Today, I put together a handout on 20 Recommended Parenting Books. Click above for a printable handout, or check out the list below.
We’ve travelled to many children’s museums around the country, and our sons favorite exhibits are always the ones where fans or pneumatic tube systems shoot balls or scarves through tubes, like the “scarf poof” at Kidsquest, the Air-mazing Laboratory at Imagine in Everett, and this one at the Tacoma children’s museum:
We started with the fan. Exploratorium mentioned that they had made a wind tube using a squirrel cage fan. I researched those, but they need wiring skills I don’t have. So, we chose a utility fan, specifically the Lasko Blower. (You could probably use a regular fan, but it wouldn’t create nearly as strong a wind.) This video shows what the fan does with a scarf on its lowest setting – all the other videos have the fan on the highest setting. (In class, I started the kids with just the fan and some scarves to blow up into the air, and even that simple game elicited gleeful giggles.)
We bought a ten-foot long flexible ventilation hose The challenge was: how do we connect this round hose to the oblong opening on the fan?
We built a couple of boxes from cardboard and cut door flaps in them where you can push a scarf in. These were more fun for kids, because it focuses the air, so scarves shoot a little higher.
And check out what happens when we sent a little plastic “bowling ball” through the door.
We mounted a poster tube through the box. You could stuff scarves into a tube, hold your hand over one end, then let go, and they’d shoot into the air. You could shoot a lightweight ball too – like a cannon ball.
Then it was time to figure out how to attach the hose to the box. We tried taping the hose to the box but that didn’t work. So, I bought a hose connector for the end of the hose, figuring we could attach that more easily.
Then we assembled it. Put the cardboard box over the fan, mounted the hose on the box, and we were good to go. When I tested this at home, with just one child, it worked great. We had a fabulous time with it, shooting scarves into the air, shooting balls so they rolled across the floor for the dog to chase, shooting balls into a box for improvised “golf” game. Tons of fun for both of us.
But, then my husband tested it in a class full of kids. The first problem was that it kept falling apart. The fan tilts in its base, and if you tilt it too far, it pushes the cardboard box right off. (I may have forgotten to warn my husband about this issue… ) When kids put their hands in and pulled them out quickly, that pulled the cardboard box off quickly. Just the weight of the hose could pull the box off. So, there was a lot of work involved in just keeping it together, and the kids weren’t that excited by the results even when it worked.
So, before the next time we’d use it in class, we did some tinkering. We used a ratchet strap to hold the hose onto the box and the box onto the fan. We turned it so the hose fed off the other side of the fan, over the handle, which helped to stabilize the box. This solved the falling apart problem.
We had discovered that kids like it better when the scarves shoot vertically up into the air instead of shooting out horizontally, so we wove the hose through the legs of a stool to get that upward angle.
Check out the video at the top of this post to see the scarf cannon in action.
We took it back to class, and this time, we had a hit on our hands! Lots of kids loved feeding through scarves, and balls.. We discovered that kids liked it even better when we set the stool up on top of the cubbies, so the scarves were shooting out from 4′ up in the air. The three biggest fans of this toy were a team of a 5 year old boy and a 4 year old boy, and a 2.3 year old girl. They discovered that if you sent through a balloon that was just the right size, it makes a really funny rumbly noise. The little girl was just as successful at using this invention as the older kids. She clearly learned from them. The boys had been having fun catching the scarves in a bin as they floated down toward the ground. When they walked away for awhile, she picked up the bin and tried to catch the scarves.
My next step is to try to re-create this thing we saw at a bounce house place… it was a batting cage, where a ball floated above a cone and the kids could hit it with a nerf bat. Right now, with a 4″ wide stream of air, my scarf cannon holds the ball right above the tube outlet. But I’m thinking if I got a traffic cone type shape that really focused the air, we might get enough lift to do this…
In our Inventors class, we are encouraging kids to tinker, and try things they’ve never done before. We tell them to build something, test it, re-build it, and so on. I am intentionally doing the same thing as I design activities for the class. Experimenting, failing, and trying again. This scarf cannon is still a work in progress, but it’s definitely a fun exploration!
