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Bubbles

| parenting, play

I've decided to spend on bubbles. I like being the grown-up with several bubble wands tucked into my bag for playground time. It's nice to let kids take turns. Some accidentally spill bubble solution, and that's okay. It's a learning moment. Some have a hard time taking turns, and that's also a learning moment. When I can, I like bringing a wand and a tray for making large bubbles. No automatic bubble-makers, though. I like the way manual bubblemakers require you to learn how to control your movement or your breath.

Regular bubble solution is easy to get during the summer. Giant bubble solution doesn't seem to be as readily available here, so I'm working on getting the hang of mixing my own and forming large bubbles. I bought guar gum from Bulk Barn and Dawn dish detergent from No Frills, and I mixed up a batch of Quickest Mix:

1 kg water
50 g detergent
1.5 g guar gum
2 g baking powder

I may eventually try different frames and practise bubble-making techniques. Even the bubbles I can get from the Dollarama large bubble kit test most kids' ability to resist popping large bubbles (they rarely survive long enough for people to enjoy looking at them!), so I don't have to worry about making larger bubbles unless, say, we're just hanging out in the backyard.

What about A-?

Small bubbles: A- She can both blow bubbles and wave bubbles out of the regular wand. She usually goes at the right speed, although sometimes she still goes too quickly. She holds the bubble wand container upright and can dip into it herself, and she gives it to me to close when she's done. She usually dips it gently, although she gets influenced by kids who dip the wand multiple times quickly (that creates foam, which makes it harder to blow big bubbles).

Large bubbles: She can wave bubbles out of the large bubble wand, although they tend to pop on her clothes because her arms are short. She generally doesn't blow bubbles out of the large bubble wand – maybe because she doesn't want them to pop in her face.

Social: A- generally likes making bubbles, asking “May I have a turn?” She doesn't seem to mind sharing the bubbles with other kids, and occasionally offers the wand to others. We usually attract quite a few kids who set up a regular rotation, so it's a great way for her to see turn-taking up close. She can wait for a few people's turns, although she prefers to watch instead of occupying herself with an alternative activity. I talk to A- about how happy the kids are because she's sharing her bubbles, pointing out how they're chasing bubbles or making bubbles.

A- doesn't like chasing bubbles when there are lots of kids around, but she sometimes chases bubbles when it's just us. It makes sense – a limited field of vision might make her more cautious in chaotic situations like that.

I sometimes keep playing with bubbles even after she's moved on to something else, like digging in the sandbox. I like how bubble-blowing gives me something fun to do while I give her space for independent play. Sometimes she asks me to stop playing with bubbles and go dig with her instead, so I happily oblige. After all, I'm there to play with her, not just amuse other kids (or myself!) with bubbles. =)

Ideas for leveling up

  • Using bubbles to ease transitions
  • Trying a bubble wick
  • Trying a commercial giant bubble mix
  • Bouncing bubbles
  • Experimenting with the properties of different bubble makers and different solutions
  • Copper wire bubble wands, for custom shapes: maybe later on, when she's more interested in crafts?
  • Bubble art, catching bubbles on paper: probably at home, might need more coordination
  • Bubble geometry experiments: later on
  • Keeping an eye out for bubble events in Toronto

What could awesome look like?

  • A background activity while A- plays at the playground
  • An ice-breaker and karma-builder
  • Practice in sharing and altruism
  • The occasional large-bubble hangout with A- and maybe a few friends
  • Something to contribute to grown-up get-togethers, too

Working on play

Posted: - Modified: | parenting, play

Parenting doesn't come intuitively to me, but I mostly make up for that with deliberate study. I read books and research papers for ideas, experiment with different ways to play, observe A-, get her feedback, and reflect on things myself. I want to improve my ability to play.

I feel good about the research that has gone into the play-based approach to early childhood education. It makes sense to me, and I think it will be a good fit for A- too. There's so much room for me to grow as A-'s "stage manager, mediator, player, scribe, assessor and communicator, and planner"1.

