Science, History, and Art Activity Kits: Learn While Having Fun

You know how I feel about activity kit round-ups that facilitate learning on the sly. Here are a few recent titles that do just that. Stay tuned for the next round-up later on in the summer.

Bridges and Tunnels: Investigate Feats of Engineering by Donna Latham, illustrated by Jen Vaughn. The latest title in the illustrious “Build It Yourself” series, this book boasts 25 activities all centered around the physics and engineering of bridges and tunnels, with descriptions of more than 25 famous bridges and tunnels to match. Sounds complicated? It isn’t. Featuring clear diagrams, charts, and vocabulary-rich “Words to Know” boxes on most spreads (sample words or phrases defined: hydraulic, compression, pile driver, tetrahedron), kids won’t have any problem deciphering the concepts explained. They’ll also have a relatively easy time drawing parallels to what they might have learned at school (i.e. Newton’s Third Law of Motion) or what they observe in everyday life by reading the “Did You Know?” prompts. (Sample fact: Engineering relies on triangles to construct trusses, a network of beams and bars.) Completing some of the projects could be challenging (a craft stick beam bridge, a marshmallow geodesic dome), but an adult or an older sibling should be able to provide all the help kids might need. Plus, “Try This” extension activities such as using a drinking straw and a piece of uncooked spaghetti to explain compression and tension provide the basic building blocks of knowledge needed along the way. Backmatter includes a glossary, list of resources, and an index. Ages 9-12

Simply put, the line of “Green & Groovy Crafts” books published by Downtown Bookworks are outstanding. Printed on recycled paper with soy ink, each book encourages kids to go beyond what’s included in the kits (glitter, ribbon, pliers, duct tape, wooden wheels) by reusing common household objects like egg cartons and light bulbs that might normally be chucked in the trash. With 64 pages and more than 60 possible projects kids can pick and choose from (there are more than 100 in some of the books), these treasure troves of creativity are sure to keep idle hands and minds busy throughout the summer. The Crafty Princess by Laurie Goldrich Wolf (Ages 6+) is a perfect choice for any girl still into glitz and glam. A satin slip cape, a bubble wrap handbag, and a woven-ribbon keepsake box are just a few of the many crafty concoctions available for the making. With Garbage Flowers by New Yorker cartoonist Eric Lewis (Ages 12+), kids use the pliers and wire stems provided to make funky flower bouquets out of headphones, slinkies, nail polish bottles, and more. My personal favorite? The Lonely Sock Club by Laurie Goldrich Wolf (Ages 6+). Ridiculously adorable sock puppets! Fuzzy pom poms and googly eyes are included. A new kit promising boy-centric projects (i.e. slingshots, light sabers) is due out in August: Boy-Made by Laurie Goldrich Wolf (Ages 6+).

To read the rest of this review, please visit Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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