Thursday, July 18, 2019

Beyond the Author: Hevre Tullet, Part II

If you recently read our post taking you Beyond the Book: An Author Study with Hevre Tullet, , you know we're on a real process art kick here this summer. While in previous years I was organized and planned out specific themes for the Sprout Scouts Playcamp and even did a whole unit on Art and Artists in the Garden, this year it has felt most comfortable to follow my kids' lead. They've had a lot of fun so far and one of the best parts of exploring artist, author and illustrator, Hevre Tullet is that the grown ups have had fun, too!

I've touched upon the value in process art with children before. Process art targets a variety of developmental skills and milestones while nurturing and honoring children's creativity and inherent artistic abilities at their own level. I am not an all-or-nothing type of gal, so we also do project based artwork here, which has value in its own right. I particularly love Hevre Tullet's combined use of art and literature to promote an environment for children to explore both in a playful and aesthetically beautiful way while gaining skills in literacy, writing, art and play. What I did not initially take into account as we began exploring his work is how much I was gaining through it as well!
"Press Here!"

"Let's Play!"

"Have Fun!' with the book Mix It Up

Yes, today, I am inviting the adults to join in! This is our play time and our opportunity to rediscover process art. I would never classify myself as someone who is artistic, but why? What is it that defines a person as artistic or not? And when does that switch go off? I do remember creating artwork as a child, uninhibited and filled with joy and wonder. And while every child grows to different interests and preferences, I do wonder what outside factors emerge to nurture certain concepts of self and quell others. I remember putting on my own art show at home once and displaying my works on the wall with (eh em) school glue (oops)... I had ample access to art supplies and craft materials and a mother who really nurtured the idea of process art and encouraged us to work with these items at our own discretion. But somewhere along the line, children do gain the concept that art should represent something and look a certain way. From there, I think many decide whether or not this is a strength or a challenge. I maintained interest in crafts and hobbies of that sort, but more open ended type artwork was a bit intimidating.

And along comes an artist like Hevre Tullet who can splash paint on a page, make squiggles and lines and doodles and dots come to life and get everyone engaged and playing and creating. And all of a sudden, I was taken back to the same child-like joy I had when I was 5 years old! Even my husband got in on the fun! And in setting out stations this week to invite the whole family to join together in art, I noticed some wonderful things that were happening:
When he finished painting on paper, Y explored painting
on the vase that was holding our paintbrushes! I was
almost sad to wash it off--maybe glass will be a "canvas"
in our future....

  • We were all on the same page and in the same playing field: Many times when adults and children work together on art, there's a pretty clear division between who is 2 months old and watching from a swing, who is 2, who is 5 and who the adults are (T and I will keep those numbers to ourselves for now). But when there's one giant sheet of paper and the only instructions are to "Have Fun!" or "Mix it Up!" or "Jump on a Trampoline!" we're all on the same level. Well, to be fair, C is still just watching from the swing and smiling and cooing. But there's no pressure for a child to create something in the same way an adult can. There's not even pressure for a 2 year old to create something in the same way a 5 year old can. 
  • Inhibitions Go Out the Window: I actually loathe when children ask me to draw something. Not  because I worry so much that it will create an unattainable standard for their smaller, younger hands (although this is a concern), but more because I do not think I am particularly adept at drawing. When I dipped into our art explorations this week, I felt no hesitance at all. I had just as much joy at squiggling and doodling and dabbing and dotting as anyone else!
    S ran to the table on the morning of this art invitation.
    He started off slowly and a bit tentatively mixing it up. He
    dabbled into some red, and then a bit of yellow. "Look!
    I made orange!" and then he got all in and mixed it up
    across the entirety of the page! It was time for some more paper...
  • Connecting through Dots: art was a great way for us to join together as a family and connect. It wasn't forced, it wasn't suitable more for one age than another. It wasn't on a schedule and there was no agenda. The paper was simply set out with the materials to use on it. It would remain there as long as we wanted. We could come all together, one at a time, go as needed, return as desired. If we needed another sheet of paper, we got one. If we felt all done, we set it to dry and in the end we'd hang our work in the Family Museum Wall. Sometimes the art told a story. Sometimes it made a sound or a song. Sometimes it was silent. Imagine connecting as a family in this way and then imagine it in a classroom or in a community at large.
  • Art in Motion: this is not your sit at the table or stand at the easel type of art or reading for that matter. Hevre Tullet's books and work get everyone moving from those tiny fine motor muscles to the larger gross motor ones. As my boys use their fingers to trace the lines along the pages of his stories or press dots or rub circles, they are practicing the same tracking skills that will help them to read and write. 
  • Art and Inclusion: Navigating shared paper and space with art is helping us all to develop important social skills, critical thinking skills and problem solving skills. Rather than art being a solo activity, it is an opportunity to be inclusive and work together. 
Somehow, the "dirty" paint tray is so beautiful to me! We used a dollar tree
plastic silver serving tray. The mirror quality adds such a unique
element when mixing and exploring paint colors. Painting on mirrors indoors
and outside is a great way to add a unique element to process art...

