Day 2 – Documenting Passion

It’s only Day 2 of the observation project, and I’m surprised that I’m already beginning to see a few patterns in my daughter’s current interests.  When given a large quantity of similar objects such as sea shells or coins, my child loves sorting them into other containers, dropping them back into their original bowl/basket/container, and then sorting them out again.  I first noticed this interest last week when she was filling glasses with ice cubes for over half an hour — an activity that we iterated on by first filling a sink with ice, and then a couple days later asking for cups of ice to pour and play with on a long flight.

The other thing that’s been illuminating about this project is a realization that I can’t completely remove myself from the picture…especially at my child’s very young age. However, I can introduce my daughter to an activity, and then do my best to step back and see what aspects of it she’s most excited about.

Observations from Day 2

  • Filling bowls with rocks: Moving a pile of rocks from a large bowl, and dividing them into smaller containers
  • Filling cups with coins: She found a stack of 10 plastic cups, separated them, laid them out, and then dropped a coin in each one.
  • Floating in the Kayak: Enjoyed getting splashed, loved the bumpy waves. No complaints about getting cold, wet, etc. This follows a long-observed love of water in all forms: swimming pools, jumping in the ocean, etc.
  • Walking on a balance beam. This has been a long favorite, and when she spots any elevated curb, it suddenly becomes a balance beam.
  • Playing with the dollhouse with G-Ma: Play acting bedtime, cooking, climbing up ladders, etc.
  • Throwing things into a basket (diapers, balls, etc.), followed by the exclamation, “I am the best shooter!”

Day One: Documenting Passion

I’m spending the week documenting my child’s interests. Check out yesterday’s post for more information.

Day one

  • Going on stroller rides. My otherwise stroller-hating child has been interested in this since we arrived at the Grandparents’ house.  Here, she’s not only patient with the activity, but she will actually climb into the stroller on her own accord and ASK for a ride. What’s going on with this?
  • Imaginative play with a mini dollhouse. Putting the animals and fairies to bed, feeding them, having them climb ladders, etc.  A great sign, since I recently purchased a dollhouse for her that’s waiting for a remodel and fresh paint in my garage.  It looks like this could be a hit when we reveal it in a few weeks.
  • Reading books: She chooses Going on an airplane and Peg Leg Peke. We’ve been traveling for the past 2 weeks, and I think the first book plays to her fascination with airplane travel and all that’s involved with it.  Up until 2 days ago we’ve also been reading Big Girls Use the Potty, which I think was a hit for similar reasons, but she seems to have tired of it and is enjoying a fresh story. Peg Leg Peke is pretty hilarious.
  • Play-Baking with grandma (cracking eggs is really fun!), playing with egg timers, mixing, setting up meals for teddy and bunny
  • Cupcakes — eating them and pretending to bake them
  • Selling things. Finding objects (i.e. napkin rings) and selling them to family members for “two dollars.” She appears to enjoy the game of exchanging objects for money, and vice versa.
  • Organizing things — putting objects in their places, sorting
  • Cleaning — an ongoing joy of hers. She’s a tidy kid, and likes everything in its place.
  • Throwing a sticky velcro ball to Grandma who was holding a reverse velcro Kadima-like paddle. She loved how the ball would get away from them and roll into the bushes and “brambles.” This activity lasted a good 45 minutes, and could have kept going were it not for lunch.  She actually cried when we tried to pry her away.

Documenting Passion

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

— Samuel Johnson

When I was nine I wanted to learn how to ice-skate — probably not the first thing my parents would have guessed I’d show interest in given my warm-winter Southern California roots — but once I got going, my focus zeroed in on mastering how to reverse directions, skate backwards, and spin. So, I worked hard one summer and practiced my turns over and over again until spinning forward to back became as easy as walking down the street.  And while I’m no elite figure skater, I still adore hitting the rink every winter.

In contrast, I come from a waterlogged family and was a great swimmer as a child.  My good-natured and very generous scuba-loving father saw my talent and signed me up for scuba lessons at the ripe ol’ age of 11 — not my idea — and although I gave it a half-hearted shot, I hated wearing the gear, was bogged down by lessons that lacked spontaneity, and feared the deep-water drills to lift weights from the bottom of the pool.  I still squirm at the claustrophobic thought of donning a wetsuit, weights, BC, and tank.   Lucky for my dad — who still dives every weekend — my little brother and sister followed very closely in his underwater footsteps.

