Tag Archives: work is play

Current Projects

Keeping Track of Projects

My husband and I tend to forget all of the really cool things we do – and work on – each year. We get caught up in the day-to-day activities of working, teaching children, worrying, making lunch (and dinner), cleaning the house (again) and shuttling kids to various activities. Like most people, we are often busy, so we need a little help remembering all of the unique things in our life. We are fortunate to experience new places  – and make a lot of cool stuff. Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. He' sitting it on a top of a re-purposed bookshelf (which he made years ago).

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. It will sit on top of a re-purposed bookshelf. Oh yeah – he made the bookshelf years ago.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh that he created a 4-H project.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, he created a 4-H project. Two weeks ago, he presented his project to a 4H judge. My shy, reserved son beamed when the judge praised his work.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. (He won a grand prize last year). This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Liz has been developing her colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had years ago.

I have been developing my colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had; I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

Joe took our distressed, chipping dining table and stripped it. He then proceeded to sand, stain and lacquer it – repeatedly. It looks amazing.

Books Books Books

Our regular installment of ‘The Brick Chronicles‘ has been interrupted this week by too many books. Books books and more books! Quite frankly, we always have a lot of books around the house – ours and a large quantity from our local library system.

However, this past week the grandparents came into town and the legos were cleaned up. As if to say, of course our house is always this neat and tidy! Regardless, the boys have been enjoying their clean space and seem hesitant to mess it up (which I’m sure will not last much longer). That means our piles of books have been beckoning, practically begging us to get through them so we can get a new stack.

Books Books Books from the Library — Liz’s Collection

Picture of a stack of craft and sewing booksMy husband and I had a rare afternoon – by ourselves – and we happened to be near our large, downtown library. It was like being in a bookstore, except I got to take all of the books home! I have to return them, but I’m happy to have them for a short while.

Books Books Books on Lego Mindstorms EV3

Picture of two lego mindstorms ev3 booksWe own these two books, plus the EV3 Guide I printed out. I’ve been using these for the last few months in preparation for a “Bring Your Own Mindstorms” Clinic I plan to offer this summer. My oldest son is my tester and we’ve finally reached the stage where we are using these books mostly for reference. It also means I’m teaching him how to use a book index – without having to create an entire lesson on it.

Books Books Books on Acrylic Painting for Beginners

A picture of books on acrylic paintingI’m still mentally and physically prototyping for an upcoming summer camp I will be co-leading. We’ll be focusing on making our own props for a stop-motion animation movie and my painting skills need a little work. The whole idea of using complimentary colors for shading is complex…but fascinating. It’s work I really enjoy.

Books Books Books from the Library — 10-year-old’s shelf

Picture of books on a shelfHe’s taking a brief hiatus from too many “fluffy” books, but it hasn’t seemed to hamper his library checkouts. That boy has a lot of interests and the non-fiction section of the library can be a pretty cool place.

Books Books Books from the Library — 6-year-old’s Shelf

Picture of books and DVDs on a shelfOkay, so that book on growing fruit trees is mine, as is the one from Rick Riordan, but the rest are his. Oddly enough, I see none of his Magic Treehouse books and only a few of Nate the Great. Most likely, the rest are in a pile on his bed. Bedtime reading is very popular.

Books Books Books on the Montessori Method

Picture of a stack of three montessori booksWith my background in Montessori education, I love to pull out my well-read books on her method. Even though I don’t currently teach in a Montessori school, I use her philosophy daily – with my own children, with the kids in my summer camp and with any lessons that I create. Can the kids do it themselves or teach each other? How can I be a good facilitator? I’ve been missing my Montessori roots lately, and I’m ready to get back to my Sensorial book review series. I’ve been brushing up on my content and reaffirming my belief that the Montessori Method is amazing. Hopefully, you also have a nice stack of books to get through. Happy reading!

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego Addition Problems

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Picture of lego addition problem 10=8+2

Lego addition problem made by C, age 6.

A few mornings ago, I was working with A to reinforce multiplication facts and was introducing the concept of area, while using graph paper and legos. We had the legos out and that drew the attention of the other two boys. Since C is only six, he gets a pass when it comes to a lot of formal learning…especially now that he is reading chapter books. I tend to let him have a lot more leeway with the type of work that he does. So, when he started playing with the legos, I told him that he had to do something with math. Otherwise, he had free reign. I was envisioning him adding the dots to make numbers, but then he busted out the above addition problem.