I've been creating my own art invitations and provocations this week using pages from Tullet's books Press Here, Mix It Up!, Let's Play! and Say Zoop! Choosing materials and seeing what happens with them is part of the fun for me (and my own creative process). However, for those who would prefer a bit of direction with this, there are some great ideas on Pinterest. Hevre Tullet also has an incredible blog, and if you are not fluent in French, you can view it translated into English. I also highly recommend his book Art Workshops for Children. I recently purchased a copy and am so eager to bring this as an addition to my nature-based playgroup when I host an Art In the Park session next month. I can't wait to see art in action with a mixed age group of children and adults. The art activities in the book can be adapted to individuals, small groups (family setting/siblings/a few friends), larger groups of similar age or larger groups of mixed ages and even adults.

I don't have a goal with our exploration of art this summer other than to follow my kids' interest and perhaps also preserve this time of wonderment, competence and confidence in art. Perhaps I also want to reignite this in myself as well! There are mornings when everyone runs to the table right away and morning when the paper is still mostly white by 11:00, but the invitation is there. It's on the bookshelves: read me! It's on the kids' table: paint me! It's on their art supply shelves: create! It's stowed away in my diaper bag for outside of the library or at the park: let's doodle! It's a continued reminder that art is everywhere around us and within us and all it needs is a space to know it is valuable and beautiful in its own right. That it is a process and an action, not a product or destination. That it never needs to be finished but it is complete in its current state. That it is lovely in all shapes and shades and sizes and colors. In fact, art is not so different than we are!

Happy Playing!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mad Science Monday: Toy Deconstruction Lab

I don't know if I have spent nearly enough blog space singing the praises of our local county library system, but in case I have not, it is amazing. Summers at home with kids are made possible, survivable and affordable by our county libraries. Between story times, family events, a summer reading incentive program and, well, books, we've got summers covered here!

Last week, we attended an evening Toy Deconstruction event at one of our library branches. The boys (my husband included) were in HEAVEN. A room with tables strewn with rejected toys, hairdryers, and other battery operated or electronic devices otherwise on their way to a junkyard along with access to a variety of tools made for an evening of fun and learning for kids of all ages. (Lots of kids at heart, there, too!)

I can remember as a little girl that my own mother, ever ahead of her time, was always the DIY type when it came to repairs. When, on occasion, some of those repairs were not successful--again, ever ahead of her time--my mother would let my sister and I have at the remains. I have a very vivid memory of a cardboard box that housed the remains of a VCR and some screw drivers we were allowed to use to see the insides.

Now made popular by catchphrases like "STEM," "loose parts" and "tinkering," the act of encouraging and allowing children to explore a variety of real materials and real tools is common practice. But often we focus on the act of building and creating something. The equally valuable act of deconstructing and taking things apart is often overlooked. Furthermore, there is a great deal of anxiety when it comes to allowing children to use "adult" tools and handle "adult" materials.

I definitely do condone safe practices when working with young children on building and/or deconstructing activities, particularly when this includes the use of tools, potentially sharp objects and small loose parts. Know your audience, know your space and know everyone's limits. And even after considering everything you "know," be mindful and prepared for addressing safety concerns as they crop up. I would not recommend a large group of children in this type of activity without an equally large group of supporting adults. In a home setting, you also want to make sure you are available to support and supervise.

 S and Y had so much fun exploring the innards of several toys at the library that I mentally stored the idea for helping some of our own "ready-to-move-on" toys toward the next leg of their journey.

