Tag Archives: Creativity

How Bitty Baby Began my Focus on Early Childhood Learning

After reading Gears of My Childhood by Seymour Papert for the MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC I’m participating in, I started think reflect on: What object from my childhood interested and influenced me?

"Duckie" - My favorite childhood stuffed animal

Me and “Duckie” – my favorite childhood stuffed animal

As I considered this question, my first thought was that I wished I had access to all of the pictures that were taken during my childhood so I could literally see them to recall my memories. I pulled out a few that I had and as I thought some more, I considered my favorite stuffed animal, which traveled with me everywhere and is in probably almost every photo of me as a child. Ultimately, I decided that while well-loved, my stuffed animal wasn’t really an object that pushed me to think differently. I continued to reflect on the question and I realized that one of the most influential objects from my childhood was probably my American Girl Bitty Baby doll.

That might sound like a pretty generic choice but thinking back, I think my interest in the doll was an indicator of my current passions and an interests in early childhood learning that continues to exist today. I don’t remember exactly when I first received the doll, or Caitlin, as I named her, but I think it was probably around my 6th birthday. For the next few years, I spent hours and hours playing with her, dressing her in different outfits, having her interact with her accessories and playing out different scenarios of early childhood play. As I grew older, I became frustrated that there weren’t more accessories and began designing my own furniture and toys (I even submitted my ideas to American Girl!). I’m not sure if they were ever received but I felt better knowing I was doing something that would hopefully contribute to other children’s play by letting the company know about things I felt were missing.

Caitlin in a crib I constructed for her, with her accesseries underneath

Caitlin in a crib I constructed for her, with her accessories underneath

Even as I grew older and other toys became more popular with my friends, I still held on to Bitty Baby as one of my favorite childhood objects. I was completely intrigued with the early childhood stage in a person’s life, a period where so much care taking is necessary but yet there is also so much play and exploration. I remember vividly reading to my doll the board books that came with each new set and testing out each of the related toys (the beach and garden sets were some of my favorites) and considering whether they were good and would engage my doll.

Although Bitty Baby has now been put away in a box to save for my own children one day, I am still essentially doing very similar work. I am constantly thinking about how young children learn and what toys (learning tools) would be best suited for different areas of classroom study or learning goals. Of course today, many of the tools I am examining involve technology (e.g., a Toca Boca app or a Voicethread presentation) which were certainly not part of the American Girl line when I was little. But like Papert, I think the same three factors: having a feeling of love towards my doll, not being told to learn about or play with her, and being young when I was first introduced to it, all affected my interest in early childhood learning. I’m intrigued to think more about the value of love and relationships with an object like a doll or gears. I want to consider how these relationships can affect a child’s learning or interest in a subject and how vital it is to expose children to a variety of objects at a young age (including ones that might seem beyond their understanding).


App Share! A Few Favorites.

I was recently sharing a few of my favorite apps with some of my colleagues and I thought it would be fun to share them with my PLN too (and hear what your favorites are!).

App: Evernote (Free!)

Favorite Feature:  I love the web clipper because I’m constantly grabbing pieces of blog posts and articles to remember new tech tools I want to try or to save new recipe ideas.

Description: Evernote is definitely at the top of my list, especially now that I jump so frequently between multiple devices. It’s a great app that, as they say, helps you to “remember everything” by making notes and lists easy to create, share, and access. Since my account syncs between my devices, I can quickly start a note on my iPad and then finish it on my computer. Then later, I can access it on-the-go via my phone. I like how quickly Evernote opens up on the iPad so I can start jotting down notes when I’m in a meeting and then I can add in additional details and formatting when have more time on my computer. I also started using Evernote’s Clearly recently to remove ads and extra text from webpages when I’m using the Web Clipper which makes it simpler to grab information cleanly from the web. Evernote also allows you to create Notebooks, where you can keep multiple notes and then you can create “Stacks” or groups of notebooks, so you can keep everything organized in a file system. This works great if you’re working in the classroom and want to have multiple notes for a child and then a notebook for each child that you keep within one stack. Of course one of the best parts about Evernote is that it’s free! There’s also a reasonably priced Premium version which allows you to share editing capabilities to your notebooks with other people and increases your storage capacity. What’s your favorite thing to do with Evernote?

