Sunday, December 9, 2012

Science Teacher's 2012 Toy Recommendations

Here's a short list:
Jacob's ladder
Newton's cradle
hand-cranked generator
a fossilized anything
a karimba
a terrarium for slugs and roly polies
a bag of marbles
and a magnifying glass.

Pushing science on on our lambs under the threat of "you will be unemployed and starve to death otherwise" works about as well as nailing a heretic's tongue to the church bulletin board--it may have great short-term results, but neither leads to a come to Jesus moment.

Even back in 1598, good intentions were not enough. (From Wikipedia)

Most attempts at educational toys fail, as evangelism usually does. Too often the giver is more interested in converting someone than making them happy. I don't want to convert anyone--I just want people to see, to think, and to be happy. Democracy depends on this, even if Exxon doesn't.

The holidays beckon--rash decisions get made. Shoddy telescopes catch more closet dust than starlight, and the carcasses of ants and sea monkeys litter bedroom floors every February.

A science toy should make the natural world more available.
It should be simple enough for a child to use without help.
It should be fun.
No batteries.
(And cheap!)

If it has the word "science" or "educational" on the box as its selling point, walk away....

Here's the annual  
Science Teacher Stuff You Should Get Your Kids Before They Hit Puberty List:

From BBC here

A magnifying glass changes the world.  A decent loupe gives a child just enough new stuff to stimulate the mind without careening into existentialism. A small glass prism bends and breaks light, distorting a child's firm connection with light, with the world. A tiny hourglass brings time back to its kinetic roots.

Seeing light for what it is goes a long way to grasping what it is not. Not bad for a $5-10 investment that lasts a lifetime.
What not to get? Microscopes:
they're clunky, require prep, and can freak out any child who's paying attention.
From B & N here.

The Kids' Paper Airplane Book let's your child build 16 paper airplanes. Or get grandpa to show her how it's done. Flight fascinates even the cynical among us.

Get a book on origami. Few of us use our hands for anything more useful than banging on a keyboard. Let your child experience the joy of human evolution--fingers were made for folding.

What not to get? :
An RC flying anything--plenty of time for remote and control in adulthood. 


Plant a basil seed in a Dixie cup. Put a carrot top in a bowl on a windowsill. Scatter wheat berries on a vacant lot. Grab a bag of Goya Great Northern Beans and toss a few on a wet paper towel.

Maybe, just maybe, your child will grasp that a farmer matters more than a financial analyst (or even a teacher).

What not to get? :
A ridiculously priced Williams-Sonoma Seedling Kit. Children need reminding how little plants need us, not how much.

Both kinds. 'Nuff said.

What not to get?:
A fancy ball that measures how fast your future MLBer can throw a ball.
Save measuring abstract things that do not matter for her career in her corporate cubicle.

Vibrating objects that make pretty noises:

Harmonica, kalimba, maybe an ocarina. While mastery of a fancy instrument gets you glory and a better shot at a decent college, being able to bend notes on a mouth harp will give anyone about as much joy as she can handle.

Cheap joy's hard to beat.

Maybe the best gift you can give is one that takes away. Destroy her television, disable his X-box, toss the iPad into the fireplace.

Share your stories, share your time.
Trust what you know to be true.
None of us get out of here alive.

Merrie Christmas!


Luann Lee said...

All great considerations as we plan Christmas for grandsons aged 2.5 and 4.5. I'd add that I also walk away from anything labeled "STEM," unless in reference to a plant structure.

doyle said...

Dear Luann,

Amen--the natural world will hold anyone's interest when words do not get in the way.

Your grandsons are the perfect age, and may have the coolest grandma on the planet!

Anonymous said...

Love this list! Thanks a million!

Ms. Fick said...

Wow! I love this blog! As I am growing older, I think about having children. I have always assumed that my children would share my passion for science, but I never thought of how to inspire them with it. As a child, my mother was always purchasing my brother and I cool science games/toys. For instance, we have a TV-microscope as kids that we were infatuated with. We also had fun science books that I still have till this day! Such books answered the most basic questions, such as why is the sky blue, why do we sneeze, and so forth. I absolutely loved sharing that knowledge with my friends and family. I am very much looking forward to purchasing such amazing gifts for my future children, nieces, and nephews.

Does anyone have any suggestions to keep older children engaged?