I have a Mommy Confession: I hate noisy toys. I know, that is a strong word. It is a strong feeling. I know my kids love them. I know most kids do. It's always the first thing they flock toward when at someone else's house or in a public play area. I am very grateful that they have friends and grandparents who graciously support their love of noisy toys. But I personally cannot stand them! So when an influx of new noisy toys makes its way into these quarters, it's time for an equal output in the opposite direction if you know what I mean...

This morning, the boys were greeted at their Morning Work Table by a tool box of screw drivers in assorted sizes and other potentially useful tools and a couple of pairs of safety goggles just in case we would resort to hammers at some point. A couple of toys that were falling apart or missing parts were also set out for our own little pop-up Toy Deconstruction Lab. My junior scientists had the important task of exploring these old toys and tools (with my support) to see what made them tick and sing and light up and blast sirens...oh my gosh.

S is living proof that a toy doesn't have to be in one piece or even fully functional to still be fun!

Excuse the crazy hair and the lack of glasses... Mommy is very busy
helping us explore the insides of these toys safely and that means she also
hasn't had enough coffee yet to finish getting me dressed and ready for the day...

We had so much fun with this activity. We will happily allow our study subjects to remain on the premises for further observation over the course of the next few days. And I'm willing to bet when they do make their final departure that S and Y will probably ask me where they are...gulp. I did explain that these toys are broken and on their way to being tossed, but that we would 'recycle' them first by taking them apart to see what made them "work." S, who may potentially have a future in law, was already discussing with my husband the multitude of ways the toys is still fun and still works and isn't yet broken. Oh...dear...

So yeah, there are some potential snafus with opening up your own Toy Deconstruction Lab. Safe practices with tools and toys and children are a must. I do recommend adequate adult support and supervision and the use of safety goggles if you are using hammers. Be sure to safely dispose of old batteries. I also highly recommend discussing with your young scientists that toy deconstruction is only to happen in the Lab setting--not at their whim with any toy or electronic around the house. I mused with the librarian last week that she would be flooded with emails from parents distraught that after returning home, their children deconstructed the laptop, Alexa and the Kitchen Aid mixer. Lastly, I'll make my hippie-dippie plug that if a toy can be donated and still used, it is preferable to help it find a new home in that way rather than sending it (even in bits and pieces) to the city dump. We did specifically choose toys that were too broken to be donated to the thrift shop. And in that case, I do see the act of "deconstructing" these things to be a meaningful way to extend their shelf life.

The boys really enjoyed exploring the insides of old toys both at our library and at home. Y loves to use a screw driver and has become quite proficient at it. In related new, I had to whisk him away from the emergency exit door that he was attempting to remove from its hinges at the library! S is creative in his building and his deconstructing and even in re-constructing. He got very busy finding creative ways to attach parts of different toys to one another. So before you haul those trash bags off to the curb, consider setting a few aside with a collection of small tools (you can find great little screw drivers, just perfect for little hands at Dollar Tree or Walmart or even "real" tools specifically made 
for children to use at Lowe's and Home Depot). The Toy Deconstruction Lab is a sure hit with children of all ages (even those who are young still only at heart).
Happy Playing!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Get Outside And...Have a Fairy Tea Party

At the most recent meetup of my nature-based playgroup, we hosted a Fairy Tea Party at a local park and sprayground and it was such a hit that I had to share it here. Traveling with my three kids plus materials means that my activities have to be easily transportable. In an effort to preserve the financial accessibility of nature play and parks to families and children of all ages, I keep my events free of charge, so I also have a steadfast rule to use materials I have on hand. And the Fairy Tea Party has it all: the perfect combination of arts & crafts and water play with a fairy-tale theme. It's the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the sprinkler park or to do in your own backyard.

 When I do make & take projects at playgroup meetups, I like to keep them as open-ended (re: low maintenance and minimal directing on my part) as possible. Some activities do require more instruction or involvement, but with three of my own little ones on hand and a park full of attractions, I need to be able to tend to my group and my kids. I found this setup to be one of my most successful in that a certain little Y was feeling quite needy that day and C really wanted to be held, fed or worn the entire time (in 90 degree temps), and at one point I came back to our shaded picnic area to find a group of kids and adults having a great time making peg doll fairies and magic wands! Dream. Come. True!

