Re-blog: The Happy PhD Zone: How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance In Academia – Next Scientist

I recently read this post over at Happy PhD zone, and it made me laugh, and think about my priorities at the moment too. I am trying to balance my time on weekends to make sure I recharge and spend time with my beautiful family. The PhD and a full time teaching load make for very busy week days. So, this blog is worth a look 🙂

The Happy PhD Zone: How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance In Academia – Next Scientist.

Until next time,

Fiona T

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 5)

Here is part 5 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I am looking at Lego (and similar building style toys, including mega blocks, mecanno, and even the digital space of minecraft) as a toy that can support creativity through play.

The photos above are from a game of  ‘Lego creationary’ (think: pictionary with lego). This game has players make particular items and the other players need to guess the item made – lots of creative fun, competition and open ended play. The other Lego games also encourage exploratory play – games like Heroica, Minotaur, and Lego city police all have starting points for game play and set up, and as you play them more you can adapt the game board and rules to change the challenge level.

Aside from the more recent Lego games, Lego itself is a great open ended play tool. It does come in sets, with instructions to build the item on the box, and then once this is done and played with, the real fun begins. Children (and yes, adults too) can work together to build infinite objects. Today this is classified as a ‘sandbox game/space’ – an opportunity for open ended play where the child can be in charge.  Mecanno is very similar, but uses tools, nuts and bolts  to build machines.  Minecraft is a digital space that now fits this definition  – for a review of this please see: http://appsforaussiekids.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/minecraft-for-parents-part-2-of.html .   After getting used to the controls in Minecraft you can play and build whatever you want.  Playing with any of these alongside and with your child can lead to lots of fun, and learning for both of you 🙂 Setting challenges to ‘build’ – like building your house in Minecraft – can be interesting to collaborate on, as there are lots of problem solving opportunities that present themselves as you work though the challenge together.

So, what ‘sandbox games/spaces’ do you like? How else might you incorporate this style of game/toy to extend opportunities for develop thinking skills? Perhaps you would like to share a picture of your families collaboration in one of these spaces? Please share in the comments : )

Until next time

Fiona T

 

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 3)

Here is part 3 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.I was a bit surprised by this ‘bop it’ toy. I had often walked past it in stores and dismissed it as a present option for my nephews, as I had no idea what it was or did. Then, LT was given one as a present and I found out it is actually quite a fun toy and can contribute to both learning and thinking. There are several modes for ‘bop it’ to be used in; individual, pass and play for two or more people, or a two person challenge where you stand one person on each side of the toy. The aim in all these modes is basically the same: the ‘bop it’ toy calls out instructions, and you need to follow them by interacting with the toy. Vocal instructions are accompanied by sounds: “bop it’, ‘twist it”, ‘pull it’, ‘spin it’, or ‘flick it’. Sounds simple, right….wrong!  Instructions are called in different orders, making the thinking and co-ordination required to react quickly surprisingly challenging. As you are able to continue the sequence (we have gotten up to 20 right in a row) it unlocks levels. The different levels include things like the  spoken instruction being removed, leaving the sound to respond to. The next level again will call out colours instead of sounds.  All of these require fast reflexes to be able to stay in the game.

From an educational viewpoint, ‘bop it’ could be classified as a brain training toy. It develops quick thinking and coordination skills, reminding me of the cross marching exercises we use with students.  In terms of creativity, there isn’t much scope for free play with ‘bop it’, however I think it helps make connections within the brain and so would help children to ‘limber up’ towards creativity and reflexive thinking in other areas.

I wonder what other toys are out there that promote creativity, learning and thinking…please add any you think of in the comments below.

Until next time,

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

We love stories in our house. These ‘story cubes’ are a great starter to help children (and adults) create their own stories. Inside this little box are 9 ‘story cubes’ with images that can be used as prompts for your own stories. As a toy it becomes a tool to promote creativity and challenge the story teller to think ‘outside the box’. There are opportunities to work together on a story, or to take turns in creating your own stories, based on the roll of the dice. The inside of the box has hints about different ways to ‘play’ with these cubes. We like to sit around the table and take 3 each, making up a story together. I must say here that WH (Wonderful Husband) lives up to his name during this game, and comes up with terrific tales, scintilating songs and rollicking rhymes, we try to get him to go last because LT (Little Tacker) and I often can’t stop laughing long enough to remember what we were going to say!

