How to defeat dis-education

By | August 1, 2012
I've noticed the same thing too: 'educational' toys have become too safe, too little fun, and not educational enough. I do go out of my way to buy old sets – which not only saves money, but offers many more possibilites – and find unconventional "toys" for my kids. There's a whole host of problems with modern 'educational' kits. My top three issues:

(1) They don't allow much experimentation. 'Follow these instructions' and 'This kit is so small you can't do anything other than follow the instructions anyway, unless you buy ten of them.'

(2) They are not age-appropriate. I'm probably not the only one who ignores the 'This kit is intended for kids aged 7+' warning on things that a 2-year-old is fully capable of doing on his own. I am also not impressed by kits which require children to exert more force to build something together than the kids have at their age, or toys where all mechanical and electrical parts are so well hidden that you can't watch them work.

3. They don't explain natural phenomena. It's cool to see a homemade rocket take off, but why does it work? Simply building without the accompanying explanation and theory doesn't make the most out of the experimental learning experience.

And how to react?
Seriously, what do you give to a toddler who isn't even in preschool and wants to build a wind turbine and differential gear? My son showed us how to 'get experiment kits right' – creativity is the key. He's taken everyday household objects and put them together in rather creative ways, having built his own rattle from a set of cubes and nuts, a valve by inverting a cup into another of slightly smaller size such that the water doesn't fall out, and even a model rotary engine out of a tape holder, champagne cork, and flower pot (all without parental supervision or involvement – we only got to see the results). I need to go and drill some holes in beer caps ('cog wheels') on the weekend, maybe I can convince him to give me back the salad strainer he's been trying to connect spokes to in order to make a differential gear… in the meantime, we're growing crystals, playing with supervised small explosions, and all sorts of other safe things kids enjoy.

/via +Jenny Winder 

Whatever happened to kids’ chemistry sets?
The first chemistry sets for children included things as dangerous as uranium dust and sodium cyanide. Now they’re safer and a bit less fun.

15 thoughts on “How to defeat dis-education

  1. Jake Weisz

    I actually have a ton of old chemistry sets I had when I was a kid. Some of the chemicals are in a metal box inside a bag that I need to go clean out, as they did not survive ten years of garage living.

    Reply
  2. bernd s.de

    What shall I add… probably nothing – creativity is the key… and the other thought was just 'don't get in their way when they are playing'

    Reply
  3. Plato Nista

    Sophie, this is such a great comment. We have been searching in vain for a good, reasonably priced chemistry set for our kids and have been unable to find one like the ones we both had when we were young. We have, however, found one really good product that meets the demands you describe above: Snap Circuits. I really can't say enough good about them. Here's a link to the $40 model: http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-SC-300-Snap-Circuits/dp/B0000683A4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343843616&sr=8-1&keywords=snap+circuits.

    Reply
  4. André Fachat

    Very good point, things need to get more "real", instead of all those safeguarded playthings.
    Even so, I would still stay away from the uranium powder "nuclear kits" though 🙂

    Reply
  5. Nils Hitze

    +Paul Hodson same goes for: never shoot a blowdart into a target that stands directly at a color can (pressure)

    My Dad actually managed to dissolve his clothes with acid when he was a kid.

    Reply
  6. Paul Hodson

    When I was a kid I had a chemistry set and set fire to our kitchen with it… it taught me some invaluable lessons. 1 don't chuck stuff on a fire (candle) unless you know how it will react. 2 don't mix chemicals for a laugh just to see what happens. 3 how to put out a fire out quickly and with minimum fuss (thanks Mum). 4 keep calm in an emergency.

    That was about 30 years ago… kids don't get those kinds of lessons (that stick with you) these days.

    Reply
  7. Sophie Wrobel

    +Nils Hitze Getting baking powder is a big challenge – there's so many impurities in modern baking powder. We tried last Christmas, there was only a small boom. 🙁

    Gummibears work very nicely though, as does rock candy! 🙂

    Reply

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