The market is flooded with science gifts for kids, it's never a question of finding a gift, but a question of finding the right science gifts for kids that will be age appropriate, enticing, educational, and fun.
If you search science gifts for kids you will be bombarded with all of the lists, the top ten coding gifts for kids, or ten smart science gifts for kids. But what if you don't find what you are looking for on those lists? Rarely do kids ever fit the mold, and gift giving, whether it is for the holidays, or for birthdays, can seem daunting when you want to gift an experience more than the stuff.
What should you look for to find the best science gifts for kids? Personally, I have a few criteria before I say oooh and ahhh. I like all of our gifts to blend arts and sciences, be hands on, have a great element of fun, be age appropriate, and of course, be cost effective.
Below I will outline what I mean by each of these, so you can find the best science gifts for kids year round, gifts that are both on and off of those "top ten" lists.
This seems like a no brainer. You wouldn't want to gift a robotic arm to a three year old, or Osmo to a fifteen year old. A ton of manufacturers want yout o think their science products will suit people from 8-100. That isn't always true. Sure, there are some gifts that really do span the ages - these types of gifts are often the type that blend a variety of skills.
For example, our Solar System Bracelet kits really do span the ages. Little kids and big kids alike love space, everyone can make them with a little guidance, and they create something beautiful. This only works across the ages, however, because space holds a special place in the hearts of so many. The project also creates something that is pretty and not to kid like, and not to fancy grownup like either. I wouldn't say the same for some of our other bracelet kits. The butterfly life cycle and water cycle kits are clearly for younger ages with larger beads and more cartoon like imagery.
But some things, like Robot Turtles, for example, claim to be great for kids aged 4-15. Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE the Robot Turtles board games. However, 15? I don't think so. If I were to gift this to a 15 year old I would probably look crazy. The imagery is too cartoony and the programming and spatial reasoning aspect that this game was created to teach is really below that of a 15 year old, especially one who is into coding. When it comes to the age reccomendations, I have always found my kids are ready for whatever kit/book/game it is a year or so early, and then grow into it nicely. So shoot to have the age range start a little bit above where the child your purchasing for is.
This really comes down to using your own judgement, however. Look at the graphics, logic level, and hands on demands of the gift you are thinking about and decide if you can imaging that child enjoying it for a year or more to come.
Why try to even give a cool science gift to a kid if you aren't also hoping for the educational piece to it. Quite frankly, I can't remember the last time I bought a gift for anyone that didn't have some sort of educational component to it. Even when I buy gifts for my full grown sister I think about what she could use to help her pursue her hobbies or goals more.
When you are looking at the educational merits for a gift, look at what they can learn - and no, learning doesn't have to be boring. There are tons of science gifts for kids out there that teach a ton, Goldiblocks, Legos, chemistry sets, engineering kits, physics kits, geode projects, kids programming and more. The list could go on and on and on, and kids would be thrilled to recieve so many of these ideas.
The biggest thing to think of when it comes to the educational value is to make sure the gift doesn't do the thinking for the kids. That is, you don't want to gift them a science kit that is just a recipe of what to do and no explaining of how things work. If the kit is just "do A to B" kids will follow the directions and not think twice. That means they also won't gain nearly as much from the experience.
If you are giving programming games, make sure that they are age appropriate, that the giftee has the necessary devices to interface with a toy, and that the gift doesn't do it all for them (ie, it isn't all a cartoon that shows kids where to drag and drop things). You should look for science gifts for kids that scaffold the knowledge and allow kids to grow into more andmore difficult activities as they gain understanding.
One of the best ways to learn is to do. When you are looking at science gifts for kids try to find the ones that really let kids roll up their sleeves and try something. Hopefully the gift has room for failure, so that kids can naturally learn that science is a process of failure and then, sometimes, success.
Some of my favorite hands on science gifts for kids are the ones that build a new toy. For example, this Piper computer kit lets kids build a computer, then learn programming, and finally play games. That is a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to learning.
Another great example is the Amino Labs bioengineering kits where kids will learn how to genetically modify and grow bacteria that then shows it's DNA modification through a variety of different colors.
When looking for a hands on science gift for kids, the easiest thing to look for is a kit. That is, something that has to be made (which requires your hands on the project by definition). Buy the catapault creation kit instead of a premade catapault. Both give kids the satisfaction of launching things into the air, as well as the open door to try and hit targets, but only one also allows them to build and create and truly learn the mechanisms of the catapault.
It might not always feel like art and science should go together, but they really do go hand in hand. As we try to develop our kids scientific thinking abilities we also want to string in art. This blend often helps kids see the interconnectedness of subjects, helps them think outside of the box (because art fosters creativity), and brings a fun and dazzling element to science projects.
Personally, I love science that draws. You can do that by learning about circuits, balance, and fans as you build a random drawing robot, learn block programming on a computer that relays the information to a connected drawing robot, or even draw your own art and have a robot follow the lines.
You can also find robots that have their own dress up kits, which is perfect if your child is enamored with dressing up their stuffed animals and themselves. Just the opening that allows them to dress up a robot can help bridge the gap to getting them to learn a little bit of code, because who wouldn't want to help their pirate say Argh?
It might take more thought to find science gifts for kids that blend art with the science, but the benefits to the reciever is huge as it creates more ompactful and longer term learning.
No one wants to be that person that focused so much on giving the educational science gift that they totally forgot about the fun factor. Sure, you can gift kids a set of LEDs, resistors, and batteries, and it would be far cheaper than a Snap Circuits kit, but the fun had would also be far less. Unless you have a handle on the science that is being gifted and plan on being with the child as they engage, I would opt for the all in one, easy to build, have the instruction manuals, types of gifts. Why? Because it is unlikely that that childs parent has the time to get online and find the right project, or even teach the project so it is fun.
If you are choosing between two items and one is a ton of fun but only 75% educational while the other is 100% educational, but no fun, choose the fun. Always choose the fun.
I don't know about you, but I don't have a fortune to spend on science gifts for kids (or gifts in general). That means I need to maximize the bang for my buck. A great way to do this is to choose kits that can grow. For example, Keva planks has a ton of kits. You can get their plain building planks, or you can get a kit that creates a maze for hexbots. This allows you to give a smaller gift now that you can add on to later if the recipient really falls for the product.
Other products that can expand are things like Goldiblocks, Legos, Thames and Kosmos kits, and Snap Circuit kits.