App: MindSnacks (Free, Full Access $4.99)

Favorite Feature:  I love the Word Birds game because it helps me learn the spelling in addition to the meaning and pronunciation of the word.

Description: MindSnacks is a fun, affordable way to learn, practice, and review a foreign language. There are currently 7 different languages, including English, that you can learn and each one includes over 1400 words. I like the fact that you can hear each word or phrase spoken by a native speaker and that there are pictures associated with each one. Although some of the pictures are not as representative of the vocabulary as I would like, the visuals really help me to associate the new words with things I already know. After you are exposed to each new set of words and phrases (there are 50 sets/lessons in each app), you can play six different games (that you unlock over time) to practice your new knowledge. You have to reach a certain level of mastery of each new word or phrase before you can move on to the next lesson.

: Cue: Know what’s next (Free!)

Favorite Feature: If you receive a shipping notification in your email, it will put a link to the tracking number at the bottom of your day so you can quickly check in on where your package is and Cue will let you know when it’s scheduled to arrive.

Description: This is a really useful iPhone app (also works on the iPad) that helps you keep track of your to-do’s and appointments by pulling them from various other apps/programs into a quick daily snapshot. You can sync your calendar, mail, contacts and tasks from multiple accounts and Cue will order them chronologically each day, giving you notifications of your next appointment. It also lets you know the current weather and when the sun will rise/set so you can quickly tell whether your events will occur after dark. It’s a great app if you keep separate personal and professional calendars and email accounts but want to be able to view them together in one app to make sure you don’t miss a birthday, personal appointment, or work meeting.

App: Apps Gone Free (Free!)

Favorite Feature: I like the clean interface that makes it easy to learn more about each app.

Description: This app will notify you each day with apps that have “gone free” and it will let you know which device they will work on, as well as a short description. Although there are other apps like this, I like the clean interface of the app and the fact that it doesn’t present an overwhelming amount of information so you can quickly scan and see if there’s a good app for you. As they say, “it’s an honest to goodness human-curated list of the best free apps each day.”

App: Buddhify ($2.99)

Favorite Feature: The ability to choose between home, travel, gym, and walking when selecting a meditation.

Description: This is a great app if you want to relax or keep up a meditation routine but you’re always on-the-go. The app is built for the iPhone (iPad compatible) and is made to be used at home, at the gym, while commuting, or walking. Within each of these four locations you can choose a “bitesize” or longer meditation to practice mindfulness. I like that the meditations are short and also allow you to choose four different focus areas: clarity, stability, embodiment, or connection, depending on your mood and the type of mindfulness you want to build. I like to use the app when I’m riding the train or at the gym to just take a few minutes to pause and be mindful without having to dedicate a huge chunk of time to it in my busy schedule.

App: Toca Boca Store ($1.99)

Favorite Feature: The social aspect of that app which invites multiple children to engage in play.

Description: I couldn’t talk about apps without sharing at least one of my favorite early childhood apps! Toca Boca Store is wonderful for young children who are learning how to share and take turns and who are looking for creative ways to play. The app allows one child to be the cashier and one or more children to be customers who are shopping in the store. Once children choose the 5 items that will be in their store (a great discussion prompter), they can select items one at a time to bring to the front counter and purchase. Buying an item requires the cashier to select a price and the customer to count out the correct number of coins to pay for their item. Then children must take their item and put it in their bag, which allows for additional fine motor skills practice. I also like that at the end of the shopping trip (after 5 items have been bought) a receipt is printed and enlarged on the screen so you can review with children how much each item cost and how that adds up to the total amount on the receipt. Since many classrooms have a dramatic play area with items to play “store” this app allow teachers and children to make new and interesting connections between what they can and cannot do digitally and with classroom materials.