tees into a pumpkin. A pumpkin riddled with nails is an oddly satisfying thing to see.

Just Pounding Nails at I Can Teach My Child

If you offer a face already drawn on the pumpkin, then the nails or golf tees might become hair.

Hair at Choices for Children

Add string or rubberbands to kick it up a notch.

Nails and String at the Magic Onions

Nails and Geobands and Little Bins for Little Hands

Hand your child a pair of pliers and let them try pulling the nails or golf tees out of the pumpkin. Then hollow it out to create a starry-night pumpkin.

And more.... 20+ Pumpkin Hammering Activities at Living Montessori

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Decisions, Decisions: Using a Pumpkin Patch as a Platform to Teach Your Child to Make Decisions

Pumpkins: Low Risk, High Reward
In the fall, my favorite wide-open space and wide-open prompt is at the pumpkin patch. Standing with my children in a vast field of pumpkins, I say, “Pick any pumpkin you want.”

Read the rest at Fat Brain Toys...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

3 Things You Need to Celebrate Bats

Roadtrip Ruminations
We are well into the school year and have found a decent, albeit busy, rhythm. Three days a week we pile into the car and drive directly from school to karate. On the way we listen to books on tape, music, or just talk with each other. Usually, the kids just want to listen to a book.

As good as the books are and as many as we’ve listened to (good and not-so-good), I sometimes find my mind wandering. This autumn I have found myself wondering about bats.

Spooky Swarms
Bats are practically synonymous with creepy. Whether it is the seemingly unpredictable way they fly around on their own, the heart-stopping way they fly en masse, or their less-than-adorable visage, bats seem to evoke the feeling of otherworldliness that comes with the month leading up to Halloween.

Why are bats a feature of October? I think there are two reasons: 1) dusk comes earlier so we are more likely to see them heading out for their meal; and 2) they swarm where they hibernate so we are more likely to see a bunch of bats when we do see them.

Bodacious Bats
How do I know all this? Well, these creatures are pretty interesting and there are some groups who advocate for and educate about bats. Defenders of Wildlife include bats as one of their featured creatures, which is how I learned this amazing tidbit: “bats make up a quarter of all mammal species on earth!” Bat Conservation International also has some interesting bullet points like, “Baby bats can weigh up to one-third of their mother’s body weight. To put that into perspective, just imagine birthing a 40-pound human infant!”

By poking around on the Defenders of Wildlife page or the Bat Conservation International page, you can learn about the unpredictable way they fly (echolocation), the way they fly together (swarming), or about their unique anatomy (they’re mammals that fly!). You can even adopt a bat!

Get Started with a MicroLesson about Bats
OK, OK. I know that not everyone ruminates during their roadtrips, nor do they have the time or energy to read an entire website worth of information, process it, and then teach it to their children. So, how about a microlesson?

You just need one toe-tapping song, one great book, and a set of wings.

Bats! Oh, Baby!” is a song written by children’s musicians Jeff and Paige for children ages three to eight. It features original toe-tapping melodies and educational lyrics and was produced as part of their album, which is a musical, called “Get Outdoors!”

Nightsong” by Ari Berk is an amazing picture book about a young bat who is encouraged to find his song and use his good sense to navigate the world. Readers will enjoy the illustrations by Loren Long as much as they will connect with the literal and metaphorical aspects of how to use one’s sense.

No. Your child does not have to sprout wings to fly. You can just order a set of Dreamy Dress-up Bat Wings delivered to your home. Then they can take what they have learned from Jeff and Paige and Ari and Loren, and take to the skies.

Really? They will take to the skies?

Really. When your children are learning this way, the sky is the limit.

UPDATE October 26, 2017

Check out this amazing Science Short Film by the Montana Natural History Center!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Every Day is Career Day!

Career Planning in Preschool?! Of Course.
When I was invited to write for a bloghop about the topic "Beyond K-12: Academic and Career Planning" I scoffed. I did not feel like I had much perspective on the matter and assumed I would pass.

However, over the weekend my family attended an Open Studios event where local artists open their homes and their studios to the public to tour, learn, and network. By entering into the artist community and meeting and engaging with artists, I saw that every day is career day for young children and seeing it as such can help frame our view of the work/play they do and, in turn, the way we parent them.

They are People, Too
First we visited Anna's choice of artist, Monika Bunting, who works with encaustic. "Mo" took Anna's favorite piece down from the wall, explained how she made it, and invited Anna to touch it. Then she told us about her other job as a middle school teacher.