My sister: Now a master diver who’s also working toward her ship captain license

Are you jotting mental notes of your own set of contrasting experiences that circle around following your passions vs. being coaxed into something you demonstrated talent in? While we have the capacity to help children enjoy adult-generated ideas and experiences such as hiking, reading, opera, scuba, or monster trucks, we should also be aware of overcommitting children to activities that aren’t of intrinsic interest.

According to Mitch Resnick, director of MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten (a learning research lab for children), a child’s future success lies in focussing on personal interests and then working hard at getting better at them. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a child is GOOD at something, it does not mean that he or she ENJOYS doing it (think about those piano lessons you took as a kid…or is it just me?).  I was actually a pretty great high school calculus student, but once I got to college the only thing that motivated me to attend my 8 am math requirement was a scooter ride with a cute boy.  Once the pre-rec was out of the way, the boy disappeared and the remainder of my education was 100% social science.  And then, surprise, surprise, as I focused exclusively on my passions: art and design, I connected with my future husband in the Film and Theater department.  It’s funny how these things can happen.

But, this is a story about passion, not romance.  Getting back on track…

In order to learn something new, both children and adults need to be excited about what they’re doing.  Think about how much more information you absorb if you’re invested in a topic or experience.  In an iVillage parenting article on creativity,Resnick says,

“We want people to grow up with a love of learning, where they’re excited about trying new things. If you’re pushing them to work in a regimented way on things they don’t really care about, that’s going to steal that away to the point where they come to see learning as a chore.”

So the question I have is this: How do we determine what our kids are really excited about? They may show an interest in something, but interests can shift as quickly as the weather.

Here’s a thought…

As a graduate student, I was introduced to the idea of documentation in learning environments. While observing children participate in their everyday activities, I would make notes of their behavior, discoveries, interests, questions, and interactions in order to better understand what learning looks like. Following the observation stage, notes would be transcribed and then synthesized for emerging themes and threads of continuity.  Documentation is great because it removes you from making assumptions based on prior understandings and asks you to look objectively at what’s in front of you.

And here’s the plan…

Each day over the course of one week I plan to document my daughter’s passions, asking one simple question:  What does she gravitate toward? After documenting her interests for the week, I’ll synthesize the “data” and follow up with activities that support her interests.

And I’d like to invite you to join me! For one week, pay attention to what your child or children are truly interested in and make some notes.  And then the following week, do at least one thing to support those passions that emerge.  And if you can, keep me posted in the comment section (below) on how it goes.

Fairy Doors for Kids

Have you ever spotted fairy doors?

Once you see one, your radar will be attuned to them like it might be for ice cream on a hot summer day or your favorite jeans at a basement sale.

Keep your eyes open and you may spot a secret, hidden fairy door.

We’re blessed to live near the a fantastic children’s library,and my daughter and I made a trip there just before heading off on vacation.  She has a thing for scanning books, and I like that we can be boisterous without ticking anyone off.  After dropping off some books, we wandered back into the toddler area, which is when I happened to spot the fairy door.


Huh? It was this cute little door, stuck to the wall, with no fan-fare or explanation…simply a little door.  And then I remembered seeing these little doors in other places…which prompted me to dig around and discover that there is a whole world of fairy door people out there, building little getaways for fairies in the most unexpected places.  There’s even a shop that just sells fairy doors. Brilliant!

It turns out that Ann Arbor, MI is so rich with fairies that you can take a self-guided tour of all the fairy sites, a very popular activity according to folks who’ve reviewed it on Yelp.

As an example, in the Folk and Fairytale section of the Ann Arbor Library there’s a little fairy home that’s truly inspiring (see photo above).

Fairies and Creativity

After posting last week about fairy gardens, this seemed like a nice follow-up on where the fairy garden idea could go.  This is all about building and supporting imagination and encouraging children the think creatively.

I have some friends who build elaborate leprechaun traps with their school-age children every St. Patrick’s Day, an activity that involves a lot of planning, building, imagination, and invention. And then there’s the added benefits of spending quality time with their children and bolstering fun family traditions. If you choose to plant a garden for gnomes, install a fairy home, build a leprechaun trap, or leave lettuce for Santa’s reindeer (our newest family tradition), you’ve instilled your child with the idea that anything imaginable can be invented and created. And they will also experience a sense of playfulness that has the capacity to stick with them for life.

