Monday, January 31, 2011

Blinding Her with Science

I try to bring back gifts for my daughter that reflect the places I visit, particularly when I'm returning from abroad: the Z is for Zamboni book from Toronto, traditional Swiss clothing from Z├╝rich, contemporary Indian dress from Pune, the Paris Hide and Seek book. I hope they help her connect with the places I go, especially when she can't go with me.

All too often, I do my gift buying on my way to the gate, making a quick shop at one of the ubiquitous souvenir shops at Gare du Nord, La Guardia, SFO, BRU, YYC or any other point of departure. Trouble is, after a few trips to the same destination, it becomes clear the merchandise doesn't change all that often. She's got every variety of London t-shirt from LHR, and Nasa t-shirt from IAH. There seems to be a never-ending variety of keychains for any given destination, but as electronic locks are making keys anachronisms she'll never have that many keys. They're also harder to repurpose into something useful: outgrown t-shirts make good raw materials for quilts and stuffed bears, whereas keychains become cumbersome bling.

On those trips where I am able to carve out a little time, and especially as she gets older, I'm trying to find things that pique her interest particularly after I go back on the road. Harrods has a large selection of science-themed toys, such as robots, circuits, hovercraft, and dirigibles. Foyles sells The Daring Book for Girls, a fantastic book that has all kinds of great ideas in it: how to make a zipline, how to make a lemon-powered clock. All these things do a great job explaining how things work. They're also good at inciting action, be it assembling circuits to build a recording device, or learning how to write in code. Perhaps they also engender independence, and kindle a sense of adventure as well.

Even when I'm away, hopefully I can still help her learn. About nature, and physics, and maybe a little about herself.