Sunday, September 29, 2019

Books for Tinkering!

I met another mother recently who has boys who like to build and make things--so fun to see those children be SO creative! I realized I hadn't pulled together a list of books specifically related around more tinkering topics, so thought now might be a good time.

My kids have been enthralled by the Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect books recently! The youngest two have long been makers or tinkerers, so I appreciate having good books to inspire them.

Rosie Revere, Engineer. Rosie wants to be an engineer, sneaking bits and bobs that others discard. She loved to make gizmos and gadgets, but hid them under the bed as she was embarrassed when a relative had laughed at her invention. Later her aunt (the real Rosie the Riveter) dreamed of flyings. Rosie Revere, Engineer figured out a way to help her fly! Her aunt laughed as well with this creation, but also gave her support at this first try, rather than leaving her to feel like a failure. Rosie learns perseverance as she continues to the next flying model. Soon her whole class wa making gizmos and gadgets, cheering at their failures!

Ada Twist, Scientist Ada is always asking questions and is full of curiosity. Ada figures out how to think through problems and conduct experiments, even if they don't quite go as planned. She tries to figure out the stinky smell in her house, leading her on an adventure of exploration. While there are quite the messy situations at times, her parents are calm and talk her through the issues while still allowing her to experiment and explore. Ada uses scientific tools like goggles, beakers, and scales to conduct her experiments.

  Iggy Peck, Architect has always built things from diaper towers to a dirt Sphinx. Unfortunately, in grade 2, he had a teacher who had a bad experience as a child on an architecture tour and banned building in her class. But Iggy Peck didn't listen and built away! On a field trip, the foot bridge was out, but Iggy Peck had a plan. The children worked together to make a bridge and the teacher realized how important building dreams can be.

They also have workbooks to go along with these as well, such as Iggy Peck's Big Project Book for Amazing Architects. From the reviews, this includes a lot of drawing and all the activity books may be suited more for elementary school ages. The quick peek I got showed lots of "materials" to use for building--really lots of loose parts! I think this will be on the Christmas list for at least one of the kids. Ada Twist's Big Project for Stellar Scientists is another option that helps children think like a scientist and explore many types of scientific themes. I love the open-endedness of projects and emphasis on exploration and scientific thinking. Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers  helps develop problem solving and critical thinking skills through STEM concepts and approaches. All of these "workbooks" do offer specific suggestions which may veer a bit from a more pure loose parts concept; however, they can be great springboards for investigation and stimulate creative thinking.

Addy-Matic and the Toasterrific is a funny exploration as a girl attempts to create an automatic system for toast using principles from a chain reaction machine. I love Rube Goldberg type reactions, so this is a perfect way to put in story form how one girl attempts this. The book shows how simple machines work, how to face a problem, and carrying out a plan in creative ways.

What Do You Do With An Idea? is an award winning book that has universal appeal as a we get and share ideas, wrestling with the opposition of others, and how we can protect and feed our own unique ideas. This book inspires us to the change the world with our ideas. Not exactly tinkering in the illustrations, but gives us confidence and shows perseverance in coming up with an idea and making space for it in our lives.

Awesome Dawson My kids love Awesome Dawson! Dawson's motto is "Everything can be used again!" Dawson invented things since he was in diapers progressing to becoming a robot out of a chicken bucket and oven mitts to a bedsheet and wind powered way to get to school. He began bringing old toys back to life. He has access to all kinds of discarded materials, such as an old vacuum cleaner, broom and pool hose. The new robot is tasked with all of Dawson's chores with a brain made of cat food. The robot goes berserk, but Dawson uses his creations to save the day. He still uses his inventions to help with chores, but in a more realistic way.

Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon had an overflowing toy chest, though her grandmother often chatted with her about how she used to make her own toys. So Molly tried it! She made an outdoor dollhouse in the trees, a cardboard racer, shapes in the clouds, and more. A new girl moved in with more traditional toys, but Molly Lou Melon rubbed off on her until the neighbor started making her own toys as well. Loved the grandmother inspiration in the book as she winked from the clouds.

