"when I grow up I want to DO ALL THINGS!"
February 21, 2018 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Before my niece turned 2 she announced to her parents that when she grows up she wants to "do ALL things!". She's 5 now. What can her long-distance aunt do to encourage that spirit?

She's in Bristol (UK), I'm in Melbourne (Australia). She was the sort of person that, when offered tickets to the ballet, said "I don't want to see the ballet...I want to be in the ballet!". Her current favourite thing seems to be pretending to be a doctor (her mum - my sister - recently told me she wanted to be a "paediatric orthopedic doctor"), but she's also in a family of very crafty artsy people so there's a lot of craft projects and art supplies, as well as things like Playmobil and Lego. She's learning acrobatics and gymnastics (her dad has a circus background) and just started school in the past year. Her mum is currently working with her on a joint self-confidence project; we both grew up in a culture of "if you're not immediately good at it it's not worth doing" which led to a lot of fear and she's working really hard on not letting my niece fall into the same trap.

She reminds me a lot of myself in the sense that we're both people that want to experience everything. I remember feeling very stunted growing up (in a town with not a ton to do plus overly paranoid parents) and while her parents are doing very well at giving her exposure to experiences and learning opportunities, I want to contribute too. I'm queer and activisty and would like stuff along that vein too - she's in a fairly liberal environment already especially given her parents' friends but more exposure to diversity is always useful.

Her parents are very selective about toys (mostly they want stuff with a good aesthetic that lasts long) though my gift of a Tech Will Save Us kit went over really well, so similar kits could be a good idea. They're big readers, so book suggestions would work well (is The Daring Book for Girls age-appropriate?). They're trying to manage her exposure to technology, though when I visited them a couple of years ago she got really fascinated by my keyboard. I don't have a ton of money to spare and I'm not the most skilled person craft-wise, but am willing to consider all sorts of options.
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Oh geez, forgot one important detail: her parents are trying to steer away from overly-gendered stuff (esp 'princessy' things or Barbies). That said, she does have dolls and a pretty extensive dress-up box (including a doll that's a mini version of herself and has mini versions of the same costumes) as well as things like cooking toys so feminine-leaning toys aren't completely verboten.
posted by divabat at 3:57 PM on February 21, 2018

We've been having fun with this petri dish and agar kit.
posted by beccaj at 5:20 PM on February 21, 2018

Makey Makeys are pretty awesome. She might be a touch young but maybe not if she's already good with her hands and/or musical. They are definitely more fun for musically inclined kids imho
posted by fshgrl at 5:53 PM on February 21, 2018

Never too early to study drawing or a musical instrument.
posted by SPrintF at 7:39 PM on February 21, 2018

Sign her up for a book club, or hand pick books to send her once in a while. Books about doing stuff, books about adventure, books about weird facts, books. Her parents probably won’t have a problem with books and they’re like the #1 thing to have at home for self-starter children.

The best nongendered toy is something that makes something else, like arts and crafts kits, art supplies, tech kits, blocks, etc. With art supplies, it’s best to have enough that you don’t feel like you’re wasting them when you make a mistake.

And also— write letters to her.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:45 PM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ah! I misread, you want specific. In that case, Dover Publications (UK: Dover Bookshop.) Weird old classics, books about how to do stuff, unique coloring books, art books, and historical paper dolls.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2018

My grand daughter is loving a subscription to kiwi, which provides a box every month with books and projects all on a theme. The most recent one was for the human body. They also send lots of crafting ideas via email. Check it out at kiwico.com. different subscriptions for each age group.
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:08 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cuisenaire rods. These were very rare when I was growing up, they were only allow via professionals, but my Dad brought them home, as he was a teacher.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:33 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know you're looking at non-gendered, but Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is pretty fantastic. Also, some technical books can be inspiring if the adults around her are willing to make it make sense - niece was really into an Encyclopedia of the Human Body that was lying around when she was 3 years old (her dad would read it to her before bed), now she is nearly 6 and wants to be an "astronaut, scientist and bone doctor" when she grows up.
posted by cholly at 8:52 PM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Books for girls are fine (especially if they're feminist-y), I just think the parents aren't keen on BE A GIRLY GIRL BECAUSE YOU'RE A GIRL AND THAT'S YOUR ONLY OPTION sorta stuff.
posted by divabat at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2018

I was going to suggest Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls as I know it’s popular with my nieces of similar ages. I’ve also been told that the Lonely Planet Travel Book for Kids has had good staying power as a sort of reference guide.
posted by vunder at 9:27 PM on February 21, 2018

At around that age, and a few years after (probably until 9 or so?) I loved the Klutz activity packs and books. There are science experiments, paper dolls, models, and crafts, so a wide variety and some are less gendered than others. My favorite was a book about the human skeleton with a miniature skeleton model that I got to build. I also built a model of the human heart--that wasn't Klutz, I don't think, but a similar type of kit, very easy but made me feel VERY clever. I also loved the Dover historical paper dolls and coloring books linked above.
posted by assenav at 9:31 PM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kinetic sand! You can get the fancy kits, but if you have the sand itself, it's fun to use stuff around the house to help play and build with it. On the slightly more pricey side, Snap Circuit kits are amazing. They are tech, but more Thomas Edison type stuff related to understanding how electrical circuits work and getting to build working alarms or flashing lights or fans that really spin.

