The Magic of Christmas (May Include Science)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas is a magical time if you are 8 years old, like my nephew, and there is much fun to be had playing with all of the gifts received in the hours and days that follow.

It may not surprise you that I take the occasional opportunity to incorporate a little science into our games. (And by “occasional,” I mean “every.”) Cooking, for example, is an excellent circumstance in which to teach chemistry and math to kids, as well as to practice reading and following instructions. I’ll leave it up to you whether you also incorporate drilling multiplication tables, just for kicks and giggles.

(Aren’t I just the best, most fun aunt ever?)

Then again, sometimes I’m less subtle about my deep desire to teach analytical skills and logic to kids at an early age and give science kits for gifts. And when I find a product that also demonstrates principles of sustainability, well then, let’s just say I find it the perfect gift for me. “Enviro Battery” is essentially a mini chemistry kit that includes a number of different experiments that can be performed by children. The first set employed water and circuits to generate electricity, which we completed while gathered around the kitchen table. Materials included water-filled bottles, zinc and copper plates, and wires as well as a few extras from the kitchen including vinegar, salt, and fruit juice. My nephew substituted ginger ale for the fruit juice.

(You see! Soda does have a role to play in the lives of children, though it’s in the realm of conducting scientific experiments, not as a suitable food in their diet.)

One of the instructions of the “game” was to record observations in a notebook, which we also did – obviously. We reported such things as the strength of the light, how it changed when the mixture of the solution varied, and so forth. (I love this game!) I was pleased when my nephew wanted to note that he had laboratory “helpers” for the experiments. He found himself amusing when he called us his science “slaves.” (I’m not making this up, though it’s reminiscent of my own treatment as a grad student. Now I needed to be called the same by an 8 year old?)

Anyway, I want to be clear that, despite all of the dreaded science and learning involved, a great time was had by all. I was thrilled when later that afternoon Jackson, with absolutely no input from me, named our scrabble team “The Science People.” (I was going for something simpler, you see, like “Team Awesome.”)

These things really do make a difference, I pondered. Teaching science and math at an early age matters.

“Dr. Newby?” my nephew said, poking me. “Dr. Newby??”

(No, my 8 year old nephew doesn’t really call me Dr. Newby. Come on.)

“NOW can we play Monopoly?”


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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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