Edward Built a Rocketship Edward wants to explore space, visiting the planets, so starts making a plan. He gathered odds and ends and tinkered to create his rocket ship. His mother kissed him goodbye as Edward's rocketship blasted off into the space of his imagination. He visited aliens and planets and floated down in his home made parachute. What a creative story!

Henry's Amazing Machine Henry loved putting things together since he was a baby. He made an Amazing Machine by the time he was six, covering his bedroom and then his bathroom! He kept building and building as he grew older, building outside as well! Neighbors and others started to come visit what it was, with people setting up lemonade stands, offering pony rides, adding music, and more. Henry's parents were incredibly patient with all the space needed for tinkering, until they had enough with being pushed out to a tree house. He found a new home for his creation with the local carnival, bringing the community together.

JUNK D.N.A. is a one-shot wordless comic/ picture book with illustrations created entirely from nuts, bolts and scrap metal parts!
 Clare Thompson’s Junk DNA follows the journey of a pile of junk. As it shifts and moves, a few pieces land perfectly to create a being. The creature uses more metal scraps to build a house and then another being. Together they use the pieces to create vehicles, more people, and shelter. They continue to innovate with screws, springs, bottle caps, and wrenches, building a ginormous being. This causes problems as the giant starts capturing and deconstructing the smaller beings. Inspired by memories of the second being, the first being devises a tricky plan to take out the giant.
Thompson’s wordless picture books is not flashy; however, the neutral colors, along with metal variations, such as rust, really make the story shine. Without words, the reader can clearly figure out the story line; however, there is plenty of room to fill in dialogue and create additional details. The wordless aspect almost allows more creativity as the reader becomes part of the story telling. C.P. Thompson Press ’s ingenuous artwork reminds us all to experiment with what we have on hand.

The Tin Forest A man lives in a metal scrubland. He dreams of living in the forest, yet wakes up to the doom and gloom of live. He decides to make the plants grow out of the tin he is surrounded by. The metal turned into flowers, birds, and branches--a forest made of garbage and tin! Soon real animals and plants also filled the space.

Katie Shaeffer: Pancake Maker Katie wants to make pancakes but is not allowed to use the stove. She devises a way to make a pancake maker, collaborating with her new friend, Baxter. She has a great box of paraphernalia (loose parts!) and they get to work, perfecting the pancake machine. The machine makes too many and they share with the neighborhood. Ingenuity, friendship, and sharing are central themes to the story.

Charlie's House A young boy in humble circumstances builds an even better house and care of mud and scraps after seeing his own house built. His imagination takes him on a ride in the car! The review for this on Amazon is not for this product.

Fraidy Zoo A young girl is afraid of going to the zoo, but her family comes up with lots of loose parts creations to help her get comfortable with their upcoming zoo trip. I really enjoy the drawings of the loose parts used to create animals.

Jillian Jiggs Jillian loves to create and tinker! She uses boxes for robots with friends until she has to clean her room. So they helped clean up, becoming pirates, dragons, trees, chickens in a cage, and so much more! Her friends have to go when the room becomes messier than it was before, so Jillian can concentrate on cleaning up her room.

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Exploring Creativity and Loose Parts as Adults