Buy a Fairy Door

Click on the images to get any of these fairy doors (affiliate links)

Miniature Fairy Garden Double Door

Fairy Door

 

 

 

Fairy Garden Door that swings open

Fairy door that swings open

 

 

Fairy Garden Gnome Door

Fairy Garden Gnome Door

Fairy Bench

 

Fairy Twig Bench

Big, Bad, Porcelain Canvas

In preparation for a recent trip to Boston, friends suggested that I stock up on new toys to entertain my child on the airplane.  So, along with purchasing a Mrs. Potato Head and an Elmo DVD (a moment of weakness for our almost-TV-free home that thankfully paid off), I found these great washable bathtub crayons in a local beauty supply store.

I knew these would be a hit after seeing our almost-2 year old “washing” the sides of the bathtub with bars of soap and sponges.  Drawing on the bath seemed to be a natural extension of that!

Obviously, this wasn’t a plane toy, but what better place to test out bathtub crayons (that are supposed to wash off, but do we know for sure?) than in a hotel bathtub?  You’re with me, right?  I wish I was able to capture the visuals a little better, but I was busy getting a little wet as my daughter drew and erased the drawings at least four times.  I usually refrain from drawing on my child’s pictures, but she asked me to make some stars, which she promptly filled with expressive marks.  And the good news is that in the end, it all cleaned up perfectly!

The best part of this activity, in my opinion, is extending the process of mark-making beyond the piece of paper or easel. This is one of those “thinking outside the box” activities that can help kids understand that there can be more than one way to do something.  Not to mention, a lot of joy can come from freely moving greasy crayons all over a huge porcelain canvas.

Playdough Tools

If you have a batch of playdough and could use some ideas for how to play with it, we’re going to dig into that today! If you don’t have any playdough, and want to know how to make playdough, click here. 

Playdough tools

I collect tools from everywhere: online shops, toy stores, play kitchen tools, my kitchen, second hand shops.

Playdough Tool Ideas

note: this list contains affiliate links

The possibilities are truly endless. At 16 months, it was enough for my daughter to just squish it and move balls of dough from one bowl to another. At 20 months, she wanted to cut it, so we introduced a safe wooden “knife” that we got for free from our local cupcake shop.  Lately, at almost 2 years, she likes to “cook” muffins and cookies and tacos, and I’m grateful to whoever makes play dishes, rolling pins, and cookie cutters!

What can you do with Playdough?

  • Roll the dough into worms and balls
  • Smoosh it into pancakes
  • Stamp it
  • Poke it with forks and straws
  • Make play baked goods
  • Make “dinner” for the family

Teach children to use scissors with Playdough

This is one of my very favorite ways to teach children how to use scissors, and it’s far easier than cutting paper!

If you want to help your child learn how to use scissors, roll out some worms and show them how to cut them with safety scissors (affiliate). Cutting dough can be incredibly rewarding to kids who are frustrated by cutting paper, which is really not the easiest thing to do!

Playdough tools | TinkerLab.com

Prepare your Playdough Area

One last thing — try to avoid playdough in a carpeted area. If it gets in a rug, it can be torture to get it out.

We work on a very forgiving table, but if your workspace is an unfinished table, you can pick up inexpensive plastic sheeting or oil cloth (affiliate), at your local hardware store.

Just Play!

My best advice is to just put it out with a bunch of tools, play, and see what happens. Also, pay attention to your child’s cues for more ideas. If they’re using the dough to create an imaginary world, you could introduce small toy animals to the play. If they’re interested in backing, add a spatula and cookie sheet. The bottom line — have fun!

More Playdough Ideas

If you want to make your own playdough, this is the best recipe. 

Would you like more playdough tool ideas? This post shares 3 playdough tools that you may already have.

Add a new scent to your playdough such as pumpkin pie

If you want to make glow in the dark playdough, you’ll love this recipe.

Want to get creative? Click here and learn how to make masa playdough!

 

Eight Ways to Follow a Child’s Curiosities

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I really wanted a birdhouse.  I’m not sure why exactly, but I impulsively and enthusiastically bought an unfinished birdhouse, and for whatever other reason, I then tucked it away in the back of closet. The mind works in odd ways.

In any case, about a week ago, my daughter became especially fascinated by some birds she saw on one of our walks.  The observation led to further curiosities about birds in our books, birdhouses, naming birds in various toys, and spotting birds in the sky.  Following one of our bird chats, I offered  up that we could make our very own birdhouse.  What I didn’t completely anticipate was the unbounded enthusiasm you often see when someone has earned an Olympic gold medal!  And what I experienced in that short, beautiful moment is that my child was thrilled that I had not only listened to her, but that I also intended to help her pursue her interests and follow her curiosities.

