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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Category: The Show

I love a fair. I have been telling anyone who will listen just how excited I was about heading to the county fair this weekend. I love the animals, the rides, the games, the lights, and of course, the food. Ah…the food. It is one of those days in the year when we let the boys have and do whatever they like, as long as it isn’t too dangerous. Cotton candy? Yes! Humungous scary slide? Yes, yes, and yes! It is wonderful to see their little faces light up when they ask for treats and actually get what they want.
This year, I decided to put on my Sid the Science Kid filter while at the fair. Would I be able to tie some our learning from Sid to a day at the county fair? I wanted to try.
For starters, I dragged all three of my boys (Dad included) through all of the animal exhibits. It is my favorite part. Not so much for them, because they were chomping at the bit to get into the Hall of Mirrors. Natural science abounds in the livestock exhibits! We saw baby pigs and a big mama pig. We learned about their weight, age, and even got to vote on names. (Lots of data!) We examined chickens and saw more varieties than I even knew existed. We used our senses as we walked among smelly cows, sheep, and goats. Leo had his nose pinched all the time. It was fun to see the prize animals and learn more about the farm. I wanted to look more, but the Hall of Mirrors beckoned.
The rides were a wonder of engineering and physics principles. If I thought about it too hard, I got butterflies in my stomach. My boys are brave, and no ride was too scary. Thank goodness for some of those height restrictions. It was so great to see science in motion, so to speak. The best example was the long slide. Both boys climbed the tall stairs, carrying a sack, and came speeding down with smiles of glee. The immediately wanted to do it again, and we said Yes! This time, the boys came sliding down flat on their backs, laughing even harder. When I questioned Henry about it later he explained that lying down was faster because there was less wind than when they sat up. Science Kids at work!
I thought a lot about lights as the afternoon turned to evening. This week on Sid the Science Kid, the children explore light and it’s sources. There was no lack for light sources at the county fair. As we went up on the Ferris wheel, I pointed out that it was twilight. Henry had asked me the meaning of the word, earlier in the week. It is the time when day turns into night…not dark but not sunny. The fair was the perfect place to see that: it wasn’t dark, but the carnival lights were wondrous to see from above.
We played a game where the force of water caused a balloon to fill up and POP we had a winner! Henry and I watched a man use all his strength to hit a hammer and make the lights go on for a prize. Both boys learned about measurement as they stood tall to see if their height would allow them on a ride. We think that Leo is about 41″, because he had to stretch to follow Henry onto rides that required 42″. And Leo learned that a corn dog is a delicious Sometimes Food.
The last stop of the night was on the bouncy trampoline. Henry and Leo were outfitted in harnesses, attached to long elastic ropes, and jumped on a big trampoline. Gerry and I observed as the instructors adjusted the length and tension of the ropes to help the boys jump higher and higher. To be honest, I don’t know how to explain the physics of how the whole thing worked, but boy, did I have to trust the science! Henry and Leo were gleeful, so I am thankful for science that made it all work.
As you may know by now, I really like the way Sid teaches my family how to find science in our everyday life. I thought that the fair would be a tough science challenge, but I was wrong. Science is everywhere, even at the county fair.
Happy summer to everyone! What kind of science do you find at the fair, or on other unexpected adventures?

