Tools are Cool – Post #3: Around the Community

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As H’s interest in tools grew, we sought to make connections with everyday real-life experiences. We started noticing tools being used all around us. Some of our experiences included:

  • Visiting Lee Valley Tools (a tool store) to pick something up (our awesome purchase will be explored in the next post)
  • Watching the Roof Hospital staff repair roofs in our condo complex
  • Watching repairmen fix the door to the garbage shed in our condo complex
  • Watching a man use a power saw just outside of H’s school to cut wood
  • Watching city workers dig and excavate pipes in the alley that borders her school parking lot
  • Watching repair men using ladders and tools to restore the heating system in my chiropractor’s clinic

While she is too young now to participate in children’s workshops, older children could benefit from the free monthly Home Depot’s Kids Workshops, participating in a local Habitat for Humanity initiative or contacting your local community association to see if they need volunteers to help with community maintenance (for example, painting, rink maintenance, trash collection etc.) Similarly, local community and school theatre productions, such as Storybook Theatre often need help with set building.

As I make this list, I notice that everyone we encountered in our experiences was a man. I know there are tons of women that use tools and I know that H hasn’t yet challenged this notion as she feels very comfortable donning her construction gear and playing pretend. But  as an educator it is important to expose children to balanced perspectives, especially in light of some other people’s sexist attitudes , so I will aim to introduce her to (non-sexualized) female construction professionals through books and photos. I’m curious to see if it triggers a response.

*These images have been collected from various places on the internet. 

The one construction professional I do know quite well is my brother. H has always had a special love for her uncle and when I told her that he has lots of tools, she was immediately interested. We arranged a whatsapp video date so that he could show her around his workshop, demonstrate the use of different tools and answer questions. It was a really cool virtual interactive field trip.

So just before our video call started, H fell off the couch and was in a bad mood. It took her a few moments to warm up but when she did, she was curious and excited to see my brother’s collection of real tools. She was also quite eager to show him her plastic versions excitedly commenting “I have that too!” She was especially proud when he admitted that she had one tool that he didn’t…a saw! I’m curious to see what emerges this summer when we go to visit my family and she can get a real life tour (and hopefully some more hands on experience).

If you live in the GTA, check out my brother’s newly launched facebook page for his company MADDA-WORX. He provides wonderful customer service and specializes in landscaping, interlocking and home improvements.

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Tools are Cool – Post #2: Books and Play

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A natural step in our approach to learning is to read books related to H’s interests. In the book Tools Rule, we were introduced to various tools and how they worked together to build a tool shed. H really enjoyed identifying the tools she already knew and learning the names of new tools. Naturally, she had questions about their purpose (we explore this in the next post).

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Another tool related book we read was Monkey with a Toolbelt. This book sat around our house for a few weeks before H weas ready to read it. She enjoyed the main character (Chico Bon Bon) and was particularly fascinated by his tool belt. In the story, Chico Bon Bon is a handy monkey who helps repair things in his community. One day, he gets captured by an Organ Grinder (essentially a Circus owner) and has to cleverly rely on the tools at his disposal to escape. H enjoyed the plot as it involved capture, escape and clearly definied heros and villains.

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Following building the bookshelf, H also helped out with other little tool-related tasks at home. She helped me wash our dining rooms chair frames  before we used a screwdriver to change the seat covers. She was quite helpful and kept an inventory of the screws and washers and passed me things as required. She also helped to loosen/tighten screws and we recited the easy (but helpful) rhyme: “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as a reminder of which way to turn the screwdriver. Since I am right-handed and she is left-handed, I find it challenging at times to teach her how to do fine motor tasks with her hands.

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Play is a central part of our lives, even the boring day-to-day tasks. After we had cleaned the chairs, we moved them to our living room (where the light is better) to change the covers. I commented that they kind of looked a bus and H agreed. She rounded up a bunch of her stuffies and declared that I was the bus driver and we would be driving to the top of “tallest mountain” (a Dora the Explorer reference) and would change the chair covers there.

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A few weeks later, she worked with her dad to change the batteries in her dinosaur toy. She rifled through his tool bag to find a screw driver that matched the shape of the screws. Her dad also pointed out the plus and minus sides of the batteries and supervised her removing them and changing them.

(*Every parent knows their child best and can be the best judge of what is safe for their child to do. We keep our batteries out of reach and have talked to H about safety – she knows this is not something that is safe to do by herself). 

H enjoys dressing up (a characteristic we both share!) Over the winter holidays, I saw her using pretend tools and used this observation as evidence of her emerging interest. After the holidays ended, I brought our costume box back down to the basement, but recently brought the hard hat and tools back up. She was so excited to find them and instantly started playing with them.

