Tag Archives: science

Some Assembly Required

Some games are ready to go right out of the box. Others require a little more work. Here are four interactive kits that we know will keep you and your kids entertained for hours.

Light It and Shake It (lectrify)

lectrify itLectrify is a new company whose mission is to “make it easy and accessible for makers of all ages to build mechanical and electronic projects.” And after trying two of their kits, we can assure you that the company is achieving that goal. The core of each kit is a fully-functional circuit board. Light It includes a battery, two LEDs, an on/off switch, and a momentary switch (like an on/off switch but it only works when you press and hold it). Shake It includes a battery, on/off switch, vibrating motor, and more. Young makers (and their parents) can experiment with the board. Then, when they’re feeling confident, they can snap the components out of the board and embed them in any project they’d like. One especially cool feature is that the circuit components are compatible with LEGO and other systems, so it’s easy to add some special features to your LEGO creations. The possibilities are unlimited, but if you want some suggestions, there are plenty on the website. For ages 5 and up (with adult supervision). Prices vary. http://www.lectrify.it/

Totally Irresponsible Science Kit (Sean Connolly)

totally irresponsible scienceSean Connolly has done a great service for science and math, making both subjects a lot more interesting and engaging. The titles of two of his previous books should give you an idea of his strategy: “The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists” and “The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges for Young Mathematicians.” The experiments in this book/kit combo aren’t terribly new, but it’s the approach that counts. For example, learning how to make bubbles out of soap or generate static electricity is okay (yawn). But when you put it in terms of encasing your little brother in a giant bubble or shooting a bolt of lightning from your fingertip, now you’ve got something fun. Includes the book, a beaker, a test tube, and a measuring spoon. The rest of the ingredients you probably have around the house. For ages 7 and up.  $15 on www.amazon.com

Build a Knight’s Castle: Paper Toy Archaeology (Annalie Seaman)

build a kinght's castleWhat a great way to spark in interest in archeology. You and your child start by reading about how people in medieval times lived, built their castles, and defended them. Along the way, Annalie Seaman, an archeologist and educator, shows you how to pull clues from medieval documents, paintings, maps, burial sites, scraps of metal, and more. Then, you use that knowledge to build a 3D castle using pieces that pop out of the book—knights and weapons included. For ages 5 and up. Under $11 on www.amazon.com

Malia’s Beach House Building Kit (Build & Imagine)

malia's beach houseAimed mostly at girls (although plenty of boys will enjoy it too), this constructible dollhouse helps bring out those all-important STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) skills, including building, spatial reasoning, and problem solving. Build & Imagine has a number of kits, all of which use magnetic panels and pieces and are 100% compatible with each other. This one includes Malia and Skyler dolls, 17 dual-sided, illustrated panels, and a few dozen accessories. Kids design and build their own indoor- or outdoor world. Once that’s done, they can incorporate the dolls, clothes, and other accessories and props to create any scene they’d like. For age 4 and up $60. https://www.buildandimagine.com/

“S” is for Science

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) is all the rage these days, and that’s a good thing. Without a working knowledge of all of those subjects, our children will be woefully unprepared to meet the challenges of the fast-changing world they’ll be living in when they finally reach adulthood. This week, we take a look at several excellent science-related activities that, besides being a fantastic way for families to spend time together, introduce the kids (and mom and dad) to a number of complex concepts in a fun, engaging way that will keep everyone entertained (and learning) for hours.