I had set materials out on the table, a few "examples," for inspiration and our Little Traveling Nature Library was stocked with some themed reading for young readers some nature based resources for the grown ups.
We tested out Y's magic wand to see if it
could get him to stop whining that
afternoon; it didn't work...but I
think he made up for it in cuteness...

Keeping materials at a minimum and able to be used in a multitude of ways allowed for our art activities to be very open ended and independently implemented. To make your own wooden peg doll fairies and magic wands, you might include:

  • wooden clothes pins (the old fashioned type, not the type with the spring)
  • wooden dowels (I had very thin, short ones, you can choose any size, but I liked these for little hands)
  • foam star stickers (easiest to stick onto each other or even layer)
  • curling ribbon
  • deconstructed artificial flowers & leaves (we have a lot of dollar tree flowers leftover from other crafts and play activities)
  • tacky glue or school glue
  • floral tape
  • markers
  • scissors
  • masking tape/marker for labeling names 
  • sectioned serving tray for displaying materials*
*These items are helpful if you're running a group or party. Most of the items on this list are available at Dollar Tree stores and the rest can be found inexpensively at Walmart or on Amazon.

In my examples, I used leaves as fairy wings on my peg doll and added details with marker and stickers. It was fun to see how the children and other adults got creative with flowers and stickers, etc. Wands were easily constructed with stickers and ribbons or flowers and floral tape or even combinations thereof.

And while the title of my event indicates that we had tea, I keep my public events on a BYO food/drink basis. Nonetheless, a fabulous tea party occurred in the sprinkler pad with children of all ages both from our group and just visiting the park preparing, pouring and playing with toy dishes from our collection at home. All of our play dishes were purchased secondhand at a thrift shop. These types of things make a great take-along to the pool, sprinkler park or even your bathtub. I cannot stress enough the value in having something little hands can hold (fill and pour from) when it comes to waterplay, particularly for those who may be reluctant to get wet. And I found this to be a versatile add in as well in terms of age-range. Children ranging from several months to 7 years old were having a blast!

So, whether you're planning a summer birthday party, a playdate at the park or even your own backyard, consider a Fairy Tea Party of your own. You might even take along a jug of sun tea or brew some homemade peppermint tea from your herb garden to serve along with it. We'll be back with more summer fun in the days to come.

Until then...

Happy Playing!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Photo Friday: Smile, You're On Candid Camera

"Smile, you're on candid camera!" My husband tells the story that when he was a little boy, he would say this to his mother whenever she was sad in order to cheer her up. We are, however, the least photogenic family you may ever meet. I can take a "candid" shot of my kids, but from the time of their first ultrasounds until now, it is nearly impossible to get everyone (let alone anyone) to pose for a photo. Nonetheless, I usually make at least a few unsolicited photo posts on Facebook each week for my family and friends' non-requested viewing pleasure.
One of my most recent Facebook Photo Dumps was on Wednesday of this week. It was a busy day! We harvested some tomatoes in the garden and the boys had a picnic snack out back, helped me weed the garden and deposited their collection into our composter. That afternoon, I ran our nature based playgroup meet up. If you saw my Facebook wall, you saw cheery red tomatoes, children having a pretend tea party in the sprinkler park, making wooden peg doll fairies and magic wands. Most of my posts are chipper and cheery like this. If you're keen on details, you might notice a basket of unfolded laundry photo bombing the background or that my kids' faces are covered in ketchup or mud... But most of the time, I keep it Kodak worthy, non-posing candid expressions and all.

Not pictured on my Facebook wall on Wednesday was my other project of the day, creatively redecorating the front fender of our car on my way to an appointment. Yes, we have a great Auto-mechanic Dramatic Play theme happening here, no, I did not intend to bring the fun and learning quite that close to home. Indeed, my little incident happened right around the corner from our home. In fact, just the day before, I'd been thinking to myself that after some circumstances this summer of seemingly bad mazal, I have never been in a car accident as a driver. "Probably if that's going to happen, it will be this summer," I thought to myself. Or the next day? I should think a little less. Or at least more positively. Here, let's try it again: "Probably if I'm going to win the lottery without buying a ticket, it will be this summer."  From my lips to G-d's ears!

