Award-winning toy. Provides a fun way for kids to learn about electronics. Includes parts for constructing working alarms, radio functions, and more. Over 300 possible projects.
Occasional quality control issues, including missing parts and non-working circuits upon arrival. Some parts are a bit flimsy. Instructions could be better.
Entertaining. 11 chemistry-based experiments that are easy and educational. Youngsters can't get enough of the colorful volcano-like projects.
May be too remedial and not very exciting for more advanced or older kids. Can be messy.
Includes everything needed to grow living plants, including soil, seeds, and a lighted terrarium jar. Comes with stickers and characters so youngsters can customize their miniature container gardens.
A few terrariums arrived with missing pieces, and some had "dud" seeds. Light has been known to quit working.
A long-time favorite for aspiring scientists. Kit provides everything needed to grow colorful crystals. Includes display cases for showing off grown crystals. Comes with easy-to-follow, detailed instructions.
Not recommended for kids under 10. Instructions must be followed closely, or results will be marginal. Supervision may be needed, as the kit contains chemicals. A tad messy.
A must-have for kids who are inspired by science and want to look at tiny and microscopic details. Magnifies up to 1,200 times. Has 52 pieces, including 5 prepared slides.
Includes small pieces that can be challenging for small hands to maneuver. Some of the components are flimsy. Microscope lens can be difficult to adjust.
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Preschool children learn through play, but there’s no reason that hands-on learning needs to stop when they reach school age. In fact, many experts recommend skipping the action figure aisle altogether and bringing home a science toy instead.
Science toys can teach your child valuable skills without them even realizing that they’re learning. They demonstrate scientific principles in hands-on ways that kids may grasp better than oral or textbook explanations. They can ignite a passion that spills over into a new hobby or career path. And because they’re done on their own time, science kits let your child move at their own pace, so they get a better understanding of the concept.
There are a plethora of science toys on the market. Some focus on physics and engineering. Others teach simple circuitry or let you build and blow up your own volcano. Kits vary by age, ability, and interest. If you’re not sure which one would make your child geek out, keep reading.
A child’s age is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a science toy. Some toys aren’t recommended for toddlers because their small parts pose a choking risk. Some require higher-level thinking that is appropriate for middle schoolers. Science toys must be complex enough to engage a child but not so advanced that it frustrates them. Be sure to check the toy’s age recommendation, but remember that every child is different, so you should keep your particular kid in mind.
Toddlers (ages 1 to 2): Many toddlers explore their toys orally, so small toys — those that could fit into a toilet paper tube — aren’t recommended. Similarly, toys with magnetic components that could come loose aren’t recommended for children under age three. At this age, look for building toys that don’t pose a choking risk or stations that allow children to fill and dump media, like water or sand.
Preschoolers (ages 3 to 4): At this age, choking concerns drop greatly, so magnetic building toys and sets with smaller pieces are a possibility. However, that doesn’t mean your child has the dexterity to deal with tiny objects. Kits with large, interlocking gears are likely winners, as are simple magnet toys. Items that help children strengthen gross or fine motor skills will help them move on to more complex toys later.
Lower elementary students (ages 5 to 7): At this point, kids can start applying the skills they’ve already learned with true science toys. Gears and building toys may remain popular, but they move up a notch when a coding dimension is added. Some toys sneak in tech skills in ways that appeal to kids who don’t have this traditional bent. Other toys may explore more traditional aspects of science. Exploration is important, but parental involvement is still likely to be necessary.
Upper elementary students (ages 8 to 10): By now, children have honed their hand and finger control to the point where they can easily build with smaller blocks. Reaction time has improved, making problem-solving and simple experiments a possibility. Attention spans have increased, but children may still need mental breaks from more complex toys. Parental supervision remains a good idea.
Middle school and up: Middle school is the prime age for science toys. By this time, some kids are losing interest in toys that encourage make-believe but may be intrigued by those that actually “do” something. They are beginning to understand connections and cause and effect, making circuitry, applied coding, and more advanced experiments a real possibility. Science skills built in these years may put them on the road to a STEM career or teach them to apply related skills to another hobby or passion. Exploration is key, and the need for parental involvement is limited — though you can still be waiting in the wings in case something goes wrong.
