“S” is for Science

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) is all the rage these days, and that’s a good thing. Without a working knowledge of all of those subjects, our children will be woefully unprepared to meet the challenges of the fast-changing world they’ll be living in when they finally reach adulthood. This week, we take a look at several excellent science-related activities that, besides being a fantastic way for families to spend time together, introduce the kids (and mom and dad) to a number of complex concepts in a fun, engaging way that will keep everyone entertained (and learning) for hours.

smartlab glow-in-the-dark scienceGlow-in-the-Dark Lab (SmartLab)
How many synonyms can you come up with for “glows in the dark”? Stumped? Try these: fluorescence, phosphorescence, chemiluminescence, bioluminescence. Those are just a few of the many science concepts that are introduced in this kit. Children and their adult supervisors can work together on as many as 20 separate projects, all of which glow in the dark: including a lava lamp, slime (no self-respecting science kit would be without it), alien blood, ink, bouncing balls, fake snow, and more. Comes with a well-put-together instruction booklet and almost everything you need to do all the experiments. You’ll need to provide your own glue, salt, flour, corn syrup, baking soda, vegetable oil, vinegar. But you won’t need batteries. SmartLab also has a number of other kits, including Squishy Human Body, That’s Gross Science Lab, and All-Natural Spa Lab. All retail for $24.99 and are for ages 7 and up (with adult supervision). http://www.smartlabtoys.com/

ravensburger csi science kitCSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Ravensburger)
Those CSI shows on TV have helped make forensics cool. While real CSI techs don’t generally carry guns and make arrests, they do use science to solve crimes. It all starts with the fascinating booklet written with the help of Mark Benecke, an actual criminologist and forensics expert, who introduces 12 different science-based activities real crime solvers use every day. In it, kids learn how to work a crime scene, collecting evidence, analyzing fingerprints and tire treads, examining drop shapes, literally splitting hairs, and even isolating DNA. Besides the booklet, the CSI kit comes with everything (a magnifying glass, plastic bottles, safety goggles, powdered plaster, crime scene baggies, fingerprint cards, and even a CSI ID badge) that you and the kids will need to solve robberies, catch someone in a lie, make copies of keys, and more. CSI is part of Ravensburger’s Science X series, which also includes kits that teach about crystals and gemstones, fuel efficient cars, electronics, circuits, optics, magnets, and more. $34.99. For Ages 8 and up. http://www.ravensburger.com/

sciencewiz inventions science kitInventions (ScienceWiz)
Of all the kits we’ve reviewed, this is our favorite. It’s not quite as hip and cool as the others, but no matter. This kit contains almost everything you’ll need to put together a number of projects that actually work: a radio, telegraph, light generator, and spinning motor (you’ll need toilet paper tubes, cardboard, aluminum foil, glue, scissors, and a D-cell battery). It comes with a nicely illustrated, easy-to-understand, 40-page booklet that goes far beyond simply telling you how to put things together. Penny Norman, the brain behind ScienceWiz, gets deep into the Why, explaining the science behind each project in a way that really brings those concepts to life. Other similarly engaging kits from ScienceWiz explore DNA, chemistry, energy, rocks, magnetism, physics, light, and electricity. Each retails for $19.95. But they’re a little cheaper if you join the Science Kit Club and sign up to receive a new kit every two months.  For ages 8 and up. http://sciencewiz.com/

The Parents@Play Team

armin brott Hailed by Time Magazine as “the superdad’s superdad,” Armin Brott is a former U.S. Marine and the author of eight bestselling books on fatherhood, including The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to Be and The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby, Parenting, Child, Men’s Health, The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, and dozens of other major publications and websites.

Armin has been a guest on more than 500 radio and television shows, including Today, CBS Overnight, Fox News, and Politically Incorrect, and his work on fatherhood has been featured in such places as Glamour, Time, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Newsday,and many others.

Besides co-writing Parents@Play, Armin also writes the nationally syndicated “Ask Mr. Dad” column and hosts “Positive Parenting,” a weekly radio program that airs on a dozen stations in the US and on 500+ stations as part of the American Forces Network. He lives with his family in Oakland, California.

 

sam feussSamantha Feuss was just named the number 7th most influential blogger on social media for 2012.  Owner of Happy Sippy, Will Travel, she lives up to her title. She dabbles in several foreign languages and has extensive travel experience. She has several degrees in education and is working toward her PhD.  Samantha is a freelance writer who has been featured on various sites, ezines, and magazines, as well as several regular columns online and in print.  She has worked on social media projects and tours, an expert Twitter Party Host, and is the social media manager and/or brand ambassador for several companies, including the Bronx Zoo.

