Our five-year-old grandson recently visited, and we were enjoying all kinds of good play. At one point, he and I looked at the pictures in a book he had about robots, and we saw a colorful drawing of a robot dog. My grandson and I like to make paper crafts that move (automata), and this looked like the perfect thing. “Do you think we could make our own robot dog?” I asked. “We would just need a wheel—maybe a lid from something . . .” He nodded enthusiastically, so I opened the craft box and began sorting through the recycle items; asking him what he thought would work for a body, a head, and so on. He looked up thoughtfully and said: “Oh, I know how Grandma! Do you have some white paper? First I have to write the instructions.”
I know it’s important for youngsters to be able to carry their own creative projects through from the concrete to the abstract, and back again to the concrete. So I quickly put my own ideas aside, letting him guide the project. I got the paper and sat down next to him, listening intently to see how (or if) I would be invited to participate. My grandson began scribing some strange marks on the page. In a few minutes, his “writing” was complete (see his numbered schematic, below).
He held up his instructions and pointed to each step as he thoughtfully explained it. (Below, I’ve written out my version of his verbal “instructions,” next to the photos of how he implemented them):
1. First you need a lid to make the wheel. Use a scissors to poke a hole in the lid. (He found two apple juice lids in the craft box; we put them back to back. Since the scissors wouldn’t work for poking a hole through metal, I got to do that job with a hammer and nail.)
2. Next, use a cardboard tube for the dog’s body. Make a slit to put a bendy stick (pipe cleaner) through.
3. Poke the bendy stick through the hole in the wheel and through the slit in the cardboard. (My grandson later changed his mind about the slit, and simply wrapped the pipe cleaner around, instead).
4. Scotch tape 2 straws to his body: one for his neck; one for his tail. Use tape and construction paper to cover one of the holes in the cardboard roll.
5. Make the Robot Dog’s head out of construction paper; tape it to the straw. Use scotch tape and construction paper to cover the hole at the other end of the cardboard tube.
6. Make his ears (construction paper).
7. For your dog’s tail, use construction paper to make a round circle and tape it to the straw.
8. For your Robot Dog’s instrument panel, make three dots on one side of his body.
9. He’s ready to go for a spin!
Later, my grandson made a bone and bed (below) for his Robot Dog.
My grandson told me that he has a new pet goldfish, Rennie, that he won at the fair. “And now,” he said, “I have two pets: Rennie and my Robot Dog!”
My addendum: My grandson has all the preliteracy skills in place. He loves to move and play. He enjoys conversing. He loves books, likes being read to, and delights in making up his own stories. He likes three-dimensional crafts, and enjoys using his hands and eyes to explore and create things. He has an active imagination: it took him only seconds to visualize how he would make the Robot Dog, and only a few minutes to write out the sequence in his shorthand way—less time than it took to actually make the Robot Dog. He’s curious about making and translating symbols, and knows how to hold a pencil correctly. Our daughter said to be sure to mention that he plays with Legos, and likes to “read” the instructions.
Perhaps most important was that, without any help, he first got the big picture and then was able to use symbols to put his thoughts into a detailed, linear sequence for later reference. In Edu-K and Brain Gym®, this is what we mean by whole-brain learning: the ability to perceive the big picture and be challenged by it while filling in the significant details. When applied to reading, this involves giving youngsters opportunities to have meaningful experiences with language and letting them take ownership of the creative writing process (as my grandson did with his symbols), thereby building a powerful motivation for learning to read and write.
You’ll notice that, although he sometimes reverses numbers, we call no attention to it. This is normal for his age; (in the 3-D world, a chair is still a chair, whether it is facing to the left or to the right.) As he transitions to using abstract symbols for writing, if he continues to reverse numbers, when the time comes, we’ll do a few minutes of Lazy 8s or Alphabet 8s (oriented to numbers) with him, so that he can experience the left/right difference as it applies to 2-D symbols. In any event, our focus is on learning as a synthesizing experience, especially for young learners, rather than an analytic one. Generally speaking, we find it best to let learners follow their creative flow, then hold any discussion of details aside for a separate lesson (such as an Edu-K balance or activity session).
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
For more articles on the importance of movement, imagination, and visual skills to beginning literacy, see
Reading Is a Miracle
Independent Reading: A Path to Self-Initiated Learning
How Play Can Nurture the Imaginal World: A Photo Journal
© 2014 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
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