You may hear early childhood educators say “Focus on Process more than Product.” Let’s explore what they mean by process and product, and some concrete tips on how to stay focused on the process.
In product-focused activities, the teacher or adult has a finished product in mind and has created a sample for children to copy, children have instructions to follow and all the children’s finished products look similar to each other. The closer the result to the displayed sample, the more we tend to praise the child for doing it well. There is definitely a place for product-focused activities, and learning how to follow directions to create something specific. This can be an excellent way to learn certain skills. But, if our child only follows directions, it can limit their creativity and limit their learning. It can also create stress if they feel like they always have to work to do things ‘the right way.’ (Check out the pictures at the top of the page. They all show paintings made using a flower as a paint brush. The lovely picture on the left is from here. The others are from 3 year olds in my class. All we did was set out paper, paint, and flowers, and the kids in our class had a fabulous time exploring this art experience. But imagine if we had set the painting of the flowers in a vase on the table at the start of class. How would that have affected the kid’s process and product?)
So, we want a balance of product and process in our child’s lives. For example, if your child gets a Lego set and follows the directions precisely to create the model as designed, they learn about paying close attention to directions, doing things in the right order, and not leaving out any steps. They are satisfied with their result. But then, you can encourage them to take that Lego set apart when they’re ready, and mix it with their other Legos, and play as long as they want, and build anything they want to build. That’s the process-focused side of Legos.
In process-focused activities, the focus is on experience, and exploration of tools and techniques. It is completely child-guided, with no right or wrong way of exploring. Children decide whether or not to do the activity, and how much time to spend on it. Examples in our classroom include: the water table, sensory table, block building, easel painting, “creation station” collages, and collaborative group art projects. We also do lots of explorations of scientific ideas and engineering projects which we think of as “tinkering.” These process-based activities do not lead to beautiful masterpieces to hang on the refrigerator or mail to grandparents. But they do lead to lots of fun and lots of learning.
Ways that you can support the Process:
- When planning an activity, instead of asking “what will the children make”, ask “what will the children do?” and “what materials can I put out that invite creativity and learning?” If your child asks “what am I supposed to do?” you can say “I see lots of cool supplies and tools on this table. Want to try them out? What would you like to do with them?”
- Approach the project like open-ended play. Let it be a joyful experience.
- Provide plenty of uninterrupted time for kids to explore. Let them decide how long to spend on an activity. Some days you’ll put out an “invitation to play” and it will captivate them for hours. Other days, they’ll have other ideas of their own to pursue and barely skim past something that you planned.
- Let go of your own judgments. Process-focused art and building projects can seem messy and pointless. Don’t think of them as a waste of materials, think of the brain cells your child is building through this experience and the skills they’ll learn now and apply to later efforts!
- If you’re sitting with a child who is doing art or building something, try to copy what they are doing. Otherwise, they will try to copy you, and think that the way you’re doing it is the “right” way. They may be disappointed when their item is not as good as yours.
- Or, if you’re playing side by side with them, make some mistakes: paint with your non-dominant hand, or build a tower too tall so it falls over. Let them see you explore.
- Don’t ask them “what is it” – ask “tell me about what you’ve done.”
- Don’t distract them with irrelevant questions. If they’re completely engaged in a process, don’t interrupt it with a name-this-color quiz.
- Don’t decide for them that they are done. Often adults watch for when there’s a “nice” painting, and then offer to take the paper away before the child “messes it up.” Or they watch a child building and realize that it’s all about to come tumbling down, so they encourage the child to stop and not add that toppling brick on the top.
- Ask them if they want to write their name on their art. If they say yes, then ask “would you like me to write it or do you want to?” If they want you to write it, ask where to write it. Ask them where they want to put it. On the refrigerator or in the recycling bin? Try to not be disappointed in their choices of what to keep and what to let go of.