“It’s backwards,” my husband whispers to me. Yes and no. He is actually demonstrating a great way of re-writing the problem…something many elementary teachers will recognize.  Kids need to become comfortable with the quantities and learn to play with the numbers and numerals – not just memorize the way it’s set up in their math book. He placed the equal sign on the left, but the problem was correct : 8 + 2 = 10.

Now, I just need to figure out how to make ALL math lessons this intuitive and self-directed. I’m working on it.

And, the answer makes 10.

And, the answer makes 10.

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego Leatherman

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

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Lego leatherman tool made by R, age 10.

I know what you are thinking – why are we advocating for pocket knives to be made out of legos? Well…I think it has something to do with being the parent of boys. Despite all of our attempts to provide gender-neutral toys and shelter them from violence and toy guns, my oldest child is fascinated with guns, world wars and pretending to shoot things. Sigh. Plus, he’s ten…and ten-year-old boys are ready for “dangerous” tools.

So, I keep an eye on the research about said things and embrace the “dangerous” things so that I am not denying some biological need. We still strongly advocate for using words and they get in trouble for resolving disputes with physical altercations, but I’ve always encouraged them to build things out of legos that I won’t buy them (and that includes toy guns). This way they get to play in a way that they need – and I can still show my face at the moms’ group.

Ironically, these pocket knives came about because as he gets older, we feel he is ready to experience the “real” thing and that includes a pocket knife. For his tenth birthday, he received a Leatherman tool and he’s been chopping outside things all over the place. It’s a way to teach responsibility while he’s still under our roof. Honestly, he was ready last year, but his younger brother was not and we weren’t sure that it would stay out of said younger bother’s hands.

We still shy away from violent video games (there’s a lot of research on that) and we don’t encourage fantastical movie violence, but we’ve found that for our oldest son – embracing the “dangerous” has actually encouraged a healthy respect for it.

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Lego leatherman tools – opened with pocket knife and small screwdriver.

The Brick Chronicles :: Wood Blocks :: Millennium Falcon

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

A homemade Millennium Falcon, made by C, age 6. (Who hasn't even seen Star Wars).

A homemade Millennium Falcon, made by C, age 6 – who hasn’t even seen Star Wars.

Again, with the wood blocks. I know. I know. I just can’t help myself. I am too impressed and amazed at the creations that come from their brains that I have to share. This is creative thinking – taking something familiar and turning it into something else. Or, vice versa.

And, just a little secret between you and me – this child has never seen Star Wars. We’ve deemed him too young for the violence and the potentially overwhelming movie scenes. CommonSense Media says age seven – and age eight for Empire Strikes Back.  Besides, his brother had to wait until eight, so it seems to be a right of passage at our house. However, that doesn’t stop this younger sibling from learning all about these hidden gems – most likely from asking his brother, who is quite eager to share. But, it’s all well and good. They have something in common and hopefully, the creative juices will keep flowing.

Book Reviews :: a parent’s guide to the montessori classroom

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A brief description of the learning that occurs in a Montessori classroom. By Aline Wolf.

A brief description of the learning that occurs in a Montessori classroom by Aline Wolf.

This little booklet was ‘one of many’ lifesavers during my first year as a new Montessori teacher. I was still learning how to facilitate, guide and present the materials to my students and there were days when I found the effort to be futile. Looking back, I still had a lot to internalize – both as a parent and as a teacher. This guide was a short, easy way to reinforce my Montessori purpose – and a great recommendation for parents who were considering the question, “why Montessori?”

Although I love the clear information it gives, prospective parents in today’s landscape might question the seemingly strong focus on “academics.” And, I will admit that I believe unstructured play to be very, very important for young children. Fortunately, I like to think that Dr. Montessori might have felt the same way. She just felt children should do that sort of free play at home – not at school.

The children she “honed her skills with” were poor children who were left to their own devices because their parents worked, in a reckless version of the free-range movement. Slightly older children teaching younger children to roam the streets. Yet Dr. Montessori found that they were craving this intellectual knowledge. They had gotten their fill of free play and were looking for other intellectual outlets. Of course, she did reject those children who could not settle down after a set amount of time, so we can’t exactly trust the ethos that Montessori is for everyone.*

Practical Life activities are an important part of a Montessori primary classroom.

Practical Life activities are an important part of a Montessori primary classroom.

