Archive for February, 2011

Time Shift Your TV: February 28 – March 6

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Music is the highlight this week. But you may also be interested in shows about Egypt, scientific anti-aging discoveries, mythical beasts and, yes, Dr. Seuss.

Monday, Feb. 28: During the unrest leading up to the recent downfall of former Egyptian President Mubarak, many of Egypt’s antiquities were threatened, some were damaged and others reported missing. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s minister of antiquities affairs, takes National Geographic Channel viewers through Egyptian discoveries in a series of programs. At 11 a.m., you can catch Egypt Unwrapped: Secrets of the Valley of the Kings, which explores the two and a half miles of underground tombs filled with fascinating historical artifacts.

Tuesday, March 1: First Lady Michelle Obama filled the White House with the sounds of Motown last week. She held a workshop for kids during the day, featuring a discussion with experts about the history and impact of the music. In the evening, she invited musicians to an East Room concert to pay tribute to Motown’s 50-year legacy. Performers include Smokey Robinson, Natasha Bedingfield, Sheryl Crow, Jamie Foxx, Gloriana, Nick Jonas, Ledisi, John Legend, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Seal and Jordin Sparks. The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House airs on PBS at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, March 2: Celebrating the 107th birthday of Theodor Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss – PBS will air a two-hour marathon of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, including two new episodes of the popular pre-schoolers show. Check local listings.

Once the kids have had their fill of Dr. Seuss, you can keep the channel set to PBS for American Masters: Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor & the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter. Steve Martin, Elton John and Bonnie Raitt are interviewed about the sounds of the 1970s. It’s a wonderful walk down memory lane for many of us who grew up listening to James Taylor, and maybe the kids in the family will sit and listen for a minute. The show airs at 8 p.m.

Following Troubadours, at 9:30 p.m., is another great music show: Great Performances: Harry Connick Jr. in Concert on Broadway. How can you not have a smile on your face as you listen to Connick’s big band and a 12-piece string section, while Connick moved from his Steinway grand to an upright honky-tonk piano? Variety raved about the show, calling Connick “dynamite.”

Friday, March 4: National Geographic is kicking off a new series at 9 p.m. called Beast Hunter. Curious host Pat Spain, a biologist and explorer, travels the globe in search of mythical creatures, along the lines of the Loch Ness Monster. First up is the Orang Pendek – “the little man of the forest.” It is a human or an ape? Spain finds out. In a later episode, he goes to the Gobi Desert in search of the “Mongolian Death Worm.” Spain is a likeable host and the stories are sure to spark some conversation at the dinner table.

Saturday, March 6: More music! The Disney Channel presents Imagination Movers in Concert, a 45-minute special airing at 6 p.m. and featuring more than 12 catchy songs from the  Imagination Movers series. The upbeat concert was filmed before a sold-out crowd in New Orleans.

Smithsonian Channel is kicking of a Women in Science series in March to shed light on trailblazing work from female minds around the globe. At 8 p.m. on March 6, the channel airs Decoding Immortality, focusing on the work of Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel Prize winner for medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She examines how DNA can be kept young and her breakthroughs are revolutionizing our understanding of the aging process.

Make Something! Celebrating National Engineers Week

Friday, February 25th, 2011

February 20th through 26th is National Engineers Week.  Observe it and inspire budding engineers by watching PBS’s excellent Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers series.  In this clip, power tool enthusiast and product designer Judy Lee talks about her work to encourage youth engineering through her PBS show Design Squad Nation.

Girls especially will benefit from Introduce a Girl to Engineering events across the country, as well as the website Engineer Your Life, a guide to engineering for high school girls.

And if you want to spark some at-home engineering, see our Encouraging Invention list for toys, DVDs, books, and more meant to spark analytical problem solving and pointed curiosity.  Thames & Kosmos offers a kit for creating and experimenting on a fuel cell car, while the book The Story of Inventions documents famous inventions that children might aspire to one day improve with their own product engineering.   A Makedo kit, with its connectors for household materials, provides a fun way to start engineering.  For an even simpler, but classic, intro-to-engineering activity, make paper airplanes and devise ways to improve their flight performance!

Time Shift Your TV: February 21-28

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

This week offers a wide range of interesting shows, so take your pick, starting with some presidential progamming in honor of President’s Day:

On Monday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m., the History Channel offers It’s Good To Be President. But is it any fun to be president? This two-hour special wants to know what’s going on behind the scenes, asking questions such as: Can the president order a Dominos pizza? Is the president ever alone? Can the president’s daughters have a sleepover? That’s the stuff we all want to know!

And continuing the theme, on Monday, Feb. 21 at 10 p.m. ET, National Geographic Channel takes a look at Lincoln’s Secret Killer. The question is: Was Abraham Lincoln dying of cancer when he was killed? Using a piece of blood-stained fabric, scientists run a DNA analysis to shed light on the health of the thin president.