As your child gets older, more and more of their time will be dedicated to products – book reports, math tests, science fair presentations, scoring goals at soccer, and more. Lots of time “doing things the right way.”
The early years should focus much more on process. All of a baby’s play time is process and free exploration. A toddler’s life should be about 90% process, 10% focused on specific accomplishments – learning to undress themselves, learning to eat with a fork, holding a pencil and making a scribble, stacking a few blocks to make a tower. In the preschool years, we may aim for 80% process, 20% product. Never think of the process as a less valuable learning experience. It’s building creativity, inspiring curiosity, helping them make unexpected connections, and getting them excited about what they can do ‘all by themselves.’
Thanks to these articles for inspiration:
Many parents have had the experience of taking their child to a class that felt very biased toward girls or toward boys. (Read about my experience in my son’s dance class.) Some parents and kids stick it out even when all the messages say “you don’t belong here.” But many will drop out, looking for somewhere that they feel like they belong. What can teachers and administrators do to welcome all genders**?
Let’s examine some of the ways we can help.
How do you encourage all genders to enroll in your program? Think about:
- Your class name: If you name your class “toddlers and tutus”, that pretty much implies it’s a girls-only class. If that’s what you intend, that’s fine. Say so. But if you’d like boys to enroll, think about a name change!
- The words in your marketing: Whether it’s on brochures, posters, website, or social media, when you describe your program, do you talk about boys and girls and state that all are welcome?
- The pictures in your marketing: Are there boys and girls and gender ambiguous kids? Boys and girls doing things together? If your photos show only girls playing dress-up and only boys climbing on play equipment, it’s easy to infer a gender bias.
How do you make your space welcoming to all genders? Think about:
- The environment of your classroom: do pictures show both boys and girls doing a wide variety of activities? Are the colors gender neutral or diverse, or is it all pink ribbons or blue cars? Do you cluster all the “boy activities” in one area, and the “girl activities” in another area. (Cars and blocks here, kitchen and dress-up there.)
- Your bathrooms: If you have single occupant bathrooms, are they labelled “boys” and “girls” (or “men” and “women”)? Why? Can’t you just label them both “restroom” or say explicitly “all gender restroom”?
How do you greet children and families into your classes? Think about:
- The words you use when talking to parents: I prefer saying “kids” or “children” or “students” which includes everyone. If you want to say “sons” then also say “daughters.” If you say “girls” also say “boys.”
- The words you use talking to the children: Instead of calling over the “boys and girls” for an activity, can you call them “kids”? Or even better: “dancers” or “artists” or “inventors” or “everyone ready to play some soccer”? Not only is it gender inclusive, it allows them to take on the identity of a dancer or an artist and so on.
- The way you react when a person of the less expected gender joins your program: Definitely welcome the person just as you welcome all others. But DON’T go way overboard in welcoming them, like “Oh, it’s so wonderful to have a girl in this class. I really wish more girls would enroll. I’m so delighted to have a girl.” All that tells them that you think it’s weird that they’re there.
- How do you define which gender a child is? Well, the more gender neutral your practice is, the less this matters. But, when you have to guess, it’s fair to go by name, apparent biological sex, and apparent gender presentation. (For example, if you see someone who looks like a biological male, whose name is John, and who’s wearing a Spiderman t-shirt, you can guess boy.) But, if the child or the child’s family tell you the child’s gender, then honor that, even if it’s different from your initial assumption. If John in the Spiderman shirt says “I’m a girl, please say she and her when talking about me”, then do so! You can also invite parents and children to let you know what name they prefer to use, and what pronouns they use.
How do you make sure that daily life in your classroom is inclusive? Pay attention to:
- The ways you divide up the group: Do you often go for the “boys on this side” and “girls on this side” way of splitting up the class for small group activities? Try mixing in “kids wearing white here” and “kids wearing blue” or “kids who like dogs best” and “kids who like cats best” and “kids who have birthdays in January through June” and “July through December.” Not only is this gender neutral, it also gets them mixing up a lot more and finding things they have in common with each other. (If we always groups divide into girls and boys, it can become an “us” and “them” mentality where the kids see the differences more than the similarities. We would NEVER divide kids up by race for a game, why is it seen as OK to divide them by gender?)
