With calls to improve science education in U.S. schools increasing, some parents are taking matters into their own hands. And for many, toys can be fun and valuable tools to help improve their child’s skills. “Kids can obtain more knowledge by working with a good science project or toy, things that are hands-on and give them brain-power,” says Walter Larsen, national sales manager of Elenco, makers of Snap Circuits.
Now science toymakers are trying to strike a balance between meeting the educational demands of parents and the fun requirement for kids. The approach for many is to peak kids’ interest early both in terms of age and their first encounter with the product. “Then, kids do the experiment, see the ‘wow,’ and want to know ‘Why did that happen?’” says Renee Whitney, vice-president, sales and marketing, Be Amazing! Toys.
Many companies use manuals to explain the “why” but incorporate color-coding, cartoon characters, and simple wording to make the information more accessible. “Science can even be an intimidating field for many parents,” says Esther Novis, president of The Young Scientists Club. So if it’s difficult for a parent to understand and explain, the product won’t be used. The Young Scientists Club offers a collection of The Magic School Bus-themed science kits, in which Ms. Frizzle guides consumers through the experiments.
Because most science toys use the scientific method to encourage kids to test new ideas and customize their experiments, science is a category built for open-ended play. “It’s the open-endedness that fosters their creativity,” says Grant Cleveland, president of DuneCraft, which lets kids personalize its growing kits through different planting techniques and by decorating its themed terrariums.
The Thames & Kosmos Forensics Fingerprint Lab even lets kids roleplay to get hands-on and test new scientific principles. But for younger kids, “there still needs to be a balance between open-ended play and having a parent guide the child through lessons that teach them something in the end,” says Thames & Kosmos president Ted McGuire.
For consumers seeking licensed science toys, evergreen brands that have traits that tie into real world science are key. Uncle Milton has found success by doing just that with a new outdoor exploration line set to launch in 2012 tying products to actual National Geographic-sponsored expeditions. “Toyetic angles are entering into the science area like never before,” says Frank Adler, president of Uncle Milton. “And, as long as there’s something valuable to be gleaned, it’s a good thing.”
Be Amazing! Toys:
Be Amazing! Toys’ Smarty Pants Science Kit contains open-ended activities to teach children the scientific method. The kit can also be used to create science fair projects. With more than 30 possible activities to get started, kids will learn to develop a hypothesis, do experiments, analyze data, and reach a conclusion. The kit is for ages 8 and up.
Dunecraft has an assortment of new products for fall 2011 including new dinosaur-, outer space-, and rain forest-themed indoor dome terrariums. All terrariums come with color decals, decorative gravel, and accessories so each can be personalized. The kits include up to five seed packs and an instruction booklet with anecdotal information about the plants.
Educational Insights’ GeoSafari Talking Electron Microscope lets kids ages 8–12 look at more than 180 close-up images of the human body, viruses and bacteria, plants, animals, and more. In learning mode kids can listen to five fun facts about each of the 60 zoomed-in versions of images, then test their knowledge in quiz mode.
Elenco’s SCXP-50 Snap Circuit XP is one of the latest additions to its line of Snap Circuit electronic kits. This higher-end Snap Circuit kit includes a color-coded instruction guide and more than 100 projects to choose from. The 50-plus-piece kit introduces kids to microcontrollers as well as how they are used in everyday life. Three AA batteries are required. Snap Circuit XP is for ages 8 and up.
With Summit Toys’ Backyard Safari Outfitters Rock Excavation Field Kit, kids can hunt for gemstones, minerals, fossils, and more. The kit includes a rock hammer to chip away at samples; a field lens to magnify findings; and a rugged specimen bag, safety goggles, and iron-on patch. The Rock Excavator Pop-Up Field Guide contains in-the-field missions and two large pop-up pages featuring every kind of rock.
The Young Scientists Club:
The Young Scientists Club celebrates the 25th anniversary of Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus with The Magic School Bus: Chemistry Lab. Inside the iconic school bus-shaped kit is a chemistry lab for ages 5 and up. Using the kit, kids can make sticky ice, create slime, form a bouncy ball, learn about density, and much more. The kit also includes 51 colorful experiment cards and a data notebook to record observations.
Thames & Kosmos:
Thames & Kosmos’ Spectacular Science kit lets kids ages 12 and up become little scientists with 25 different chemistry demonstrations to perform for friends and family. The kit includes lab equipment, chemicals, materials, and a special 64-page full-color, comic book-style manual to guide kids through experiments and performances. Special cue cards are also included to help kids remember their lines and each experiment’s procedure.
Uncle Milton has revamped its classic ant farm with the first of its kind cylindrical-shaped Ant Farm Revolution. It features an LED light, which when activated illuminates the cylinder’s center projecting giant shadows of the ants that walk across the top plate onto the ceiling. This is the first ant farm to be licensed to an outside inventor, Will Wright, creator of The Sims video games.