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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: May, 2011

If I could scientifically calculate the amount of time I have spent on a playground in the past 5 years my guess that is that it would come out to be about 20% of my waking hours. Something like 5 bazillion hours…and that is a technical mommy term, thank you very much. I am not complaining though. I am grateful for the warm weather and plethora of parks within a 4 mile radius of my house that make our outdoor adventures possible.
The boys have their favorite playgrounds and they name them affectionately. We play at Rocket Ship Park, Dino Park, Castle Park, and even Starbucks Park. (You can imagine why the kids call it that.) The boys pick a park depending on their mood or who we are meeting up with. I think back to a year ago when we were new to this town and I feel a nostalgic affection for these parks. In those early weeks I picked a new park every day for us to explore. These excursions helped me learn my way around the surrounding area and kept me distracted from my homesickness. I met some of my first friends out here at these playgrounds. I like playgrounds.
The playground area on Sid the Science Kid plays an important role for the kids on the show. In the morning Sid conducts his surveys and explores his Big Questions with his friends on the playground. After an investigation, Sid and his friends sometimes go outside to act out a new science concept of learned skill. I especially like the “Laugh-In” style segment where the kids tell silly jokes on the playground. I appreciate the way the creators of the show use the playground as a place where children practice and expand on what they have learned.
I have also noticed how much playgrounds have changed since I was a child. There are lots of toys that I don’t even recognize and the boys have to figure out how to play on them. We’ve played recently at some really cool playgrounds where the equipment is designed to get the kids moving and to challenge them. One playground has a cool skateboard simulator where the boys stand on a metal plate with a handle that slides up and down a curved bar. It’s very exciting and I have to hold my breath hoping they don’t fall. I can’t help but notice that the equipment often relies on the force and energy the kids create in order to create and keep the momentum.
On this toy, Leo and Henry bounce and jump on the “snake” to create a wave motion. It requires balance, strength, and bravery from my little ones.
Here, Henry must use the weight of his body to spin. The more oomph he applies, the faster the spin. This makes Henry laugh and laugh.
These days even the climbing structures provide challenging ways to get up and down. Yes, there are still the stairs and slides, but most structures also have more interesting ways to get up and down.
As you can see, they are both really working hard and having fun at the same time. I like to go to the park in the late afternoon to get the maximum exhaustion effect in time for dinner and bedtime. We’ve come a long way from the jungle gyms and merry go rounds of my childhood. But in the end, the boys play, create, imagine, and invent just like I did with my brothers and friends. Any playground, park, or open space that can inspire creativity and exercise is a precious gift of childhood.
What do some of your favorite playgrounds and parks look like? What equipment do your children like the best?

In the Sid the Science Kid cycle called Simple Machines, all the activities are fun and they really get the boys involved. I get excited to do these investigations, mostly because I find myself saying things like “Let’s do that again!” or “Really cool, huh?” I think the boys like them too. What really matters is that we all get a kick out of simple machines.
This week we learned about inclined planes or slides in preschool language. The concept for the investigation was easy: fill a bucket with something heavy, ask the kids to lift the bucket to the top of a play structure, give them rope…supervised hilarity ensues. The boys and I enlisted the help of our neighbor and friend, Brayden. We had the rope and the bucket; Brayden had the rocks and climbing structure.
The boys would have been happy just playing with a bucket of rocks (what preschooler wouldn’t be?) but when I started explaining the task they jumped right in. I posed the question: How can you work together to get the bucket to the top of the play set? The first thing I had them do was try and lift the bucket up to top. No luck there!
Next, Brayden suggested that he could push the bucket up the slide to Henry, who was waiting at the top. As you can see below, it was quite a challenge!
Then, I gave the boys the rope. The rope was a bit too long and tended to get tangled, so if you are trying this at home you may want to measure it out first. Once the boys had the rope they talked about how to attach it to the bucket and how it could be used to pull the bucket. Brayden wanted to try pulling the bucket up the climbing wall. All three boys sat up at the top, I passed them the rope, and they tried to heave it up together. Great teamwork!
It was wonderful to watch Henry, Brayden, and Leo adjust their plans. Once they realized their collective strength couldn’t life the bucket to the top, the boys turned to the slide. We talked about the properties of the slide: smooth, high, slippery, and curved. The boys made a connection to how fast they can get down from the top via the slide…could it help them get the bucket up?
They gave it a try!
Success! All three friends were really proud of themselves. They were astonished at how much easier the task became when they used the slide. The bucket easily slid up while they worked together above to pull. I explained that the slide was an inclined plane and that the slide could be used a simple machine. A great concept that I am sure will be put to good use, as evidenced later on when Henry and Brayden tried to put Leo in the bucket and pull him up. Too bad Leo didn’t fit!
Although I am happy about the science concepts that the boys learned, I am even more excited about the collaboration that took place. I asked questions; all three friends listened and participated. They encouraged each other’s ideas and laughed through the successes and failures. It was nice to see.
As Henry and Leo moved on to a game of baseball, I noticed Brayden wasn’t done with his investigating. I think he’s ready to move on to the investigation about pulleys!
How do you little ones exhibit good collaboration skills? Do you think this activity would be a hit at your house?

