Lego & all the learning benefits: Part 1

As expected, A’s first set of Lego Duplo has opened up a world of learning opportunities for her. Obviously, we have all read numerous articles on how Lego promotes STEM education. However, what I would like to analyze is the specific skillset attained by blocks. To do this, I’m going to revisit an old friend, the competency.

Let’s start off with the formal definition. A competency is defined as an effective ability, including attributes, skills and knowledge, to successfully carry out some activity which is totally identified. While the term competency is typically applied in formal learning environments, I firmly believe that competencies are achieved at every stage of life. Since the first pediatrician appointments, we have been asked about A’s milestones such as feeding, laying down for tummy time, rolling over, etc. In my mind, these milestones are competencies achieved by the child. Taking the concept further, each competency has a number of sub-competencies as well. My mind was blown when my nurse at the hospital explained why it was so difficult for the newborn baby to learn to feed – the child must learn to a. suck; b. swallow; and c. all while breathing. The competency of “feeding” had so many sub-competencies!

Coming back to blocks. The obvious first competency to be achieved by the child is to put two blocks together. But wait! That isn’t the first one! While A was fascinated by the first sight of the Lego blocks, and even though it seems elementary, she couldn’t start off with putting two blocks together! So we started with what seems like the second competency: Taking two blocks apart.

So, why is this the easier competency? Let us look at the sub-competencies for the two competencies of putting together and taking apart Lego blocks:

C1: Taking blocks apart given a set of blocks that are joined together
C1.1: Identify where the two blocks meet
C1.2: Grip the blocks in the right way that they come apart
C1.3: Pull in the right direction until they come apart

C2: Putting blocks together
C2.1: Identify two blocks that will fit together
C2.2: Identify the right location to join them
C2.3: Grip them appropriately to push them together
C2.4: Join the two blocks together

We shall now identify the easier competency. Is difficulty a subjective factor? To some extent, definitely, but we can break it down into as many objective factors as we can as well, and allow learner subjectivity to be a factor too. Factors are also task-specific – while some factors are common ones, many factors are specific to the competencies we are analyzing. For recap, here is an overview of the cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains. Let us identify a set of factors for difficulty in this case:

  1. Number of sub-competencies
  2. Cognitive processes required for each sub-competency
  3. Psychomotor skills (fine and gross) required for each sub-competency
  4. Affective stimuli induced by each sub-competency
  5. Subjective difficulty of each sub-competency

Here’s an analysis of each sub-competency with respect to the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains:

Sub-competency Cognitive Affective Psychomotor
C1.1 Analyze Characterization Perceptual abilities
C1.2 Evaluate Characterization Skilled movements, Perceptual abilities
C1.3 Apply Organization Fundamental movements, skilled movements, perceptual abilities
C2.1 Analyze Characterization Perceptual abilities
C2.2 Evaluate Characterization Perceptual abilities
C2.3 Apply Organization Skilled movements, Perceptual abilities
C2.4 Apply Organization Fundamental movements, skilled movements, perceptual abilities

So, C1 has 3 sub-competencies to master, while C2 has 4. While this does not automatically make C1 the easier competency, it is certainly a factor. The sub-competencies of C2 require more cognitive, affective and psychomotor processes as well. Another factor is how difficult each of the sub-competencies are. With A, she certainly found it easier to accomplish C1 before C2.

While this is not conclusive evidence to prove that C1 is easier than C2, the logic has certainly worked in the case of A. One of the reasons the logic may not work is the assumption of higher cognitive levels being more difficult than the lower ones. Another reason it may not work could be differences in psychomotor skills. Every learner is different especially in the case of little ones. It is important to identify these differences and guide learners in the way that suits them best!

Disclaimer: As with any course design process, this is iterative and I may have left out some obvious sub-competencies. Please let me know if I have!

 

Favorite songs!