  • Stage manager: How can I provoke her curiosity by adding interesting things, and how can I give her space by removing things? How can I manage our time to match her energy and give her opportunities for different kinds of play? What's a good balance in terms of props to support pretend play and loose parts to encourage imagination? How can I start building relationships for playdates and other avenues for socialization?
  • Mediator: How can I support her interactions with other kids, modeling problem-solving and conflict resolution without dictating a particular approach? How can I help her learn emotional regulation and problem-solving techniques even when we're playing by ourselves?
  • Player: How can I build on her play scripts without taking over? How can I reflect her energy and enthusiasm? How can I invite her into everyday routines through play?
  • Scribe: How can I help her play with writing and literacy? What can I model so that she can experience the power of writing, reading, and drawing?
  • Assessor and communicator: How can I document and reflect on our learning? How can I share that with her and with other people? I tend to narrate and actively play with her. Maybe I can experiment with taking a step back so that she can take the initiative, and so that I have room to observe, document, and reflect. I capture a lot of tidbits. I can practise selecting some and tying them together into stories so that I can make sense of them.
  • Planner: How can I help her raise the level of her play? How can I build on what she's interested in? How can I share more ideas and experiences with her?

What could awesome look like?

  • We're constantly learning and improving, and it's fun. We enjoy spending time with each other and exploring the world.
  • I can keep up with the breadth and depth of her curiosity. We might even learn most things through experimentation, rather than my answering her questions.
  • Every so often, I summarize her learning in a specific aspect, marvel at her progress, and share the story with her, W-, and others.
  • As she begins to turn more towards social play with peers, we have group interactions at drop-ins as well as one-on-one or small-group interactions with more regular friends. She has the confidence to negotiate roles in peer play and repair minor mishaps. She's had lots of opportunities to feel good about other people.
  • When she goes to preschool or kindergarten, she's familiar with tools and materials. She can ask questions, think of ways to explore, enlist help, and take advantage of resources. She can tell me about her day, and we can think of ways to build on things when she's at home.

What do I want to work on now?

During the day, I want to figure out how to play well with A-. I tend to narrate her actions and follow her lead. I love how she's developed a large vocabulary and the confidence to make specific requests. I wonder about the possibilities that might open up if I step back and give her more quiet focus time so that she can take even more initiative. I also wonder about the possibilities that might open up if I engage her even more actively during pretend play, expanding scenarios and planning real-life experiences to enrich her imagination. There are benefits to both approaches, so it's hard to go wrong. I want to get better at asking A- exploratory questions, too, and I'm looking forward to helping her develop the ability to think about ideas. Whee!

I want to use some of the time when A- is sleeping to organize and reflect on her learning. I have a decent workflow for capturing specific moments. I'm starting to pick ideas and look at them across time so that I can get a sense of her progress over months, like this one I did based on

. The next level up is to take either a single moment or a group of moments and ask myself: "What could she be thinking? Why would she think that way? How can we support and explore that? What might she want to learn?" If I can share that, that would be even better.

How can I invest in learning this even better? What could the delta look like?

  • Stuff: What's worth buying or adding to our play area? What can I share with the drop-in centres near us?
  • Experiences: What kinds of experiences will tickle our brains? What can we go out and try?
  • People: What questions could I ask an early childhood education consultant or teacher coach? How can I take advantage of someone's professional experience while reflecting on A-'s learning? How could that help me level up? How can I invest in building relationships and lifting other people up?

Footnotes:

1

The teacher's roles described in Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds' book Play's The Thing (2001), quoted in Full-Day Kindergarten-Based Learning: Promoting a Common Understanding.

Babysitting update: pretend play

Posted: - Modified: | parenting, play

Yesterday's babysitting experiment was another success, making three for three. A- was looking forward to the babysitter's visit and even postponed some of her morning play ideas. As soon as the babysitter walked in, A- switched to wanting to play with her instead of me. They built with Duplo, painted on paper, cut with scissors, and played with tape. Then they headed to the backyard to make sandcastles. They came back in for snacks, then played pretend. The babysitter guided A- through role-playing restaurant interactions, which she took to with much enthusiasm. Then A- wanted to go to the playground with both of us, so I wrapped up my consulting (2.2 hours, yay!) and headed out with them. While the babysitter pushed A- on the swing and helped her navigate the other parts of the playground, I worked on improving my phone workflows for tracking and drawing.

