Toys and Gifts for Science Fun

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Here at Learning with Boys we are all about making science fun and accessible.  Here are some of the toys and tools that make it happen.*

 

1. Snap Circuits –  Snap Circuits are great for teaching the fundamentals of electricity.  The directions include several projects and can be followed even by children who aren’t reading completely independently.  The sets allow plenty of room for experimentation.

2. Microscope – Every home needs a microscope.  The Duo-Scope is really nice for kids because it can function as a compound microscope, where the light shines up from underneath for viewing slides, or it can function as a dissecting stereo microscope, where the light shines down for observing solid objects.  This allows you to look at slides and every day objects.

3. Catapults and Trebuchets – Great lessons in machines.  The particular one in this link is a size that matches up well with LEGO minifigures.

4. Hydraulics Kits  – These kits are great for developing an understanding of mechanical motion and how hydraulics are used.   Again the scale works well with Playmobil and LEGO creations.

5. Newtons Cradle – I still remember questions about Newtons Cradles on my Engineering Physics exams.  This simple desk toys is a great demonstration of transfer of motion.

6. Handboilers – These are fragile and sometimes get broken, but they are a hit with our friends.  I keep a couple on the entry table and kids gravitate to them.  Great stocking stuffer.  (You might want to order an extra or two.)

C watching sand blow @ Science Center7. Science Center, Museum, and Zoo Memberships –  An afternoon spent at the science center or museum provides hands-on experiences we just don’t get at home.  Whether it’s a giant pendulum, a high wire unicycle, a giant water table, a visit to the planetarium, or walking through a life size replica of a whale – these experiences create memories that can’t be matched by a book or video.

8. Science Kits –  Kids love getting science kits especially when there is unstructured time to enjoy them.  We enjoyed both Magnets and DNA from ScienceWiz.


9. Magazine Subscriptions – Ranger Rick, Big Backyard, and Zoobooks are a wonderful way to promote literacy and science at the same time.   MAKE magazine has some neat ideas for the DIY crowd.

10. LEGO EV3 – This is the only item on the list we don’t actually have yet.  We have the predecessor NXT version and really enjoy it.  The great thing about the LEGO robots is the combination of programming and mechanical action of the device.

11. Building Toys – Lincoln Logs, KEVA planks, LEGO sets, K’Nex, Erector sets, Zoob.  There are so many great building platforms out there.

12. Spirograph –  Remember this from when you were a kid?  Gear ratios and cool patterns combined!  Unfortunately they stopped making these for a while and none of the knock offs were very good.   The original is back so get it while you can!

What is the best science toy you ever gave or received?

*This post contains affiliate links.  No products or services were obtained by the author in exchange for this post, however this blog may benefit from purchases made as the result of outbound links contained in the post.

List_it_Tuesday   HHH

Learning Summer Vacation Style

This week I pondered the question, “What did you do this summer?”  Oh, the perennial topic of so many back to school essays.

We read lots of books.  One of my boys read non-fiction all summer with the exception of one historical fiction.

Waterfall @ South Chagrin May 30

We spent a week at Vacation Bible School learning about water borne illnesses, the importance of proper handwashing, and the need for clean water around the world.  The church sponsors the Living Water initiative to bring clean water to people around the globe.   I was so completely humbled as I researched the need for access to clean water.

Sports Collage

We rode our bikes.  We worked on soccer skills. The boys even tried out baseball.

Mindstorm NXT

 

 

July was spent learning outdoor skills with the Cub Scouts, going on a family vacation, attending a NXT Programming Camp, and taking a couple of classes through the National Park Service.

 

Wildlife CollageWe hiked amazing places and saw some incredible wildlife.  One morning we had an amazing salamander hike.  We spotted a heron catching a fish.  Another evening we spotted a beaver.   They caught frogs and tadpoles.  We even found a snake skin in a tree.  After many afternoons watching dragonflies we learned the difference between dragon and damsel flies.

Hummingbird in the evening - Scott

 

We watched the hummingbirds in our backyard and learned their calls.  The boys spent a fair amount of time reading about hummingbirds and watching documentaries and TV shows.

Bat Barn @ Stanford House CVNP

 

We learned more about White Nose Syndrome in bats and Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.

 

 

 

We watched TV shows like Mythbusters and StormChasers and Nature (PBS).

Cooking with Scales

 

We did science experiments and practiced our metric skills.

 

 

It was a great summer of learning!