These blocks would make a good gift for a primary school aged child. However, if you wanted to make your own version you could draw or cut out pictures of various items and make your own paper cubes to stick them onto. Digital photos could also be used here, and would work as a language prompt for new items or words. This  could be extended for teachers to use in particular topics/themes, with pictures that will prompt students to discuss, explore, extend, and revise their ideas, through the creation of stories.

Do you play story or song based games with your children or family? Do you have a specific tool/toy (eg puppets, books or something else) that helps to structure this play? What are they, and what specific opportunities for creativity and thinking are available? Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time, happy playing!

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 1)

I have thought for a while now that I would like to write a series of posts looking at commercially available toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I want to start with some simple, easy to access items that can be used across age groups in a variety of ways. All three items this week would make welcome presents for children, as they can be used in so many ways for a number of years.

Wooden blocks (and indeed lego/megablocks/duplo etc) are a staple in most homes with young children present. I have hung onto these blocks given to LT when he was 1. They get brought out when we have little visitors, and often take a while to go back in the cupboard as LT, WH and I play with them again too. From tipping them onto the floor, building towers, cities and other things, to knocking down and counting back in the box,  play is all about developing co-ordination and imaginative play opportunities. We can use blocks to explore colours, shapes and counting with any age group. We can also use them for talking with children about building and balance (eg: How high can you build a tower on the carpet? On a solid surface? What happens when you put a semi circle shape in? How can we make a see-saw?), exploring movement with the semi-circle and cylinder shapes, or even drawing and talking about 3D shapes and fractions as children get bigger. Adults and children alike (from my observations) enjoy building and playing with these blocks, and the bonding moments through any play situation are priceless.

Playing cards are in most homes, and are cheap and easy to locate at $2 shops. We have many sets and have ‘played’ with these in varied ways depending on the age of the child we are playing with. Social skills, like sharing and turn taking can be practiced by playing concentration, matching games (numbers, colours, or shapes), snap and fish. Rule following and changing for these games also allow opportunities for children to take ownership of developing games and articulating differences they have applied to existing games. Again, the opportunity for developing language and bonds with others is a bonus of any type of game played. When I suggested this post on the facebook page, other uses of cards included building card houses (avoid plastic coated cards here as they can be too thin and slippery for this to progress vary far), and introducing the element of ‘luck’ into the games played, so that winning is not just reliant on skill or speed.  Games like ‘gin rummy’ and ‘solitaire’ offer older children and adults more complex rules, and the element of luck, to consider and respond to using a variety of strategic playing options. 

A commercial card game that can be fun at many ages is ‘Uno’, I have had the pack above since I was 10, and drove my family mad wanting to play it. The basic rules require strategy and memory (to shout ‘uno’ at the right time) to use the cards you are dealt, to win. When I was involved in teaching in a summer school program ‘Uno’ was played often with tutors and students in break times (using 2 packs of cards and up to 20 people playing at a time), but the rules were known as ‘summer school rules’, including changes like everyone passing their hand of cards to the left when a ‘draw four’ was put down…heaps of fun and lots of thinking/strategy/luck required too.

Do you have card games you like to play with children or family? What are they, and what specific opportunities for creativity and thinking are available? Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time, keep playing

Fiona T

Wishing you a Merry and organised Christmas.

Season’s Greetings to all of my readers and followers on Facebook and twitter.
This time of year brings with it a pause for me to reflect on the year and plan towards next year. At this time last year, I was in the midst of a frenzy of baking, wrapping presents and entertaining LT as he had started holidays. This year I decided to take a calmer, more organised approach to the season. I did this by planning well ahead of time the baking I wanted to complete and began to use my freezer to support the baking I like to do at this time of year. I baked Almond Bread loaves and stowed them in the freezer to be cut and baked only a couple of days ago. Next year I will make the cookie dough ahead of time and freeze this too. I also broke up the cooking over a couple of days, so I have time each day to spend with my family and relax too. This has worked pretty well, especially when on the last day I couldn’t store any more food in the fridge/freezer and so I cancelled the last day of baking!

Another thing I did to improve my use of time was to get photo cards printed to use as Christmas cards (I use http://daisydesigns.com.au/ , they have a 24 hour turn around and email the card to you to approve. These would also be great for invitations.) A couple of years ago I set up an excel spreadsheet with my address list for Christmas cards, and after a quick update for people who have moved, I printed off the labels. This made the Christmas card process more streamlined this year.