When all else fails, music usually doesn’t. Of course, as with anything else, A is very particular about the songs she listens to / watches. She has “her music” and we have “our music” and we can’t mix those. She loves nursery rhymes and the typical kiddie songs. Personally, I love the songs that teach her little things, like movements, direction and so on. I love how these songs develop her cognitive and psychomotor skills in a really fun way! They keep us occupied in the best way possible – through learning! These are our favorites:

  1. One little finger
  2. If you’re happy
  3. Wheels on the bus
  4. Old McDonald
  5. Skidamarink
  6. Grandparents are special

#5 and #6 are really my favorites more than hers – I just think they’re the sweetest songs and animations ever! In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re rather partial to the YouTube channel Super Simple Songs. A also likes Little Baby Bum, but her dad and I prefer Super Simple Songs for the simpler animations and because A seems to learn more from it.

What are your kids favorite songs? What are your favorite songs for them?

An achievement to remember!

This week, A learnt to traverse the entire slide structure independently! She can walk with support to the steps of the slide structure, climb up the steps, cross the bridge leading to the slide, maneuver herself onto the slide, slide face-down, stop herself at the end, get down, and begin making her way back to the steps!

Wow, is my little baby growing up fast or what!

STEM and kiddos

Through my PhD, I dealt with higher education, with late teenagers and undergraduate education in STEM-related courses. So when I was pregnant and discovered that Amazon and Flipkart had a separate category of toys called “STEM toys”, I was astonished! Why would my little baby want to play with toys that taught her engineering at a year old, I wondered.

Since then, I’ve been experimenting and playing with a lot of toys, courtesy A. She goes through phases of toys. As a 6 month old, when she first started playing with toys, it was all about the color and sound and not much else. Rattles were a favorite, as were anything grab-able and hold-able. As she approached a year, she moved on to stacking rings, her eyes focused as she maneuvered the rings over the rod and formed a stack. After her birthday, she started working on puzzles and shape sorters. I was amazed at her sponge-like mind, learning to use new toys everyday!

So this brings me back to my original question – what are STEM toys? STEM toys are toys that promote learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. They claim to help children work towards careers in these areas (a claim which I question for the time being). They promote cognitive and psychomotor development in children, which I definitely do see.

So what are some of the popular STEM toys? A browse through Amazon and others brings up robots, building blocks, physics and electromagnetic kits and the like. There are also numerous articles detailing that “STEM toys so far have been geared to boys” and “it’s time to make them for girls too”, which is certainly baffling to me. I recently attended a mind-blowing talk by Leah Buechley, a keynote speech at FABLearn 2016, where she speaks of this issue. She is the mind behind Lilypad Arduino, and a champion of feminine making traditions. During her keynote speech, she broadened the audience’s view on STEM toys and activities, leading me to believe that STEM is everywhere, and that it is the world’s view of STEM toys which is pigeonholed into a subset of toys. Here are some of my favorite toys which I believe promote learning

  • Shape sorters: These seemingly elementary toys teach shapes, and then matching a shape to its appropriate slot. Its not just about matching the shape, but also turning the shape to fit into the slot appropriately. Some shape sorters double up to teach colors as well. Of course,  shape sorters can double up as stackers, blocks, even grab-ables for the little ones.
  • Puzzles: And of course, I mean much simpler puzzles to start with, such as this one. Apart from the obvious skill of matching the right piece to the right location (like the shape sorter), playing with these also provides numerous teachable moments about the objects in the puzzle like animals or food. Pulling the pieces out of the puzzle individually also helps develop fine motor skills.
  • Stackers: In addition to the fine motor skills of grabbing, holding and placing, these also teach sizing and order. For example, largest on the bottom and smallest on the top? Stackers include the old favorite – stacking rings, but also stacking cups, stacking blocks that even have books embedded in them, and more. You could stack these one on top of the other and it’d be a fun game to make a tower than doesn’t collapse, teaching balance in the process.
  • Boxes and lids: not a toy! But this is my kiddos personal favorite. She started off trying to close her snack box. She then moved on trying to close any box with the lid I gave her. One day, she found a sippy cup top and a random cup, and just trying to match the two just because they were the same size! Which they didn’t belong to the same set, I was amazed at how her young mind worked! These days, she is easily kept occupied with a bunch of random boxes and lids, working her way through matching them, and then closing them until they seal!

