Fresno Bee 12-6-07

Bubbles become a fun teaching tool

Local business stimulates kids creatively.

By Margaret Slaby / The Fresno Bee 12/05/07

As a child, Brandon Gray was fascinated by many things — the messier and slimier the better.  He remembers making goopy balls of mud at day care; pulling pieces of cooled charcoal from the fireplace and drawing with them; and collecting frogs, hunting for bugs and blowing bubbles. Some of the best gifts he received were sea monkeys, ant farms and a microscope. He was very creative, says Gray’s mother, Marta.  He still is.

Brandon Gray of Wild Child Adventures throws a bubble around Angel Nanez, 8, and Regina Lee, 14, during the Bubble Extravaganza show at the Zimmerman Boys and Girls Club. PHOTOS BY DARRELL WONG/THE FRESNO BEE

These days, Brandon Gray, 33, makes his living creating messes. In March, he opened Wild Child Adventures, launched a Web site (wildchildadventures.com) and began booking shows for children that include slimy space mud, erupting volcanoes and oodles of bubbles. His shows target ages 2 to 11 and have been held at day cares, schools, festivals, clubs and birthday parties. Prices range from about $125 to $200, depending on the program and audience size. Gray also has done free charity shows for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, Woodward Park Library and a Discovery Center festival. Shows combine entertainment and education. “The entertainment is fun — I get to be a goofball and revert to being a kid — but I want the kids to take something home with them,” says Gray, a Bullard High graduate who earned a biology degree from California State University, Fresno, in 2000. “If they can pick up any little bit, I’ve done my job.”  Shows last about an hour. Gray has three programs: Balloon Artistry, Slime Time, and Bubble Extravaganza. He is working on Dyno Days, which he hopes to launch early next year to allow children to excavate and make molds of a dinosaur’s teeth. During Slime Time, children make “space mud” from a mixture of glue, borax and food coloring. Also, a volcano made of vinegar, baking soda and modifications erupts 25 to 30 feet into the air.

Gray’s main program is the Bubble Extravaganza. There are square bubbles, triangular bubbles, bubbles inside bubbles and rainbow bubbles. Some stretch 10 to 15 feet.  Each child gets a chance to be placed inside a bubble. A bubble playtime, with plastic kiddie pools filled with solution, gives children a chance to use wands of various shapes and sizes to make bubbles.  Second-grader Ahansonie Herd, 7, couldn’t stop giggling as Gray used a large hoop as a wand to enclose her in a giant bubble during a charity show at south Fresno’s Zimmerman Boys & Girls Club. About 60 youngsters attended.

Gray creates a bubble cube. He also uses the shapes to teach about science

Third-grader Angel Nanez, 8, also was placed in a bubble. “It was neat!” he says after emerging with traces of liquid on his shirt. “It was fun.” Jyvontay Jackson, 8, was having a grand time as he stood in front of the group with a towel draped over his hand and tried to catch bubbles. Gray blew from a small, plastic tube.  “It’s cool. Bubbles are cool,” says Jyvontay, a third-grader.  Gray couldn’t agree more. “We all have a natural awe for bubbles,” he says.  During the bubbles program, Gray teaches children about how the creations are formed. They hear about physical properties, transparency and gravity.  “I learned about shapes,” fourth-grader Allias Yancy, 9, says. “I liked getting inside the bubble.”  As for Gray, there’s nowhere he’d rather be than entertaining a group of kids.  “I used to have stage fright,” he says.  “In high school and college, I’d almost rather fail than get up in front of a class.”  That changed when Gray spent 21/2 years working for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, including a stint as youth activities manager.  “My first day, they handed me a microphone and said, ‘Introduce yourself’ and boom, there I was. I came out of my shell after that. On ship, I realized how much fun I had working with kids and entertaining.”  Marta Gray has no idea where her oldest son got his creative, adventurous side. She is chief financial officer for Milano Restaurants. Brandon’s father, John Gray, recently retired as vice president of accounting for Me-n-Ed’s.  “He’s following his heart and his dream,” Marta Gray says of Brandon.  “It’s fun to be a kid, and he still loves being a kid. He still has that wonder. He’s still a wild child.”

The reporter can be reached at mslaby@fresnobee.com or at (559) 441-6758.