Christmas shopping was a combination of online and ‘real’ shopping, and I had a list on Evernote to track my ideas for different people we buy for.  This, I am happy to say, meant that I have bought less impulse presents, and so don’t feel that I have wasted money this year.

So, I am much calmer and looking forward to a busy but fun Christmas Season with my family and friends.

All the best for the holidays and happy New Year. I hope to see you all again in 2013, the year of full time work and part time ‘paperless’ PhD.

Fiona T

Making room to study: creating space and time

This semester I have taken on some part time work. It has, once again, made me look at the time I have and how to balance it best. Over the last 5 weeks I feel like I have been in a whirlwind, and while I have been meeting most of my targets for each week, some have been sliding. For example, menu planning has saved my sanity and allowed me a little snippet of time while dinner is cooking/heating to get food and clothes organised for the next day. However, this brief time in the evening is where I used to check emails and sort my reading for the next day of study. I found in the first 3 weeks that my reading time was not as productive, and it took a while to realise that my pattern that had worked for last Semester had been lost.

So this week, as my work slowed down a little, I took the time to stop and reflect on my study priorities and how I can best work the time I do have, to get my reading done. I had a meeting with BB and, once again, she was a wonderful support and has given me practical advice to shape my thinking and action on this.  I have come up with two seemingly small changes: 1. My reading in the evening before bed is now an article (20 mins x 6 days = 2hrs extra reading time), and 2. I am walking to the school to pick up LT on at least 3 days of the week, which means I get an extra 10 minutes to work on something at home, eg: setting up my reading list, as I am not driving and fighting for a park at the school (10 mins x 3 days = 30minutes).  Looking over previous entries on this blog, I can see my routine ‘evolves’ and morphs every few months, as the demands of study and life change.  I need to make sure I am periodically reviewing my time and goals to make sure I am using time effectively.  With the couple of small changes above I have ‘found’ an ‘extra’ 2.5 hours, and I no longer feel like I am in a whirlwind, I feel in control again.

As these times are smaller blocks, with a clear focus I think they will work well for me. I also tried to use ‘pomodoro’ time blocks last week for my writing time, but did find it hard to shift tasks at the end of the block. It is something I will have to work on, before judging if it works well for me.

What suggestions do you have for squeezing the most out of your study time?

Until next week

Fiona T

 

Researching Play

Today I took some of my own advice. I didn’t blog and instead I spent some time with my family at Scienceworks in Melbourne. LT loves Scienceworks (and so do we). I was excited and felt a little ‘rewarded’ when we walked in to the main hall exhibit area to see this:

I love this Einstein quote! “Play is the highest form of research”.  I have read it before in various books and historical accounts of play and learning, and here it was again, greeting me on a ‘day off’!  Affirmation indeed that Science and Learning are everywhere, and you don’t need to look terribly hard.

Have a lovely day

Fiona T

Time management: It’s important to have a plan.

Those who have followed this blog for a while will know that I am now studying full time, with a little part time work and my family to organise. As I get busier I find that I am seeking out more blogs to see how other Mum’s (and some Dad’s) manage their time to effectively juggle their lives. Seeking balance is the main theme of these blogs, and sometimes they are successful and sometimes not. I like the honesty in many blogs, and am constantly reminded that we all need to reassess situations when things aren’t working. This term (Ok 2 weeks in) I think my ‘schedule’ is working well…here is why I think it is (and please remember I had a pretty rough term 1, it worked in some ways and other things didn’t)…

I have a teaching background and have learned to work in 45 minute blocks for planning, teaching and correction. While my time at the moment isn’t quite as structured, I do think of my day in blocks of time. Everyday I try to balance my time spent studying, working and ‘playing’.  I think it is quite important to set achievable goals for each day/week, and have found that by chipping away at my goals over the last few months, I have actually completed many tasks before the dates they were due and there has been no ‘mad rush’ to finish things.  There have been other things that have taken longer than I expected too, but it hasn’t been stressful to complete them and because of the way I have ‘chipped away’ I have known well in advance that the timeline I had set was unrealistic, and so was able to adapt this.

