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As the saying goes, “Our children are the future.” And if anything is certain about the future, it is that renewable energy sources and green technologies will play a major role in our children’s lives for everything from using wind or solar power generated on site in their homes, to driving alternative fuel vehicles, or embarking on a career in one of America’s future “green” technology jobs.
With alternative energy playing such a pivotal role, there is no better time than now to start children on the path to learning basic concepts behind these technologies. Fortunately, a host of educational – and yes, fun – age-appropriate toys are available to parents and educators designed to teach children about alternative energy concepts.
Educational toys have many advantages as a learning tool. Simply sitting a child down and teaching them about alternative energy will not necessarily ignite their enthusiasm or interest in the topic. Nor will having them read about it as a sole strategy, not when so many children are reluctant, struggling readers, or kinesthetic learners.
Although science kits are helpful, they often depend on expert guidance and have limited play value – which is a tough sell when parents and educators are competing with TV, video games, the Internet, and a host of modern distractions. Instead, a host of science-based, interactive children’s toys on the market are being used to teach children about alternative energy concepts like solar, wind, and “green” vehicles, in a fun, hands-on way.
Because solar power converts energy from the sun into electricity or heat, it can replace facilities powered by oil, coal, and other non-renewable fuels. Solar panels, used to capture the energy in sunlight are becoming an increasingly common sight on rooftops, calculators, and of course toys. Some solar powered toys, particularly those children can build themselves, provide an ideal mix of creative, active learning. In 2009, the award-winning 6-in-1 Educational Solar Kit from OWI, for example, allows children to snap together 21 parts to create six different working models including an airboat, windmill, puppy, and two different planes. Or in 2013, the 14-in-1 Educational Solar Robot kit allows for two levels was introduced. Level one includes: Turtle-bot, Beetle-bot, Quadru-bot, Boat-bot, Walker-bot, Dog-bot, and Wheel-bot. After they amuse themselves with the entry level, one can challenge their manipulative skills with the second level: Roly Poly-bot, Auto-bot, Slither-bot, surf-bot, Zombie-bot, Crab-bot, and Row-bot. Each completed model is powered by a mini solar panel using sunlight or indoor halogen lighting that literally brings the toy to life. As children watch the toy they built move around and speed up or slow down depending on the intensity of the light, they’re not only learning and experimenting with solar power but also having fun with it. The 6-in-1 kit is so popular it was name ones of Dr. Toy’s “100 Best Children’s Products”, and “10 Best Educational Products” for 2009. Stevanne Auerbach, also acknowledge OWI’s commitment to producing long-lasting, educational , creative, and eco-friendly products by selecting 14 in 1 Educational Solar Robot kit as the recipient of the “Best Green Products” for 2013. Creative Child Magazine, with their panel of moms and educators has anointed OWI with “Top Toy of the Year” award and “Kids Product of the Year”.
Based on American geography, wind power will become an increasingly important part of the country’s energy portfolio in the future. “The United States has abundant wind resources, with enough resource potential to power the entire nation several times over,” states a U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy website document. Wind power is based on harnessing the force of the wind to drive a turbine that produces electricity. A great way for children to learn more about how a wind turbine works is the Eco-Biker, which can be clipped to a bicycle’s handlebars or anywhere there is a breeze. The wind-powered fan energized an LED light, so the faster the child pedals, the stronger the wind, and the brighter the light. When children see how their effort affects wind speed and light intensity, they gain insight into how renewable wind power works.
Fuel Cell Power
Two thirds of the oil Americans use each day is for transportation, much of it in gasoline for cars. Gas powered cars, however, are not only significant contributors to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but also relatively inefficient in converting the energy from gasoline into usable energy (only about 20 percent of gasoline’s thermal energy potential is converted to mechanical work in cars). Unlike non-renewable oil, fuel cell technology is a clean source of electrical power generation that’s efficient and non-polluting. Using a variety of fuels, fuel cells convert electrochemical energy into electricity, with the only by-products being heat and water. One fun way to introduce children to alternative energy fuel cell power is to expose them to a fuel cell powered toy car. For instance, instead of using batteries, children can make the Salt Water Fuel Cell Car from OWI which runs continuously for 5-7 hours by adding saltwater to a magnesium metal sheet in the toy’s fuel cell module. The Salt Water Fuel Cell Car won “2011 Toy of the Year” and Kids Product of the Year “ award from Creative Child Magazine, and Dr. Toy’s prestigious “Best Green Product” award. Just as children group up before parents and educators know it, the future will be here all too soon. Part of preparing children for an energy and environmentally-challenged future should be teaching them how to constructively deal with it. Fortunately, well-designed children’s toys can help make learning about alternative energy a fun, hands-on process in classrooms, homes, parts, and playgrounds.
In 1980, OWI Incorporated, was looking for a way to expand its consumer product lines and bring its extensive technology background to the educational community. RobotiKits™ and OWIKits® were developed to affordably introduce students to robotics technology.
The kits are available in five difficultly levels--ranging from beginners with no experience up to advanced circuit board soldering and mechanical assembly-- challenging builders from grade school to adult. In conjunction with educators, OWI Inc. has developed a fully structured teaching curriculum with modules tailored to the kit’s unique electronic and mechanical features.