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Big Learning News 11-15-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:38 November 15, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Nintendo sales
Activity: Ping pong fun
Book review: Exploratopia
Education News : Playgrounds and "Educational" toys
Web Site: Sugar Crash

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Math Moment

Nintendo sales


Are your kids angling for a new game machine? This graph shows that every time Nintendo releases a new generation of their game system, they sell a lot fewer of them. Ask them to interpret the graph - the numbers at the top of each bar are millions of units. Ask them to estimate how many of their newest system they'll sell if the trend continues.

More Fun Math for Kids

More graphing practice

Weather Graphs
Create your own graphs
Caffeine content of soft drinks
Oil Spill Pollution


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Ping Pong Fun

If your kids like ping pong, there's lots of fun Big Learning to be had. Ping pong involves:

- Science, with all the physics of spinning balls and all the bouncing going on. Your kids can find good explanations and tips on this ping pong site. They can see spinning balls in this slow motion video. And here is a whole page of science experiments to do with ping pong balls.

- Showmanship. Show your kids this video for an enthralling example. And check out this funny video for a different kind of showmanship.

- History: This kid-friendly site has some fun facts about ping pong and its history.

- Literature: My Secret Life as a Ping Pong Champion is a novel from the series Hank Zipzer, The World's Greatest Underachiever.

Note: Please supervise your kids when downloading videos - there are ads and links to other videos on these sites that may not be suitable for your kids.

More Sports for Kids

Get Physical
Hit that Fastball
Book Review: Babe and Me (A Baseball Card Adventure)

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Have you visited the Big Learning Craft Stick Idea Palace? Your child will love these projects - real wood toys and gifts they can make, using jumbo craft sticks for the wood. Parents love the way the projects teach math, science, art, and other important subjects.

Book Review

Exploratopia by Pat Murphy, Ellen Macaulay, and the Exploratorium (Little, Brown and Co., 2006)

Ages 8 -12

Exploratopia "teaches kids to explore their world." This big, beautifully photograph-illustrated volume has scores of science activities that are simple to do, but develop important and accessible bits of scientific understanding.

The high quality and thoughtfulness in this book are hallmarks of the Exploratorium, San Francisco's science museum and our family's all-time favorite. You can bet that anything that comes from the Exploratorium is a couple levels smarter, and more insightful about kids and science, than any comparable product.

So it is with the activities in this book. Rather than being just a bunch of cool science-appreciation demonstrations, the activities hang together in a way that builds knowledge and understanding of big science themes.

Divided into three sections (Exploring Yourself, Exploring Interesting Places, and Exploring Interesting Stuff), the book teaches kids to look more closely at the things they see and do every day, to ask questions, and to find really interesting answers. Each activity ends with a "What's Going On" section, explaining the science behind the activity.

"Exploring Yourself" is about the senses. In one activity, kids get to count their taste buds to see if they are "Supertasters," who have an excuse not to like vegetables (supertasters are more sensitive to bitter compounds in vegetables).

The interesting places in "Exploring Interesting Places" include the kitchen, bathroom, and amusement parks, among others. In the kitchen section, kids learn how to mummify a hot dog to preserve it for all time. That's typical of the kid appeal inherent in this book's activities.

The "Interesting Stuff" section has activities related to more traditional science themes like light and magnetism, as well as optical illusions and fun with paper.

This one book could get your child through a whole career of elementary school science fairs. Highly recommended.

Buying information

More Science Activity Books for Kids

Super Science Concoctions
While You're Waiting for the Food to Come

Also check out our Big Learning Science Fair Pages

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Looking for books about Thanksgiving for your child? Try this list.

Thanksgiving Books for Kids

Education News for Adults

Schools Move Beyond Traditional Playgrounds

Education Hi-tech toys offer no educational gain, say researchers

Ooh, these articles give me such warm fuzzies. From different perspectives they bring home the same Big Learning message: education focused obsessively on reading and math is an impoverished education.

The "Playgrounds" article describes a new movement to build playgrounds that are more nature-rich and less plastic. Apparently kids, given a choice, vote for the natural playgrounds over those ubiquitous giant play structures. This jibes with the "Loose Parts" theory of play, a term first coined by a British architect, Simon Nicholson. Nicholson said that the more loose parts a toy or play space has, the more options kids have for using it creatively, and the more fun they'll have. As Richard Louv points out in his book, Last Child in the Woods, nature is the queen of loose parts, and the parts have a sensory richness not found in any other toy.

The "playgrounds" article explains how richer, more natural play spaces let kids get more of the benefits that recess is supposed to provide. They can organize complex pretend play, experiment with nature, and act out new ideas. They can climb, build, and get dirty. Because there's more to do, the kids also fight less. And, a natural playground is cheaper and safer, according to the designer's web site.

According to the "Hi-tech Toys" article, all those electronic gizmos that teach letters, numbers and colors to small children have no demonstrable educational benefit. Hot Dog. The whole early-reading early-math thing is getting ridiculous.

When my kids were preschoolers, I didn't understand about preschool learning either. For example, at the age of three, my son got interested in dinosaurs. He really knew his dinosaurs. He knew the names of all the dinosaurs on his dinosaur poster.

He could not read yet. He had little interest in toys that tried to teach him to read.

Does he know his dinosaurs now, at age 11? No he does not. Nor does he have any memory of the Barney videos he played to death, or the Thomas the Tank Engine cars whose names he knew by heart. He can no longer recite the Poke-rap that names 100 Pokemons in order. But he reads very well and knows a whole lot of other stuff that matters more than Barney or Pokemon or even dinosaurs. In preschool, he got good at learning stuff - and it didn't matter what the "stuff" happened to be.

Back then, I know I thought, in the back of my mind, "Well, we can already check dinosaurs off the list of things to learn. He knows them all." I feel silly now about that - no particular thing they learn in preschool will stick unless they keep using it. And oddly, that's good news.

It's good news because since it JUST DOESN'T MATTER which particular knowledge a preschooler gets, we can all relax. What matters is the complexity of their environment and the degree to which their secure, loving human companions let them experiment with it and develop within it.

So let's hear it for toys that don't teach reading or math, toys with lots of loose parts (not choking hazards, obviously). Kids, you go play now.

Recent Education Commentaries

What it takes to be great
Raise children with a wild streak
Must we teach to the test?
Homework again

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Web Site

Sugar Crash


Eat sugar, bounce off the walls, crash, need a nap. That's the message of Sugar Crash, a funny little game where you use a sugar cube to bounce a cartoon kid off the walls to score points. But if blood sugar rises too much, he'll crash and need a nap.

OK, it's not totally accurate - if I understand this article correctly, blood sugar levels are below normal during the crash phase. But the message is good - eating sugar messes with your energy levels in unappealing ways.

More Nutrition for Kids

Fast Food Nutrition
MyPyramid Nutrition Planning for Kids
Nutrition Information on the Web

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Big Learning News (c) 2006 Karen Cole

Content meant for adults and provided for informational purposes only - readers are responsible for previewing all materials and activities for suitability and safety before sharing them with children.
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