Magic. That's one way to explain what happens when you add Mentos mints to a bottle of Coca-Cola and witness the resulting explosion, or how a simple vitamin C tablet can help launch a DIY rocket. Another way to describe these wow-inducing experiments? Well, basic science of course, says Nichola Fisher.
A science teacher and mother of three, Fisher is the brains behind Rockit Science, a company that provides science-themed parties for children, and also conducts training workshops to help provide teachers with ideas on how to make science more fun in the classroom. In September, Rockit Science will also be launching My Discovery Lab, a monthly box of science experiments that kids can carry out at home.
After attending “hundreds” of birthday parties for children – most of which were either princess or pirate themed – Fisher, who comes from Scotland but has been living in Dubai for 11 years, felt that there was a market for parties that combined the educational and fun elements of science.
“I was going to so many parties at play centres,” says Fisher, who is the mother of Jack, 6, Liam, 8 and 10-year-old Sean. “Once the kids have done that and are a bit older, mums are looking for something else that’s good fun.”
Fisher began testing the waters by hosting science parties for her own children, and for friends’ children, to gauge people’s reactions. The fun science experiments she did at home with her own kids were the starting point.
"After having my own children, I realised that some of the best science can be so simple, using household materials, but you can get the maximum enjoyment out of it. You can make a lava lamp using just oil, water, food colouring and vitamin C tablets, or create colourful mixing liquids with just milk, salt and food colouring. It's stuff I do with my boys, and I felt I could centre a party around it, making it action-packed and fun, but educational at the same time."
In 2016, Fisher took part in the Women of Tomorrow Award, a female entrepreneurial competition run by ExpatWoman.com and Emirates NBD Business Banking. She won the Dh100,000 first prize award and used the money to create Rockit Science. She retired from full-time teaching to develop her business. Making children love and appreciate science was the draw for Fisher.
Her parties, lasting an hour and 15 minutes and catering to kids age 4 to 12, have a number of different themes, all based on classic science experiments. The Crazy Chemical Chaos party is the most popular, representing 80 per cent of bookings.
But there's more. Kids can be paleontologists during the Dino Dig party, or crime scene investigators in the CSI-inspired Who Dun It? Or they can get in touch with their inner Harry Potters in the Potions Party. It's a chance for them to watch a fun, magical science "show" and then do the experiments themselves, while role-playing as professors, complete with lab coats and safety goggles.
Fisher has also set up an education arm of her business, creating workshops for primary teachers. “Teachers sometimes comment that they aren’t as comfortable with science or don’t know enough about it to make it fun in the classroom. I wanted to show them how simple it can be and really develop scientific inquiry skills. It’s taught like it’s all knowledge-based but it is so much more than that; it is a skill-based subject as well, based on discovery-based learning, and in today’s day and age, children have got to be able to question things, solve problems, experiment, find answers to things themselves,” she says.
Part of Fisher's passion towards the subject is also her belief in the importance of exposing and immersing children in Steam learning - an acronym for the science, technology, engineering, art and math fields, and a current hot topic in early childhood education. These subjects are presented through an integrated approach and via everyday activities, to encourage kids to think more broadly about real-world problems by promoting problem-solving, and creative and analytical thinking. Usually, kids aren't introduced to these subjects until they're older.
"It used to be just Stem, but that's old news. It's Steam now, because arts are central to everything that we do, and creativity is essential in all these subjects. Children may be building a rocket to launch it using a gas created through a chemical reaction, but they have to be creative in design, using different materials, cutting, sticking, being engineers, developing math skills, figuring out how long the rocket is in the air, learning from science, aerodynamics, using heavy materials versus lighter materials. It is all connected," explains Fisher.
Her passion has led her to create My Discovery Lab, due to launch in September. The idea is monthly themed boxes that parents can order as part of a subscription service, ranging in price between Dh125 and Dh150 each month. There will be three types of boxes, all gender neutral: one for kids age 3 to 5, one for age 6 to 9 and boxes for kids age 10 to 14.
“I wanted to show that science can be so simple, you can do it at home. Parents loved making slime with their kids at our parties, making lava lamps, and making rockets. We’ll have a glossy booklet in each box linked to the theme, with interesting characters sharing cool info and facts, did you knows, QR codes with links to videos, instructions and diagrams.”
The kits will include everything needed for five experiments. The thing is, says Fisher, children don't need to be able to recite Isaac Newton's three laws of motion to understand them. They can see them applied instead, and through this method of exploration, "we are laying the seeds for a foundation in science", she says. "I love what I do. There is nothing better than seeing the amazement in kids' eyes when they do cool science," she concludes.
Play and learn: Three more ways to get children to engage with Steam subjects early on
These hands-on crafting kits are made in New Zealand by Seedling, and available at Orangewheels in Abu Dhabi and online from NoahsGarden.ae. They encourage children to imagine, create and then play with their creations. The kits come with all the materials and tools needed to create anything from a superhero cape to a night light. The kits even merge tactile materials with advancing technologies, like augmented reality and virtual reality. There are over 350 kits to choose from, for ages 3 to 12.
Soh Cah Toa UAE
Math can be fun, says Abu Dhabi-based professor Carla Rudder, and she can prove it. She has created fun and interactive math classes for children ages 3 ½ to 10, to help build their confidence in mathematics and help them develop their skills through fun activities. She conducts classes all over Abu Dhabi.
Iggy Peck, Architect
This children’s book by Andrea Beaty, for ages 4 to 8, introduces Iggy and his passion for building. He has a love for architecture, engineering and design, and uses materials like dirty diapers to build incredible towers. Other works by the author include Rosie Revere, Engineer, which shows how well science and art can merge, as well as Ada Twist, Scientist.