Lookin’ for Science (In All the Wrong Places)

Yesterday, Betsy and I stopped at Meijer (local department store) to pick up a few things. On a whim, I decided to buy a science project kit. Nothing particular in mind, just something fun I could build – a chemistry experiment, levitating magnets, grow-your-own crystals, whatever. I hadn’t done anything science-y in a while, and it seemed like a cool way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

We headed to the toys section and started browsing. Meijer has a dizzying selection of toys: Legos, Barbies, action figures, puzzles, Nerf guns, aisle after aisle of everything you could imagine.

Science? Not so much. I think they had a Glow-in-the-Dark Squishy Science model of human anatomy, but that was about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against toys, and I’m not one of those people who insists on turning every kid’s playtime into a lesson. But when you’ve got hundreds of square feet devoted to toys, and nothing you can meaningfully learn from? Well, in Betsy’s words, that’s “kind of depressing.”

Undeterred, we moved on to Walmart. Same deal. Thousands of toys, nothing educational. Well, that’s not quite true – they did have a few things. But it was all for babies. Learn your colors and numbers, that kind of stuff.

The idea seems to be that learning is what you do when you’re very young, before you’re sophisticated enough for officially licensed action figures.

In fact, the book section of these stores is much the same way. Lots of romance novels, lots of spirituality and “self-help” and shallow, feel-good “Christian” books. A solid dose of inflammatory political nonsense. A handful of more literary offerings, generally tie-ins with whatever movie they’re promoting this week. But mostly entertainment.

Again, I have nothing against entertainment or movie tie-ins or romance novels. But when you have a whole section showcasing mankind’s greatest invention – the written word – and almost nothing that will open your mind? Kind of a missed opportunity, wouldn’t you say?

So we went home and mixed vinegar and baking soda and green food dye to make a St. Patrick’s Day volcano in the sink. Not that we learned any Deep Science Knowledge from that either, I suppose, but not too bad for a lazy weekend.

Oddly enough, you know the one store in town that does have a section for science experiments? Hobby Lobby. Yeah. Too bad they’re not open on Sundays. But I know where I’m headed after work today!

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4 responses to “Lookin’ for Science (In All the Wrong Places)

  1. That’s too bad. When I was growing up, chemistry sets were very popular (along with anything related to the space program). Also terrariums and ant farms and so on.

    (For boys, of course. Girls were supposed to get little Easy-Bake ovens and so on.)

    I do think book are somewhat different. My opinion of “romance novels, lots of spirituality and ‘self-help’ and shallow, feel-good ‘Christian’ books” is probably about the same as yours, but in any case the “educational” benefits of literature can often be a bit difficult to quantify (but undeniably real anyway).

    • Yeah, certainly there’s educational value in a lot of books that aren’t “educational,” and for that matter, in a lot of toys that aren’t “educational” too. I just think the entertainment-to-education ratio is badly skewed.

      I had a chemistry set when I was a kid, but never did much with it. I wasn’t very adventurous at that age. Maybe they’ll have one at Hobby Lobby tonight and I can give it another shot. 🙂

  2. I remember getting a microscope and a chemistry set for birthdays.

    I think we didn’t have as much media influencing what kids want when we were younger. Don’t get me wrong we had TV’s but that’s about it. If we couldn’t sit in front of a large box in the living room we weren’t exposed to media. Often this was also the only TV in the house, so as a kid watching cartoons or shows was always behind whatever your parents wanted to watch.

    Now we have media presented to children everywhere. Computers, TVs, Phones, Tablets. Everywhere they go there is a way to consume media and children will naturally want whatever that media advertises. Plus we had science shows like Bill Nye the Science guy which made kids want to do experiments and find out more about the world around them.

    Basically what I’m trying to say in this rambling mess is that I blame the availability of media today and the lack of good educational content in it. There! Now get off my lawn you damn kids!! ( I feel old)

    • I know!! I feel old too. If I’m this crotchety now, what will my grandchildren think?!

      I agree with you about the influence of advertising, though. I don’t even own a smartphone or get any TV channels, so I’m spared the worst of it. But whenever I flip on Netflix – or listen to any radio station besides NPR – the ads are obnoxious and constant. I don’t know how people take it.

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