So as soon as I safely pulled over to the shoulder of the road, I mentally crossed that one off my Bucket List, called my husband and called the police. Thank G-d, no one was injured, no report needed to be filed, just an exchange of information for insurance. My drivers' license is unscathed, my passenger seat license to give a running monologue of unsolicited feedback to my husband about his driving including remarks about his own driving record may have a few points against it now. Nonetheless, he's been only kind and supportive.

When the officer showed up, he looked incredibly familiar. Why? Because I have a huge 5x7 photo of this guy in my living room. Why? Because it is one of the only photos in existence where S is smiling and striking a pose. This guy visits our preschool every year during Community Helpers Week and teaches our children about being a police officer and how to stay safe.

"Hello Living Room Cop" I said as I rolled down the passenger window. Just kidding! Honestly, I was on my best behavior because it happens to be that my car looks and smells like something dead might be hidden in the trunk and I haven't actually looked in there to be sure. My husband says it's his gym clothes, but it's honestly so bad in there, I intentionally drive it to the gym as opposed to our van because I know that if I look my purse inside and park next to a Porsche, no one will try to break in while I'm working out. 
So as I retrieved my registration and insurance info from the only clean and tidy portion of my car, the glove compartment, I also retrieved a small bit of advice given to me early in my marriage from a good friend:

"The word gynecologist makes people uncomfortable; always say OB."

Yes folks, I was on my way to a check up with my OB, looking forward to a morning of drinking coffee alone, laying back and putting my feet up. And yes, folks, I used the g word with Living Room Cop.

"Thank you so much, sir." I said as Living Room Cop handed back my license and registration. I was supposed to be at the gynecologist now and I'm not sure which is worse, but I think I like you better."

And that, ladies and gents, is how you very quickly wrap up a simple exchange of insurance information in a minor car accident. It is also how you make a grown man turn the color of a tomato. Say it with me now: gynecologist. Gynecologist

But this is not really a post about my photography skillz, my medical vocabulary or even my creative exterior auto design projects. It is actually a post about resilience. As mentioned above, we've had some circumstances in the last several weeks that I had thought of as bad mazal. Prior to having children, the feeling of being down on my luck might have been enough to knock me off the horse once and keep me there. Not now. In fact, with kids, when you're knocked off the horse, it's not only imperative that you get back on right away, it's also imperative that you ride said horse to the library for Story Time and then to the park and sprinkler playground to run your nature based playgroup. If you happen to damage one of your horses in the course of a day, you also need to get back on that horse and safely park it until an insurance claim can be filled and repairs can be made. You will feel immensely grateful and lucky to have a second horse in these instances. And the truth is, those feelings of immense luck and gratitude are far more helpful than the ones that tell you this is probably the summer you're going to fall of the horse for the first time!

Why is resilience so important? It's not just an act of "keeping it together for the kids." It's a genuine state of seeing the silver lining and grasping it with all your might while simultaneously letting go of all that other "stuff." Children perceive so much. As a little boy, my husband could perceive that his mother was sad at times and even if he didn't know why, he already knew that the best antidote was to turn that frown upside down and smile. So we've had some snafus here and there and thank G-d, they have always resolved and settled. We've also had a lot of fun this summer. And a lot of smiles (some even caught on camera, quite by accident). We might look back on this summer one day and remember it as the one that could play back like a bad country song or we might look back and remember it as the first one we spent as a family of five. The first one we stayed up late enough to see July 4th fireworks. The first one where my kids would see all 5 of their grandparents. The one where we went to the zoo on a Tuesday. The one where we got free Slurpees on 7/11. The one where we went to two different libraries in one day. The one where Mommy got to talk to Living Room Cop right from the passenger seat window. Yup, this summer is going to be epic. I'm not down on my luck, I'm high on my horse.

There's a popular Yiddish saying: tracht gut vet zein gut, think good and it will be good. It's important to travel light when it comes to negative thinking; you need all the room you can spare for the good stuff. We'll be back with more of that good stuff soon and until then...

