Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011
Using science to strike a chord with youngsters by Topher Forhecz
When can a child begin learning concepts about bugs and space? For Mary Porter Green, owner of the Ashburn science school Curiosity Zone, the answer is hardly rocket science: at 2 years old.
Despite the stigma that science can be boring and overwhelming to children, Green’s mission has been to teach youngsters basic science concepts since she opened the school in 2005.
“Science is everything all the time,” Green says. “The sun rising is science; the bugs you find in your backyard are science.”
Hoping to expand the reach of her school, Green created the band Ryan Buckle & Friends three years ago with Linda Blum Huntington, who has more than 30 years of music industry experience. The two met when Huntington came to the Curiosity Zone to ask if Green would sell a children’s album she was promoting. The duo decided to create a CD, “Swamp Stomp Boogie,” which was released in late 2008 with help from Wammie Award-winning artist Shane Hines.
On June 23, Ryan Buckle & Friends a live, educational music show will perform as part of Celebrate Frederick’s Summerfest Family Theatre series. The show, which was born more than a year ago, is a combination of catchy tunes and science experiments.
“We knew we wanted to do just a bigger format show so we could reach a bigger audience with the music,” Green says.
On-stage experiments include a “smoke blaster,” which fires large rings of smoke, as well as acid-based chemical reactions that send two different-sized rockets into the air. Green says she tries to engage the audience in the scientific method without them even knowing.
“We’re always trying to get them to make hypotheses, lthough we don’t use those big words like that,” Green says. “But we always make them guess what happens next and they always think the bigger rocket will go further because that’s the way a kid’s mind works bigger’s better. And then you obviously show them that the bigger rocket doesn’t actually go quite as high as the cute little rocket.”
Other participation experiments include the UFO Ball, which teaches children about circuits.
“We can get five and six kids to hold hands and they all, by holding hands, complete the circuit,” Green says. “So the electricity travels through them, or the charge does, and comes out the other side of the ball.”
With many experiments, Green says she tries to show kids how they can recreate them in a safe way at home.
“They can make their own smoke blasters out of a bucket and shower curtain,” she says.
Songs are also educational. The Ryan Buckle album deals with different animals a child might see in a zoo. Since Green and company have been working with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, she says the group has also incorporated two new songs that deal with traveling through space and gravity.
Songs also use repetition as a way to teach youngsters about science.
“We have a song about bats and there’s a whole narrative,” says Daniel Schwartz, who plays the character of Ryan Buckle. “But the whole point is just to say the world ‘nocturnal’ a couple times and drive it home so they know that word.”
Schwartz is a freelance audio engineer who works with companies including MSNBC and venues such as the Iota Club and Café and The Music Center at Strathmore.
A drum, piano and guitar player since childhood, Schwartz was introduced to the world of children’s music while running sound for Rocknoceros, a popular children’s group, in the mid-2000s.
Although a release date is not nailed down, Schwartz says he looks forward to helping out with Ryan Buckle’s upcoming space album. Performing for children has increased his musicianship as the songs must be tight and the sound perfect, he notes. Still, that doesn’t mean he isn’t having fun.
“I’m 28 and I think it’s a nice thing to be at that point in my life,” Schwartz says. “I just love hanging out with kids as long as somebody else takes them home.”
Ryan Buckle & Friends
When: 10:30 a.m. June 23
Where: Baker Park Bandshell, 121 North Bentz St., Frederick
For information: 301-600-2844