Sunday, October 30, 2011

More skills than a robot in block play

We have talked about the importance of playing with blocks to develop math concepts. Block play in preschools also helps children with a number of other skills including eye-hand coordination, social-emotional development, and imagination.
When a toddler places one block on top of another, he is completely engaged in the challenge he has given himself. He is integrating what he sees with what is happening with his hand and the block. It has taken engineers and computer scientists years and years to program robots to do what this child is accomplishing around one year of age.
Now let’s imagine putting 4 or 5 robots in the block corner. Each robot has a computer program running to create structures with the available blocks. However there is a limited amount of space for the robots to move in and a limited number of blocks. Will the computer scientists and engineers ever be able to program robots to work together? Our little children between the ages of three and five can accomplish what the most sophisticated technology cannot.
Imagination? Can imagination ever be programmed into a robot? I think not; but I do think many four year olds have imagined themselves as robots this past Halloween and can pretend to be a cranberry, a pumpkin, or a turkey in this song for Thanksgiving.


A Cranberry ran away
Before Thanksgiving day
Said he, “They’ll make a sauce out of me
If I should stay.”

A Pumpkin ran away
Before Thanksgiving day
Said he, “They’ll make a pie out of me
If I should stay.”

A Turkey ran away
Before Thanksgiving day
Said he, “They’ll make a roast out of me
If I should stay.”

Six simple characters can illustrate this song.  The child holding the cranberry runs away and finds the picture of the sauce. The pumpkin finds the pie and the turkey finds the roast.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blocks and Fractions

Last week we spent time in the block corner of preschool with a little boy who pulled blocks off the shelf to the exclusion of other enticing activities. We determined that our best strategy was not to prevent the ‘dumping’ of blocks but to expand the block play for this child with our own interest in building with the blocks.
It can be helpful to understand the typical developmental sequence in block building. Lining up blocks to create a choo-choo train and putting a single block on top of another are the first stages. We know this from the researchers who have spent a lot of time on the floor with young preschoolers. To make your block play modeling or demonstrating more interesting to your preschooler doing these simple forms will be more productive than creating elaborate structures that are beyond the child’s development and interest.
What do children learn from lining up blocks either horizontally like a train or vertically like a tower? Besides developing coordination to achieve their desired result, children can have the physical experience of fractions. Preschools usually have blocks that are in distinct units of length, one long block equals two medium length blocks or four shorter blocks. When children play with these kinds of blocks, lining them up and stacking them in their own way, they are experimenting with fractions. In other words, they have the physical experience of these fractions before they put pencil to paper later in school. Having time to play and learn in this way will make learning fractions a snap later on.

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, “My it’s getting late”
The second one said,
“There are witches in the air”
The third one said, “But we don’t care”
The fourth one said, “We’re ready for some fun”
And the fifth one said,
“Let’s run and run and run”
OOoooooo went the wind
And out went the light
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

It is fun to do this by lighting a pumpkin or a pumpkin candle and blowing it out.  An alternate strategy is to clap hands once on the word out while having someone turn the lights out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In the Block Corner

Now that your four year old is well established in his or her preschool routine, you may be wondering about some of the activities that preschools generally provide. Today, I would like to focus on the activities that fall under ‘free choice’, ‘playtime’, or ‘center time’. In that category of activity, let’s take a look at what happens in the block corner.
Day after day, a little boy goes to the block corner, almost to the exclusion of enticing activities that other children are choosing. One of the hallmarks of this time in a child’s day is that they can choose whatever it is that they find most interesting. It is an important part of learning when you are four years old and in preschool. It is probably the most interesting compelling time of the day for you, because you are in charge of deciding what to play with and how to play.
In the block area, our youngest preschoolers may simply enjoy the pure pleasure of removing every last block from the shelf. It is very liberating, feeling the power to take ALL the blocks off the shelf. No one is saying, ‘don’t take them off the shelf unless you are going to DO something with them.’ This little one is learning that he has power; he is able to decide on his own what to do with the blocks. Those of us who have helped reshelve blocks day after day and worked to gain the support of the ‘block remover’ at clean up time are thinking this is not necessarily a good thing. But it is one important stage in development and our goal should be not to prevent this from happening but to help expand the activity with the blocks by our own interest in building. It is similar to the activity of the baby in the highchair dumping everything in reach.
Dumping everything out is a stage of development and during this stage children are learning quantity and volume, and learning to take charge of their environments.  We will spend more time in the block corner next week.