Now let’s skip to Friday, where some interesting offers might pique your interest.

Reality television usually isn’t worth watching, but if you live in the D.C.-area, you might get a kick out of watching D.C. Cupcakes, a TLC show that follows sisters and business partners Sophia LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis, the duo behind the Georgetown Cupcake store, which is filled with delicious treats. This season one of their big challenges is to bake 10,000 cupcakes to be shipped to Afghanistan for our troops. The second season of the show kicks off at 10 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 25 on TLC.

On Saturday night, Feb. 26, Smithsonian Channel continues to celebrate Black History Month with three back-to-back shows, starting at 8 p.m. The first two – Sound Revolution programs – are devoted to music, covering the 1950s, then the 60s and 70s. Morgan Freeman is host and the programs feature several live performances from Ray Charles and The Neville Brothers to Gladys Knight and James Brown. The third program, Smithsonian Spotlight: Scurlock Studio, examines the photography work by Addison Scurlock in the early 1900s. Addison, with the help of his two sons, George and Robert, portrayed African Americans in a way that wasn’t often seen as it captured the black culture of Washington, D.C.

And finally, the Academy Awards air live on Sunday night, Feb. 27 on ABC at 8:30 p.m. Will The Social Network win best picture or will The King’s Speech take home the top prize? If you haven’t seen those films, make a point to get to the theater for them. In the meantime, watch the winners – and losers – praised by their peers in the film world’s big awards night.

Bite-Sized Science

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I would not be the first to observe that many American families are over-scheduled with activities.  So where does informal scientific inquiry fit-in?

It was clear from this year’s Toy Fair that manufacturers are tackling this challenge differently.

There are manufacturers, who are weaving scientific themes into very tiny bites.  Think of the “watch the plant” or “watch the crystal” grow type kits.   Not only are these fast to do at home just before or after dinner, retailers (especially museum retailers) can position them close to check-out lines as impulse buys.  At their best, these quick format kits can generate a bit of family conversation with an involved parent or a sense of accomplishment for a slightly more mature child.

There are some manufacturers that are trying to weave scientific themes into time set aside for fun and recreation.  The updated rocket kits and newer solar robot kits are aimed at getting kids outside and hopefully do something other than play war.   I am inspired by those kits that are mixing culinary activities with scientific inquiry (more about these in a later post).

But for the more serious about science – but still time and budget stretched – family, I am glad that Thames & Kosmos has produced their Ignition Series.   With names like Solar Cooking Science and Recycled Paper Press, the kits are sure to grab the attention of some kids and provoke family conversation.  The kits are retail priced at $13.95, and they are sure to fill 90-minutes of time – potentially perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.


Dan Solomon competed in his first science fair in the mid-1970s and now has two elementary-aged children, one of whom is a passionate inventor.  An entrepreneur and digital marketing professional, Dan serves on the advisory board for the Smithsonian’s Lemleson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation.

He will be writing about science kits and toys that inspire scientific inquiry and creativity at the upcoming Toy Fair for Parents’ Choice.

Time Shift Your TV: February 14-20

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Our TV recommendations come late this week because of Toy Fair, but the shows we recommend are still yet-to-air!

This week’s focus is on family.

– One of the most popular and highest-rated sitcoms on the air right now is Modern Family – airing on ABC on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. – and you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s not appropriate for young children, but teens will get a kick out of it. In our house, our two high school sons have developed a true appreciation for the witty writing. Many of the lines are so clever you’ll laugh at the wordplay, as well as the situation. Modern Family doesn’t just focus on one family, but three very different ones, including a gay couple with an adopted Asian baby. In all the families, the kids are winning, the parents are flawed and the family relationships aren’t perfect. But they all have heart. And they’re hilarious. Shelley Long and Matt Dillon guest starred in last Wednesday’s episode at 9 p.m.

-The second season of Good Luck Charlie, a Disney Channel show that’s popular with tweens, kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. The “Charlie” in the title is a baby girl, who is turning 2. She’s one in a family of six and provides the foil for her siblings, Teddy, PJ and Gabe. But while the show does well in the ratings with tweens, should your tween be watching it? The characters tend to be cartoony – dumb older teen brother, smart younger kid brother, clueless parents and cranky neighbors. The baby, however, is adorable and Bridgit Mendler, who plays Teddy, is charming and she usually winds up doing the right thing. The problem is that while much of the show is harmless, silly sitcom stuff, there are often sexual references sprinkled in. For example, Teddy says to her parents says: “Okay, have fun! But not too much fun – we have enough kids.”  And in other instance, the Mom is talking to son Gabe and says, “Oh, when your Dad and I started dating we didn’t do a lot of talking. Mostly we just …. ” She doesn’t finish the sentence, and so he asks what they did. She replies: “Played checkers … lots and lots of checkers.” If your tween wants to watch Good Luck Charlie, you should sit down and watch an episode, too.