Sunday, August 30, 2015

Parenting: Moving on to Kindergarten

This month was marked by another major milestone: Kindergarten, the point where the education system starts in earnest and where the effort of the school becomes comparable or exceeds the effort of the parents. In our case, the big issue here was T's birthday: his birthday is after the PA deadline. We wanted him to start Kindergarten because his cohort in daycare/preschool was all starting Kindergarten this year, so socially and academically he was ready.  (daycare/preschool promoted people based on age, so he already had almost a year of pre-K. And he maxed out on the pre-K assessment even before being promoted from the 3-year old preschool to pre-K (meaning they ran out of pre-K assessment material, they knew not to bother with the 3-year old assessment material)). The public school pathway would require that at some point, he would have to repeat a year, which seemed like a recipe for boredom.

For the two weeks before pre-K, we have been moving his bedtime and wake up time up.  From a generally 9:30 in-bed time we shifted to 8:30.  From a generally 8AM wakeup over the summer we shifted him to 7.  The week of pre-K we had him in bed by 8:30, and 6:30 wake up.  Sunday was the school welcome and orientation.  Monday I woke him up in the morning to get to school to play in their playground.  Wednesday was first day of school.  Yeah!

First day of Kindergarten
First day of Kindergarten

Main development for the past month:

We had a nearby neighbor from China that we got to know over the summer, which included two young girls. T and them played nearly daily as we were essentially the only people they knew who were not business related (and the only people for the kids to play with).  They eventually did so many things with us that we joked that they were copying our lives.

Splash, splash
Playing on the Northshore Riverwalk Water Steps

T had another round of testing, so now he has a Yellow belt with Black Strip (in the ATA system, the Yellow belt is the third belt, after White and Orange).

Knife hand strike
Yellow belt testing - Knife hand strike

T has definitely been getting more confident and expressive over the summer.  He is better about  expressing what he wants and being forceful (i.e. taking his turn).  And he is better about expressing when he has an opinion, which will hopefully help when in school.  (Taekwondo definitely contributes here)

A has turned into a 15 month old babbling daredevil.  She is a determined child when she has determined what she wants, and is willing to climb over anything to get to it. Very amusing are her babbling episodes, where she can go on babbling for extended periods of time. When she develops language skills she is going to talk our ears off.

Looking forward we see settling into his new school and getting to know his place in the class.  We also have a first TKD tournament that T will go to in September, which is a new level of performing in public

Saturday, August 01, 2015

LEGO Chain Reactions: LEGO for teaching engineering and reading

Lego Chain Reactions: Design and Build Amazing Moving MachinesLego Chain Reactions: Design and Build Amazing Moving Machines by Pat Murphy and the Scientists of Klutz Labs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very different LEGO product, it is about using LEGO system and Technic pieces to build simple machines, so it as much learning about simple machines as it is about building. And the fact that the end result is not a static object but a series of motions is a big plus in our book.

The LEGO Chain reaction set is a book with 10 plans for building a structure that supports a combination of simple machines. The assumption is that you have the LEGO system pieces (the standard bricks and plates) and it provides you with a few Technic pieces (beams and pins). For each project, there is an introduction to the project, instructions to build the project, instructions on how to work the project once it is done, and an explanation of how it works. What links the 10 projects together is use of either moving pieces or plastic balls that go in motion and becomes the trigger for the next project.

My four year old son and I have gone through all 10 projects. And we have done sequences of up to four of the projects in a row. In making the projects, we actually ran out of bricks and had to do substitutions and use Duplo blocks to get enough volume to build up the structures. With every project, I have him read the text on the project, then have him explain to an audience (mommy and any lucky visitors) what the project(s) are doing.

The fact that the projects are so different, and that after making them, they are very playable is the appeal of this. My son enjoys making the completed projects work, and especially making the chain, then trying to explain what it all means.

In the end, my assessment is that this is a great use of LEGO, build things that then have actual use, and use it to engage and educate the builder. It combines engineering and language (explaining why the projects work the way they do). And abstract enough that the builders may be able to apply these designs in new ways. Highly recommended
Explaining the four stage LEGO Chain Reaction project
Explaining how a four stages chain reaction project works
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