Pumpkin, pumpkin
Big and round
I’m glad you grow
Upon the ground
I’m glad you don’t
Grow in a tree
For then you might
Fall down on me!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Halloween and Self-Esteem

I would like to continue the conversation about developing a high self-esteem—believing in and valuing one’s self. Today’s examples will be about Halloween costuming, and how you can help develop your child’s belief in self. These examples are great for children in preschool through lower elementary, but I hope you will find what you need for your younger child.
I would like to suggest you open a conversation with your child about all the fun things one can pretend to be for Halloween a week or two before the costume is needed. Your child will be thinking about it and talking with friends at school. You might look through your closet or dad’s closet with your child to find articles of clothing that are no longer worn. Children love to try on clothes like this and perhaps hats, scarves, old shirts, etc., will appeal to your child, to modify with belts, glitter paints, or other accessories to achieve what your child (not you!) likes.
You might go to a second-hand store with your child and let her pick out just the right piece of clothing for very little money. It is akin to memories you may cherish of being at your grandmother’s house and being allowed to dress-up with some of her old clothes or grandpa’s old clothes. The best part of this activity is that it involves your child’s creativity. Your job is to facilitate, not to judge.
I’d like to share a personal story about a Halloween costume in our once young household to illustrate the point. It involved a week of layers of papier-mâché, followed by coats of paint and advice and comments from the elder sister and the younger brother. Seb, the creator of the dragon-head, paraded around our yard with the finished apparition as a huge, top-heavy hat after school on the 30th. It went on the school bus with him on the 31st. I heard later from his teacher that he put it on briefly when the children dressed in their costumes, but took it off for the traditional costume parade through the building. It was, of course, too big and heavy to wear.
If you understand that the process of creating the costume is far more important for the child than the finished product wearable for a brief moment in time, and you put that understanding into practice this Halloween and in other things you do with your child, then you are doing the very best you can to develop self-esteem. (addendum: Last year for Halloween, Seb’s oldest son was a garbage truck. As I understand, a great deal of masking tape was involved.)

Five little ghosts went out to play
In a haunted house one day
Mama Ghost said, “Boo, boo, boo”
Four little ghosts back home they flew.

(repeat four, three, two, one)

Mama Ghost said, “Boo, boo, boo”
No little ghosts back home they flew.
Papa Ghost said, “BOO, BOO, BOO”
Five little ghosts back home they flew.

(Tune: 5 Little Ducks)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Developing a High Self-esteem

We have all heard, and probably agree, that it is important to believe and value ourselves and our own creativity—in other words to have a high self-esteem. Why some adults have this gift and others seek always to look for and need positive reinforcement from others is the question. What kinds of experiences in childhood send some along one path of high self-esteem and others along a path where they can only trust perceived experts?
I would propose that the divergence in paths occurs in the early childhood years, when children begin to use their imaginations. Some families and teachers, seeking to steer children’s development, will overuse praise. “Your picture is beautiful. I love it!” These children have too many experiences where the adult’s idea of ‘beauty’ is imposed upon the child’s creativity. The child cannot be confident that his or her own judgment is correct. What if the child really didn’t think his picture was beautiful? These same parents might offer ‘helpful’ suggestions, “I think it would look prettier if you used a light blue color.” Whose idea of ‘pretty’ is important here?
The Toad would like to remind you to take a walk along Highway 8 in front of Toad House and let your little one choose a mini pumpkin to decorate at home. You can poke some holes in the top with a small screwdriver and your child can poke asters, leaves, and evergreen twigs to make a fall centerpiece. You can ask the questions, “Do you like it? Do you think it is pretty?” If your little one tells you he or she likes it, you can put it in the middle of your table for all to enjoy. You will be building self-esteem, one little pumpkin at a time.

Halloween Dance
Everybody up and do your Halloween, Halloween
Everybody up and do your Halloween thing.
Everybody up and do your Halloween thing.
When you hear the gong say, “boo!”
(additional verses)
Fly upon your brooms like the witches
Wiggle on the floor like the serpents
Dance up on your toes like a fairy, fairy
Wave your arms around like an owl
Now you shake your arms like the skeletons
Hold your hands up high like the goblins
March around the room like the monsters

(tune: Dance of the Macabre) –If you would like to hear this fun Halloween song you can go to and choose the first option -- learn a song or fingerplay.