(I hope not to offend anyone with this, but unless you know that this kid specifically enjoys coloring, please don't get her coloring books. Coloring has become the default way to "keep a kid busy". It's offered to kids as a quiet activity in schools, in waiting rooms, at restaurants.... It may be a great gateway into motor skills or learning to read, but it's not really about *doing* or *exploring*. In addition, as kids age, boys start getting offered puzzle or activity books, but girls still tend to get offered coloring books. )
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:09 PM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lots of great suggestions thank you! Any that are outside STEM or arts? Both parents are equal parts artsy and sciencey (father: contact juggler/industrial engineer, mother: illustrator/biochemist, both are also swingdancers) and between these suggestions and what's already at home there's a lot of STEM & art stuff there, but I'm interested in learning about other stuff that might not necessarily already be in her family's orbit.

Music's an interesting suggestion - she wasn't terribly fond of singing but she might be into a starter instrument. She swims as well as does acro/gymnastics but there's not a lot of sports in the family overall (they do have a trampoline in their backyard, which they're working on making into a functional garden). The family's not the most outdoorsy but they have gone on camping trips and she is named after a river legend so there's extra relevance! The family does travel a fair bit (mostly thanks to grandparents); she is very interested in my sister & I's home country (Malaysia).

(If she was my kid I'd sign her up for Girl Scouts because that's pretty much Do All Things: The Organisation)

Here she is making friends with Lego Darth Vader.
posted by divabat at 1:24 AM on February 22, 2018

My kids both loved You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt. It's a great book to spark kids' imaginations and conversations about what they'd like to do.
posted by crocomancer at 2:02 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

You Choose is great. We had the longest-ever bedtime stories whenever our kids chose You Choose as their book. They wanted to choose everything on every page. :)

If you'd like specific book recommendations - then anything by Lauren Child but I'm thinking of the Storybook Wolves and Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book, because the protagonist really gets to take part in the story. Or Clarice Bean.
posted by rd45 at 2:52 AM on February 22, 2018

I'd suggest her very own keyboard "just like" yours. There are apps that can help her learn. If there's not room for a keyboard, the Bontempi line of kids' toy instruments are decent quality considering the low price. My niece became fascinated with the clarinet when she was much too young to be able to play a real one. The 8-key toy clarinet was perfect because it was easy for her to get a sound from, easier than a recorder.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:17 AM on February 22, 2018

Kate and the Beanstalk -- Kate slaying the giant, instead of Jack -- is super enjoyable.

Also by the same author, Mary Pope Osborne: The Magic Tree House books. Here are the first four , featuring adventures with mummies, dinosaurs, knights and pirates , but these are just the first of an endless series that don't need to be read in order once she gets the hang of what's going on with the treehouse. If you don't know these books, they have a very plucky adventurous girl protagonist who along with her brother does-all-the-things, and young readers learn a lot about many subjects in an exciting way. The girl usually is the one who convinces her reticent brother to take a risk and plunge in.
My children and all their friends were mad about these books from about age 5 to 8. The one where they go to Pompeii on the day of the eruption was scary to my goddaughter at age 6, just fyi. Also I thought the one where they go to Africa, Lions at Lunchtime, had a weirdly ignorant depiction of an African man, so you could just skip that one.
posted by velveeta underground at 3:25 AM on February 22, 2018

We're handling our kid like this by making sure there are lots of "ingredients" around. We don't buy toys that are encompassed playsets (although they sneak in at birthday and Christmas from others). We get craft materials, animals (she's got a huge collection of plastic horsies), magnatiles (in the past 24 hours they've built a corral, a paddock, a deck, a chute, and I've learned a bunch of words specific to horse things), and books. We haven't done music lessons yet, just because I didn't feel good about how hard I'd have to push her at such a young age to do the lessons that are offered in the area, but we have a collection of musical instruments that go through a heavy rotation.

Over the years of rummaging the clearance bins at craft stores and Target and the dollar store type places, she's got a little bit of everything so if she gets a whim to turn her sleeping bag into a caterpillar costume or to make a Chinese dragon for a parade, we've got enough around she can do that. Could you rummage those things and send her packages of miscellaneous things once in a while?

My kid HATES magic treehouse (and so do I), but she loves Princess in Black and Cocoa and Kate.

The other things we do are more in-person. Troll the homeschool blogs - they have great ideas, and there are a few curriculums you could send if her parents wanted to do it with her. There are workbooks about geography and history and the like. Life of Fred is hilarious, singapore math, beast academy, and todo math are all fun, that sort of thing. I've had better luck cross searching homeschool against gifted just because they're more likely to go for jumping around on topics and experiential knowledge and gamification and less drill and kill than some of the other more strict homeschool philosophies. Educational technology has really progressed through a renaissance since I was a kid.

Our kid likes to do puzzle a day type things. We had the lego advent calendar, and then got her this for her birthday: https://www.amazon.com/Roller-Coaster-Challenge-Logic-Building/dp/B071KT3MSN - since observing that, I've been making more of an effort to have puzzle books, which are cheap on Amazon.

Does she have a tablet? Would suggestions of good tablet games be a thing you could send her? There are some really awesome semi-educational and all fun apps out there now.
posted by arabelladragon at 6:13 AM on February 22, 2018

Tools! The garden tools and woodworking tools from Small Hands (a Montessori supplier) are appropriately-sized for a five-year-old, and good enough quality to use for real projects. There are some decent real tool sets for slightly older children but you'd probably want to check with the parents about how they feel about those in terms of safety at her age.

I love everything Pitsco sells, especially their hydraulic robot kits.

And I have a Makey Makey and would recommend it. While my three-year-old cannot do anything with it unassisted, she definitely enjoys messing around with it alongside me, and I love that she's seeing that you can use alligator clips and a circuit board to make your own fun stuff.
posted by xylothek at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

My niece really loves her National Geographic Kids subscription.
posted by Julnyes at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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