These are just some of our current favorites. I’m sure there are many more out there! The thing is, STEM is way more than what we know, it’s everywhere! What are some of your favorite toys (for your kids or yourself!)

A sick day

And by sick, I mean sick in the traditional sense, not oh this was such an awesome day!

We had an unpleasant surprise last night – out of nowhere, A had a fever 🙁 It was due to an immunization she’d had over a week ago. It felt so long ago since the shots, what with Diwali and Halloween and stuff happening since, that I didn’t even make the connection at first! But my husband reminded me, and the doctor confirmed it, and A had a fever a week after her MMR shot.

Which brings us to today, a day allocated for A to rest and feel better. Of course, toddlers (and everyone, really) have a mind of their own, and she did not like the idea of staying home and “resting” one bit. Unless she has enough activities in a day, she ends up cranky in the evening, and unable to sleep at night. Today’s post is a quick one, a short list of activities which work for us on sick days. Since it’s been a long day, and since I do have a lot of ideas to elaborate but not a lot of energy, this is a short one!

  1. Books
  2. Interactive songs- If you’re happy & you know it, BINGO, Old mcdonald’s farm, patty cake, so many more
  3. If she’s up for it, indoor activity is fine like climbing up stairs and so on.
  4. Again, if she’s up for it, a short walk outside of the house. This saved our day today and made her so much happier than staying home. We just let her walk up and down our driveway, which for tiny toddler feet just taking baby steps is like a marathon.

Sick days are the worst! I’m always looking for new ways to keep her occupied indoors. You’d think that sick days mean rest days, but that is not entirely the case with an energetic toddler! I feel so sorry for her when she’s sick. Anyway, what are your tried and tested ways to help your energetic toddler burn some energy so that they get some rest (if you understand what I meant by that!)?

Sensory Play & Development, Part 2: Sensory Play at the Park!

If there was one place in the world that my daughter would name as her favorite, it would probably be… no, not home… not the library… the park! We have been taking her to the park since she was a month old. We are lucky to live in a place with gorgeous weather year-long, and we take full advantage of that by spending a lot of time outdoors. Over the summer, we decided to visit a new park every week! Some of our favorite parks are Coyote Point Park, San Mateo; Magical Bridges Park, Palo Alto; Washington Park, Sunnyvale; and gosh, the list is endless! But on most days, you’ll find us at our neighborhood playground, Sylvan Park, Mountain View.

The park has proven to be a wonderful place of learning and fun for us. We can spend hours there, playing in the play area, practicing crawling and then walking, or just chilling out on the grass with books and toys. Through the summer, we had countless picnics at the park. She would get excited by the dogs and squirrels and birds and more. The number of things to do was seemingly endless!

Here’s a list of activities we have done at the park, along with the age at which we did them. All these activities promote sensory development and should be a part of a healthy sensory diet.

