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10 Brilliant Gifts for the Curious Kid in Your Life

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iStock

Encourage someone’s boundless curiosity this holiday season. Here are 11 gifts designed for your niece who’s going through her “why” phase, your little cousin who dreams of being an astronomer, or your favorite young-at-heart amateur inventor. 

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1. THE ALPHABET OF ANIMAL PROFESSIONS POSTER, $29

Help some little ones learn their ABCs through this cute, whimsical poster that imagines how animals might earn their living. Ducks are doctors, penguins are photographers, and zebras are zoologists. 

Find it: Pop Chart Lab

2. LAB TEST GAMES; $20

These four particle-inspired brainteasers can keep the whole family occupied over the holidays. Take the wooden puzzles apart and put them back together in the shape of an atom, a molecule, a particle, and a cell. Try not to peek at the solutions!

Find it: UncommonGoods

3. BIOLUMINESCENT DINO PET; $60

Satisfy someone’s need for thousands of pets by making them the caretaker of legions of dinoflaggelates, plankton that glow neon blue at night. The dinosaur-shaped tank will be a bright, low-maintenance addition to any family. 

Find it: UncommonGoods

4. LETTERS FOR KIDS;$6.50 PER MONTH OR $66 PER YEAR

Nothing’s more exciting than getting a letter in the mail—especially for kids who weren’t alive for the pre-email age. Every month, the literary website The Rumpus commissions young adult and middle-grade authors to write letters for kids 6 years and older. A monthly subscription gets your young bookworm two letters a month from authors like Lemony Snicket, the Newbery Medal-winning Susan Patron, and more. 

Find it: The Rumpus

5. EDIBLE CHEMISTRY SET; $18

If you give something to a child, chances are, it’s going to end up in their mouth. Why not just embrace it? This edible chemistry set teaches youngsters about reactions through safe-to-consume experiments involving carbonation, turning green jelly blue, and more. 

Find it: UncommonGoods

6. ROBOT TURTLES; $18

Robot Turtles is more than just a fun board game. The successful Kickstarter product is designed to teach children as young as 4 the basics of programming. Kids (and adults!) have to make silly noises to move their turtles around the game board in pursuit of jewels. 

Find it: Amazon

7. BUDDINGSTEM TRAIN DRESS, $39

This t-shirt dress from buddingSTEM—a company devoted to providing clothes for science-loving girls who don’t need another princess dress—is made for young transportation nerds and aspiring engineers. It’s perfect for masterminding model train routes and brainstorming locations for the family’s next travel adventure.

Find it: buddingSTEM

8. MUDWATT CLASSIC KIT, $58

MudWatt’s science kits turn dirt into a power plant. Each kit harnesses microbes growing naturally in soil to generate electricity. Just add dirt, and after a week, it can power a digital clock. In the process, kids learn about microbes, soil, and the science of electricity.

Find it: Amazon

9. LITTLEBITS GIZMOS AND GADGETS KIT; $200

Future inventors, tinkerers, and programmers will love these piecemeal building blocks. The kid-friendly circuit modules snap together to make tiny robots, with no previous programming knowledge required. The LittleBits kit comes with all the tools necessary to make 12 inventions, including a wireless doorbell and a spinning lamp, plus whatever else your favorite curious kid can come up with. 

Find it: Amazon  

10. DUNECRAFT CARNIVOROUS CREATURES SCIENCE KIT; $35

Young botanists and nature-lovers will delight in this terrarium grow kit for carnivorous plants. It comes with an LED light that’s powered by USB, so no need to worry about finding sunny window space. These insect-eating plants are sure to get any kid's attention. 

Find it: Dune Craft

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Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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David Franzen, Library of Congress
You Can Thank 1950s Suburban Architecture for ‘The Floor Is Lava’
David Franzen, Library of Congress
David Franzen, Library of Congress

No one knows who, exactly, was the first kid to play "The Floor Is Lava," the simple childhood game that has only one rule: You can’t touch the floor. But as Quartz reports, a new paper contends that the game wouldn't have come about if it weren’t for the rise of American suburbs.

Published in the Social Science Research Network, the analysis by Tim Hwang of the MIT Media Laboratory argues that architecture was a vital factor in the spread of the folk game.

In the new suburban housing developments of postwar America, builders began to market the relatively new idea of the family room, an informal room designed for the social needs of the whole family. This room was separate from the formal living room and dining room, both of which were more likely to contain the inhabitants’ good furniture and fancy china. In building plans popular in the 1950s and 1960s, they were also set apart from the kitchen. One 1965 poll found that seven of 10 new houses built that year contained a family room.

And these factors, Hwang argues, are integral to playing The Floor is Lava. Family rooms provide big couches, coffee tables, and other furniture that kids can move around, climb on, and use as props for the game. Bedrooms would be too small, and formal living and dining rooms too full of potentially fragile items that Mom and Dad would be livid to find disturbed. And kitchens were seen as a mother’s domain, meaning that she would likely be there to put a stop to any shenanigans.

"What is unique about the family room space is both the quantity of space and permission that it affords to the play of The Floor is Lava,” Hwang writes.

However, this is just a hypothesis, and no one can really identify who started playing the game first. Kids in urban apartments can also theoretically jump all over their parents’ living room furniture, if allowed. During my childhood, the game typically took place on a playground rather than inside, requiring players to avoid the ground rather than the family room floor. There are games that originated elsewhere in the world that also revolve around avoiding the floor—Hwang notes examples from Kenya and the UK. But given how the spread of suburbs in the U.S. during the postwar period affected home design, it makes sense that a game might arise from the new spaces children lived in. We may never truly know how The Floor Is Lava was invented, but architecture seems like a good clue.

[h/t Quartz]

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