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She went around the house looking for things to fix. Her father handed her a magazine and said, “My computer is broken. Can you fix it?” She brought it to the couch and started using all of her tools to fix it. It was quite interesting because while she knows an axe is used to chop wood, she made it relevant by saying she was using her axe “to chop the computer.” She also doesn’t know the correct verbs yet so invented her own way of describing what she was doing. “I have to wrench it. And screwdriver it.” She also commented on what type of screwdriver it was (based on her dad’s lesson) saying it was a “star screwdriver.” She then moved onto to fixing her dinosaur. I saw her look for the screws and use her play screwdriver to pretend to open it up (like she had with a real screwdriver when they were changing the batteries).

As an educator, it’s fascinating for me to see H deepen her own knowledge about concepts. I’ve been watching how she integrates and assimalate new knowledge into her existing schemas and how she adapts those schemas so that the new knowledge fits. The remaining posts in this series will look at additional ways we deepened our knowledge surrounding tools and how she applied this knowledge to her own creations.

Tools are Cool – Post #1: Bookshelf for Baby

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As some of you remember, H started expressing an interest in tools in the fall this year (you can read about it here). After observing her interest for some time, I started thinking of ways she could have more exposure to tools. Read about our experience in this four-part series.

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The first part of our work was to figure out what H already knew about tools. Through daily life, she understand what a hammer was and what a screwdriver was and had some ideas about nails and screws (although she would mix them up).

Back in January, I had received an Ikea bookshelf that I was planning on putting together for baby’s room. I thought this was something H would enjoy helping with, not to mention, I thought it would have positive implications for their future relationship.

We started by opening up the box and separating out the pieces. One of the great things about Ikea furniture is that their instructions are based on pictures (not words). This gave H the opportunity to practice interpreting visual literacy. By following the instructions, H had the chance to practice counting, matching and sorting small peices as well as improve her fine motor skills. She also had the chance to enrich her language skills. I marveled at how the word “allen key” became a part of her vocabulary.

While I’m a big advocate for open-ended experiences, I also see the value in completing projects that are more closed. Through this experience, H also got a chance to assit me, follow directions, make predictions and make connections to existing experiences.

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“It’s like a house,” H remarked. After putting together all four sides to make a frame, she commented that “It’s a rectangle.”

H stayed by my side and helped for the majority of the process. I distinctly remember how excited she was to help with the shelves and her reaction when I realized I had installed one of the shelves backwards. “Oh no! I made a mistake,” I had complained. And she responded by saying, “But Momma, why did you make a mistake?” So we had a brief (but important conversation) about the value of mistakes and learning from our experiences.

By the time it came to hammering in the sixty tiny nails, she lost interest after helping with just one nail. I expected this as she was tired so I finished on my own. However, she was still close by to pass me things. Later when she came into the room and saw the finished project, she said, “Wow!”

She was impressed not only with the shelf, but I could tell she was proud of herself. Not only did this experience boost her confidence and help create a positive image of herself, but it helped strengthen the bond with her future sibling, and create a sense of responsibility and ownership towards him/her.

Since this experience, she has proudly recalled the fact that she helped build a shelf for baby, and often advocates for baby during our shopping trips, insisting that we buy clothes, diapers, toys and whatever else she thinks the baby needs. This kind of empathy makes my heart swell. I am so excited for her to have a sibling and I pray that they will be the best of friends.

 

 

 

Behind the Name

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Discovery Dome is a concept I thought up almost three years ago. When I was thinking about what to name my project, I wanted a name, logo and slogan that encompassed my passion for play-based learning, exploration and community. I also wanted a subtle way to hint at the Muslim-inclined subject matter.

I consulted with my husband and with my awesome graphic designer (she can be contacted here) and finally settled on the name Discovery Dome, with the tagline “Learning together through play”. The discovery aspect alluded to exploration and learning and the dome was a reference to a mosque – an Islamic place of worship that has historically been a place of learning and community building. That idea can be extended to the entire world as Muslims believe that the the whole world is essentially a mosque – a place of worship and remembrance of God. There is a lot of reflection and awakenings that happen within mosques and I wanted Discovery Dome to similarly be a place of reflection.

My designer worked with me to capture the “world” which served two purposes for me: 1. It hinted to the multicultural nature of the products and programming I hoped to have, and 2. It alluded to my belief that the whole world is a place rich in learning and play. By tweaking its shape and adding a little crescent to the top, the world looked more like the dome of the mosque.

She worked with me to adjust the colour palette and font to my liking, and captured the playful/artistic nature of the project by making the continents look more like splatters of paints than perfect representations.

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I knew when I started Discovery Dome that it would evolve through different phases in terms of what the main focus was. Initially, I was concentrating on retail but I am quite pleased that it’s moving more towards the education piece as that’s where my passion lies. So I invite you to join me in this journey of learning together through play 🙂

 

 

Wonder Journal

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A few months ago when I decided to be more intentional about following H’s lead in terms of the learning we did , I started keeping a list of questions she would ask me on my phone. I also made brief notes about her areas of interest.

The original plan was to create a journal where we could start documenting her questions and thoughts. I thought of calling this a Wonder Journal, where she could essentially record things she wondered about.

