Friday, May 29, 2009

Puzzle Learning

Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle? Puzzle play, at no matter what age, not only is entertaining, but can also provide a variety of learning opportunities.

Puzzles exercise memory. Notice how a child delights in remembering how to put together a familiar puzzle. Children will often verbalize or talk about how pieces go together. The use of verbalization with themselves or a play partner is a way to aid with memory skills. Zbigniew and Matthew Michalewicz in their book, Puzzle -Based Learning: An introduction to critical thinking, mathematics and problem solving, categorize this type of learning as the "Eureka factor."

Puzzles help develop fine muscle movements. The control of fine muscle movements develops slowly and is dependent upon a great deal of practice. Fine muscle skills aid in such activities as writing, self-dressing, using a keyboard, etc. Puzzle pieces should be large enough to accommodate small hands.

Puzzles help eye-hand coordination. Children look for visual cues such as patterns and colors to help match pieces together. This strengthens the coordination of the eyes with the hands and thoughts with actions.

Puzzles increase mathematical awareness and problem-solving skills. A puzzle can teach a child how parts fit together to form a whole. Problem-solving skills can be supported by using verbal directions such as, "All the red pieces go here" or "This piece is curved." The opportunity to practice a skill over and over again enhances problem-solving abilities. The problem solver may feel a sense of reward for solving the puzzle.

Children enjoy puzzle exploration with or without the help of an adult or another child. Very young children will enjoy putting in pieces and taking them back out just as much as they will enjoy fitting them into the right spot. As they grow and learn to rotate pieces to match holes and find pieces that fit, they can handle increasingly complex puzzles. Because most young children are tactile learners, the physical puzzles are especially good so that children can reap the learning benefits by manipulating the pieces in their hands. For all of us grown-ups, puzzles are a great challenge-driven learning opportunity. Try this one; you may recognize your favorite children's museum once completed! (Hint: Be sure and give this puzzle a few minutes to load on your computer.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Art of Eric Carle

A recent weeklong drop-in program in our studio, The Art of Eric Carle, gave our visitors the opportunity to explore the pictures in Eric Carle's books and posters. Children recognize his familiar stories and acclaimed works, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Eric Carle's illustrations are distinctive and easily recognizable by his collage technique using cut-up painted papers.

Children created their pictures by using bits of recycled artworks left at the Museum as collage materials. These paper scraps of cut-up paintings took on a look of their own when children began to create their own illustrations. The bit of paper becomes grass for the new picture or fur for the animal in the child's drawing.

Marcia MacRae, the Museum's Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist, says this type of art process serves multiple educational benefits. "Children develop higher order thinking skills. They can imagine something else from the recycled bits of artworks. When you take a material out of its original context, it becomes abstract. Children then use higher order thinking skills to create something concrete from an abstract concept. Children learn that artists can create something from items other than crayons or paint," noted MacRae. "This technique also reinforces that materials can be recycled for other uses."

Drop-in programs in our Art Studio are always free with admission to the Museum. The Studio is open every day from 10 am till 12pm and 1 - 3 pm (Thursday - Sunday). Please check the Museum's calendar for the monthly drop-in schedule in the Studio.