Show and Tell: Some cheap ideas for summer education

Show and Tell: Some cheap ideas for summer education

A commentary by Leane Roffey Line, PhD

Want to get your kid interested in basic classical Physics and have some fun too? Pick up a copy of “Turning the World Inside Out” by Robert Ehrlich, c. 1990 Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-08534-X or ISBN 0-691-02395-6, and check out the 174 demos, a great many of which you can either perform or explain to your child. There are copies available on for under $10.00, a low price to pay for some great entertainment. This book was originally issued in 1938, and picked up in 1990 by Princeton University Press — and echoes one of my central educational themes for insuring successful learning: “The primary reason scientists become scientists is because early on, science was a thoughtful form of play”. 

Once the basics are firmly set in sissy or junior’s mind, turn them loose on some flash games, like The Magic Pen, programmed around a great physics engine. (You can get to flash games like this through our Nothing But Games blog on the sidebar, which has sites for games we’ve reviewed. Also, you can search for sites where this game is featured using a search engine. Magic Pen is usually featured under “Puzzle Games”.) “Sling” games (where a ball is manipulated into a sling and shot over obstacles and distances) are also available.

What age can you start inculcating your young Einstein with ideas about physics? As soon as they can be aware of the world around them. My interest, for example, was stimulated by daily events like shaking up a carbonated beverage (in those days, we had coke in bottles) and lo! it fizzed all over the place. From there it was a short step (thanks to my father) to the vinegar and baking soda “submarines” out of the cereal boxes, and watching how iron filings seemed to move by magic across the table when dad ran a magnet (unknown to us) beneath the surface. The old “glass sliding on water” trick had the kids in the neighborhood all intrigued for days. My dad was an ex-army Master Sargeant (WWII) with a GED, btw, not a professor. If he could handle basic experiments (and early Radio Shack “kits”) so can you all. Science is not the province of the privileged, it belongs to everybody.

Children have boundless curiosity. When we can tune into them, even as early as four or five, we can be amazed at their ability to see things. They might not understand exactly what they are seeing, but that’s the job of parents, after all is said and done. Who knows, you might learn something too, in the process of showing your child the fun of physics.

After they get that down, you can all learn how to make paper mache and build a model of the solar system, just blow up balloons to “relative” sizes, coat with mache, let dry, and paint. The fun part comes when you attach eyes to the “planets and moons” and suspend them from your kid’s bedroom ceiling. That’s a summer project that is cheap, enjoyable, educational, and takes a few weeks, not to mention opens the door to astronomy.

It’s all about show and tell, and those are some memory-making activities!


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