Seeing the enthusiasm, I quickly pulled out the birdhouse, paint, and brushes.  I’ve been unprepared for these impulsive moments in the past, and was relieved that the table was already covered in vinyl and the brushes and paints were ready to go.  With toddlers, the whole mood can shift with the wind, so within minutes Project Birdhouse was underway.  Any preconceived ideas I had for my darling birdhouse flew out the window and I opened myself up to my toddler’s ideas.  Thankfully, she allowed me painting rights, and the two of us painted the whole house (under her direction!) in about 15 minutes.

I somehow convinced her toddler impatience that we had to let it dry before filling it with seeds, and the next day it was outside attracting birds.

Eight ways to support a child’s curiosities

  1. Listen closely and carefully to what your child is saying.
  2. Don’t interrupt the child with your own interpretations.  Rather, reiterate what they are seeing and experiencing.
  3. Follow the child’s lead.
  4. Explore the child’s curiosity in multiple ways.
  5. Ask questions about the process of discovery.
  6. Encourage risk-taking and experimentation.
  7. Be flexible and ready to change your agenda to accommodate growing interests.
  8. When possible, have a stockpile of self-serve materials (i.e. books, craft supplies, toys, videos) ready that will support your child’s interests.

If your child is interested in…:

  • Doctors, newborn babies, hospitals: Visit a large nearby hospital.  Many hospitals are open to the public and allow visitors.  You might be able to see newborn babies in the nursery, and it’s educational to look for scrubs, wheelchairs, gurneys, stethoscopes, etc.  Also, consider purchasing an inexpensive doctor kit.
  • Airplanes: Take a trip to the airport.  If you’re in a car, look for a road that loops around the back of the airport that will allow you to  watch planes taking off.  And if you happen to have an aviation museum near your home like this one your child will love the hands-on experience of climbing into a cockpit and “flying” helicopters.
  • Cooking: Cook together, and set up a mini-kitchen for your little chef.  Have your child climb up on a step stool so that he or she can see all of the action.  Depending on your child’s ability and age, he or she can pour flour into a batter, mix scrambled eggs, spread jam on toast, pull husks off of corn, etc.  A mini-kitchen can be as simple as fashioning a stove out of a low cabinet that’s repainted and covered with little kitchen accessories.  Here’s a smart and simple DIY kitchen idea.

Be the "Guide on the Side"

In the world of education, sage on the stage is a phrase that’s sometimes used to describe the all-too-familiar scene of the knowledgable teacher delivering lectures to passive students who memorize information for the sake of spitting it back out again on testing day.  This method of teaching assumes that the child is an empty vessel, waiting to be filled with information, and doesn’t give the child much opportunity to think for themselves.  As you can probably imagine, the problem with this type of instruction is that while the learner may appear to “know” information, he or she doesn’t really learn all that much.

In order to really understand something, humans need the motivation to generate knowledge and meaning through their own experiences, rather than regurgitate information that’s been fed to them.  Back to the world of education, this active form of learning is often referred to as constructivism, a learning theory supported by instructors (or parents) who act as facilitators rather than teachers.  You’ll know a constructivist environment when you see discussion, analysis, prediction, problem solving and posing, active learners, and facilitators who ask open-ended questions.

Huh?  But I’m a parent, not a teacher!

Right!  But there’s a world of research on how constructivist learning environments can foster creative thinking skills, skills that are critical for children to embody in order to thrive in this ever-changing world, and we have the perfect opportunity to steal some good ideas from the world of education and put them to work in our own homes.

Putting it into action

  • Take a step back. If you find yourself on the “teaching soapbox,” find opportunities to be the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.
  • Be an active listener. Listen to your child, and respond to what they’re interested in.  If they aren’t yet talking, follow their gaze and respond with descriptive dialogue about the object/s they’re looking at.  For example, “I see you’re looking at the big, red ball.  Would you like me to bring it to you?  What do you think about it?  Oh, you’re feeling it.  It’s soft, isn’t it?”
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “tell me about this picture,” “what do you think will happen now?” or “I wonder what we could make with this play dough?”  This will empower your child to think independently, come up with novel conclusions, and express his or her ideas.
  • Follow their lead. If your child takes an interest in the birds outside the window, paint a birdhouse together, watch videos of different kinds of birds singing on YouTube, buy a bag of birdseed to feed some birds, make bird noises together, find books about birds at the library, etc.

References:

Wikipedia: Constructivism

Jacqueline G. Brooks and Martin G. Brooks, In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999)

Alison King, From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. 1993. College Teaching. v41 no1 p30-35.