Tag Archives: educational insights

Getting Kids Thinking and Exploring

We all know that keeping our children entertained can be a tough task, especially when you’re running out of new ideas. They’re always full of energy and raring to go. Unless you have one of the Rainbow Play Systems of Colorado in your backyard, which keeps the kids entertained for hours, you may need a few tips on how to keep the children occupied. One of our favorite brands for educational-yet-still-truly-fun toys is Educational Insights. As parents, we marvel at how creative and well-thought-out EI’s products are-and we enjoy all the “ah-ha” and teachable moments they elicit. But we also love how engaged they keep the kids, and how much fun the youngsters are having when they’re playing (and we’re especially happy when at least some of that play time is spent with us!). We’ve reviewed some of EI’s products in previous columns, but this week we want to focus on their Nancy B’s Science Club line, which we first saw at this year’s Toy Fair, where they became fast favorites.

nancy b science journalsNancy B’s Science Club kits were created by Nancy Balter, a former science teacher and all-around science enthusiast. The idea was to inspire girls to become interested in and learn more about science (even the colors are especially appealing to girls, but aren’t so girly that they’ll alienate boys). The Club has also partnered with female scientists from around the world who provide content and contribute their knowledge. Each product comes with a journal where budding scientists can keep notes and track their progress, as well as an “exclusive membership” in Nancy B’s online Science Club.

binocularsThe Binoculars kit is a great way to spend some time with your kids getting to know the birds, plants, and critters in your own backyard. Before you start this it’s important to make sure you backyard is safe first, especially if you haven’t spent much time there before; there are always a surprising number of potential dangers. ChammyIRL has a handy guide on how to go about doing this. Once that’s done, the Wildlife Activity Journal includes all sorts of activities, including bird watching, animal observation, and ecosystem challenges that will encourage your child to get up and do some learning outside. This is a great first step into science. The binoculars let you bring the world four times closer and there’s a built in compass so you can learn a little about navigation without running the risk of getting too lost. If you’re not sure which binoculars to buy, check out this guide from Andrew Jackson to learn more.

nancy b aquascopeThe AquaScope kit introduces children to a world that’s a little tougher to have access to: underwater life. Whether you’re at a beach, lake, river, or even a puddle after a rainy weekend, the AquaScope lets you explore what’s going on beneath the surface. It magnifies 5x and the built-in LED light can illuminate the murkiest of waters. There’s also a built-in thermometer and ruler. The Underwater Wonders Activity Journal includes tons of activities that involve observing, measuring, and recording discoveries. Theoretically, you and your budding Marie Curie could do all this without getting wet, but where’s the fun in that?

Okay, so now that you and your child have explored the earth and the oceans, how ‘bout the stars? Stargazing may be one of the oldest parent-child activities. Nancy B’s Science Club’s MoonScope is a basic telescope that, at 90x magnification, is powerful enough to see mountains on the moon and Saturn’s rings. Besides learning about astronomy (including lunar phases, planetary movement, meteors, and comets), you can also introduce your kids (and perhaps yourself) to mythology and science fiction. You and your child can have a ton of fun exploring the night sky on your own, or you can take some suggestions from the info-packed StarGazer’s Activity Journal.

nancy b science club kitsOther kits in the Nancy B line include the Microscope and Activity Journal and the Crime Solver and Forensic Activity Journal. All are solidly built and, at prices ranging from about $14 to $40, they won’t break the bank. You can find out more about all of them at http://www.educationalinsights.com

If you’d like to introduce your children to proper scientific hardware early on, you could look at the microscopes available from Edmund Optics.

What Else Have You Got Besides Pinocchio, Gepetto?

School’s out for most kids, which means they’re probably going to be spending a bit more time with you than they do during the year. We’re always on the lookout for activities that invite creativity, stimulate the imagination, and are fun enough that everyone in the family (including mom and dad) will want to come back and play again. One category of such crowd-pleasers is puppets. And this week we review some of our favorites.

folkmanis little puppets parents@playFolkmanis makes some of the nicest puppets around. They’re the most lifelike, best quality, and come in a dizzying array of designs. Folkmanis range from the large, very articulated (meaning that they have lots of joints, not that they speak well) puppets that have mouths, wings, arms, legs, and so on, all the way to tiny puppets that fit over a single fingertip. And, as you might expect, they also come in a wide range of prices.

folkmanis monkey in a barrel parents@playStarting at $8.50, you can bring home just about every species imaginable, and even some that aren’t imaginable at all (like monsters) and put on an amazing show. This year Folkmianis introduced nine new “Little Puppets,” or traditional hand puppets, including frogs, dragons, and unicorns. They’re small in size but huge in play value, and they all have working mouths and hands. The larger puppets are, of course, more expensive. Some of this year’s new entries are the Monkey in a Barrel ($22.00), Alpaca ($29.95), and the Sky Dragon ($44.95), whose moveable wings, arms, and mouth offer whoever is operating the puppet a great exercise in manual dexterity. There’s something for all ages. http://www.folkmanis.com

Melissa and Doug
melissa and doug puppet theater parents@playMelissa and Doug make a classic puppet theater ($78.00) that is one of the cutest we’ve seen. Kids will love putting on shows behind the red curtains, and they can even write the name of their show and list guest stars on the included chalkboard. There’s also a clock with moveable hands that shows the time of the next performance. My 5-year old son was feeling quite proud of his puppetry skills and performance abilities. We haven’t allowed him to take the theater out of the living room to his play room because he’s playing to a sold-out crowd of friends and neighbors almost every night.
Melissa and Doug also makes a line of puppets, from princes and princesses, to pirates and more. The adorable dragon puppet has a silly forked tongue, big googly eyes, and a friendly, expressive face. He also comes with a removable stick in one arm that your budding puppet master can use to manipulate him (these range from $20.00 to $50.00) All ages, http://www.melissaanddoug.com

Educational Insights
educational insights puppet on a stick parents@playFor a different, less-traditional take on puppets, check out Educational Insights’ Puppets on a Stick. The original group of three ($25.00 for the set) are oversized, and are meant to inspire dramatic play with silly faces, movable mouths, and those googly eyes everyone loves. They move their mouths by using a small, easy-to-operate child sized lever near the bottom of the stick. This year’s additions are The Sea Squad, which feature four different, brightly colored sea creatures, all sporting happy, goofy faces. Both the old and the new sets are cute, funny, interesting, and sure to bring a smile to any child or adult’s face. But keep an eye on them. They’re so adorable that in our house, they have a tendency to be “borrowed” by my son’s playmates (and their parents). Ages 4 and up. http://www.educationalinsights.com