The ocean blue

What better time than now to get educational about the ocean? A review of children's learning toys about the ocean by Andrea Gollin

By Andrea Gollin

Published July 17, 1997 8:47AM (EDT)

if it weren't for a few small details, such as barracudas and their
teeth, jellyfish and their tentacles, crabs and their claws, it would be
an extremely cool thing to live under the sea. It would be quiet and
calm, sort of like being surrounded by a soothing New Age tape at all
times. You could find Atlantis, locate buried treasure, hang out with
mermaids, eat a lot of lobster -- what could be so terrible?

Now that summer's well under way, we all have thoughts of water dancing
in our heads. Sea, river, pool, sprinkler, you name it. So, what
better time than now to get educational about the ocean? And after all, the
ocean is very important. It covers more than two-thirds of the globe, and
contains about 97 percent of all the water on earth. The ocean floor, after
learning a bit about it, is probably not a place where anyone would want to
spend a whole lot of time.

Below 3,280 feet, it's permanently dark, since
it's too deep for sunlight to reach. And some of the stuff that lives down
there ... take the abyssopelagic animals, for example. They're usually
black, and they have huge mouths and stomachs that can stretch to
accommodate food that's three times larger than they are. We're talking
about animals like the gulper eel, which can unhinge its jaws. Not exactly
Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.

We've never laid eyes on a gulper eel, and don't intend to either, but
we've read about it, in The Oceans Atlas. This comprehensive,
heavily illustrated and detail-rich volume is well-suited to both kids
with inquiring minds and oceanographer wannabes. The oversized, 63-page
book by Anita Ganeri, illustrated by Luciano Corbella, could take an
entire summer to digest. ($19.95; for ages 8 and up, from DK Inc.,

Kids can of course take the direct route to becoming acquainted
with water, with no book to act as middleman. They can jump right in,
swim, splash, float, dive and snorkel. When they start asking why the
sea is blue, though, or where the salt in the water comes from, or what a
tide is, you can hand them all the answers in one box, the Exploring the
Ocean kit
. It includes materials and instructions for several
experiments and activities, including creating a seascape, experimenting
with bioluminescence and learning about oil spills. ($19.95; for ages 7
to 12, from Scientific Explorer,

This is a quiz for kids: Suppose you're banished to a desert island with
just one toy -- are you going to bring Barbie, or are you going to be
smart and pack the Castaway Message in a Bottle? Well, it all
depends on how quickly you want to be rescued. The plastic message capsule
comes with instructions and information on ocean currents and the best
times to launch a message. You're landlocked? No problem. The company will
transcribe your message and send it for you. ($10; for ages 5 and up,
from Christensen Designs, 800-928-9111)

Returning to the ocean floor, LEGO is currently sponsoring a
contest inviting kids to create their own model of a futuristic
underwater exploration vehicle or other deep-sea-themed invention out of
(you guessed it) their omnipresent little blocks. The contest runs through
December; to enter, send in a photo and written description of the
underwater gizmo, along with an entry form. Kids are encouraged to use the
LEGO sets geared to the ocean, such as the 433-piece Deep Reef
Refuge set, part of the Divers series. The grand prize? A 12-day expedition
to Antarctica for a family of four. Break out the bricks! (Contest for
ages 5 to 12, sponsored by LEGO, 860-763-3211; forms are available at toy
stores across the country. Deep Reef Refuge Divers set, $59.99, for ages 8
to 12)

Andrea Gollin

Andrea Gollin is a freelance writer living in Miami. Her children's summer book special continues next Thursday.

MORE FROM Andrea Gollin

Related Topics ------------------------------------------