The STEAM Train Rides Again

There’s a growing recognition that STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math—skills are key to our children’s future success. And we’re big believers that kids should start learning these skills as young as possible. This week, we had a chance to explore a number of science-based kits, several of which are aimed at kids as young as four. We had a lot of fun experimenting, and so will you. But please remember that even though kids are the target, you’ll need to be there to supervise.

groovy lab in a boxGroovy Lab in a Box (Groovy Lab in a Box)
There are a lot of science kits on the market (many of which we’ve reviewed here), but Groovy Lab in a Box kits are the only ones that come with absolutely everything your child (under your watchful eye) will need to do the experiments. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but a few missing ingredients could mean that the kit goes back on the shelf and never gets used. That won’t be a problem here. You can buy individual boxes or do a monthly subscription. We reviewed the Here Comes the Sun kit, which takes you through the process of building a solar balloon, a solar oven, and more. The ingredients are easy to use and the results are fully functional. But in some ways, the Lab Notebook is the best part, introducing the scientific process and explaining the concepts behind the experiments in a fun, engaging way that will leave the kids (and you too) wanting to do more. There’s also a website with activities and interactive videos that take the young scientist deeper in each specific kit’s subject matter. Single kits cost around $36, but if you do a year subscription, the price goes down significantly. http://www.groovylabinabox.com/

my first chemistry kitmy first science kitmy first electrified labMy First Chemistry Kit
My First Science Kit
My First Electrified Energy Lab (all from Scientific Explorer)
These kits are a blast and do exactly what they’re supposed to do: taking the scary out of science and make it cool. The Chemistry Kit is a great instruction to science for kids as young as 4. With your help, they’ll learn to make powders appear and disappear, turn liquids to solids, and a lot more. Also aimed at the youngest future scientists, My First Science Kit has a rainbow theme with eight different experiments that teach about colors, what happens when you mix them in different ways, and how to capture a rainbow in a tube. The Electrified Energy Lab is for slightly older kids—8 and up—and it packs in enough science to do 28 different experiments, including a building a battery tester, burglar alarm, and egg-cooking solar oven.  All these kits (and many others in the line) are based on the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) program which was developed at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. Prices range from $17-$30. http://poof-slinky.com/

crazy aaron's thinking puttyCrazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (Putty World)
Not your father’s Silly Putty. You can tear it, smash it, stretch it, pound it, roll it, leave it under the couch, and it never dries out. Use it as a stress-reliever, draw on it with a black light pen, or use it to illustrate a whole host of science-based concepts, including measuring the speed of light, capturing shadows, defeating fingerprint scanners, and a lot more. If you run out of ideas, there are all sorts of fun, educational tricks and experiments on the website. Comes in dozens of colors priced at $9-$12. http://www.puttyworld.com/

Sometimes Being “Good Enough” Is Plenty

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a newly divorced single father. I hear a lot about how children in divorced families have all sorts of behavioral problems, do worse in school, abuse drugs, are depressed and anxious, and on and on. It’s scaring the heck out of me and makes me think that no matter what I do, my kids are doomed. I want to be an amazing dad and give my kids the best possible life. Isn’t there something I can do?

A: I get this question a lot and wish there was some way to get the media to quit portraying children in divorced families as self-destructive, failure-bombs waiting to explode. The reality is that kids whose parents have split (whether by divorce or the breakup of a never-married couple), can do just as well as any other kids. There are definitely some obstacles, but they can be overcome. Here are a few ideas that will help.
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Skin Care Tips for Dads and Daughters

As the father of a young girl, one of these days—if you’re lucky—your daughter will come home one day worried about the size of her freckles or a mole on her forehead. No, I don’t mean you’d be lucky if your daughter had a skin issue; if your daughter wants to talk with you about her skin (or any other aspect of how she looks), you be on the receiving end of the biggest compliment you might ever get).

Because the skin is one of the first places we see minor blemishes, it’s often the source of major concern—and panic. Here’s some information on common skin conditions that might have your daughter running to you for advice, along with some tips on what to tell her. .
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Redefining What it Means to Be a Family

Ross Parke, author of Future Families.
Topic:
Diverse forms, rich possibilities.
Issues: Redefining “family”; changing parental roles; are two mothers (or fathers) good enough?; are multiple caregivers helpful or harmful?; how many “parents” are too many? (insights from the world of assisted reproductive technologies; overcoming the barriers to change.