The brief encounter was set firmly in a relationship; the artist was communicating with my daughter in a very caring way.

Then we visited Mikey's choice of artist, Lee Heekin, who works primarily with wood and paint. It was in her studio, which was the garage of her home, that we really got a sense for her as a whole person. In addition to being an artist, she was a wife and mother. She invited my children to use her materials to make their own sculptures. As she talked with my children, answered their questions, and praised their work, her own son (the same age as mine) came into the group. He requested her help sorting his Pokemon cards, which happens to be a shared interest with Mikey.

The way she struck a balance between meeting the needs of her own child as well as my children emphasized to me that work is a part of life, not all of it.

Three Features of a Career
What I learned this weekend that pertains to career planning from a preschool perspective is that careers have three important features:

  1. A career is based on how a person contributes something valuable to the world.
  2. A person's work is situated within a community.
  3. The work ultimately leads to independent living.

I don't think it is too big a stretch to see how parenting preschoolers with respect and as playful independent STEAM learners can help to lay the foundation for these features of a career.

It's Never Too Early Be Valued
As a parent, it is important to simply love our children for just being here. However, the way we talk to them, especially when we praise them, can teach them a lot about what is valuable. 

How to Value the Process
Case in point: when we were at Lee Heekin's studio and my children were working I used sportscasting to recognize and compliment the process of the work they were doing.

I said things like, "I see you are collecting all the same sized blocks. Here! I found another small one for you," and, "I notice that you are done working with wood and now you are drawing." By stating the obvious, I made it clear that I valued how they were working. They were working independently, creatively, and intentionally.

How to Value the Product
When their sculptures were done, I used the same technique to compliment the art they had produced.

In all honesty, I said "Mikey, I like how you arranged different sizes and shapes. I also like how they are oriented differently - I can see some squares point forward and backward, others point side to side."
Mikey's art at Lee Heekin's studio.

And, "Anna, I think it is interesting that you worked in pairs. Almost each part of your wall art has two squares - a small one inside a big one."
Anna's Art at Lee Heekin's studio.
By sportscasting the process and offering specific authentic praise, my children are learning what I value. 

Family is a Child's First Community
Indeed, they are learning what I value. And that makes sense. Family is a child's first community. His or her work is done mostly in the comforts of home and within the context of family.

Not only should preschoolers be learning self-care like getting themselves dressed, going to the bathroom, and putting their toys away, they should also be learning how to contribute to the functioning of the household. Age-appropriate chores like wiping up spills, clearing their places from the table, and helping unload the dishwasher not only help you take care of your home, they are practice for doing something valuable that helps the family function.

Beyond Family - The Community at Large
When children leave the house they have the opportunity to meet people who fill all sorts of roles in paying jobs. At stores they see cashiers, janitors, and stocking folks. They meet librarians, veterinarians, pediatricians, and teachers. They meet baristas, waiters and waitresses, and sometimes a chef. They might even get to meet musicians and artists. And don't forget a preschool engineer's favorite - the garbage truck or ice cream truck drivers!

All those people are working. They are making a living by doing something that is valued by society. And children are no fools. They can try it on to see how the job feels...they pretend to work in grocery stores, restaurants, and veterinarian offices. They pretend to work in construction, on the police force, and as artists. It is not just cute; it is imperative that a child has the opportunity to learn and develop a sense of self within his or her community this way.

Her First Job
A child's first job is to play. It might be as small as playing with her shoes to see if she can get them on and off her feet. Perhaps she plays with a wet rag to wash the table, floor, or counter.

As she grows, your preschooler will find inspiration outside of household work - playing as a grocery store clerk, a chef, or an architect.

Each phase of development is important, cannot and should not be rushed, nor held back. It is our job as parents to allow our children to do their work. By encouraging independence now, we can expect it to grow with the child, ultimately leading toward an independent working adult.

Start Working Now, Earn Later
So I encourage you to see your child's play as his or her job. This is how you can get started:

  • Give them opportunities to work independently. Try not to interrupt them. Give them the time and space to work on whatever it is that they are doing. 

  • Invite them to choose how they can contribute to the work of the household. (I have had more success asking, "What can you do to help me clean the toys up?" than when I've dictated, "Clean the toy room.")

  • Use sportcasting - stating the obvious - to recognize their work and their accomplishments.

Because if they grow up with this kind of culture at home, their work ethic will carry them into the broader community.

