Friday, December 30, 2011

LEGO=leg godt "play well"

On January 1 of 2012, LEGO is releasing a new line targeted specifically towards girls and it has started a social media frenzy.  Princess Free Zone and PBG (Powered by Girl), two amazing Facebook pages have urged their followers to take a stand against the gender biased marketing of LEGO by re-posting a vintage LEGO advert on the LEGO fan page and urging them to "Bring back beautiful."

I did, and think it would be a great idea if all of you did too.  But not because LEGO is wrong.

Eight years ago LEGO was close to bankruptcy (Harvard Business Review).  According to Bloomberg Businessweek the company turned itself around by creating a product line and marketing strategy that catered specifically to boys.  Alien Conquest, Ninjago, Hero Factory, and Star Wars are the products lines that jump out when you visit the official LEGO website.  The company became one that targeted 50% of kids and the strategy was a winner.  Their revenue increased 105% in six years.  I am certainly not an economist, but that seems pretty impressive.  LEGO might be a great toy, great for every child.  But it is also a billion dollar company that is out there to make money.

LEGO Group Chief Executive Officer Jørgen Vig Knudstorp says, “We want to reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children.”  To do so, they have created "LEGO Friends" a line targeted towards girls ages 5 and up.

My four year old had a playdate a few months back with one of her best friends.  A best friend who happens to be a boy.  They have known each other since before they were born.  They were working with LEGOs, a DUPLO set that included a fire truck and rescue vehicle.  My lovely girl created a barn for a family of farm animals, her self talk sounding a bit like, "Here is a bed for the mommy cow and her baby calf, and here comes big sister horse and friend sheep for a visit."  When the lovely farm animal barn home caught fire (remember this is a Fire House set that is being played with ) the rescuers came to help, put out the fire then had hot cocoa with the cows.  Her fabulous friend, with wonderful parents that get him a wide variety of cross gendered toys, was playing right next to her.  His LEGO creations kept smashing together and when the rescuer came to help the ambulance would also explode in a ball of flame.  Luckily the rescuers were able to climb bookshelves and dive bomb the disaster site with parachute fire hoses.  All was well.  I don't believe any cocoa was served.

Two very different scenarios in my living room of parallel play.

Both these kids have pretty progressive parents.  We shun cheap toys, we shop at independent toy shops, buy gender neutral Melissa and Doug toys.  My husband wrestles with my kiddos, they've been skiing since they could walk.  Bruises are a sign of a good time and mathematical skills are valued.  Her friend has a baby doll that he loves and a toy kitchen that he cooks in daily.  We are not parents that actively encourage gender stereotypical play.  Yet it happens.

And it is not a bad thing.

LEGOs create spatial awareness, provide patterning practice and fine motor skill development opportunities. Children work on sorting skills when they look for just the right piece and play with LEGOs allows for three dimensional creativity.   Play with LEGOs can improve mathematical skills as well as engineering and architectural abilities. (  I know this and my house will always be filled with LEGOs.  The plain brick ones with enough doors, windows, characters and vehicles to create the framework of a story.  But I am not every parent.  Each week nearly one-third of the American population visits a Walmart.  One-third.  EVERY WEEK! (wikipedia)  I am willing to bet that some of those visitors shop for toys.  I don't know about your Walmart, but mine has two kinds of aisles.  The boy aisle and the girl aisle.  Is this right?  No way!  Is it reality?  Yup!  So thank you LEGO for putting something in the "girl" aisle of the department stores of America that promotes what the early brain needs to succeed in higher level math. Girls are more than Tutus and Tiaras.  Unfortunately many American consumers have forgotten this.

The shame lies not in the corporations.  Making money is their job.  The shame is on the parents of America for forgetting that open ended play is enough.  Blocks, multi-colored LEGOS, animals, people, tracks, trains, living spaces, dolls, real life play.  That is what kids need.  A princess or two for a girl who loves to play family...not a terrible thing.  Trucks for a boy who likes to smash things together...great. 

It's all about balance.  Parents, it's your job to create it, not the company's job to provide it.

Bring back beautiful.  For your kids.

Magic Cabin

Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas Mamas!

Merry Christmas to all the beautiful Mama's out there.  Wishing you happiness, health and sanity this holiday season!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

App of the Month: BOB Books!

I''m pretty sure that as parents of my students shop for Christmas I am not their favorite person.

We have an iPAD in my classroom now.  And they are all asking Santa for one.  Wait...all but one.  One is asking for a beard.  But back to the point.  My kiddos are asking for iPADs.  And so are a huge number of American kids.  According to a Nielsen poll, the iPAD is on 44% of kid's (ages 6-12) Christmas lists.  iPOD touch is on 30%, and the iPhone (keep dreaming, kid) is on 27%.  This seems so high, but I'd be willing to bet that if Nielson polled Moms and Dads about their Christmas lists the results would be the same or higher. 

