Check out any toy shop for a big selection of science kits and toys…there are so many to choose from! But which ones will keep your young scientists excited and engaged beyond Christmas or their birthday? Here are our top picks:
Hot Wires electronics set by John Adams – around £49.99
We love this kit! It is immediately accessible; anyone with no prior knowledge of electronics can make something that works within minutes of opening the box. There are so many more complex things to try as you build confidence and infinite possibilities to test out your own ideas. Everything fits together easily, making experimenting and rebuilding and (we particularly love this as we are geeks) all of the components have the circuit symbols on! Top tip: The John Adams website sells all the pieces as spares at very reasonable prices. Remember this when your budding electronic engineer loses the yellow spinner (you might want to buy two at a time). The kit itself can be found in most large toy shops or online retailers.
Virtuali-tee T-shirt by Curiscope – £25
We use an adult-sized version of this T-shirt for our Brilliant Bodies camps and workshops and it goes down a storm! It is just a blue T-shirt with a funny pixelated skeleton pattern on the front, you might think it does not exactly look exciting. However, download the free app on your phone or tablet, point it at the T-shirt and you can see inside your own body! Of course, it’s not really x-ray vision but it looks pretty real; it’s 3D, it moves with your body and even has a beating heart. We hook it up to a projector when we are working with big groups but it’s just as effective on a small screen when you only need one or two people to be able to see it. You can buy direct from Curiscope or other online retailers.
Whizz Pop Bang magazine – £39.99 annual subscription
OK, so this isn’t a toy but Whizz Pop Bang inspires our kids to try out more science experiments than any chemistry set we’ve ever bought! This magazine was created by the fabulous Jenny Inglis (who used to be a science presenter on Blue Peter) and it is full of interesting facts, experiments to try and interviews with real scientists. They don’t allow any advertising in the magazine, it doesn’t come with any plastic tat stuck to the front and it’s even delivered in a paper envelope. You can subscribe (if it’s for Christmas they often do offers that include a free book or similar) or buy individual copies for £3.99. Each month is a different theme so you may want to search through the back catalogue for titles that will really grab your young scientist’s imagination…Ploptastic Poo for example! Subscriptions and back issues are all available direct from Whizz Pop Bang.
Natural History Museum pocket microscope – £10 (+P&P)
Many of our activities at Fab Science events need us to see things that are very small, from bug-hunting to analysing fibres in Fab Forensics. Over time, we have spent a small fortune on various microscopes that didn’t quite fit the bill…until we found this one. We have ten of these and they have been thoroughly road-tested by our young Fab Scientists. They have been used indoors, outdoors, in mud, in bright light, in dim light, upside-down, sitting quietly, running around…and they are all still going! They will take a normal microscope slide but can also be used without the stage so you can put it straight onto the surface that you want to look at. The magnification isn’t huge at x40 but this is plenty to make everyday objects way more interesting. You can buy direct from the Natural History Museum website or usual online retailers.
Chemical Elements Top Trumps – £6
If your child loves Top Trumps and loves science…this is a perfect stocking filler! The set was designed by the Royal Society for Chemistry so the numbers are real (no ‘Cool Ratings’ here) and players learn about the elements while enjoying the game. Each card even includes interesting facts as well the chemical symbol but is bright, colourful and fun.
You can buy direct from the RSC bookshop or usual retailers.
Make your own chemistry kit
We’ve tested a few chemistry kits and haven’t yet found one that really excites us. There is often too much plastic packaging and not enough actual stuff to do anything! We’re happy to be proven wrong though so do let us know if there’s one we’ve missed. If you have a little chemist at home who wants to turn your kitchen into a lab, here’s a list of basics to get them going.
- Goggles – kids ones tend to be a bit rubbish, just buy grown up ones (from a hardware store) with an elasticated band that can be adjusted. Get a couple of pairs so they can experiment with a friend (or for when you want to join in)
- Plastic test tubes (6-10) and a rack to put them in
- Small measuring jug
- Plastic pipettes
- A big tray to catch any spills 🙂
- Things from around the house such as old spoons, empty plastic bottles, balloons, squeezy bottles etc.
All of this can found in many places locally or online. Strangely, we’ve found the best supplier of reasonably priced test tubes, racks, beakers etc is Cream Supplies. They do ‘molecular gastronomy’ equipment but it’s perfect for kitchen science! For ideas on experiments to try out, see our ‘home science‘ pages.