I am also using (and advocating) technology to help me use time effectively and reduce double handling of so many things. For example:

  • Party invitations my LT brings home get photographed and put straight onto Evernote, I check the date with my synced Google calendar on my phone and respond as soon as I can whether we can make it so it’s doesn’t get overlooked later in the week when I am working.
  • I am learning to use highlighting on my email and folders and documents I am working with. The colours I use helps me quickly pick up from where I left a project the day or week before. So a document in progress will be green (going), when a document is complete I change it’s highlight colour to orange (nearly done) and when I have printed/emailed/actioned it I change the colour to red (stop work).  This has really helped with a multitude of papers I have been reading and reviewing. I also send a progress copy and complete copy to Evernote for backup, in case my laptop plays up. (Yay Cloud!)

I have planned out a weekly schedule with all the “must-do’s” in it, and have some windows of time to catch up with a friend here and there. I find I work better with this written plan, and think that I need this visual to make sure I do use my time the best I can.

A while ago I came across this blog, how one man organises his ‘space’ to improve productivity. He outlines things like cutting down on time to ‘set up’ for the task, prioritising tasks and also having an idea of things you can do, even if you don’t really feel like it:

How Can I Increase My Productivity On My Side Projects At The End Of The Day When I’m Tired From Work? – Forbes.

Do you have hints/tips on how you maximise the use of your time? Please feel free to share in the comments here, or on the facebook page.

Until next week…

Fiona T

Family fun: Civiliazation 5

We have had the Civilization game for approx 2 Weeks. WH and LT have been playing at any opportunity. LT is now insisting on giving me lessons in how to play (he might even let me touch the mouse soon! LOL).

The first game LT played was very much exploratory, with WH as the guide on the side, his advice being mostly ignored as LT clicked and traded and tried out different moves. In the last few days LT has come to understand many things, including that the map he uses has real cities on it (though many are in the wrong places), and that the people/leaders of the cities were real people. This has excited him so much. The other major excitement was when he leveled up to his first Golden Age, this jubilation involved many high fives and hugs. While I still have little understanding of what this achievement actually entails, I do know just from his reaction that it is a big deal. This has flowed on to him wanting me to play too, and he has set up a game for me and is patiently showing me how to play.

WH has also reflected on how LT is playing this game. He commented that LT is more likely to trade with others, than to attack and try to take their land. LT has also found some other menus and diagrams that help give different visions of the game and it’s goals, WH was very surprised as he hadn’t found them yet!

Much of LT’s self talk while he plays is gorgeous too…he chats to the characters eg: ‘that’s not very nice, he is attacking me’, ‘these little guys are going to make a farm’, ‘yay, we got animal husbandry’ and ‘we can trade with London and we are friends’. LT is also very conscious of ‘liberty’ and this is a value he encouraged me to pursue  from the beginning of ‘my’ game. I have also noticed that the reading skills he is developing at school are transferring to sounding out the names and cities he is unfamiliar with.

LT’s other great love is still ‘gamestar mechanic’, and he has leveled up and entered his first competition. While his work didn’t exactly take in to account all the competition criteria, he loved having the focused task and was again very proud of himself when he had finished his game and submitted it. He has rung and told relatives that he has ‘done his first entry’ and is still excited about it days later.

In terms of learning, there is a lot going on here. I am excited about the wider world knowledge that is being developed, and more than that the general approach to learning and life my son is showing. He is excited about being active in producing games to show others. He is eager to show and teach others what he has learned. He is not frustrated by ‘not knowing’ how to use something new, and will happily play and explore to figure out how he wants to use it. He has confidence in his ability to ‘figure out’ what he can and looks for help files and tutorials (and yes, you-tubes too). He will also ask for help from us when he needs it.

In terms of Gaming theory (my area of current reading) the games we are presenting to him have engaged him because they allow him these spaces to learn. He is exploring and achieving in increments, operating at his zone of proximal development and getting constant feedback on his progress. He plays because it is fun and rewarding, the effort he puts in is rewarded within the game space. Failure doesn’t really factor in to these games, there is a focus on doing it better next time, and not on winning and losing.

The mere fact that LT, who is 6, can play and achieve the goals set, show his learning across many different areas and teach and show others how to play and level up suggests to me that digital natives are more willing to explore, try new things and find ways to succeed, instead of giving up at the first obstacle.  These are definitely characteristics I want all of my students to develop.

Until next week,

Fiona T

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