  1. Walks: This may seem elementary, but seriously… walks. And I don’t mean making the kid walk, necessarily. We started taking walks to the park with her when she was about a month old and I was ready to go out again. The park was a wonderful source of fresh air, especially since we were having a very hot summer last year when she was born. We would take her in the stroller, and she would sometimes sleep, occasionally gaze out. Sometimes, when she was awake, we would sit at the playground watching the bigger kids play, showing her all that she would play with one day.
  2. The infant swing: The infant swing, with the inserts for tiny infant legs and a bar to prevent the tender child from falling, is one of the safest first plays for a baby. A rode the swing at just under 4 months, when we were confident her neck had gained strength and was stable (Please ensure of this!). The swing helps them gain a sense of movement, and best of all, helped her sleep!
  3. The sights: Another seemingly trivial activity, but one that I can see she has learnt a lot from. When she was really little, my mom would walk her around showing her all the things to play with as she would grow up. Later, she watched animals. Her latest favorite is watching planes flying over the park!
  4. The slide: This certainly came later, at about 6 months. Of course, this was more of us holding her and moving her down the slide ourselves and her actually sliding down at that age. While she was a little apprehensive at first, she slowly started loving it and it helped develop her vestibular system / her sense of movement. By her first birthday, she had learnt to come down the slide herself!
  5. Climbing up steps and ladders: The steps at the park were a little lower than the ones at our home. The crawlers and walkers both develop a good sense of height and distance as they navigate the steps at various levels.
  6. Crawling all over: Out playground has an area with a relatively soft floor where kids can comfortably crawl. That apart, our slide structure had a fairly secure area where she could crawl back and forth. This fostered a sense of independence in her, and she would proudly traverse the slide structure herself.
  7. Climbing up slide: And by climbing up the slide I mean going from down to up on the slide, not the steps. This is great exercise for the knees and hands, and again develops their sense of height.
  8. Walking: Children learn a lot by imitating, especially each other. The park is a great place to practice walking, especially on different surfaces. The softer child-safe ground with slightly higher friction, the grass, the regular sidewalks… the possibilities are endless!
  9. Playing on lawn: This was a summertime favorite of ours, to spread a blanket on the grass, have a picnic and just lay and play. The grass is a wonderful exploratorium for kids, as they dig through the grass discovering plants and leaves and flowers. Of course, it is messy and make sure they don’t eat what they find! You could give your kid a basket and have them collect leaves, twigs and pebbles as an activity.
  10. Playing in sand: This is her latest, and the one about which I was most apprehensive since she still prefers to explore with her mouth. Playing in the sand is wonderful sensory play, but I wasn’t comfortable adding sand in her diet 😉 While playing in the sand, she learns to scoop up small amounts of sand in her shovel and dump it in her bucket, fill up her bucket and dump it out, among other things.

These are just some of the things we’ve done at the park, but the rest is for another post. As the colder months approach, the time we spend at the park is reducing but we aren’t giving up yet! Instead of going in the evenings, we spend our mornings there now. We love the park too much to let go just because it’s winter!

Does your child like the park? What is his/her favorite activity at the park? Do you have a favorite neighborhood park? It’s your turn to share!

Sensory Play & Development, Part 1

Sensory development is a term parents come across fairly early in their kids’ life. Sensory play refers to any activity that helps in developing the child’s senses, any one or all 7 of them. Nope, that wasn’t a typo – while looking for new sensory play activities to try out on A, I learnt that in addition to the well-known 5 senses, there are 2 more less-known ones bringing the total number of senses to 7! [1]

So we all know of the 5 senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. In addition to these, there is also movement (carried out by the vestibular system) and body awareness (carried out by the proprioception system). In my next couple of posts, I’ll be diving in and exploring more about what these two senses are about and what kind of activities help develop these senses.

Stay tuned!

[1] https://www.acandakids.com/what-are-the-seven-senses/

Choices, choices

My toddler is 15 months old. She has been trying to assert her independence in various ways, such as not wanting to eat a particular food, or not wanting to do a particular activity. She is ready to interact, to express her emotions, and to make her opinion known.

Allowing her to make choices is a great way to accomplish all of the above. The key is to allow her to pick between two viable options so that she feels in control and learns to share her opinion. She chooses her snack in the evening (from options such as fruit, cheese, crackers – no unhealthy items in the options, at least until she has eaten her healthy snacks first), which book to read (from a stack of baby-friendly board books) and which toy to play with. I haven’t tried letting her pick her own clothes yet, but she has shown signs of being ready for that, too.

She learnt to love making choices! When shown her options for snacks, she would look eagerly back and forth, eyes gleaming in anticipation. She would then grin widely and reach out pointing at her choice. The “pointing” is very important in toddlers, it’s often one of the early forms of communication.

Recently, she took this one step further. She looked around, found her box of crackers, brought it over to me, and pointed, indicating that she wanted them! Needless to say, we were thrilled by this new step in communication. Can’t wait to see what’s next!