We finally created the journal. It was a very simple one made out of white paper stapled together with a sheet of black construction paper. I cut out a question mark and glued a painting to the back of it that she had done with watercolour earlier that day.

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The purpose of the journal is threefold:

  1. To keep track of her learning in an inclusive format (one that is accessible to her)
  2. To encourage her to start documenting (whether through pictures or words) to promote literacy
  3. To set up the habit of reflection

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From this page, I can see that H’s thinking is becoming more complex as she notices more details. A month ago, when she drew a picture of herself, she would not have intentionally chosen colours to reflect details such as eye and hair colour. She also was not attempting to colour things in. While it just looks like scribbles right now (and actually messier than the picture below from one month ago), I can see that H tried to colour in her pants (the red) and her dress/shirt (the blue) and chose to use brown marker to more accurately reflect her eye and hair colour.

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This drawing is from one month ago (I drew the balloons). 

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H’s question today was about how computers work. I asked her to draw a picture of a computer. She asked for help and I prompted her to think about the shape of a computer. She was picturing her father’s computer and excitedly replied, “A rectangle!” I asked her what else she knew about computers and she went onto add that “It has lots of buttons.” I encouraged her to draw what it looked like. If she shows a sustained interest in computers/technical knowledge/wanting to understand how things work, this will become a topic that we delve into deeper.

While this is a very simple practice and H does not yet have the capacity to dive in deeply or independently, I hope that by occasionally doing this now, it will come more naturally to her as she gets older. Children starting in kindergarten can do this pretty effectively, so if you have a child in grade school, this might be worth a try. It’s always fascinating to take a peek inside of your child’s mind!

 

The Three Little Pigs and Other Fairy Tales

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Growing up, I heard a lot of fairy tales through school and TV. While I had a vague recollection of what happened in these stories, I couldn’t remember the complete plot of any of them, except for The Three Little Pigs. That being said, I started telling my daughter the story of The Three Little Pigs fairly early on. I distinctly remember telling her the story while flying solo with her to Toronto when she was 16 months old  because the man next to us commented on it.

My daughter (like many children) has shown interest in The Three Little Pigs on and off for the past few years. Over the summer she participated in one of my classes when I was making flannel board characters with my group and made her own “Big Bad Wolf.”

Her interest was reignited when she saw an episode of Dora the Explorer that featured The Three Little Pigs. It’s also a running joke in our home. When a door is closed and one of us wants to enter the room, we often use our big bad wolf voice and say “Little pig, little pig, let me in!”

Over the winter holidays this year, she had a couple of friends visit (they were 4 and 6) and I had left some costumes out for the kids to play dress up if they were interested. Finding the piggy hats instantly sparked a dramatization of The Three Little Pigs. Our story took a different turn because even though there were four of us, the two youngest children both wanted to be the big bad wolf, so we acted out an alternate version called The Two Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolves. The 6 year old was the narrator and provided the storyline and my daughter became entranced by the idea of acting out a story with a predetermined plot. I watched her fondly as her eyes became big and I saw her play cooperatively with other children. Over the next few weeks she continued to act out the story at home asking my husband and I to play along as well as when she visited her grandparents, asking her dadi to play the part of one of the piggies.

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Since a big part of emergent curriculum is observing the child and providing play and learning experiences in response to their interests, we borrowed our first official book about The Three Little Pigs from the library and started reading it at home. H was intrigued not only by the story, but the idea of building and construction. This is an interest I’ve seen emerging this year and something we have been exploring further (blog posts to follow).

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In the coming week, I gave her the flannel board characters I had created before H was even born for a group of children I was working with. I left her with the flannel board and she proceeded to tell the story independently.

 

Our work since then has been dealing largely with tools and the idea of construction. In the coming weeks, we might attempt to explore building with the types of materials and tools used by the piggies in the book and perhaps writing and illustrating our own adaptation of The Three Little Pigs since H could benefit from an opportunity for more art exploration.

H also showed great interest in Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Gingerbread Man. We borrowed all of these books from the library and as H became familiar with the plot, she started acting them out with her stuffed animals, family members and with open ended props (loose parts) around the house. We returned the books recently. I am curious to see if her interest in these stories re-emerges.

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Fairy tales offer so much for children. Of course, some of the plot lines are questionable (even scary) but there’s a reason these stories have become classics. H who is generally very nice LOVES to be the big bad wolf. I know on some level it lets her process difficult emotions in a safe way and experiment with different roles and temperaments. No one wants to be the good guy all the time! I also think it’s fascinating how she rewrites aspects of classic stories and rhymes to fit her own narrative. For example, in her version the pigs are sisters (not brothers). Similarly, when she started singing Baa Baa Black Sheep a few years ago, she insisted on having a bag of wool for “the little girl who lives down the lane.” The elements of repetition, the memorable characters and the themes make fairy tales easy to remember and an excellent point of departure for the love of literature.