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Beyond the Book: An Author Study with Hevre Tullet

S has been a longtime lover of literacy but somewhat reluctant with writing/drawing...until the end of his preschool year. It was then that he announced one morning, "Mommy, I am an artist! I like art!" Having been a reluctant reader myself who loved writing and art, I know how to be sneaky and thanks to amazing authors and illustrators like Hevre Tullet, it's possible to nurture and encourage all three of these areas in early readers (and adults). S and Y both love the books Press Here and Mix It Up and Tullet is an artist, children's author and illustrator behind several volumes of amazing works of art in literacy and graphics alike. Here are just a few of my favorite things about his work:

  • His books are interactive, engaging children to get hands on (literally) with each page. The more ways in which early readers can engage with literacy, the more they will grow to love it.
  • His books demonstrate the ability of visual design and illustrations to tell a story--a valuable asset to pre-readers who are still in the illustration/dictation phase of writing and reading.
  • His books also demonstrate the ability of art to "tell a story," a valuable asset to budding artists!
  • His illustrations and artwork show that art at all levels and all styles has value. Scribbles, circles, bright colors and simple shapes are beautiful, aesthetically pleasing and are just as much "real art" as representational art. This is particularly important for children to know, especially those drawn toward perfectionism and hesitance to write and draw.
Among S's birthday gifts this year was a very special one from his aunt, uncle and cousins, Hevre Tullet's book Doodle Cook. It is a recipe guide for playful "culinary" creations of doodles, scribbles, shapes and designs all served delightfully on plates depicted on each page. Young readers and artists are encouraged to abandon everything they know about the rules of not scribbling and not drawing or writing in books! Independent readers can follow the recipes and early/pre-readers can follow directions given the support of an older reader or adult. I have to say, I was just as excited to use the book as the kids! And since I have way too many commitment issues to allow myself or anyone else to color right in the book now, I decided to print off some place setting templates for us to use alongside it. You could also draw your own plates or even use white paper plates. We tested out our first "recipe" behind one of our local libraries this week--a Quick Circle Salad--and it was scrumptious!

It sparked an interest in more books by Hevre Tullet and luckily, we were in the very best place for that interest. So back into the library we went and checked out a few other additions to our own personal collection. Back at home, Y brought me our copy of Press Here. This kid loves buttons. All buttons. Your buttons. My buttons. So I set out a quick and simple Morning Work activity for the boys to create their own process art in the style of Press Here using dot stickers and do-a-dot markers in primary colors and a few black markers in varying tip sizes. I also set out a sheet of white paper for each of the boys. 

Y was the first to take interest in the setup. He was quite interested in the stickers and still needs a little help to get them "started" before he independently peels them off and sticks them down. He was very intentional in where he spaced each one, overlapping in some areas, not in others. And he was so incredibly amazed to see that his picture resembled one of the pages in Tullet's book! He felt so proud and confident. "Look! It's just like the book!" he shouted gleefully, again and again. 
Well, all of that excitement sparked S's interest. He began with the black markers (it's seriously his favorite "color" when it comes to artwork). I mentioned that it reminded me of the part in Press Here where the lights are turned off. S then used his artwork to dictate and tell a story. He placed four yellow dot stickers on the black page and brought it over for me to press each one. Then he flipped his paper around to the white side, added more dots for me to press and, with those, the lights went back off and the paper flipped again! We hung their work in our "Family Museum," the wall ascending our staircase.

I often believe that a great deal of S's hesitance with art and handwriting stems from his expectations that both must look a certain way. He's expressed that he doesn't like to write his name because his letters are still "big" and mine are "small." He used to ask me to draw representational art for him. Children are surrounded by adult print and representational art all day. They hear adults tell them not to "scribble" and to "do their best work." And then comes Hevre Tullet, an artist and author and illustrator who fills his pages with handwritten text in all sizes and colors and illustrations comprised of colorful scribbles, blobs and simple shapes. And his books? They're amazing! They're fun, they're funny, they are worth reading again and again and again. They are truly a gift to any lover of children's literacy and art, but the greatest gift of all is beyond the books--it is the sense of confidence and wonderment gifted to his young readers, budding artists and aspiring authors/illustrators. Here is someone who put their play to work!

Happy Playing!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Mad Science Monday: Sprout House Science Results & Observations

Last Mad Science Monday I introduced you to some swell seed science experiments and this morning, the Sprout Scouts were busy at their journals recording observations and results from our incredible Sprout House experiment. We "built" our sprout houses with my nature based playgroup about a week and a half ago. S chose to "plant" a butter bean. Y picked a red kidney bean. I planted a butter bean as well. They both hung their sprout houses (with my help) on our dining room window, which gets quite a bit of sunlight--especially in the afternoon. I hung my sprout house above the kids' table, away from direct sunlight.