Having an agency babysitter come over one afternoon a week seems to be working out very well for both of us. A- likes the change in company and the one-on-one attention. I like overhearing how they're playing so that I can pick up ideas. For example, it was great to see how quickly A- picked up a new scenario when the babysitter guided her, and how the babysitter nudged her to exchange roles in their pretend play.

I wonder what I can do to level up. I could send them my weekly review when I book so that the sitter can easily see what A- is interested in. I can make grab-and-go bags for going to the playground or other places. I can add a few dress-up items and props to enhance pretend play, and I can add paper and pens to support pre-literacy. I can line up questions to ask during downtime. Hmmm…

Playground kaizen

Posted: - Modified: | kaizen, parenting, play

Warmer weather means more playing at the playground, hooray! I'd like to figure out how to make this almost a daily routine, and to see what we can learn along the way. I wonder what it would be like to elevate play not just for my kiddo but for a number of other families, and to wring out as much as we can from the time we spend there.

Today we experimented with little improvements in how we play at the playground. Since A- likes playing with the Duplo playground at home, I brought a number of Duplo pieces: a slide, three bricks, two minifigures, and a train segment. We quickly attracted a couple of preschoolers who had fun rolling their cars along the sand dunes and down the slide while A- watched with interest. A- also enjoyed sliding the train down the big slide.

A- had lots of fun swinging really high on the swing, and having me interrupt her swinging. She watched the big kids swing their legs back and forward, and she practised the motion while we ate snacks on the bench.

Bath before dinner worked out well, too. No sand in the bed, yay!

A few ideas to try next:

  • bring plenty of bubble wands for sharing, or even a bubble machine; bonus points if I can figure out a portable rig for large bubbles, although I'm not keen on lugging a lot of soapy water around. Maybe something like a Thermos jug, which I can then put into a grocery cart?
  • more snacks; treat it as afternoon picnic time
  • bring paper and pen for thinking
  • buy or make toy dinosaurs, bring paintbrushes, and bury the dinosaurs in the sandbox. Hmm… I wonder if I could use old playdough or plaster casting to prototype this. That might be even more fun than buying a box of dinosaur toys, although purchased toys are cool too.
  • make it more routine, maybe invite other people to drop by and chat
  • bring a tube and other unconventional sandbox toys
  • figure out how to dress up so that we can enjoy the playground even in light rain
  • figure out what I'm supposed to be doing about sun protection
  • figure out how toilet training can fit in
  • explore and model playing with loose parts

I can use the grocery backpack to test ideas that need props, and then get a small grocery cart if I think it's worth the space at home. I can use luggage organizers to create modules: extra clothes, stuff for the splash pad, stuff for the sandbox, bubble kit, etc. It's like having a mobile office.

I borrowed a few books about outdoor education from the library. Reading about nature schools and activities might give me more ideas for things to try with A-.

Plenty of room for me to learn stuff at the playground!

Labeling toy storage bins with photos and text using ImageMagick and org-babel

| emacs, geek, org, organization, parenting, play

I wanted to make labels for A-‘s new toy storage: three low Trofast drawer frames all along the wall.

I liked how early childhood drop-in centres labeled their shelves with both pictures and text. That way, kids can find things before she can read, while still being exposed to print. I took pictures of the bin contents and renamed the files to the labels I wanted to put on them, such as 2x2 blocks.jpg. (We have a lot of Duplo.)

This time, I experimented with creating the labels entirely in Imagemagick instead of using LaTeX. First, I used a table in Org Mode to let me easily play with the dimensions and recalculate pixel sizes.

