The other day, a friend was telling me she’s become afraid to look at her facebook news feed, because of all the spider pictures appearing on it. There are tons. Now we’re back to school and the weather’s turned colder, huge creepy crawlies have been edging their way into our homes. And those of us who like to share, have been busily snapping away, so we can proudly display our leggy new household visitors.
My friend’s clearly not a fan of spiders, but in our house, we do have a couple of little bug fans. My four- and two-year-old are fascinated by anything that creeps, crawls, or slithers. So we were pleased when Learning Resources asked us to review some bug-related educational toys: the Buggy Balance measurement set, Shapes Don’t Bug Me geometry set, and Primary Science Discovery Lab.
My son has just started school, so he’s at the ‘learning through play’ stage of the national curriculum. These kits, with their bright colours and playful, creepy-crawlie theme, were a good example of toys that taught him lessons, without his even realising.
The buggy balance kit featured a load of vibrantly coloured, slightly squidgy caterpillars and leaves; and a set of scales.
The first thing that Austin did – without my even having to prompt him – was arrange the bugs and foliage according to colour and size. This was something that the accompanying leaflet suggested parents or teachers should encourage the children to do; the fact that Austin did it without needing to be told, indicated that the toy was pitched correctly. Children of this age (5-9) love counting, sorting and arranging.
Austin then had fun experimenting by putting the different-sized bugs on either side of the scales, to see how many smaller critters he’d need to tip the balance against a large caterpillar.
The Buggy Balance was easy for Austin to use independently; once I’d set it up, he played quite happily with the bugs for a good twenty minutes. It’s not easy to find a toy that captures his interest this thoroughly (apart from good old Lego, of course!).
He also quickly got stuck into the ‘Shapes Don’t Bug Me’ geometry set.
This was a straightforward idea: a pile of jewel-bright plastic shapes, and cards with different pictures, onto which a 5-9 year old would arrange the pieces of perspex.
The cards all featured insects, and varied in their levels of difficulty. Although Austin wasn’t quite as excited by this set as he had been by the buggy balance kit (the idea of fitting shapes onto pictures was already familiar to him, from the school nursery), this was the sort of toy I’m sure I’ll be able to bring out every fortnight or so, over and over again. I’m sure it will hold my son’s interest and help develop his geometry skills for a number of years.
My son and daughter were both thrilled about the Discovery Lab, with its built-in, removable gloves. It’s designed to allow children to play with things that parents and teachers would rather they didn’t handle.
The leaflet suggested turning it into a home for worms, so that’s what we decided to do. Not without a quick try of one of the other suggested uses, though: making a load of coloured slime from cornflour and food dye….
Once we’d thoroughly cleaned out the Discovery Lab, we put damp newspaper, some cardboard, soil and a few eggshells into the Lab.
Both Austin and Gwen enjoyed squidging the contents of the Lab (although Gwen’s two-and-a-half year old hands were a bit small for the gloves. The lab is for ages three and over).
We bought some red worms from the local pet shop.
Then, the exciting bit. The worms were released into their new home. We removed the gloves, edged the Lab with foil to keep out the light (leaving the air holes clear, of course), and placed it in the garden shed.
The worms make a great, low-maintenance pet. And, what’s more, when our slithery friends have made a meal of all that newspaper, and the scraps of food we’re slowly adding, we can put the contents of the Lab onto the garden, to help it grow.
Building a home for worms in the Discovery Lab was a good way to teach the children more about nature. And my friend can rest easy: there was absolutely no need for a single facebook spider.
If you liked the look of these, why not check out my review of the Learning Resources Geosafari Jr Talking Microscope and Animal Eye Viewers; or their Primary Science Lab Set and Metal Detector
Disclosure: we were sent the Discovery Lab, Buggy Balance and Shapes Don’t Bug Me sets for the purpose of this review. But all views are my own.