Wolf’s slim book presents such compelling arguments for the practical life and sensorial “works” in a classroom that many parents will happily pay the high price tag of private school to let their children learn how to carefully pour water! The focus and lengthy concentration that three and four year-olds devote to these activities lend themselves to other pursuits. If anything, I think this extreme focus is the value of a Montessori education. The ability to lose oneself in a task – and to repeat it for the sheer joy of learning – is one of most beautiful things a teacher (or parent) can witness.

The focus of this book is the primary classroom, ages three to six, but Wolf briefly mentions the value of a Montessori education for both elementary-aged students and toddlers. She focuses on many of the different aspects of a Montessori primary classroom and to an uninitiated parent, it would seem as if your child will master all of these skills – geography, botany, reading, writing and advanced mathematics. That does set the bar rather high and I would caution perspective parents to view it more as a buffet of choices for your child.

If they are interested in botany, there are a number of materials to support a child’s interest, but most children will not delve deeply into that area. Parents need to understand that there is only so much time in the day and these materials are intended for a 3-year cycle of education. If your child only comes to Montessori at age three and leaves at age four, their education will look different. If they need an extra year to “settle” down, then they will need extra time to cover the other materials.

If you are considering a Montessori education for your child, grab a copy of this book and peruse the aspects of a good Montessori classroom. Not all schools that call themselves “Montessori” are true to her vision or even her philosophy. The very beautiful Montessori school near our area is only a “true” Montessori school through kindergarten. At that point, the children are given homework and the didactic materials disappear by second grade. That’s not to say that it isn’t a high-quality school, just that it succumbs to the pressure of being compatible with the local public schools.

Hopefully, this book can help you to determine if your prospective school is truly a Montessori school – and if you actually want your child to receive a Montessori education.

* If you have the time, check out the “unauthorized” biography by Rita Kramer for a more neutral take on Dr. Montessori and her method of education.

The teacher plays an important role - not for disseminating information, but for guiding a child has they follow their interests.

The teacher plays an important role – not for disseminating information, but for guiding a child as they follow their interests.

 

The Brick Chronicles :: Wooden Blocks Football Stadium

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Homemade Gator football stadium, made by A, age 9.

Homemade Gator football stadium, made by A, age 9.

I know it’s not a unique Lego® creation, but I couldn’t resist showcasing this fabulous homemade stadium made from wooden blocks. I especially like that it has the most recent winning score. We’ll just forget about that LSU nonsense, shall we? Go Gators!

This is the swamp.

This is the swamp.

UF vs. Missouri

UF vs. Missouri

Marker Bots :: How We Did It

In case the “how to” guide from The Exploratorium (PDF or Instructables)  isn’t detailed enough, I thought I would share how I facilitated our scribble bot experience. Don’t mistake this as the only way to present this activity…just our way.

Scribble Bots - Take 2.

Scribble Bots – Take 2.

1.Gather your materials.
You want to encourage as much self-discovery and creativity as possible, so gather as many craft/office supply items as you have around the house. It doesn’t matter if you can’t figure out how they might be used, your children will surprise you.

Supplies needed:
– markers
– single AA batteries
1.5-3 V battery with wires attached*
hot glue stick, cut into various lengths**
– masking tape (or painters tape)
– thick rubber bands (that hold together broccoli)
alligator clips (in case your wires break) or for extra reach
– recycled containers, plastic cups, strawberry baskets, etc.
– twist ties, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, paper clips, clothespins, mini-cocktail umbrellas, etc.
– newspaper (or big paper, old cardboard boxes) to scribble on

* There might be other places to buy these from, but many of the electronic places (Radio Shack) sell them without the attached wires. You have to solder them on yourselves. If you aren’t up for that, order a bunch of these from Kelvin since they are so cheap, but the shipping is expensive. Plus, the wires pop off pretty easily and you might want some backups.

**We made our counterweight with a hot glue stick, but other suggestions includes balsa wood and playdough. All of these things can be stuck to the motor pretty easily by hand.

marker_bot_suppliesAt this point, you may want to make a few examples (see how to below) for the kids to understand the concept of a scribble bot. Be sure and make all sorts of different examples since the kids will often try and mimic your creations before moving onto their own designs.

Some supplies - paper cups, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, etc.

Some supplies – paper cups, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, etc.

2. Prepare your environment.
In this case, our environment was the dining room table. While the kids were playing after lunch, I cleaned off the table, laid down newspapers and butcher roll paper and brought out all of the markers, odd bits and clean recycled containers I could find. I’m not sure if this means we have a crafty household or are leaning toward pack-ratishness, but I had all of these materials on hand.

