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For those of you introducing young children to science, have you caught an episode of "Peep and the Big Wide World" yet? Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the premise of this television show is that three animated bird friends ask questions and explore the world as budding scientists. After the humorous cartoon segment, there is live-action video of preschoolers performing age-appropriate science activities.

I have to admit I wasn't that impressed the first time I saw this show. The simple round figures seemed a bit ridiculous. But it has really grown on me after watching a few episodes, and my tween son is definitely hooked. The characters are surprising complex for being circles with stick legs. From what I’ve seen, the television show seems to attract viewers on both sides of its target audience, both younger and older.

I am not a big fan of young children spending a large part of their day sitting around and watching television. There are times, however, when a little educational television comes in handy, like when your child is under the weather, or when you can’t get outside. You may want to use it as a jumping off point to inspire new discoveries, or kick start explorations.

The creators of this series have a great attitude about how to introduce kids to science. When asked, "What is the best way to introduce science to young children?" Peep Science Adviser, Karen Worth, responded "For young children, science is about active, focused exploration of objects, materials, and events around them. We introduce them to science by offering an environment where there are interesting materials to explore.” Read more here at the "About Peep" section of the “Peep in the Big Wide World” website.

Even if you aren’t interested in the television program, you might find the “recommended books” section useful. For each episode, they have picked two wonderful science-related books for further exploration of that topic. You may also follow the resources link from the website.

If you want to take a look at an example cartoon episode, here is a clip from YouTube.

Overall, I would say that "Peep in the Big Wide World" is one of those rare television shows for children that is able to teach science in a humorous and entertaining way.

More Resources:

"Peep in the Big Wide World" is available on DVD.

You might want to pick up some of the books for preschoolers based on the series. These books are not word-for-word rehashes to the television programs, but stand on their own. Two-year-old children seem to find them particularly fascinating.

PEEP Who’s Hiding? By Laura Gates Galvin.

Quack’s Masterpiece by Laura Gates Galvin.

Discovery Travel Pack by Laura Gates Galvin.

What’s That Sound? By Laura Gates Galvin.

A Very Good Smell By Laura Gates Galvin.

Animals and Nature Activity Book By Laura Gates Galvin.

Chirp’s Colors By Laura Gates Galvin. This one comes with a magnetic Chirp character to move around.

Please let me know if you find this information useful.

In a previous post, I mentioned two Arizona State University scientists have a project to grow algae to convert into fuel, particularly jet fuel. They made the news again this week because they just got a $3 million-dollar grant to start a pilot project. Exciting stuff!

Follow the link to the newspaper article:
Algae-to-fuel work gets $3 mil
ASU spinoff believes organisms key to renewable energy for jets
by Ken Alltucker - Sept. 2, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

This week my friend Debbie called and invited me to visit her butterfly garden. Sure enough, when I arrived there were several species of butterflies flitting throughout her yard. By far the most common were the bright orange and silvery white gulf fritillary butterflies. I also saw numerous skippers and a few giant swallowtails, as well as a yellow sulphur butterfly.

It was hard to get the active gulf fritillary butterflies to sit still long enough to get a photo. The adults were searching her yard for the numerous passion vine plants she had planted. The adults lay eggs on the plant and the caterpillars use it for food. Can you guess what happened to this one?

gulf fritillary

Here’s an adult apparently laying eggs on a piece of passion vine. Note the remnant of a chrysalis hanging to the left of the butterfly. Can you see the beautiful silvery-white patches on the undersides of the wings?

gulf fritillary

Debbie’s passion vines are in various stages. Some have no leaves left from all the caterpillars that have been feeding on them in the past. If you are going to have brilliant, vibrant butterflies, you’ll have to accept that your plants may look a bit raggedy. The vines are around an aloe plant in a pot.

passion vines

She has a couple of different passion vines, with different shaped leaves. Here is one that still has leaves.

passion vine leaf

Here’s another with an empty chrysalis.

fritillary chrysalis

The passion vines have gorgeous, very unusual flowers. I couldn’t find flowers this week, but here is one I shot at the National Botanical Garden a few months ago.

passion vine flower

Here is a link for passion vine flower photos of several different species.

I did find a fruit.

passion vine ruit

Debbie opened one and showed me the unusual seeds inside. Cool!

passion vine seed

Here is a cute skipper that was more willing to pose for me than the fritillaries. The skipper caterpillars feed on various grasses and they are quite common. Sometimes they are mistaken for moths because of their drab brown color.

skipper butterfly

This experience made me realize how very rewarding butterfly gardening can be. We were able to see and talk about so much in just a short period of time. With a few well-chosen plants, some sun, water and patience, Debbie has created a lively and enriching environment.

Debbie, thanks for sharing.