Working together on a science project can be a great way to bond with your child.
Science toys can help your child try something new, but it’s good to find something tied to an established interest. Kids may quickly discard a challenging toy if it has no features that catch their attention.
Coding is one of the hottest trends in science toys. These kits teach kids to use a programming language to make computerized toys complete tasks or behave in certain ways. Different applications can teach kids how to program miniature robots, animals, or action figures. Most of these toys require you to use them with a smartphone or tablet.
A number of science toys teach kids basic circuitry concepts. Using these toys, children can build circuits to power a light, MP3 player, small fan, and more. Most circuit kits come with instructions for basic projects, but kids can search online to create projects of their own. Most are battery-powered, so there is little risk of shock.
Build with circuits
If you thought learning about circuits couldn’t be fun, think again. This classic kit from Snap Circuits includes everything you need to build a working radio, touch lamp, fan, and hundreds more projects. Components are color-coded to remove the guesswork, and they easily snap into place without soldering. Two AA batteries power the circuit board, so you don’t have to worry about accidental shocks. The kit is intended for ages eight and up.
Children who love building toys can up their game with physics toys that experiment with simple machines like levers, gears, and more. Kids can build marble mazes, construct working rollercoasters, or design a catapult that tosses water balloons. Magnet-powered cars can race down tracks using only opposing polar forces.
Some of the original science toys came out of the earth science realm, and today’s versions improve upon those classics. For example, a kit may allow your child to sculpt and paint a volcano, then make it erupt over and over again. There are also kits that allow kids to grow multi-colored crystals, mine for gems, and create a tornado in a bottle.
The stars capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. Enjoy them together with your child using a telescope or a ceiling star projector. Assembling a rocket kit together is another great way to bond — and an opportunity to supervise when it’s time to light the fuse.
On average, entry-level workers in STEM jobs make at least $10,000 more annually than those with non-STEM careers.
Whether you have a lot or a little to spend, there’s a science toy to fit every budget.
Inexpensive: You can find fun, engaging science toys for as low as $10 to $15. Science toys in this price range are mostly geared toward elementary students. In this price range, you’ll find hands-on earth science kits for simple projects like making slime, growing crystals, or building your own volcano.
Mid-range: The next tier of science toys will cost you $20 to $30. Here, you’ll find toys for kids of all ages, from building kits with oversized blocks to simple machines and life science kits.
High-priced: The most expensive science toys often cost $40 or more. Toys in this price range are typically aimed at older kids. Most have numerous components for building circuits, coding robots, or designing machines for movement. Many require the use of a smartphone or tablet.
Science toys that use apps can be a great incentive for kids who are glued to their phone or tablet.
Little scientists just getting started will love this messy hands-on chemistry kit. Make a volcano erupt, grow gigantic crystals, and even make a grape change colors. You’ll simply need a handful of household items to complete more than ten experiments. Parental supervision is required for most of the experiments, which are designed for kids ages six and older.
The Q Ba Maze 2.0 is another great contender. The “big box” assortment includes six dozen cubes to arrange and rearrange into a cascading waterfall of marbles. Stunt add-ons, which are sold separately, provide even more engineering challenges.
Lovers of all things LEGO won’t want to miss the Klutz Lego Chain Reaction Science and Building Kit. Use the LEGO bricks already in your collection to build ten simple machines including a ramp, spinner, and catapult. This kit works best for kids who already have a generous LEGO collection.
Q. Is there a difference between science toys and STEM toys?
A. All STEM toys are science toys, but not all science toys are STEM toys. The acronym “STEM” stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Toys labeled as STEM teach hands-on skills in these areas. A science toy might address one area of STEM but not all of them.
For kids interested in the arts, consider looking for STEAM toys: those that add an art-related aspect.
Q. How do I get my kid interested in science toys?
A. Positive social pressure may help. Make a date to sit with them and look through the microscope, build the circuit, or erupt the volcano. Or, invite a friend over who has a natural interest in science. Spending time with a loved one or friend whose enthusiasm is contagious may draw them in before they realize it.
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