The cycle on Sid this week is about health. In one episode, called “Must See TV,” Sid decides to watch TV for a whole weekend. Sid soon discovers that his body doesn’t feel great after a while and the kids explore exercise at school. I like the concept of the show and it really got me to thinking: Why do I let Henry and Leo watch television?
As many of you can attest, television watching is one of those hot topics that parents talk about on the playground along with sugar intake, video games, and potty training. Television elicits some pretty strong opinions, for and against, that sometimes can turn into a competition or an awkward moment among parents. I, for one, have found myself feeling alternately guilty and comfortable about letting Henry and Leo watch television regularly; depending on what friend I am talking to.
Let me state, for the record, that I am not an expert on preschoolers and television. I feel like there has been a lot of information swirling around out there about the dangers and benefits of watching television at an early age. Some studies give an age when it is appropriate to watch television, others give a time limit, while others say children shouldn’t watch at all. I try and keep up, but ultimately, as with all the other hot topics, television watching is a decision that Gerry and I make on our own for our family.
I know why I let my boys watch television (we’ll get to that), but what about my peers? Instead of asking for reasons why parents DON’T let their preschoolers watch television, I thought I would ask my friends on facebook why they DO allow it. I got a nice batch of responses. One of my cousins told me that she is able to put dinner together while her children watch television. My friend Sam said that every mom needs a break every once in a while, and the TV helped her get that. My friends Michaela and Susan spoke about commercials and advertising and limiting exposure for their little ones. Some friends said that PBS was the only channel their preschoolers watched. I, of course, agree whole-heartedly.
My favorite response was from my friend Liz, mother of four:
“Some days none, some days more than I even thought I would. Usually I do it when I need time with another kid/s for talking, reading or homework, but even when it was just the two boys I let them. Not to get all soap boxy about it but I think our society is always telling us to go, go and multitask and fill every moment. I also think we need to teach our children the value in allowing your self to relax, veg, do nothing or nothing of any importance. I watched when I was a kid. I think I turned out alright.”
There seemed to be a general consensus about television providing us, as parents, with a time out of our own to take a breath, and get things done. Frequently, I do let Henry and Leo watch television just so I can reclaim a bit of my sanity. I do not think there’s anything wrong with that. But what does it provide for them?
I can only speak for my family when I explain why I allow Henry and Leo to watch television. My boys are active, in constant motion, running around the house, playing in the yard, and having daily adventures. I (along with Gerry) am in charge of their health and well-being. I am not worried that TV will make my kids sedentary. I, like my friend Liz, believe that television gives them a change to stop and relax for a little while. I have also noticed that Henry and Leo self-regulate when it comes to the television. When they’ve had enough, they stop watching and start playing.
I believe we live in a media-driven world. Parents have to make their own decisions about when to introduce their children to that world. In our family, we made the choice at preschool. We limit the time the boys spend watching and we often watch TV as a family. I do not let the boys watch a show that I have not screened. We try to watch channels that do not market products to small children. We set our own rules and we are aware of what is needed for our own family. I think that is key.
I am also a strong believer in the power of excellent children’s programming. I am a first generation Sesame Street kid and I am grateful for the experience of growing up with that show. My boys love the programming on PBS and often use the content as a springboard for play. Just this week they were animal rescuers in the jungle and became animal superheroes; all based on a new show they are watching. Finally, as most of my readers know, Sid the Science Kid has changed that way I think about science for preschoolers. The show has provided me with countless opportunities to explore, create, learn, and communicate with Henry and Leo. I wouldn’t think of pulling the plug on us now.
I am really interested in knowing why you let your preschoolers watch TV. What goes into your decision-making? What advice would you give to a parent who is trying to make the right choices?

One of the many perks of writing a blog for Sid the Science Kid is having the opportunity to learn more about how a show is produced and meeting the people who make it all happen. In the fall, I had the pleasure of watching the fabulous team at The Jim Henson Company shoot an episode of Sid the Science Kid. (You can read about it here.) I loved learning about the process behind what we see on the screen every day.
As a parent, I tend to watch TV with my children with a critical and curious eye. It is especially true of Sid the Science Kid, since the show is a big part of our lives these days. I find myself wondering about the how the show gets made. Who comes up with the science curriculum? Where do the ideas come from? Why is Gerald pink and Gabriella yellow?
The first place I went when I started having questions was the Sid the Science Kid website. On the Parents and Teachers end of the site there is a tab called About the Series. There is a lot of very interesting information about the show including a series summary, cycle overviews, educational philosophy, character descriptions, episode descriptions, slide shows, and tips for viewing with your children. It is written in a parent-friendly, engaging way. I learned a lot about the way the show is structured and the goals of the series. Good stuff.
But what about the personal aspects…the brains behind the scenes, so to speak? I want to know more! These are some of the things I would like to know:

  • • Why is Sid a boy?
  • • Is Teacher Susie based on a real teacher or is she a composite of all the wonderful preschool teachers out there?
  • • How do you decide what science content to cover? How do you hammer out the creative ideas for the songs, activities, and family time on the show?
  • • What do Sid’s parents do for work?
  • • Where do you shoot the live action shots with the children in classrooms? Have you ever had an investigation that simply didn’t work?
  • • How did you decide on the population of Sid’s class and the awesome teacher to student ratio?

Enough of my questions! How about you? Is there anything you are curious about when you watch the show? Well, here’s your chance to ask. I am thrilled to tell you that Kim Brenneman and I will be recording a podcast with Halle Stanford, one of the Executive Producers of Sid the Science Kid. I would love to present Halle with some questions from readers and podcast listeners. Please write your questions and comments below and I will be sure to include them in our podcast. Stay tuned for details of when you can listen to the podcast!
To listen to all of our Sid the Science Kid podcasts, you can go here or visit to the iTunes store and search for Sid the Science Kid under podcasts.

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

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