Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Discovery Tornado Lab Saved Me Hours of Unnecessary Crafting

For the past few months my nine-year-old had been bugging me to make her a toy she saw at a birthday party awhile back. It consisted of two, 2-liter soda bottles joined together at their necks and containing colored water, and when the bottles were flipped one way or another the liquid would create a tornado effect. The ones she had seen were joined by a plastic sleeve made especially for this purpose, but she had been told (by a very "helpful" parent at the party) that the same thing could be achieved by using duct tape to join the two bottles. So go home, he told her, go home and tell your mom to get cracking on that craft in all that free time of hers.

This particular project posed a few problems. For one thing, we never buy soda in liter bottles. I may drink coffee by the liter, but never soda. If that contraption could have been made by joining two Starbucks cups, well we would have had ourselves a house full of tornado toys. Another thing is, I don't trust the combination of large amounts of water, duct tape, and the willy-nilly arms of a nine-year old. I just knew that the toy would work fine for a few minutes, and then I'd spend the rest of the day cleaning up blue-tinged water off my couch and off the walls.

And most importantly, I don't consider myself a "crafty" person. You may not consider taping two pieces of plastic together a craft, but for me it may as well be needlepointing an entire set of living room chairs.

So imagine the screams of joy and the clapping of hands when The Parent Bloggers Network sent me the Discovery Tornado Lab to try out. My kids were pretty excited, too. Not only is it a hundred times more attractive than two Sprite bottles taped together, but at the touch of a button it makes tornado noises and has different speeds to simulate five different tornado strengths. The kids were a little disappointed we didn't have all that soda to finish off, though, so I gave them a bowl of candy to eat while we played with our new toy.

We live in California and have never experienced a tornado first hand, but we've seen them on TV and felt Dorothy's pain when she got sucked up into one in The Wizard of Oz. But luckily the Discovery Tornado Lab comes with a DVD that has some pretty breathtaking footage of actual tornadoes touching down, and also some sound bytes from people who have lived through them. The DVD is well made and worth watching - a really nice extra that makes the toy even more interesting.

Besides inserting batteries, there really isn't any setup, which is great (no duct tape!) Simply fill with water, turn the knob to your desired tornado strength, and push the button for sound effects. It comes with some small objects to drop in to the water to see how they react to the vortex effect, but my kids filled it with everything - small sticks, a little bit of dirt, some leaves. At one point I even saw a Polly Pocket purse and a small rubber wig twirling around in there - I guess they were trying to simulate what would happen if a tornado touched down on Polly Pocket's Ultimate Stylin' Boutique.

It's not every day that I enthuse about an instruction manual, but the Discovery Tornado Lab comes with such an unusual one that I think it's worth pointing out here. The actual setup and instructions take up only half a page, but the other 23 pages are filled with tornado facts and maps. It even has several experiments that you can do, and poses questions relating to the outcomes of those experiments. When was the last time you saw a thoughtful, educational instruction manual with that Bratz Limo your kid got, or with that pack of Pokémon cards?

My daughter will be entering fifth grade next year, and one of the things they'll be studying are different types of weather patterns and occurrences. I'm already planning on lending the Discovery Tornado Lab to her teacher, along with printouts of the instruction manual and the DVD. Come to think of it, this would make a great teacher gift, one I'm sure they would appreciate much more than that Santa mug or the pencil holder carved to look like an apple.

This isn't the first Discovery toy I've owned, and it won't be the last. I've always found them to be well made, and above all, educational. And thanks to the Discovery Tornado Lab, I won't be laboring over soda bottles and duct tape any time soon.

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