This simple science experiment never ceases to amaze me and kids of of all ages can appreciate the miracle of seed germination. One aspect of longer term science experiments that is often overlooked is the process of recording your observations and results. Certainly S and Y (and particularly C) are at varying levels of writing and discussing scientific observations, but we start early here! Even if writing or drawing and dictating scientific observations are not your kids' thing right now (or ever), taking the time to discuss what you see and using "real" scientific language can really go a long way in building vocabulary and literacy around scientific method. Beyond that, it encourages the critical thinking skills that are the driving force to scientific discovery throughout life.
The boys' sprout houses, about a week ago...

My sprout house, about a week ago
S is very into representational drawings now and will eagerly draw what he sees and thinks. He is hesitant toward writing independently and still prefers to have me write his dictation. He recently got these GeoSafari Jr. Bugnoculars for his birthday and they worked amazingly well to get a closer look at our sprouted beans!
Check out the roots and sprout on this butter bean--and it was the one hung away from direct sunlight.
It has, by far, the longest roots!
Y is eager to doodle and participate in that way in his journal. He loved looking through the Bugnoculars as well. Using this opportunity to talk about seed germination and parts of the process of scientific method is helpful for both boys. And C took the opportunity to squeeze in a morning nap before we all headed to the library for a story time and to check out some books for the week.

Building a lifelong love of science often stems from experiments and activities that provide an immediate WOW factor (think baking soda and vinegar). Just as valuable and important are the science experiences that occur over time--over the course of hours, days, weeks, even seasons. And children--even young children--can truly withstand the wait factor. They are just as WOWed, if not more so, by the miracles of nature and science that take time to reveal themselves. And so is the wonder of a single seed!

Happy Playing!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Build-a-Car Auto Shop Dramatic Play

It's probably nobody's favorite place in "real life," but to my two boys, an auto shop holds all the wonder their young imaginations can hold. Tools, building, washing, painting, constructing, deconstructing, repairing... This dramatic play setup has it all and was super easy and quick to set up using things we had at home, recycled materials and loose parts and a few add ins from the dollar store.

I also made use of this Auto Shop Dramatic Play set by Pocket of Preschool, my go-to supplier of great dramatic play resources and ideas. I particularly like the elements of literacy she adds in through signage, labels, writing and drawing opportunities and ways young players of all ages and stages can contribute to creating their play environment. You can certainly add in your own labels and find free printables or create your own online. I made a bundle purchase when there was a flash sale on Teachers Pay Teachers last year on an entire dramatic play set and it's been a huge time saver for me. I also find that in these summer weeks, we need to change out our play themes and materials a bit more frequently to keep everyone interested and engaged.
Scooter boards are a great and easy to store gross motor toy and
are perfect for scooting under vehicles in need of repairs or driving
around town in a cardboard box car...

Our pizzas had seemingly gone a bit stale over this past Shabbos and I asked the boys if they were ready to change over our play theme. They both were quite excited by the prospect. I asked first if they had ideas and S wanted to bring back a few old favorites. I love that he enjoyed some of our past themes so much that he wants to do them again (and we will!) but I also had another idea up my sleeve that I'd been storing (both literally and figuratively) since the winter. We have a lot of interest in tools, building and repairing things here. In fact, for S's recent 5th birthday, I found myself nowhere other than the lumber department of Lowe's shopping for his birthday present--wood, a new personalized tool bag and some tools to go with it plus a stack of books (sold separately).

I had in mind to set up an auto-mechanic's shop for the boys over the winter and we never got to it. And after a recent trip to Build-a-Bear Workshop, I thought, how cool would it be if we combined that idea with our very own Build-a-Car workshop? We have no shortage of recycled materials and loose parts here... [it's not hoarding if I have a use for it someday....]

 So with a little bit of organization and set up, we combined the best of two beautiful worlds: dramatic play and building with loose parts and opened up shop--our Build-a-Car Auto Shop, to be precise!