Since it's a pretty good bet that at least 44% of Moms and Dads would rather play with an iPAD than a Let's Rock Elmo, there's a lot of kids who will have a new techie toy.  Santa will probably leave it for Mom or Dad, but everyone will get a turn.

My wish for Christmas is that parents recognize the value in using their child's inevitable screen time wisely.  I know the argument can be made that Angry Birds is an excellent physics lesson.  All sorts of velocity and acceleration calculations can be made about the silly things.  But for your little ones?  A waste of screen time.  There are so many wonderful educational apps out there!

One that I love for my four year old and for my beginning readers in my kindergarten and first grade class is BOB Books Reading Magic and BOB Books Reading Magic 2.   Based on a popular series of easy reader books, this engaging app helps children develop phonemic awareness practice essential phonological skills.  In order to successfully learn to read in the early grades children must be able to hear and manipulate sounds in words.  The BOB Books app allows your child to practice at home a piece of what they will be learning in school as a beginning reader.

Download BOB Books by clicking the link below and watch your child learn!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wind, Wind, Wind the Bobbin

From the backseat I heard, "Mummy, I have a song to teach you."

"Go for it," I replied.

Wind, wind, wind the bobbin,
Wind, wind, wind the bobbin,
and pull...
And tap, tap, tap.

She proceeded to teach her little sister and I the hand motions that went along with the simple song, and as I did my best to drive and master the movements I could see in the rear view mirror, I thought about what a nice little song it was.  I imagined it to be a traditional tune that mothers would have sung with their daughters as they taught them to make yarn.  Or whatever you do with bobbins, I'm not entirely sure.

"This is a great song," the voice from the back piped up again.  "It's all about fishing!"

"Huh.  Tell me more."

""Well, you wind, wind, wind when you put the fishing line on the reel.  Then the bobbin is the thing that floats in the water.  When you catch a big fish you have to pull...and pull."

"What about the tap, tap, tap?" I asked.

"Well...that part just makes the song sound good."

I loved the whole conversation.  Except for bobber/bobbin confusion she had done an excellent job of creating  meaning for something within her contextual understanding.  For those of you who don't know, my husband has embarked on a quest to catch and eat every species of fish in New Hampshire this year, so fishing is a prime topic of conversation in our home.  It made perfect sense to her four year old brain that they would be singing about fishing in preschool!

It got me thinking about how incredibly important it is for us as parents to give our children experiences with which they can build a context for understanding.  Imagine a child's brain as a large piece of fabric, and new information as ping pong balls covered in velcro.  Every time a child encounters information that they have not yet synthesized into their knowledge base it is a velcro covered ping pong ball being thrown at the fabric.  There is a chance of it grabbing hold and sticking, but not not a big one.  Now imagine that every time a child has an experience with a loving, caring adult, an experience as small as reading a story or as big as visiting a national park, an experience that they can talk about and ask questions about and process...imagine that each time a child has an experience such as this a patch of velcro is sewn onto the fabric.  The opposite half, the jelly to the ping pong ball's peanut butter.  With each experience and with each patch of velcro that child's mind is getting stickier and stickier.  With every patch sewn on it gets easier and easier for that new information to stick.  The new stuff has more and more to grab on to and hold.  Knowledge is formed faster and more easily with each and every experience.

Perhaps it won't always stick in exactly the way it was intended...but it will be in there.  And that child will modify his or her understanding as the context continues to grow.

Right now Zoe thinks that song is about fishing.  She's planning on having her daddy record it and feature it on his blog.  I'm not going to correct her.  But I'd bet anything that if ever we visit the textile mill museum down in Lowell (and we will, I'm a museum junkie), she'll remember what she learns about bobbins more that anything else.  She's got a patch already for that ball to stick to!

Hanna Andersson

Friday, October 7, 2011

Princess Deer

My daughter is a planner.
She is an individual.
Once she has made up her mind she cannot be swayed.

These are characteristics I recognize in myself.  Characteristics I value.  Characteristics that will serve her well throughout her life.

Characteristics that make Halloween exceedingly difficult.

We figured it out last year.  She decided to be a cow.  Yes...a cow.  Luckily we found a cow hat while wandering through the vendors at the Fryeburg Fair.  An oversized white sweatshirt was turned into cowhide with the help of a Sharpie and a sewn on tail.  I combed the racks at the discount store until I found some fuzzy animal print pants.  It didn't seem to be a problem that they were leopard, not cow print and I certainly wasn't going to mention it.  A decorative bell and a bucket shaped basket (because who would milk a cow into a trick or treat pumpkin) completed the outfit.

It took some creativity, some luck, and some work, but we (I) did it.  I had a damn cute cow for Halloween!