Exploring Creativity and Loose Parts as Adults

While many of us think of the concept of Loose Parts centered around children, the theory does not limit these principles to the younger crowd. Simon Nicholson asked, “Is society content to let only a very few of its member realize their creative potential?” as he called for a need for more interaction with planning and creating our spaces. Many adults enjoy exploring their creative side through the use of variables. For many educators, that may include setting up loose parts provocations, outdoor play spaces, etc. Doing this with the children is even better.
            Other adults may explore variables through pushing the boundaries with art. When we expand our definition of what a loose part is, we have even more options. Nicholson wrote, “all children love to interact with variables such as materials and shapes; smells and other physical phenomena, such as electricity, magnetism and gravity; media such as gases and fluids; sounds, music and motion; chemical interactions, cooking and fire; and other people, and animals, plants, words, concepts and ideas. With all these things all children love to play, experiment, discover and invent and have fun. All these things have one thing in common, which is variables or 'loose parts'." Variables can be magnetism, smell, fluids, music, fire, cooking and so much more—loose parts can really be a part of any of our creative aspects of life!
            I have been very impressed with the creativity and call for action from the show, The New Creatives, on BYUtv. With a focus on creativity, the show highlights an artist, gives a collaborative project, and ends with a challenge for us the viewers. Each episode encourages us, “Don’t just watch stuff, make stuff” (Peterson & Craig, 2017). One episode highlights Patrick Rochon, a light painter. Rochon uses a variety of light sources like glow sticks and light wands, along with a long exposure on a camera (or using an app on a phone) to capture the movement of light over time. We immediately tried this and were able to bring the experience of light as a variable to several festivals in our area. Adults and children alike were mesmerized with their creations while also enjoying the experimentation factor.
            Another artist on the show went back for an engineering degree and applied his artistic bent to engineering concepts. He makes a ferrofluid (iron and oil) that is responsive to both magnetism and movement. How cool is that? Once again, he was playing around and having fun with variables or loose parts. Inspired by the episode, we made magnetic exploration sets for adults in our family for the holidays, creating ferrofluid in a jar, using iron filings in water, making magnetic slime, and gifting strong magnets. The exploration factor was high on each of these gifts! We shared the concept of magnetism as a loose part with others.


            However you choose to explore variables, be sure you are part of the creative process as well, not just on the sidelines. Being creative feeds our soul and allows us to support the children in our care as they experiment with variables as well. We all like to "play, experiment, discover, invent and have fun"! As Nicholson defines creativity, it is “the playing around with the components and variables of the world in order to make experiments and discover new things and form new concepts.” Have fun playing!

Peterson, J. (Writer), & Craig, A. & Peterson, J. (Directors). (July 26, 2017). Patrick Rochon [Television Series Episode]. In Cook, J. R. & Cook, A. S. (Producers), The New Creatives. Provo, UT: BYUtv

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Fort Building Story Books

Dens, cubbies, forts, we love them all! With a child obsessed with building forts, we have tried forts out of a variety of objects--cardboard, fabric, blankets, cushion, sticks, pallets, tarps, and more!

Check out my podcast episode on building forts here--it shares tons of resources around den making.

I decided to compile some books around fort building after a friend mentioned a book in nature with more racial diversity, showing pictures of children in color as part of the illustrations (more on that soon!). She suggested the book Fort Building Time. Let me say it is delightful!

Fort Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd

My nine-year-old and I liked Fort Building Time the best. It goes through the seasons with the many things children can do outside and has a different type of fort for each season--one is made of large snow balls, another of sheets and rope, another of driftwood and beach blankets, and another is a tree house. Every season allows fort building, with branches or blankets too. At the end the fort falls down (as many do!) and it allows for fixing projects and imaginative play. . The text is lyrical and poetic without too many rhymes. The illustrations are lovely and include depictions of children of color.

I also started looking for more books about forts! While they may not have as much diversity, they do show lots of ways of building forts. I tried and tested these with my boys and they loved pouring over these together. I can't wait to use them with groups and at nature play days. :-)

Here are some books we found:

The Better Tree Fort
Russell's family moves to a new house with a great big maple tree in the backyard. He wants to build a fort in the tree; however, his dad is not so handy at building forts. The boy built plans, includes a basket and rope, and they go to the lumber store (and many more). Slowly they began to work on the plans. They eat dinner and even slept in the fort. Russell could see a bigger, better tree fort being built a few yards over and went to say hello. It ends with Russell and his dad in their tree fort, realizing there will always be better tree forts and Russell says, "But not a better dad."

Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley
My six-year-old liked this book the best and it was my nine-year-old's runner up choice. I also found it delightful. Two sisters are sent outside to play (with a quick loose parts start with blocks and mermaids, and whales that look like the fort the younger describes later on). The older sister sits and reads while the younger girl shares all the neat details of her secret fort when her sister doesn't want to play with her. It has a rope ladder, water balloon launcher, a roof, a basket and pulley, special flags, natural treasures and magnifying glass, a crow's nest, an underwater viewing space, etc. Obviously, she has quite the imagination with whales, mermaids, and pirates near her fort. The secret is the fort is made of candy! The older sister doesn't believe her; however, they realize that maybe they can build it. They start working on plans and gathering building materials.

Shelter by Celine Claire
The animals are preparing for a storm and two strangers arrive to the area; however, no one will help them find shelter for the storm. The strangers (bears) make a shelter with the snow. The fox family finds themselves on the outs as their shelter begins to sag and seek refuge with the strangers who help them out. This books shows how we can be kinder to others than they might have been to us.

Stick! by Irene Dickson

A young boy uses a stick in so many ways! He uses it as part of a flag, to write in the sand, float it down a stream, etc. At the end, many sticks are put together as new friends gather together.

Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier
In this spin on the Little Red Hen, a young girl invites the other children to help build the fort; however, none help. With little encouragement, she learns how to build a fort and builds it! The end has an illustration of different types of forts--bunk bed, snow, kitchen chair, sofa, etc. I love that the girl has dirty knees sometimes and that the children are allowed some freedom to play outside and build!

King Jack and the Dragon Fort by Peter Bentley
King Jack and his friends must protect their castle fort from the dragons. The book has good illustrations showing their fort made of cardboard, blankets, and other items they find. The friends stand together but also King Jack realizes when it's time to return to his parents. The text rhymes.

The Fort on Fourth Street: A Story About Six Simple Machines
This book is a little more formulaic with a cumulative rhyme. It illustrates how a young boy wants to build a fort, but he needs some help. Even with grandpa, they still need help from simple machines, such as wheels, pulleys, etc. The readers follow along to see the process of building the fort. I would pair this with opportunities to explore all these simple machines. This is a more "formal" fort, rather than a simpler, child made fort. Sometimes the text seemed a little forced; however, it does great at introducing the various simple machines. There is a section on simple machines at the back and ideas and questions to get started on building your own fort. The book publisher also has an activity guide online.

Nothing to Do by Douglas Wood

Forts only make a small appearance on one page of this book; however, I loved the illustrations. This book shows some racially diverse children in the illustrations. This book talks about slowing down and having a day with nothing to do. Those unscheduled days seem to be getting fewer and farther between sometimes. As a side note, I loved how the author's note at the beginning explains her choices for her drawing patterns. She knows we grow when we have nothing to do and used growth patterns (explosion, meandering, branching, alternation, spiral, helix, close packing, and spherical) as the basis of some of her artwork. This gives her lots of spaces to do a whole lot of playful scenes. While not just outdoor play focused (though there is plenty of that), there is project building, small boat building and sailing, watching the clouds and ants, paper airplanes, reading a book on a porch swing, games, and block building and more. There is also tree climbing, fort building, making snow angels, building snowmen, tire swings, hanging upside down, and lightning bugs. I thought is was a fun book!

Maggie and Abbie's Never Ending Pillow Fort by Will Taylor

This is a chapter book with magical connections behind their pillows. The girls realize their pillow forts connect to each other and begin building more pillow forts to explore other places until they run into the authorities. The forts connect all over the world and the girls must go through a 3 day challenge to keep their magical fort connection. Many adults have really enjoy this book as well!

Play the Forest School Way
This is more of a "how to" book of ideas to connect in outside in nature play. It shares age ranges for each activity. Shelter building is part of the included activities. Most activities require little more than nature. This focuses on HOW TO play outside (options) in more of a lesson plan approach. So not exactly a read out loud to kids book, but a good resource. This is a good starter book if hoping to get outdoors more. If you already do a lot outside, it may not hold the same appeal.

What books around fort building do you and the children in your care enjoy? Feel free to leave a comment and/or share a picture of your fort!

Article on Fort Building from Children and Nature Network

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