Motherhood Smotherhood + Future Families

JJ Keith, author of Motherhood Smotherhood.
Topic:
Fighting back against “experts” who are driving us crazy.
Issues: Babies are more durable than you think; avoiding the hyper-judgmental, contradictory, and incorrect info on the internet; what’s wrong with “it takes a village”; why the “make your own baby food” movement is wrong.


Ross Parke, author of Future Families.
Topic:
Diverse forms, rich possibilities.
Issues: Redefining “family”; changing parental roles; are two mothers (or fathers) good enough?; are multiple caregivers helpful or harmful?; how many “parents” are too many? (insights from the world of assisted reproductive technologies; overcoming the barriers to change.

Build Me a Hero

With great toys comes great fun—especially when you combine two childhood favorites: building and super heroes.

guardians knowhereguardians starblasterMarvel Superheroes Knowhere Escape Mission (Lego)
Marvel Superheroes Galaxy Starblaster Showdown (Lego)
Both of these great kits from Lego star characters from Guardians of the Galaxy. The Knowhere Escape Mission is a pretty large set, great for bigger kids or collectors. It has 433 pieces, and comes with 3 mini-figures (Rocket Raccoon, Nebula, and Sakaaran) plus a comparatively giant Groot who’s poseable. There are all sorts of cool features that will keep kids (and parents) entertained for hours—even if they aren’t terribly familiar with the movie or the comic books. There’s a tower with a trap door, spring-loaded bazookas, a catapult, Rocket’s custom spaceblaster, a sword for those less-technically inclined, and the all-important orb. The Galaxy Starblaster Showdown is less than half the size, with 196 pieces, but it’s just as much fun. This one has three figures, including Star-Lord himself. The Starblaster and Necrocraft spaceships can battle each other head to head. Each has adjustable wings and a cockpit that opens. And to help the good guys catch the bad guys (or vice versa) there are plenty of weapons (including blasters and missiles), a pair of boot thrusters, and even a set of handcuffs, something you don’t often find in Lego kits. Both sets are for ages 6 and up and retail for about $40 and $20 respectively. http://shop.lego.com/

sprukits batmansprukits achillesSpruKits Batman Arkham City (Bandai)
SpruKits LBX Achilles (Bandai)
Just introduced at Toy Fair in February of this year, SpruKits have a great future ahead of them. They’re a wonderful combination of poseable action figure, and assemble-it-yourself model. SpruKits claim that their figures snap together without glue, scissors, or paint, and they’re absolutely right. And when you’re done snapping, you’ve got a sharp, very detailed, well-articulated, five-inch figure. The kits come in three building-skill levels, clearly marked on the front of the package. The two we had a chance to review were both Level 2. Batman, with 95 pieces, took a little less than an hour to put together and stood up to quite a bit of knocking around. The LBX (Little Battlers Experience) Achilles has 102 pieces and took a bit more than an hour to complete. He was just as detailed and great looking. But our testers had trouble keeping the pieces together, so he was more of a show piece, which was a bit frustrating. That’s a problem that we’re sure the manufacturer is rectifying right now. For ages 8+. The price point is terrific: about $10.00 for Level 1, under $20 for Level 2, and $60 for Level 3 at your favorite retailer.

yomen star wars yodayomen star wars trooperClone Trooper YoMen Yoyo (Yomega)
Yoda YoMen Yoyo (Yomega)
If you’re a yoyo fan, the new YoMen will make your head spin. Well, not yours, but Yoda’s and a Clone Trooper’s, which is more fun and less dangerous. If you’re not a yoyo fan, you really should be. While they don’t exactly fit this column’s theme of building and superheroes, the YoMen yoyos do require a bit of assembly (the head is the yoyo and it fits nicely on to the body/stand). And who’s to say that there won’t be an epic superhero battle between Yoda and Batman or Star-Lord and a Clone Trooper one of these days? But until then, you’ve got yourself an elite-level yoyo, which should keep you busy and entertained. For ages 8 and up. Retails for about $17 on line, in stores, or at http://yomega.com/