smartlab glow-in-the-dark scienceGlow-in-the-Dark Lab (SmartLab)
How many synonyms can you come up with for “glows in the dark”? Stumped? Try these: fluorescence, phosphorescence, chemiluminescence, bioluminescence. Those are just a few of the many science concepts that are introduced in this kit. Children and their adult supervisors can work together on as many as 20 separate projects, all of which glow in the dark: including a lava lamp, slime (no self-respecting science kit would be without it), alien blood, ink, bouncing balls, fake snow, and more. Comes with a well-put-together instruction booklet and almost everything you need to do all the experiments. You’ll need to provide your own glue, salt, flour, corn syrup, baking soda, vegetable oil, vinegar. But you won’t need batteries. SmartLab also has a number of other kits, including Squishy Human Body, That’s Gross Science Lab, and All-Natural Spa Lab. All retail for $24.99 and are for ages 7 and up (with adult supervision). http://www.smartlabtoys.com/

ravensburger csi science kitCSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Ravensburger)
Those CSI shows on TV have helped make forensics cool. While real CSI techs don’t generally carry guns and make arrests, they do use science to solve crimes. It all starts with the fascinating booklet written with the help of Mark Benecke, an actual criminologist and forensics expert, who introduces 12 different science-based activities real crime solvers use every day. In it, kids learn how to work a crime scene, collecting evidence, analyzing fingerprints and tire treads, examining drop shapes, literally splitting hairs, and even isolating DNA. Besides the booklet, the CSI kit comes with everything (a magnifying glass, plastic bottles, safety goggles, powdered plaster, crime scene baggies, fingerprint cards, and even a CSI ID badge) that you and the kids will need to solve robberies, catch someone in a lie, make copies of keys, and more. CSI is part of Ravensburger’s Science X series, which also includes kits that teach about crystals and gemstones, fuel efficient cars, electronics, circuits, optics, magnets, and more. $34.99. For Ages 8 and up. http://www.ravensburger.com/

sciencewiz inventions science kitInventions (ScienceWiz)
Of all the kits we’ve reviewed, this is our favorite. It’s not quite as hip and cool as the others, but no matter. This kit contains almost everything you’ll need to put together a number of projects that actually work: a radio, telegraph, light generator, and spinning motor (you’ll need toilet paper tubes, cardboard, aluminum foil, glue, scissors, and a D-cell battery). It comes with a nicely illustrated, easy-to-understand, 40-page booklet that goes far beyond simply telling you how to put things together. Penny Norman, the brain behind ScienceWiz, gets deep into the Why, explaining the science behind each project in a way that really brings those concepts to life. Other similarly engaging kits from ScienceWiz explore DNA, chemistry, energy, rocks, magnetism, physics, light, and electricity. Each retails for $19.95. But they’re a little cheaper if you join the Science Kit Club and sign up to receive a new kit every two months.  For ages 8 and up. http://sciencewiz.com/

If You Build It… You’ll Have Fun

There’s nothing that says “play” better than a construction kit—and nothing that says “great way to spend time with your kids” either. So it’s no surprise that so many different manufacturers making so many different kits out of so many different materials. This week we take a look at one kit that’s traditional—in a very innovative way, and two that actually have an agenda.

Knuckz Delux (KnuckleStrutz)
knucklestrutzBefore you even open the package and start building, you’d better clear your calendar because you’re going to be need a few hours, but the time will fly. KnuckleStrutz kits are traditional in that you have a variety of pieces that you can assemble to create something. But those pieces are like nothing we’d ever seen before. KnuckeStrutz are incredibly well made: they fit together snugly—and stay that way until you take them apart to build something else. We also marveled at the engineering brains behind KnuckleStrutz who created so many pieces that can go together in so many different way.

The Knuckz Delux comes with more than 300 pieces and instructions for building two very intricate things—a fire truck and big rig truck. On the website, there are instructions for 13 more creations, including robots, motorcycles, dune buggies, and even a helicopter. The printed instructions that come with the package are sometimes hard to read, but the online PDFs are much easier. And, of course, there’s no limit to what you can create without instructions. Challenging, engaging, and great for building patience, dexterity, imagination, and parent-child relationships. Perfect for rainy days, or any other day, for that matter. Recommended for ages 6 and up, but kids under 8 or 9 will definitely need help with the instructions and may need a little assembly assistance. Kids over 10 will be able to help dad or mom when they get stuck. $78, for ages 6 and up. http://www.knucklestrutz.com/