If you are interested in more articles on this topic, about homeschooling, and/or gifted education, then head over to the GHF Blog Hop for this month!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Nerd Alert: An Electrical Engineer Tries to Make Sense of Fashion

I Just Don't Get It
I have struggled my ENTIRE life with clothes. In fact, I would not have been surprised if my family and friends nominated me for an intervention for What Not to Wear. Slowly but surely, and alongside my preschool-aged daughter, I am learning about how to match materials, how to coordinate colors and patterns, and how to work in layers. During my 40th trip around the sun, I think that I am finally learning a little about fashion.

Read the rest of my post over at Fat Brain Toys...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Autumnal Sunshine

"I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne -

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cool Book Alert! - Scanimation

We were walking through the foyer of my daughter's preschool when I skidded to a stop. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a picture book atop a shelf. I had to pick it up and look. What I found inside the cover of "Gallup!" was a must-share.

Optical Illusions
The book was titled "Gallup!" but it was the subtitle that made me feel curious: "A Scanimation Picture Book."

After I picked it up and paged through it I called my kids over. "Look at this!" They both loved it. The publisher put together a short video so you can kind of see what flipping the pages is like. However, it pales in comparison to the actual experience of holding it in your hands.

"There's never before been a book like Gallop! Employing a patented new technology called Scanimation, each page is a marvel that brings animals, along with one shining star, to life with art that literally moves. It's impossible not to flip the page, and flip it again, and again, and again."

An Up-close Look at Scanimation
Rufus Butler Seder is an artist in the field of optical illusion. He has made installations for museums as well as single tiles for personal collections. Given his expertise in the field, these books are a drop in the bucket to enjoy his work. (8" tiles run $500, the picture books are less than $15.)

When I looked deeper into the Scanimation technology, I found this YouTube video. It is a better representation of the way the optical illusions are created for the books.

Start Your Scanimation Collection 
You can snag Gallup! on Amazon or at Fat Brain Toys. But don't feel limited to just that one. If you start at Seder's Amazon page, you will see that there are other books with popular themes like Star Wars, Santa, and The Wizard of Oz.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fan Favorites - September 2016

Finally there's a feminist magazine, Kazoo, for girls who love science and climbing trees
 That's not to say that Kazoo is anti-princess. "I don't think there's anything wrong with princesses," Bried said. "I think pink is a beautiful color." But, she added, "I think it's wrong when that's the only thing we offer our kids."

The World's Happiest People Share their Parenting Secrets
What I love most about The Danish Way is it’s refreshing no nonsense approach to parenting, combined with realistic optimism, kindness and empathy. The ironic acronym used to remember the six pillars of this philosophy is PARENT. Here’s an insight into what the Danes do a little differently.

This Beloved Children's author Didn't Want a Funeral. She said read to a child instead.

“Be human, loving, and strong, and that will allow the children in your care to be human, loving, and strong,” she wrote. “Perhaps, the next time those children feel like hitting or pinching someone, they’ll hold off and ask for a hug from you instead.”

These LEGO pieces are electrical circuits.

Dollywood Adds Special Features for Kids with ASD
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, an amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, are going the extra mile to help those with autism through a new ‘calming room’ for children with autism.

Bakey's Edible Cutlery

For Bakeys, the motivation behind Edible Cutlery is drawn from issues like environmental sustainability, climate change, and the global water crisis. Because the company’s spoons can be eaten after use and are completely biodegradable (if you’d rather not eat your spoon for any reason), Bakeys hopes the product will keep more plastic from ending up in landfills and contaminating natural water sources.

Turkish Engineers Just Made A Real-Life BMW Transformer

Dad and Daughter Inspire with Morning Affirmations
It doesn't have to take much, but a simple ritual like this can make such a difference in your life, in your children's lives, and in the lives of everyone you meet. Taking a moment to evoke your own worth and acknowledge the value of every person you interact with can only make our days brighter.

Get Your Children Good and Dirty

Researchers are discovering how crucial microbes are to our health and to avoiding a range of newly common diseases. So it’s time to get dirty, eat better and stop overusing antibiotics.

Dried Up Markers - Turn them into Watercolors!
Step 1: Collect your materials. You'll need:

- dried up markers
- water bottles
- funnel
- water

Step 2: Fill a bunch of little bottles with water.

Step 3: Place dried up marker in bottle and seal the bottle.
Step 4: Repeat with however many colors you want.