Making science and discovery fun with science toys
Science and discovery might be said to be the basis for all toys. For pre-schoolers, a set of wooden blocks can help them discover principles of science: cause & effect, balance, gravity and structural support. As the child grows older, wooden blocks evolve into construction sets of interlocking pieces — think first of Playskool kits, then Erector sets and then Legos. Mechanical interaction, gears and electricity are introduced next with kits to build motors and other intricate devices. Discovery and science are a never-ending process that begins when a toddler reaches out to touch the world and continues on all through life.
Games of all types can point the way for a child through the world of science. There are board games, card games, computer games and video games on every subject in the world of science. All bring a playful element into the education of a child. Besides teaching the core of whatever the game may be about, the playtime spent with the game teaches the child social and interpersonal skills and the basics of communication.
Science can be a lifelong pursuit and not something that ends with childhood. Giving a child a path to follow in the ways of science will not only help the child in school, but will also benefit the child in adulthood. Even if a child does not become a scientist, gardening, cooking, home improvement and tinkering out in the garage are all practical endeavors that find their sources in elementary science.
Focused kits or labs can help a child who has found an overwhelming interest in one subject: plants, animals, insects, dinosaurs, the weather, ecology, astronomy, chemistry and so on. Tools that might seem only an accessory to an adult can become the focus of child’s pleasure in discovering something new about the world — for example, there’s microscopes and telescopes. And even children who think science a bore may be intrigued by experimental kits that focus on science in the kitchen or workshop kits for a motorised toy that impart scientific principles on the sly.
Generalised construction sets can lead to kits that are build real gadgets. Do you imagine that a child will ever sleep late after they build their own alarm clock and set it up next to the bed? One more step is remote control vehicles. Rather than buy a child a complete remote control boat or race car ready to start up right out of the box, how about buying the child a kit where they build the remote control vehicle themselves from scratch? When done, the child will understand more about mechanisms and controls than he or she could ever learn any other way.
Robotics is the next big field in science. It’s amazing how a child can find a grounding in this industry with one of the many robot kits available in the toy stores. Two names that come to mind immediately for robotic construction are Lego Mindstorm and QFIX. A child can build a robot that can move, sense its surroundings and respond. Just as with all the other kits, it’s not so much the actual final device that matters as much as the process by which the child builds the device. And remember, it’s never finished — each result is only one more step in a progression of ever-improving devices. That’s a lesson that every child and adult should learn.