- The books you read: Do they show both boys and girls, men and women, and androgynous folks doing a variety of things? In our Family Inventors’ Lab, we try to make sure that we read books about girls inventing, and boys studying animals, and so on. We’ll talk about Thomas Edison and Marie Curie.
- Pay attention to labels: Use firefighter, not fireman. Flight attendant not stewardess.
- Minimize stereotyped gender roles: When a group of children is playing house, don’t assume one will be the mother and cook and care for the baby. If children make that assumption, that’s OK but you shouldn’t place that assumption on them. Try not to say “wow – this is a woman astronaut… isn’t it great that women can be astronauts too?” It implies that this is a special case, not an equal opportunity.
- Help soften their stereotypes. Around 2, children start defining things as “boy toys and girl toys“, around age 3 or 4, children start defining activities as “boys do this and girls do that” and around 4 to 6 they say “only boys can do this and only girls can do that.” (source) You can remind them that anyone can choose any toy or activity, according to their own personal interests. But, don’t get too distressed by this. Stereotypes and sweeping generalizations is one way that kids make sense of their world.
- Adjust your expectations of who will do each activity option: I confess that when I set up our classroom, in my head, I think “what’s my boy activity today.” By that, I really mean: I want to make sure I have an activity that will appeal to those kids who are full of physical energy and really need some big motor release. I need to come up with a new term for that, even in my own head. I’ve never said to anyone else “this is our boy activity” but I need to think of it in other terms myself to reduce my bias.
- The way you react to the activities they choose: I still remember a coop preschool my middle child was in 14 years ago… one little boy in the class LOVED to dress up in pretty dresses and high heels and carry purses, and so on. Almost every parent volunteer who saw him do this tried to entice him either to choose different clothes (the firefighter helmet) or to choose a different activity (blocks or cars.) Although none of them said anything negative to him, there was definitely an undercurrent of “you shouldn’t do that.” In this case, the teacher gently modeled for all the parents that it was OK for the boy to do whatever activities he enjoyed.
- How do you handle emotions: Are you sympathetic to a girl’s cries, but tell a boy to stop crying? Are you shocked when a girl shows anger, but act as though it’s normal when a boy does? Do you place similar limits on their behavior or do you let boys get away with more, because “boys will be boys.” Do you congratulate both boys and girls for sitting still and paying attention?
- How you respond to bullying: If a child is being teased or bullied due to gender issues, be clear that it’s unacceptable in your classroom. But, don’t use this as a reason for punishment, instead use it as a reason to teach.
Check out this article on 6 ways to embrace gender differences and this one on 12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness. Also, read my summary of what the research shows on innate gender differences vs. cultural influence, and on how to support both boys and girls in developing their strengths. If you want to learn more about transgender people, here is a nice overview. And here are pointers for Talking with Children about Gender Identity.
What other ideas do you have for welcoming all genders?
** I want to clarify why I’m saying “all genders” rather than “both genders.” In your classes, the majority of your kids may be cisgender: either girl-bodied-who-identify-as-girls or boy-bodied-who-identify-as-boys. But, you may also have transgender or gender queer or intersex children who don’t quite fit those straightforward binary definitions. Some of those kids won’t figure this out till adulthood, but some have the sense from very early in life that their assigned gender doesn’t fit. They and their families are already having a hard time sorting that out. If they go to a very gendered environment, it makes it even harder to know how they fit in and creates even more gender dysphoria (distress caused by the dissonance between how a person feels about their own identity versus how they are perceived / treated by others). If they are in a more gender neutral, gender inclusive environment, it’s easier for them to feel like the person they are is welcome there. Learn more about gender identity: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2018/05/02/gender-identity/