Educational Systems That Actually Educate (and Entertain)

In recent years, there’s been a lot of controversy about “educational” DVDs, flash cards, and worksheets—do they work or are they doing more harm than good. The answer is all about communication. If you park your child in front of a DVD or leave your child with a stack of worksheets, there’s little to no benefit. But if you’re together, talking about what you’re watching or seeing, it’s a big win-win.  Here are two educational programs—one DVD-based, the other paper-based—that do a wonderful job of engaging parents and their preschoolers.

 

Little Pim

little pim parents@playIf you’re interested in exposing your little one to a new language, Little Pim is a great choice. Using the “Entertainment Immersion Method,” each Little Pim DVD covers a particular theme (usually common activities like waking up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, mealtime, and playtime) and introduces about 60 words and phrases. Kids (and adults) learn a new language the way they learned the first—by example and repetition. The discs are further divided into 5-minute chunks that make parent-child interaction, practice, and discussion a breeze.

Little Pim adds to the learning—and the fun—by including music CDs. The French Bop CD, for example, includes 15 popular French children songs which will help your little one retain the vocabulary while learning about French culture. To round out the experience, there are also word- and phrase cards to quiz your kids with (or that you can use to practice on your own). With patience and practice, today’s preschooler could learn enough to play tour guide on your next overseas trip.

Little Pim has kits in Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian, all of which are perfect for the classroom, home, or a quick on-the-plane or in-the-airport language brush up. Most are also available digitally and can be downloaded to your tablet or smartphone. Preschool and up. http://www.littlepim.com/

 

Newmark Learning

newmark learning parents@playKids who do the best in school are usually the ones who get the most support and encouragement from their parents at home. Knowing mom and dad are there motivates kids and shows them that making an effort makes a difference. It’s tempting to leave everything to the teacher, but if we truly want our kids to be successful, there’s no substitute for rolling up our sleeves and working with our little scholars. Sometimes, though, parents want to be supportive but don’t know how. Enter Newmark Learning’s Parent Involvement Kits.

newmark learning parents@playEach kit is focused around a single subject (including math, social studies, and science) and contains books, a parent guide, and a reading journal. We reviewed the Social Studies kit, which covered a variety of topics such as maps, birthdays, towns, and more. Each book’s vibrant, large pictures and simple words encourage kids to read along with parents at story time.

If you’re working with a child who isn’t reading yet, you’ll really appreciate Newmark’s Sight Word Readers (included in the Parent Involvement Kits), small books designed to teach pre-readers to recognized basic words they’ll see all the time. Usually, sight word drills are boring. These are just the opposite. Parents@playmate Samantha, who’s a teacher by training, says that the Newmark Learning programs are the best she’s ever used. And she was thrilled to see her 5-year old flipping through a book, looking at words and reading them aloud. Perfect for home, home schooling, or the classroom. Pre-K – 2nd grade. newmarklearning.com/

Building Blocks of Success

There’s a reason blocks have been a part of just about every child’s toy box for hundreds of years: Building things with blocks (and in my house, knocking them down) is just plain fun. But fun is just the beginning. Blocks teach children about colors, shapes, proportions, patterns, spatial relationships, physics, experimentation, and design. They also build hand-eye coordination and stimulate creative thinking—and they have the remarkable ability to adapt to your child’s physical and intellectual age—the older the child, the more complex her block play will be. Best of all, playing with blocks is a great opportunity for parents and kids to hang out together, learn from each other, and strengthen their relationship. Here are some of our favorites.

Nanoblocks
nanoblocksParents and kids can spend time together building a variety of animals and architectural sites from around the world. Since many of the nanoblock sets represent well-know buildings, dads who enjoy architecture will enjoy the process and teaching kids about the original buildings. The one caveat is that these blocks truly are “nano” in size compared to the common Lego-style blocks. Nanoblocks require good eyesight and nimble fingers to control, but they’re great for building attention span, focus, and fine motor skills. We also like the “nano-sized” price point that makes these easily a tenth the cost of the architecture collection of the major competitor. Ages 6+,www.mynannoblock.com

Building Blocks Technics
We love Haba’s wooden toys, and this set of blocks and wheels is no exception. What makes this kit extra special, though, is that it introduces young builders to the concept of adding motion to their block creations. More and more research points to the value of using basic toys to stimulate a child’s imagination. And for dad and mom, playing imagination games is a great way to connect with the kids on their level. Ages 3+, www.habausa.com

Makedo Freeplay Kit
makedoWhat a cool concept. The Makedo (pronounced Make Doo—as in, “we’ll have to make do with what we have around the house”), is a container filled with reusable connectors that can help dads and kids turn even the most useless pile of recycling into a great project. Got a few scraps of fabric, an old oatmeal can, an empty tissue box, and a few toilet paper tubes? You can build a robot. Or a plane. Or anything else you can think of. As overused as the expression is, this truly is one of those cases where the only limit is your (and your children’s—assuming you’ll let them play too) imagination. Ages 4+,www.makedo.com.au