Goldie Blox and the Parade Float
Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine
goldieblox parade floatThe folks behind Goldie Blox are very open about their mission: To inspire the next generation of female engineers, and along the way, they hope to help girls develop the spatial and building skills they’ll need. Each kit focuses on slightly different (but somewhat overlapping) skills. Goldie Blox and the Parade Float ($20 on Amazon) is designed to demonstrate wheels and axles, gear action, and vehicle design. Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine ($29) also works on wheels and axles, but adds in force, friction, and tension. Besides the pieces, each kit contains a story book in which Goldie, her friends, and even their pets overcome challenges by building various machines. The idea is to tap into girls’ verbal skills to help them discover and develop hand-eye and engineering skills.

goldieblox spinning machineWhat a terrific concept. Although meant for girls 3 to 9, we recommend Goldie Blox for the lower end of the range. Older kids may be frustrated by the stories, which will appeal much more to little kids, the small number of pieces (there are only around 30 in each kit), and the pieces themselves, which don’t always stay together as long as they should. But little girls and, perhaps, some boys who don’t mind pink tool belts and ribbons, will love Goldie Blox. http://www.goldieblox.com/

Getting Kids Thinking and Exploring

One of our favorite brands for educational-yet-still-truly-fun toys is Educational Insights. As parents, we marvel at how creative and well-thought-out EI’s products are—and we enjoy all the “ah-ha” and teachable moments they elicit. But we also love how engaged they keep the kids, and how much fun the youngsters are having when they’re playing (and we’re especially happy when at least some of that play time is spent with us!). We’ve reviewed some of EI’s products in previous columns, but this week we want to focus on their Nancy B’s Science Club line, which we first saw at this year’s Toy Fair, where they became fast favorites.

 
nancy b science journalsNancy B’s Science Club kits were created by Nancy Balter, a former science teacher and all-around science enthusiast. The idea was to inspire girls to become interested in and learn more about science (even the colors are especially appealing to girls, but aren’t so girly that they’ll alienate boys). The Club has also partnered with female scientists from around the world who provide content and contribute their knowledge. Each product comes with a journal where budding scientists can keep notes and track their progress, as well as an “exclusive membership” in Nancy B’s online Science Club.

 
binocularsThe Binoculars kit is a great way to spend some time with your kids getting to know the birds, plants, and critters in your own backyard. The Wildlife Activity Journal includes all sorts of activities, including bird watching, animal observation, and ecosystem challenges that will encourage your child to get up and do some learning outside. This is a great first step into science. The binoculars let you bring the world four times closer and there’s a built in compass so you can learn a little about navigation without running the risk of getting too lost.

 
nancy b aquascopeThe AquaScope kit introduces children to a world that’s a little tougher to have access to: underwater life. Whether you’re at a beach, lake, river, or even a puddle after a rainy weekend, the AquaScope lets you explore what’s going on beneath the surface. It magnifies 5x and the built-in LED light can illuminate the murkiest of waters. There’s also a built-in thermometer and ruler. The Underwater Wonders Activity Journal includes tons of activities that involve observing, measuring, and recording discoveries. Theoretically, you and your budding Marie Curie could do all this without getting wet, but where’s the fun in that?

 
Okay, so now that you and your child have explored the earth and the oceans, how ‘bout the stars? Stargazing may be one of the oldest parent-child activities. Nancy B’s Science Club’s MoonScope is a basic telescope that, at 90x magnification, is powerful enough to see mountains on the moon and Saturn’s rings. Besides learning about astronomy (including lunar phases, planetary movement, meteors, and comets), you can also introduce your kids (and perhaps yourself) to mythology and science fiction. You and your child can have a ton of fun exploring the night sky on your own, or you can take some suggestions from the info-packed StarGazer’s Activity Journal.

 
nancy b science club kitsOther kits in the Nancy B line include the Microscope and Activity Journal and the Crime Solver and Forensic Activity Journal. All are solidly built and, at prices ranging from about $14 to $40, they won’t break the bank. You can find out more about all of them at http://www.educationalinsights.com