I put the smaller supplies into baskets (or bowls) that were easy for us to access. Each had a space to test their creations. There were two rolls of masking tape between the four of us. You need at least one roll for every two students.

Prepared table, a short video of other kids' bots and a brief stop to make sure everyone figured out how to run the motor (they did) and they were off.


3. Place a battery, motor and thick rubber band in front of each chair. Call the kids.

The first thing that you want the kids to discover is how to make the motor work with the battery. See if they can figure it out. Be patient. Very patient. Ask questions until they get it.

If they are getting frustrated, show them how to hold the wires on either side of the battery to make a compete circuit. Add the rubberband around the battery to hold the wires in place. You now have an easy way to turn your motor on and off.

Save the bands that are wrapped around fresh broccoli

Save the bands that are wrapped around fresh broccoli

The wires on the battery are a bit flimsy and can easily break off from the kids pulling too much or from the vibration of the motor. One option was to purchase small heat-shrink tubes (for electronics) that can be found at hardware stores and use a hair dryer or lighter to shrink them onto your wires. I used a lighter and didn’t get as close to the motor as I should so they still popped off, but a hair dryer (or heat gun) should do quite nicely. Or, get yourself some alligator clips/leads and use those when the wires snap off.

4. Show them the examples or watch a video. Or don’t.
There’s a lot of debate about whether to show examples or just hand them a motor and some markers and just suggest that they make a bot that scribbles. You decide.

My kids and I watched a video from my course and they started out copying the design of some of the kids from the Exploratorium, but then moved on and modified or made their own creations as they gained confidence. You can see what we made here and here. You can always do a web search to find more examples.

5. Add your counterweight.
The hot glue stick is meant to be the counterweight to propel the motor and thus create a scribbling bot. The kids will need to experiment with many different sizes of weights, angles of markers, etc.

Let the child decide which way to add the glue stick to the motor. Push the hot glue stick onto the motor (while it’s off). An adult’s muscle may be needed for this part.

marker_bot_motor

If the wires break off, use wired alligator clips to connect to the battery.

6. Design the bot.
Let them go and design away. Resist the urge to help them or fix it for them. If you see that something is obviously not going to work – that’s okay. Let them do it anyway. As long as they aren’t harming themselves (or the furniture), it will be a fabulous lesson in testing and re-testing…not to mention a good dose of growth mindset with regards to trial and error. Feel free to step in if you see tears on the horizon. You don’t want them to be frustrated, but you do want it to be their experience.

7. Listen.
Listen as your child describes their bot. Ask them about their design and their thought process. “Why did you decide to add the tape there? Your marker color choices are very interesting…how did you decide on those colors?”

8. Reflect. Later.
A few days later…or the following week, casually bring up the activity and discuss ways that you might do things differently. Are there any other things in your house that you could turn into a scribble bot? How else might you use a motor and battery? How is your fan powered? Your alarm clock powered? etc. What other everyday items use batteries?

Want to try again? Do you think we could work with watercolors or oil pastels? Do you think we could make a special type of pattern? The possibilities are endless.

Daddy's scribble bot made a pretty design.

Daddy’s scribble bot made a pretty design.

The end of our second time making scribble bots - this time we experimented with crazy designs...that didn't always work.

The end of our second time making scribble bots – this time we experimented with crazy designs…that didn’t always work.

Update: For those teachers that want to incorporate more free-form activities, but aren’t sure they can justify the time, check out this middle school science teacher’s post. He has some ideas on how to encourage scientific inquiry – with a purpose.

Good luck and happy creating! If you make a bot, post a link in the comments for everyone to see…

 

Tinkering & STEM

My "Tinkering" tool box

My “Tinkering” tool box

Last week I began the Coursera course, Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning. This free MOOC, taught by the folks at The Exploratorium in San Fransisco, has been on my radar for many months. This past week laid the foundation for the concept of tinkering, and whetted our appetites for some of the upcoming hands-on projects.

This Wednesday, we start building. I’m ready. The kids are ready. I’m going to try and post some of our projects to the blog as we go…even some of our failures. The course focuses on circuits and I’m looking forward to becoming more comfortable with allowing the kids to mess around with electricity. I’m also taking notes for next year’s camp. I really like the idea of a “maker” camp in the near future.

The MOOC course provided a list of materials that we needed to purchase...thank goodness because I'm not quite sure what all of this stuff does!

The MOOC course provided a list of materials that we needed to purchase…thank goodness because I’m not quite sure what all of this stuff does! The Makey Makey doesn’t count…we cracked that open as soon as it arrived!