That was last year, but now is now and costumes don't repeat.

A Princess Deer.  That is what I am up against this year.  Seriously.  I don't even know where to begin.  A Princess Deer?

I have gotten some guidance of course.  And it 's interesting to hear about the finer points of costume creation from a four year old point of view.  Brown with white spots, since a princess deer would not be a grown-up deer.  A gown made of grass, since deer live in the woods.  A mask.  A pink princess crown.  Are you getting the picture yet?  Yeah, me neither.

A yard sale last weekend yielded a homemade woodland elf costume.  I think I can work with that.  I'll venture again to the discount store where I am hoping brown, child size faux fur is in fashion.  Might see if I can order a hat with deer ears from Etsy.  If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear about them.

I'm sure I'll come up with something!

Magic Cabin

Thursday, October 6, 2011

App of the Month: MiniMod

It's that time of year here in New Hampshire.  NECAP time.  New England Common Assessment Program.  Time for all third through eighth graders to prove to  government officials that teachers are teaching and they are learning.  Kids all over the state are sharpening their #2 pencils (well, the teachers are anyway), getting extra sleep (yeah right), and drinking lots of water (hopefully, since water is essential for optimal brain performance).  Teachers all over the state are trying to get their students to understand the importance of doing their best on standardized test while at the same time not raising their anxiety levels.  Parents all over the state are...well...actually I don't know this one.  I have a preschooler and a toddler and teach kids before they reach testing age, but I would imagine that parents are concerned and want to help their child succeed.

I came across the MiniMod apps by e Skills Learning when I was searching for apps to strengthen the reading comprehension of my higher level readers.  I purchased a Lite version of MiniMod Basic Cloze Practice for $2.99 to test it out.  I was immediately sold on the product.

With MiniMods for many of the skills tested on common standardized tests, including Cloze (fill in the blanks), Reading for Inferences, Reading for Details, and Word Structure, and reading levels from second through sixth, grade, Minimods are great practice.  The questions are posed in a great Bingo game format that a student can play alone or against a friend.  When my students played, they were engaged, excited and learning.  As a teacher...that is what I am looking for!

MiniMods are pricey.  When you are used to 99 cent apps, paying nine dollars seems like a lot.  However these apps seem to have been crafted with a great deal of thought and meet very specific student needs.  They target the areas in which a student is weak in their reading comprehension and provide increasingly difficult tasks in a format (game based and technology based) that kids want to interact with. Improvement is inevitable.

Check out'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Love My IPAD!

RIP Steve Jobs.  You have the distinction of being a person who truly changed the world forever.

I am in my second year of having IPODS in my classroom and I love, Love, LOVE them.  My kindergarten and first grade students can learn, practice and create independently with them.  No longer is my technology teacher heavy. 

And now I have an IPAD.

Absolute infatuation.  I am enamored.  Besotted.  Bewitched.  I could go on but I imagine you get the point.

If you are a what you can to get one of these in your classroom.  For your students.  For yourself.  And then follow this blog...via Friend Connect or get ideas on how to use it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

App of the Week: Project NOAH

We did a lot of berry picking this summer.  When Sam, "I hungy NOW", figured out edible things grew on trees and bushes she was stunned!  She ate so many her poop was lovely purplish, greenish technicolor for most of July.  That was fun.  

During our two weeks at summer camp, our cabin was surrounded by wild blueberry bushes and she got very used to picking her own snacks.  She was never far from my sight, but I worried quite a bit.  I knew that while she knew what was good to eat, she didn't yet have the capacity to distinguish what was not.  One evening she was quite occupied around the corner of the cabin, and we were quite occupied with other things.  After a few minutes I went to check on her and saw to my dismay that she was happily munching on blueberries.  And not blueberries.


We paid the camp nurses a visit, watched her closely, and finally gave poison control a call.  Luckily, according to poison control, a baby pre-molars won't chew berry seeds and that is where the toxins are.  So whatever it was...she'd be fine.


But I still didn't know what this plant was, and while reassured that Poison Control said it was fine, still really wondered if my kiddo had ingested toxins or not.  So we tried to figure out what it was.  We searched the internet and asked some of the camp staff that was known to know their plants.  To no avail.
Enter my new favorite app...Project Noah.


Project Noah is a citizen scientist app, working to build a huge inventory of cataloged nature photos that others can search through.  Also, you can upload a photo of something you would like identified and someone else out there will tell you what it is.  I took a picture of my mystery plant...and a few days later had my answer.  "Canada May Flower".  And no, not poisonous.

In addition to uploading your own wildlife spottings, you can undertake "Missions".  This fall when I am doing my unit on NH forests, I think we might join the "Project Red" mission and photograph all the red we find in the forest around us.

iTunes & App Store