Young children learn through play. Although children may attend childcare or school, learning through play is still a family priority. "It's through (hands-on) play (with stuff) that young children get smart, and it's through play that adults stay smart," according to the latest research book "From Play to Practice" by Nell, Drew, and Bush published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For more ideas see www.grandparentsteachtoo.org and pod casts at wnmu.org.
Assorted paper and plastic materials like toilet paper and towel rolls, milk and egg cartons, small containers from yogurt, cereal boxes, plastic bottle caps and tacky glue.
What to do
For several weeks collect trash that can be used to design robots. Visit the library to check out robot books like "DK Eyewitness Books: Robot" by Roger Bridgman "My Little Blue Robot" by Stephen T. Dennis Johnson; "Robots Everywhere" by Hebson; for older children, "Ralph Masiello's Robot Drawing Book" by Ralph Masiello. Have a conversation about robots and how they help people.
Another day take out materials and let young children explore and experiment. Mention that these materials can be used to make robots or anything they wish.
There are times adults should be quiet and let children explore and create on their own. This is one of them. If children have never done something like this before, show them what creativity looks and sounds like. This is the "hmmmmm" stage for engineers and other creative people.
Quietly examine the parts and experiment putting them together for your own project while children work on theirs. Use actions and facial expressions to show thinking, changing your mind, experimenting, rejecting an idea and trying something else until you are satisfied. Ask for children's opinions. They may want to borrow some of the parts you choose for their own project.
When children are ready to glue objects together adults can use tacky glue or a glue gun.
Warn children their creations will take awhile to set, be delicate, may fall apart, and may need to be reglued depending upon the design.
What else can we do?
Check for First Lego League Robotic Competitions in your area and attend one. Have fun walking and talking like a robot in your home.
Make robots out of Megabloks and Legos. Watch the movie "Wall-E." Check YouTube movies for NAO robots and Asimo by Honda. Most children's museums have a "junk" corner especially designed for open-ended construction of anything children can imagine.