These mechanics are honest [to a fault]. They work hard, efficiently and might make lemonade out our lemons. They can turn an old jalopy into a work of art. As long as you think masking tape and neon straws are aesthetically pleasing. So give us a call on our calculator phones, we'll book you an appointing in the appointment book. One of our hardworking mechanics will take your customer information and they will get you on your way and going in no time at all!
You can also bring your vehicle into the shop for a wash and detail. In other potentially related news, if you set up a giant bucket of things for washing and painting a car, give no instructions or introduction, go upstairs to feed the baby and leave two little boys to their own devices, you will probably come down to find they added water to the scene and the hardwood floor is now very clean... Lesson learned, rookie Mom, lesson learned.

But if that didn't totally scare you off, here's a list of props and ideas for creating your own Build-a-Car Auto Shop Dramatic Play theme at home or in the classroom...

Possible Props & Materials:

  • cash register
  • play money
  • receipt book
  • toy phones, walkie talkies or calculator "phones"
  • writing materials
  • key chains, old keys
  • construction helmets
  • mechanic uniforms (old t-shirts, aprons or lab coats)
  • work gloves
  • goggles
  • tools, toy and real
  • clip boards for customer orders and appointment books (either printed or created by you)
  • scooter boards 
  • traffic cones
  • funnels
  • plastic tubing 
  • nuts and bolts
  • tool boxes
  • magazines (or transportation themed books for early readers) and chairs for a waiting room
  • old computer or keyboard
  • toy cars

Loose Parts for Building and Repairs
  • cardboard boxes in a variety of sizes
  • cardboard scraps
  • recycled plastic containers
  • cardboard tubes
  • paper plates
  • bungee cords
  • zip ties
  • pipe cleaners
  • plastic straws
  • recycled bottle caps and pouch caps
  • velcro strips
  • empty tissue boxes
  • Art & Craft Materials (paint, markers, crayons, masking tape/tape, scissors, hole punchers, metal brads for attaching wheels)
  • stickers, tissue paper, paper scraps, wrapping paper, cellophane, tin foil
S engineered a submarine! 

I guess our auto shop can service a variety of transportation modes!
Car Wash & Detail Props
  • fluids, soap, oil (I used plastic travel bottles with colored water and oil, sealed shut with duct tape)
  • empty spray bottle
  • paint rollers
  • paint brushes
  • utility bucket
  • empty paint cans
  • paint chips
  • squeegees
  • sponges
  • microfiber cloths and/or mitts
  • water*
  • shaving cream* 
*After the boys' little indoor "experiment," I did promise them an outdoor opportunity to have a car wash. We will probably wash our actual cars this week and also do a smaller scale shaving cream and water car wash for some toy cars.

You can pick and choose materials from the lists above that you have on hand, add in your own ideas and build/create many of your own props. Better yet, have the kids build and create their own props! Even before I released the cardboard box collection, the boys were already busy building cars out of chairs and empty laundry baskets.  You can add in building toys to the scene as well. Gears, tinker toys, and blocks of all kinds would be great to supplement. Recycled materials work just as well and somehow really spark the kids' imagination.

Here are some Play Extension Ideas to take it further:
  • Collaborate together to build a larger scale car using a big cardboard box and other loose parts. This process can include drawing/writing out plans and measurements (for a literacy and math component), actual construction of the car (STEM/building activities), painting and decorating the car (art) and using it in play afterward (dramatic play)
  • Gather or check out some favorite transportation themed books from your local library and use them in an auto shop themed story stretcher
  • Take it outdoors! Use sidewalk chalk to create your own roads and city or neighborhood (writing/pre-writing). Use cones and other visual aids to create an obstacle course and have kids ride bikes or scooter boards (gross motor skills and safety). 
  • While you're outside, get some soapy water and shaving cream and have your own car wash for toy cars, riding toys or your actual car!
  • Take a theme related field trip to the car wash.
  • Make a gas station using a recycled laundry detergent container and plastic tubing and fill 'er up!
  • Older kids might enjoy the challenge of building and testing model cars. There are a variety of kits for this in craft supply and hobby stores that target a variety of ages and abilities.
  • Paint with toy cars! Dip some toy cars in your favorite colors of washable paint and drive them across the paper for some great prints and designs. When you're done, it's a great time to open up the toy car wash and get them cleaned up and ready for play.
  • Playdough with toy cars--those tires can make some great tracks in playdough, slime or kinetic sand.
Check out some of our other transportation themed activities for more ideas and, as always...

Happy Playing!