One of M’s favourite rainy day or “quiet time” activities is making inventions out of junk. I supply her with a box full of whatever recycling / rubbish I’ve saved up, a roll of sellotape or masking tape (the latter being easier for her to tear rather than cut), and a small supply of “bling” – maybe stickers, or beads, some scraps of fabric or ribbon. She’ll put on an audiobook and then happily spend an hour or more lost in her inventive world creating machines or robots or sculptures out of the various bits and bobs supplied. I love seeing what she comes up with – this play is totally undirected, with as much fun gained from the process as from the end result – and I’m always amazed by her vision and creativeness.
Here’s the most recent selection of junk I gave her:
And here’s what she turned it into:
When I was in the library last week I found two (non-fiction) books that I thought would go well with M’s inventions: Three Cheers for Inventors by Marcia Williams, and Owning Up by Janine Amos and Annabel Spenceley.
I have previously bought home several books by Marcia Williams – I love her comic book way of introducing readers to various classics (eg. The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr William Shakespeare’s Plays, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). Although an older child (say 8-12) might get the most out of these books, M has also enjoyed them a great deal, especially Greek Myths. She loves pouring over the details in the pictures, and of course the stories are often very intriguing or exciting. So when I found Three Cheers for Inventors I didn’t even browse through it, it just came straight home with us.
We didn’t read this book cover to cover, but rather dipped in and out where M saw an illustration which appealed to her. She was fascinated by all the things that were invented – she found it quite puzzling thinking that somebody had invented things like biros, helter skelters and toothpaste, and then we entered into a great game imagining the things we would like to invent (M particularly wants to invent a machine that builds lego (Me: “But you build great things out of lego, M” M: “Yeahhh, but it takes me so long, a machine would do it much quicker“)) M wasn’t too taken by the stories of Edison, the Wright brothers, or the other highlighted inventors but it did get her thinking about what things have been invented and what things there are still to be invented.
As ever I loved Marcia William’s illustrations full of humorous and interesting detail. I also like the fact that she a special section devoted to women inventors.
I was intending to review only one book today, but when Ali (our wonderful Children’s Librarian) suggested Owning Up when I told her I was looking for a nonfiction book to read to M and J, I burst out laughing – I don’t think she could have known how appropriate it was.
Owning Up is part of the “Growing Up” series – a collection of books which are “about everyday situations in every child’s life, [and] show children ways of working things out together”. Other titles in the series include Being Kind, Sharing and Taking Turns.
None of these books particularly appealed to me; although the short stories they tell through photos with real kids in apparently real settings are short and simple I found the whole concept of this series a little didactic. They might work well in a nursery school (preschool) setting if you needed to do a topic on personal/social issues (you know, to meet some government requirement…), but for a home setting, where we read a great deal and issues such as friendship, sharing and taking turns all arise in much more imaginative ways in the fiction we read, I didn’t feel at all enthusiastic about any of them, including Owning Up.
That said, J clearly enjoyed having these books read to her – I think this was because she liked the use of photos rather than artwork to illustrate the stories; real kids, real toys, real people. AND then in spite of my personal indifference to the books, the opening story in Owning Up made picking up the book worthwhile (and provided me with a reason to include it here on Playing by the book): The family kitchen is in a right state. The wonderful Dad in the family cleans up the mess, but doesn’t realise that the “rubbish” he has thrown out was actually a specially crafted model made by his daughter. The Dad owns up to what he has done, and finds a way to make amends with his daughter, by clearing out a cupboard where in future she can store her models safely… Yep, this story has been played out many times in our family, so I include it here as a word of warning, should you be inspired to let your kids do some junk modelling having read this post!
Songs to invent by could include:
There are loads of links about inventions and inventors from this page at Kennesaw State Univeristy. For children a little older than M and J, NASA also has some activities to encourage kids to start thinking like inventors. The Community Learning Network also has a good Inventors and Inventions Theme Page.
Thanks for sticking with the long post today! To find (or contribute to) the roundup of all today’s Nonfiction Monday posts please click here!.