Sid the Science Kid has a brand new show this week called: Sid’s Backyard Campout. In the episode Sid, Sid’s dad, and Gerald prepare for a campout in Sid’s backyard. The episode is wonderful and a departure from the normal school routine. The boys search for animals, appreciate the trees, talk about camping, and even experience some anxiety about sleeping outside. (Mom to the rescue!) To top it all off, there’s some really great music too!
For the Helfrich family, the episode was a call to action! We were inspired to camp out in our own backyard and recreate some of the learning from the show. Right off the bat, you should all know that I don’t camp. I am not against camping as a concept…I just didn’t grow up camping. It’s a bit foreign to me; and I love a nice hotel. My husband Gerry, on the other hand, camped every summer with his family. He has wonderful memories and is very eager to share the experience with our children. So, it is time for me to take a deep breath and make the camping plunge…right into my backyard.
Since we don’t have a tent (yet) we borrowed one from a friend and set the date for a Saturday night. When we told the Henry and Leo they were beyond excited. Many of their friends camp so I think the boys had been hearing a lot about camping adventures. We watched the Sid episode in preparation so they had an idea what to expect. Leo’s main concern was the cat, Misty, who wanders around the neighborhood…would she try and get in the tent? I had bigger worries on my mind.
Like the tent, for instance. We borrowed it from friends, so there was no box, no directions, no clue what it looked like standing. Gerry and I set about connecting rods, pulling fabric, and trying to get the thing to stand up. It took a long, long time. I actually had to walk away a couple of times to keep the peace. Henry and Leo went from very excited to very bored. However, with a phone call and Gerry’s camping spirit, we got the tent up. And it was impressive!
Henry and Leo jumped around inside, played with all the zippers and flap, and arranged their gear. I was amazed at the level of excitement. It rivaled our trip to Legoland. All in the backyard for free!! So we settled in for a campout. We made hotdogs on the grill. We searched for local critters in the yard and talked about what kinds of animals we might find out in the forest.
As it began to darken, we began preparing for the campfire. Gerry had gone out and bought a fire pit (something he always wanted). We had wood, marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers. Although I am not a big camper, I am a big fan of ‘smores. I was keen to indoctrinate the kids to the deliciousness of ‘smores!
But we forgot something very important: kindling. Gerry had purchased some nice logs, but we didn’t have anything to get them going. We had to laugh at our mistake…rookie campers! So we sent the boys out into the cul-de-sac to look for sticks that could be used as kindling. They had a lot of fun running around, but not a lot of luck. Thank goodness our neighbor saw our plight and came to our rescue. She procured a Duraflame and the campfire was on! It wasn’t exactly what we imagined, but it did the trick.
As I watched the boys toast their marshmallows and eat the gooey, sticky ‘smores, the beauty of camping hit me. There we were, the four of us, laughing and spending time outside together. We sang songs and I watched their faces in the glow of the fire. I was truly enraptured. Henry and Leo are growing so fast but for this one evening things seemed to slow down. I watched them be little boys and I was so happy. I enjoyed them without worrying about where we had to be next or what was on the schedule. I just stared at their smiling faces across the campfire and realized that I really want to go camping again…and again…and again.
When it was time to go to sleep the boys were tired and ready. They had flashlights, sleeping bags, plenty of layers, and their special stuffed animals. I have never seen them get into bed so readily. They fell asleep almost immediately as I listened to Gerry close things up for the night. Once the whole family was in their sleeping bags I fell asleep. For a while at least. I confess that at around 1am I snuck inside and up to my bed. I’ll need to get a pad for the real life campsite!
All three boys slept in and woke up with an acute desire to camp. So, we’re making plans to buy our own tent and start gathering gear. I don’t think I would have tried the backyard campout if it weren’t for the Sid the Science Kid episode. I can’t wait to see where our adventures beyond the backyard take us!
Please tell me about your camping adventures! What advice do you have for a novice like me?

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?

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.

There aren’t a lot of regular moms like me who get the chance to see what goes into making her kids’ favorite shows. Especially an animated show at The Jim Henson Company! I giggle to think that I was one degree of separation away from some of my all-time favorite characters. Too cool! To say I was star struck by it all is a gross understatement.
When I walked on set, I entered a huge soundstage buzzing with activity (it happens to be the historic Charlie Chaplin soundstage). There are so many people who make this show possible. The body performers who play the characters are dressed in black jumpsuits with sensors. The puppeteers sit in special booths with sophisticated equipment that allows them to bring a character to life with voice and facial expressions. The camera operators sit in front of a zillion screens capturing the input from bazillions of tiny sensors and cameras on the set. Above the set on a platform, the computer folks work their magic to eventually turn it all into the images we see on our TV. A director stands over the script adjusting cues, lines, and positions. The assistant director gives the call to begin (among a million other things). And lots and lots of people were doing I can only guess what!
I was so very lucky to have Gerard, stage manager, as a guide through the entire process. He used language I could understand to explain what was happening. Here is what I came away with: the body performers have suits covered with sensors that capture signals from small cameras as the camera people shoot the scene.
The body performers move while the puppeteers create the voices and facial expressions for the characters. As the body performers and puppeteers worked in perfect synchronicity, the familiar animated Sid the Science Kid appeared on gigantic screens mounted around the set. I think it IS MAGIC.
And that is just the technology of what’s going on. Not the heart. What struck me the most were the PEOPLE on the set. Professional people listening to each other, providing positive feedback, making suggestions, tackling complicated details, and revising performances, and LAUGHING through it all. A lot of laughing. Sid and his friends cracked grown up jokes during rehearsal. Hilarious. But when the call came for quiet on the set (yes, they actually say that) and ACTION! they were all spot on. In the two hours I was there, they filmed about a minute of the show. A minute! These are a group of dedicated people.
Everyone was incredibly generous with their time and all my questions. It was abundantly clear that everyone cared about the job they are doing. Sid the Science Kid gives children — MY children — the chance to learn about science while seeing themselves reflected in family, school, and friendships. This talented group of artists are putting a lot of good into the world. And that’s a great place to be every day, I imagine.

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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