Scientists work in a variety of ways. One is by designing and conducting experiments, essentially saying, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if we did x, y, or z.” Another is to simply watch, as if to say, “Let’s look closely at all those stars and other bright things in the night sky and try to figure out whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa.” This week we honor both approaches: the hands-on science that we do, and the hands-off science that we observe.
Ant Farms (Uncle Milton)
Uncle Milton has been making ant farms for decades (in fact, they just celebrated their 60th ANT-iversary!). Over the years, ant-farming technology has changed and so have designs and materials. But what’s stayed remarkably consistent is how fascinating it is to watch these tiny animals dig tunnels, build bridges, and move mountains (little ones). The inhabitants of the original ant farms did their digging in sand. Their descendants can go old school with sand or dig in a nutrient-rich gel that eliminates the need for feeding and watering. Whichever way you go, you and your kids will have a wonderful—and very educational—time observing. And in case you’re worried, all the farms are break resistant and escape-proof. Under $20. For ages six and up. http://unclemilton.com/
Triassic Triops (Toyops)
Remember Sea Monkeys—those tiny creatures that almost miraculously came to life when you dropped their dried out little bodies into water? Well, Triops are similar, in that you reanimate them the same way. But these bad boys could eat your Sea Monkeys for lunch—quite literally. Relatively speaking, they’re enormous—easily reaching 2-3 inches. What’s especially cool about Triops is that the ones you get in your kit are identical to the ones that lived millions of years ago. They thrived and reproduced in wet climates, but went into a state of suspended animation (called “diapause”) when droughts came. Now you can revive them, just like Dr. Frankenstein—just be sure to follow the directions carefully (especially the water you use). Triops look positively pre-historic and are eerily engaging to watch. For ages 8 and up. Prices vary. http://www.toyops.com/
Science X Smartscope (Ravensburger)
Want to get a closer look at your ants, Sea Monkeys, or Triops? Smart Scope is for you. Just collect your specimen—which could be pretty much anything from water to rocks, feathers to insects, and slip it into the housing. Now here’s where it gets fun: put your smartphone or tablet on top of the housing and it becomes a digital microscope—without using an app (yay!). You can simply observe or, better yet, you can use your device’s camera to capture amazing images. For ages 8 and up. About $45. https://www.ravensburger.com
Ultimate Secret Formula Lab (Smart Lab)
Hydraulics and fluid dynamics are all the rage this year, and this kit makes what could be complicated concepts accessible and fun. It includes a base station, test tubes, valves, plungers, petri dishes, clips, beakers, and enough chemicals to conduct 40 experiments that fizz, change color, disappear, crystalize, and defy gravity (clear, detailed instructions are included too). A delightful way to combine doing and observing. For ages 8 and up (adult supervision definitely recommended). Under $40. http://www.smartlabtoys.com/
MC2 Soda Pop Science Kit (Alex Brands)
After a long day of doing and observing science, you’re going to be thirsty. Why go out when you and your budding lab rat can whip up your own scientifically delicious fizzy sodas? This kit comes with citric acid, baking soda, some artificial flavoring, a couple of test tubes, and instructions for making lime, fruit punch, and cinnamon drinks. Ages 8 and up (adult supervision suggested). Around $16 at your favorite retailer.