Glendon Mellow was asking the other day where to get “realistic” or “scientifically accurate” dinosaurs for kids to play with. There are a LOT of “realistic” dinosaur sets out there, but they are for the most part realistic in that they really look like the imagined dinosaurs of the last century and a half, and not the reconstructed dinosaurs of present day paleontology. I’m not sure if you can even get those. The 12 piece Large Assorted Dinosaurs – Toys 5–7" Larger Size Dinosaur Figures exemplify the results of an Interent search for “realistic dinosaur.” Yes, they are realistic but they are not so much revised. Among the highest quality but maybe not very toy-like are the Schleich models. The Schleich Dilophosaurus Dinosaur and other Schleich dinos such as the Schleich Triceratops and the Schleich Velociraptor are all very “real” looking but I don’t see much in there that is taking into account ALL of the more recent revisions.
In the absence of scientific accuracy one might go for fun. For this you can’t do much better than dinosaur finger puppets. Little kids love stickers, and really, they hardly pay any attention to detail as long as they are sticking them on as many inconvenient places as possible. I don’t see any feathers in the Realistic Dinosaur Playset, but there are brilliant colors and the details are glossed enough that they might suffice, plus they are cheap. The Papo Running Tyrannosaurus Rex is the scariest one of all that I’ve seen, so that’s good. And if you have a spare few hundred bucks, you might as well go for the Pleo Robotic Dinosaur because it is a robot!
Chemistry sets are great for the right kids. I’ve often recommended this book for serious home chemistry. The current best chemistry set is probably buying everything individually on the Internet and then dealing with Homeland Security. If you are going to do that you might have a look at this: 16 Piece Deluxe Organic Chemistry Glassware Set. Inspiring.
The Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit for Young Scientists is highly ranked on Amazon for little kids (4 years old) and I’ve heard people rave about the various The Magic School Bus sets. The chemistry set that probably represents best the one many of us had when we were kids and that is currently highly ranked may be the Thames & Kosmos CHEM C2000 (V 2.0) or the Thames & Kosmos CHEM C3000 (V 2.0), depending on how much money you want to spend.
Everybody needs a good dissection set. Here there are a few ways to go. One can get a reasonably good dissection set like this one, or one can get a kit with a specific critter to dissect that comes with some tools such as the Carolina Pig Anatomy Kit with Dissecting Set. Generally, materials from Carolina or Wards are going to be higher quality than randomly chosen items off the internet.
There are dozens of kits and toys you can get that let you grow an organism and keep it alive for a while. I hate most of these kids. I recommend getting a 10 gallon aquarium from your local fish or pet shop, an external box filter (easiest to clean) and an aerator (yes, both) and then just go to your local swamps and ponds and scoop up mud and stuff and put that in the aquarium, along with water that has been properly handled or processed. Stuff will spontaneously generate from the mud, don’t worry. If it doesn’t work just get some more mud, clean it out, and try again (don’t use cleaning chemicals). You will learn to make it work over time … by doing science!
Geology and Rock Collecting
The best “Kit” for geology is a good book on geology that introduces you to some of the basic techniques, and then you go and find the parts you need around the house and at your local stores, although you might not find a proper geology hammer. Having said that, it is a good idea to get a hardness set of minerals (e.g. Mohs Scale of Hardness w/ Diamond Rock Mineral). But, “rock hounding” and “geology” are not the same thing. Someone interested in collecting rocks and minerals should visit rock shops and shows, talk to people there, and learn from them where your local collecting areas might be and learn the ropes from the people you meet along the way. If geology, no specifically rock collecting, is what you are into, try finding good books and geological monographs for areas you can get to and visit those areas with the books and the maps that come with them (a good book on the geology of an area will have good maps, or it is not a good book on the geology of an area!). A great if sometimes difficult to use resource is the roadside geology guides often put together for geology conferences or courses. These are travel routes that take several hours at most, often several in one document, that bring you to individual road cuts or other sites and explain, often in technical terms, what you are looking at there. Try Googling “geology road guide” and then a state or region name. You’ll find stuff.