DPI   300
Columns 3  
Rows 5  
Paper width 14 4200
Paper height 8.5 2550
Minimum margins 0.5 150
Label width 4.3333333 1300
Label length 1.5 450

I passed the width and the height to the following code block by using header arguments. I liked using 400 pixels as the height instead of 450, so that's what I used. My source image size was 4032×3024 pixels. If I resize them to a height of 400, that gives me a width of 533. Allowing 20 pixels for the text left and right borders gives me (- 1300 533 20 20) = 727 as the text width.

#+begin_src sh :dir ~/code/labels :var width=1300 :var textwidth=727 :var height=400 :var pointsize=72 :results silent
for x in source/*; do
  file=$(basename "$x")
  /usr/local/bin/convert \( \( "source/$file" -resize x${height} \) \
     \( -background white -fill black -font Alegreya-Regular -bordercolor White \
         -gravity West -border 20 -pointsize $pointsize -size ${textwidth}x caption:"${file%.*}" \) \
     +append \) \
     -extent ${width}x${height} \
     \( -fill none -stroke gray -draw "rectangle 0 0 $(echo $width - 1 | bc) $(echo $height - 1 | bc)" \) \
     "out/$file.png"
done
#+end_src

Sample resized label:

I moved the ones I wanted from the out directory to a ready directory and combined the ones I wanted to print into a PDF:

#+begin_src sh :dir ~/code/labels :results silent
montage ready/*.png -tile 3x5 -background none -geometry +0+0 print.png
convert print*.png -density 300 -quality 100 print.pdf
#+end_src

Then I printed the labels in colour on an 8.5×14″ sheet of paper (single-sided, landscape), cut them out, and taped them onto the bins with packing tape.

W- suggested taking macro shots that more clearly show the characteristics of things in the bins instead of just aiming down and taking pictures of the contents. Might be a good excuse to show A- basic product photography when we get back.

W- also recommended making the label text bigger. The first time I did it, I just picked a pointsize based on whatever fit the ones I wanted to print. I decided against letting Imagemagick maximize the font size because I didn't want labels to have very different text sizes. After a little poking around, I figured out how to use caption: instead of label: to give me text that can neatly wrap within a given space, and that will probably let me use 90-point font instead of 72-point font. That will make the next iteration of labels even easier to read.

It's nice having all these bins. A- is getting pretty good at heading straight for the bin she wants something from, and she even talks about them: “Horse is in animals bin.” I'm glad we labeled the most frequently used bins. I'll tweak the labels when we get back from our trip. We'll probably change some of the bin contents anyway.

Hooray for ImageMagick, and hooray for variables in org-babel blocks!

A little more independence

Posted: - Modified: | parenting, play

A- is playing more independently. I actually managed to do a little consulting during the afternoon. Nothing too complicated, just modifying and running a script that I’d written the other night so that it could download a large collection of files in time for me to send the archive to the person who requested it. A- kept herself occupied by “shopping” for groceries in the pantry, “working” on my laptop, and putting things away, occasionally asking me for help. Later that afternoon, she accompanied me as I vacuumed upstairs and downstairs. It helps a lot that I can trust her to go to the potty or ask for help.

I want to think about how I can balance different types of time: focused playtime together, independent play while I observe or help as requested, and activities I do while she plays in the background. I’d like to minimize the waiting time between when she asks for help and when she gets it, so no long focused tasks – maybe 1-5 minute response time. I want to communicate that she’s important and that I’m available, and also that I trust her and that she’s capable of exploring on her own. I want to continue enriching her vocabulary by labeling things and actions, and by doing things in front of her that she can then imitate or participate in.

I think I’ll keep my current arrangement for consulting: 1-2 hours a week in the middle of the night, except for rare occasions when a little work during the day can help other people a lot. No calls, still, since A- wants to talk on the phone whenever I use one. (Distracting her with another handset rarely works.) Coding on the laptop is too abstract for her. Ditto for writing.

Drawing or writing on paper lets me explore a few thoughts quickly and gets her interested in drawing, although any index cards or lists I make tend to get enthusiastically scribbled on or crumpled. That’s okay, I just note key ideas on my phone.

