Science-y Gifts for Kids

One of the questions from a caller when I was on the "Think" show was about how to keep kids interested in science. As I said, the issue isn't so much creating in interest as working to not squelch the interest that's already there. Taking kids to cool places like zoos and science museums is a great way to do that, and just generally encouraging them to ask questions and try things out.

But if you'd like some more specific gift ideas, here's a selection of science-y things that SteelyKid and The Pip enjoy that you might try out on other kids of your acquaintance:

-- Magna-Tiles These. Are. Awesome. They're flat colored plastic tiles with magnets in the edges that you can use to make them stick together. They have these at the kids' day care, and it's a rare day when I don't come in to find The Pip and his friends building towers with these. And we regularly have giant elaborate structures taking up half of our living room at home.

They're not all that explicitly scientific, but then again, a big point of my new book is that lots of things that aren't obviously science make use of the process of science. And these are fabulous for that, making it easy and fun for kids to experiment with construction. (They are, however, kind of expensive...)

-- Daniel Loxton and Jim WW Smith have a series of dinosaur books-- the most recent is Plesiosaur Peril-- using computer images that look like photographs to tell stories about dinosaurs. These are very, very cool, though some of the predators are a little scary.

-- The first thing SteelyKid saved up allowance money to purchase was this "Bug Playground". I can't swear that the bugs enjoyed being put in it, but SteelyKid had a good deal of fun trapping insects and watching them crawl around.

-- 11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter is a fun little book about some silly "science" experiments-- "Hypothesis: You can do dishes in the washing machine"-- that go wrong.

-- You can never go wrong giving kids Lego sets, for more or less the same reason the Magna-Tiles are on the list. If you'd like something really explicitly science-y, go for the Lego Research Institute, but really, any random assortment will do.

-- SteelyKid enjoys a couple of anatomical books, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and TS Spookytooth and What If You Had Animal Teeth? by Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam. These have neat pictures (some of the tooth ones are kind of disturbing...) demonstrating the function of various structures in human and animal bodies.

-- Liz Heinecke runs a web site called Kitchen Pantry Scientist, which sets up simple scientific experiments you can do with things around the house. There's a book based on this, too, which we have but haven't really dug into yet. Reading through it, though, there's some neat stuff.

-- Just the other day, I picked up Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, which SteelyKid will be getting soon. Shh! Don't tell her. This is the story of a girl whose clever contraptions fail, and her engineer aunt who reassures her that failure is the essential first step of building awesome things. This is perfect for SteelyKid, who is prone to taking failure very hard.

-- I'll throw in another plug for Siege Toys and their snap-together wooden trebuchet, catapult, and ballista. These are little wooden toys that fling rubber balls a good distance, and The Pip and I spent a happy afternoon this fall launching balls into the backyard.

-- The Pip got a Gears Gears Gears set for his birthday, and that's yet another great construction toy that encourages kids to try stuff. And trying stuff is the essence of science.

So there's a list of successful science toys from Chateau Steelypips. And, of course, you can never go wrong with any of the gifts on this list of all-time classics, which are also wonderful experimental apparatus.


(And, of course, for older kids, I recommend Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and anywhere else books are sold...)

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Two things I should've noted in the original post but forgot:

1) In the test-tube photo, SteelyKid's goggles are from a Magic School Bus science kit, and the test tubes are from a "Mind Blowing Science" kit.

2) Kate suggested this as a quick and easy blog post topic, because she's too good to me.

1. Give daughter LEGO. 2. Give daughter LEGO people. 3. Watch daughter line up people and tell them what to do, tell stories about them, etc., for hours on end, for about 5 years. 4. Give LEGO to son of friend. 5. See physical stuff constructed.
One has to provide the chances, and, hey, story-telling is OK --indeed, our daughter is something of an experimenter with words, complete sentences are constructed, like, daily--, but, in my sample of one, not every child is a Steelykid™ of the Physical world.

By Peter Morgan (not verified) on 12 Dec 2014 #permalink