On this eve of back to school I ponder, “Would the school system agree?”  I have this suspicion the system may or may not think we had a great summer of learning. Observing nature, programming, being physically fit, learning about grave scientific issues facing our nation and planet, doing science experiments, pursuing interests and accomplishing goals you set for yourself – Those aren’t measured on a standardized test.  No, the important things would be:  How fast can you do your math facts?, How many minutes did you read?, and How does your reading level test on Aug. 23rd compare to May 23rd?

So tonight I say, “It’s great to be a homeschooler!”

Mary_CollageFridayweeklywrapup125

 

 

10 Fun Science & Engineering Activities for Summer or Anytime

Incorporating science and engineering into your summer is not only fun but easy.  Try these simple ideas to bring more science to your summer.

Red-spotted Newt hiding under root

1.  Go on nature walks. Take along a camera and magnifying glass. Kids are naturally curious and observant.   Repetition is key to maximizing the benefits of nature walks.  Some days we don’t find much, other days we see lots of animals. Sometimes the kids really enjoy looking for rocks or observing how a stick or leaf flows down the stream.  It might feel like this is just play, but it sets the foundation for learning theory.  The more often you go,  the more interesting things you will find.  We have a mile long paved walking path close to us. We try to walk there at least a couple of times a month in addition to other walks.  Over the last couple of years we’ve observed  foxes, salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, hawks, deer, groundhogs, black snakes, ribbon snakes, water snakes, ducks, geese, and other birds .  Of course we don’t see all of those every day, but sometimes we get lucky and see 18 snakes in one day or two foxes together.

Plasma Ball @ Science Center

2. Visit a science museum. We love visiting science centers and natural history museums. Your time at a good science center will look like play and it is. Play is imperative to developing scientific reasoning.  I love when we begin studying a topic and the boys say, “Oh, like the ……..at the science center.”

Racing Solar Cars

3. Science kits and toys.  Speaking of science centers pick up a science kit or toy while you are there.  Hobby Lobby is also a great source for science kits and toys.  Tornado tubes, circuit kits, magnets, geodes, Newton’s cradles ….. they all allow a child to investigate their world and learn through play.  Steve Spangler also has a lot of kits and ideas.  Don’t worry if the science principles behind the toy are beyond your child’s development.  They are building experiential knowledge of the world.

Illuminated Naked Egg

4. Open the Kitchen Pantry – The chemistry that happens in the kitchen is amazing.  Check out these fun experiments:

  1. Oobleck – simply mix cornstarch and water into a non-Newtonian fluid.  It seems like a solid under pressure but quickly liquefies when the pressure is removed.
  2. Make your own pH indicator–  You can use cabbage or black bean juice as a pH indicator.
  3. Make naked eggs – simply soak a raw egg in vinegar for a few days.  The shell will dissolve but the membrane will stay intact.
  4. Freeze water, salt water, and sugar water
  5. Make ice cream
  6. Make hard candy or lollipops – All you really need is sugar, water, and a candy thermometer.  Hobby Lobby has a kit that uses powdered corn syrup that is actually easier.

5. Programming– There are several ways to bring programming to a kid level.  Check out scratch, Light-bot, Alice,  Lego NXT or EV3.

We were fortunate to join an FLL (First Lego League)  team this year.   It is a great program that combines a research project and a robot game.  I’m fond of the Lego NXT and EV3 because they combine programming and robotics.  The ability to tell a robot what to do seems especially thrilling to kids.

Cookies Ready to bake

6. Bake – The kitchen is excellent preparation for the chemistry lab. It provides great opportunity to measure accurately, mix ingredients, and observe chemical reactions. My kids have actually requested to re-write some of their favorite cookie recipes into metric units and use the scales.

Mardi Gras flowers w/ bee

7. Garden – Whether you stick to flowers or have a kitchen garden, gardening helps you study plants, weather, the water cycle, insects, butterflies, birds, slugs, and much more.

Growing Borax Crystals

8. Do some easy experiments.  We have a few different books of easy science experiments.  One of our favorites is 101 Great Science Experiments, because it has great color pictures of the experiments.  The kids enjoy looking through the book and picking out a couple of experiments each week.

The Great Wall of China

9. Build – Build with LEGOs, PVC tubes, sand, cups, straws, toothpicks, books, or blankets. Build a pop boat.  Make paper airplanes.  Install a pulley system on your play set. See how high you can build a marble run.

Borax snowflake

10. Mix Art and Science – Grow crystals.  Create paper mache sculptures, tessellations, or optical illusions.  If you are really adventurous try a kinetic sculpture.  Take a look through the recycle bin and see what you can create.  Sculpt a clay creation and have it fired.  Watch a glass blowing demonstration.  Learn how to weave.  All of these hands on activities are great not only for our creativity but teach math and science principles.

Wishing you a happy summer full of learning!