Cleaning is a definite win. It has to be done anyway, and it’s something I can do in stops and starts. It’s good modeling, too. Now that she’s more independent, I can vacuum, and I can sometimes move things between floors.

We’re not quite at being able to cook anything more than the simplest recipes, but we’ll get there someday. Maybe we’ll start with ingredient prep, which could double as cutting practice. As she gets better at waiting, I’ll feel more confident about asking her to wait a few minutes while I put away food or deal with boiling water.

If I open a book to read, she usually wants me to read a book to her. That’s okay, she gets priority. She can flip through a few books and “read” them on her own, saying the words she remembers out loud. Sometimes she tells me to get my own book. We’ll probably work out a routine of spending some time reading together and some time reading our own books. In the meantime, I like reading The Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss books.

I want to think about how to enrich her environment so that she can explore and learn. She’s focused on home stuff at the moment, and she rarely wants to dress up to go outside. In fact, she mostly likes to spend time in the kitchen, which isn’t much of a surprise because we like to spend time in the kitchen too. If we organize the play area a bit better and I hang out there more often, maybe that will shift the centre of gravity. She likes being able to play for a bit and then check in with me, so I can try setting out a simple puzzle and things to rummage through.

As for outside time, maybe we’ll shift back to that when we’re more comfortable with potty training. She’s okay with quick walks in the carrier, but she might be picking up on my worrying about going for an extended stroll without a diaper. Maybe I can work on more excitement and routine, too.

Gotta grow along with her!

Learning how to play with dough

| parenting, play

‚ÄčEvery day brings new and wonderous discoveries of what a kid can do, even at 19 months old. 

Take play dough. We’ve been using the same batch I made a few months ago following the first recipe I found on the Internet. We have just enough to fill a sandwich container, and it’s all one colour: light green, since we had lots of green colouring left over from jelly-making days.

A- started off mostly being interested in cutting the dough with a baby knife and a dough scraper. I used to just roll out ropes and balls for her to cut. Last week, I decided to keep myself occupied by playing with the dough myself, learning more about thinking in 3D by shaping familiar objects or adding up layers. I made a cat. A- started petting it and doing the gestures for a cat-themed rhyme we often recite.

I made an egg and a pan. I mimed our breakfast routine, making a bowl and a plate along the way. She imitated that gleefully, asking me to make more eggs for her to crack and scramble. 

I made an airplane. She flew it around. 

I made figures for W-, her, and me. She gave them a hug. 

W- joined us for a play session. He made her a car. She vroom-vroomed it around.

I made her an apple. She said “Ap” and pretended to eat it. 

W- made her a banana. She said, “(Ba)nana, pee(l).” She tried to peel it, so I made her another banana with a peelable skin, and she peeled that. 

Meanwhile, W- made her two bananas, still joined together like we get them at the store. She took the pair of bananas, said “Nana, hu.” That boggled us. Hu? Hoo? What did she mean? She curled her finger under the stem connecting the bananas. Ah, hook! W- carefully hung the play dough bananas on the hook that we usually use for real bananas.

It was a little like doodling with play dough. We’d squish a quick shape together, name it, and see if she was interested. I knew A- was comfortable pretending with props – the tea set at the drop-in centre, the kitchen playset her cousins have – but I was surprised at how well she played with combinations of simple playdough figures and words. 

It makes me wonder: what else can I do at this stage to help her learn and grow? I doodle faces, stick figures, everyday objects, and sketchnoted thoughts when she’s drawing, and her pencil grip is starting to look remarkably like mine. (Hmm, might be time for me to learn how to write properly.) Her Lolo gave her a waterproof, shockproof camera, so we’ve started taking pictures and reviewing them together. We go to music classes so that I can learn songs to fill her week with. I’d also like to learn more about physical activity and nature so that I can help her grow in those areas too. It all seems almost like more of an education for me than for her. I’m learning a lot, guided by her joy.

It might not always be as awesome as this, I know. But it’s pretty darn awesome. =)