By Donna Giachetti
Whenever I think of my childhood summers, all my five senses are instantly engaged. I can hear the tinkling melody of the ice cream truck, and feel the heat radiating off my head. There’s that pungent smell of sidewalk chalk. The taste of bright pink Bazooka gum. And the sight of my kite, inevitably tangled up in the limbs of a tree. (Anyone remember Charlie Brown’s kite? Mine was surely a close relative.)
When I was 10 years old, I was allowed to walk alone into “town,” a modest wannabe Main Street just three blocks from our house. It was there that I’d spend my allowance on comic books, strawberry licorice, and—once, memorably—a weird bird-shaped contraption with a fuzzy beak which dipped into a glass of water all by itself.
Little did I know then that it was our famous Drinking Bird, giving me my first lesson in energy conversion and thermodynamics.
Now I wonder how much more science crossed my path during those summers. Certainly, I had no idea that I was exploring scientific theories instead of just dawdling around the backyard. All I knew was that it was fun!
The polly noses we turned into mini-helicopters? More science. In fact, this paper gyrocopter template works in a way that is similar to my polly noses. (It just took me 30+ years to find out its flight is possible due to aerodynamics!) While we’re on the subject, I found this very illuminating Farmer’s Almanac article about samaras—the true name for those whirligig seed pods.
Then there was what I recall as the “click-clacker,” although I’m sure it had a different name. Another Main Street purchase. Now we call it a Newton’s Kinetic YoYo. Whatever name you give it, this spinning gizmo consumed many summer hours as I tried to beat my friends’ records of most-clacks-in-a-row. (And no, I’m not talking about the much-maligned Klackers or Ker-Bangers that could knock out your front teeth if you weren’t careful. My toy, like Educational Innovations’ version, was completely safe.)
Aside from our click-clacking skills, my friends and I fancied ourselves great chefs. We would crush up fresh watermelon into a paste and freeze it in ice cube trays with a colored toothpick sticking out of each square. We also tried to make ice cream with milk and Bosco syrup but it never quite lived up to our hopes. What we wouldn’t have given to own a Soft Shell Ice Cream Ball! Yet another lesson in thermodynamics resides in that delicious kit.
We watched Neil Armstrong step foot on the Moon and yearned for our parents to splurge on some Tang. (We succeeded eventually.) But if we had known about Astronaut Ice Cream… I can only imagine the begging and whining we’d have employed to get our sticky fingers on some of that stuff. Indeed, if the Apollo 11 Adventure Kit had been around back then, I would’ve saved up for it myself. It contains Tang, Astronaut Ice Cream, Rocket Film Canisters, a best-selling young-adult book about the Apollo 11 launch, and more!
And then there were the goodies to be found inside a Cracker Jack box. A plastic magnifier, wow! Those usually led to hours observing anthills in the backyard. And spinners… so many spinners! I once found one that said “blow on it.” It worked like a horizontal pinwheel. I’d never seen anything like it before, and mourned its loss. Nowadays, I keep a Wind Gyro on my desk. You guessed it—more science snuck inside a toy. Truly, rotational inertia was never more fun!
I still remember the day I found a Diving Submarine in a box of cereal. My brother immediately laid claim to it, but was generous enough to put me in charge of filling it with baking powder. Nothing compared to watching it blip up and down. I imagined a tiny crew of sailors inside. I was elated when I rediscovered that toy here at Educational Innovations. Officially, we sell it as a demonstration of buoyancy, density, and the production of carbon dioxide… but deep down, I still think of it as a childhood indulgence. (Don’t tell my boss, please.)
Memory lane is a great place to stroll, isn’t it? Especially now that I’ve realized so many kids of my generation were lucky enough to play with science-based toys—even if we didn’t know it!
How did you spend your summers as a kid? We’d love to hear your summers memories in the comments section below. Did you collect tadpoles? Construct balsa-wood airplanes or elaborate sand castles with moats and bridges? That’s all science, too!
And here’s another question: How will your kids (and grandchildren) spend their summers? Whether they’re creating a UV Bead Bracelet to remind them to apply more sunscreen, twirling a Centripetal Spinner and marveling at the changing color display, or building their own solar-powered puppy robot, I hope they will have a chance to play AND learn at the same time. After all, that’s what summers are for!