Lite Brix Building System: Extreme City Lights.
litebrix from lite brixWhen you take the Lite Brix out of the box, they look kind of boring. Almost all the bricks (which, in shape, look a lot like Lego) are the same color—kind of a translucent white. But once you and your child have built the first skyscraper and turn on the battery-powered LEDs, wow! And when you finally get all three up and running, wowie wow! The buildings seem almost alive. Detailed directions make it pretty easy for parents and kids to assemble cooperatively—better yet, let your child read the instructions and show how well you can follow orders. The three buildings that are part of this kit can be rebuilt into a single structure, and can be combined with other Lite Brix kits. But don’t feel limited by the instructions. Lite Brix also combine with Lego, so you can build even bigger and even more amazing structures. Ages 6+, http://www.cra-z-art.com/

All A-Board

Most board games these days have boards that are pretty similar to each other—some variation of a square. But in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, a lot of game companies are coming up with boards that are often as interesting to look at as the games themselves are to play.

Don’t Panic (Goliath)
don't panic Don’t Panic’s “board” has two components. A roundish board and a timer. The only other pieces are pawns (markers) and a deck of 85 cards. The concept is simple and you’ll be up and playing within minutes. The person whose turn it is spins an arrow and the player to the left pulls one of the cards and selects the question that matches the color of the space the other player is on. The arrow determines how many responses (4-8) the spinning player has to answer. The timer indicates how many spaces that player (or team) will move forward. Questions vary in difficulty, from ingredients found in tacos to U.S. Vice Presidents. Getting the first few answers is easy. But the fun starts when time is running short and players start stuff up. A great game for learning to think on one’s feet. 2-18 players, ages 8 and up.

Wordsearch (Goliath)
wordsearchWordsearsch’s board is kind of a cross between a lazy Susan and Chinese checkers. Choose from one of 10 round, two-sided cards, each of which has more than 25 hidden words. There are also words printed along the outer edge of the circle. Rotating the board reveals one of those words at a time, which all the players rush to find. Like most other wordsearch games, words can be forwards, backwards, or diagonal. Whoever finds the word first grabs the “totem” (essentially a squeaky dog toy) and squeezes it. Then he or she covers each letter of the found word with translucent tokens. The player with the most tokens on the board when all the words have been found wins the round. A fun way for younger players to learn word recognition and spelling. For 2-4 players, ages 7 and up

Skateboard Madness (Mindtwister Games)
skateboard madnessSkateboard Madness’s board looks like an X formed by two overlapping skateboards. Game play is a bit like rummy, where players pick up cards and put them together into “skate sessions.” As they shred their way through the board, players learn new tricks, Ollie (jump) over other players, slam (get injured), find bandages (to heal those injuries), answer trivia questions (four levels of difficulty), and even find sponsors. The rules are complex but intuitive—once you get the hang of them—and are laid out in a 15-page instruction booklet, which you absolutely must read. Entertaining for the whole family. For 2-6 players, ages 8 and up. http://mindtwisterusa.com/products/games/

Pochecko (Pockecko)
pocheckoPochecko combines the fun and excitement of poker with the strategy of chess. Its unique looking board is made of a triangular spaces. 52 are marked with the value of one of the cards in a standard deck. The rest are blank and used for moving. Each player has five pawns, which they place around the board. There are also two other markers which indicate the “community” cards. As with poker, players try to build the best hand. But what makes this game especially fun is that unlike Texas Hold ‘Em, where you don’t know for sure what cards your opponents are holding, in this game you know—or you can make an educated guess at—the hands they’re building and you can take steps to block them. For 2-4 players, ages 12 and up. http://www.pochecko.com/
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Cool Alert: Phabulous Tablets from Nokia

For better or worse, we’re old enough to remember when cameras on cellphones were first appearing. Back then, advertisers would go on and on about how great the phone was—call quality, fewer drops, ease of use, and so on. Then, almost as a throwaway, they’d say, “Oh, and by the way, you can take pictures with it too!”

Fast forward to today, where you’d be hard pressed to find a cellphone ad that actually mentions about the phone. It’s all about the apps, the web surfing, checking email, and, most importantly, the camera. Take stills, shoot video, zoom, edit, and upload direct to Facebook and YouTube. “Oh, and by the way, you can make phone calls with it too!”

Read the rest of our review of the sleek, stylish, Nokia Lumia 1520 and 2520 at Parents@Play, here:

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