Saturday, 6 August 2011

Saturday stuff: Science toys I wish I'd had when I was a kid

When I visited WonderLab last weekend I couldn't help but browse through the gift shop, just as I browsed through the gift shop at the Glasgow Science Centre when I was there last month. Even as an adult, I am intrigued by, and attracted to, the many options that are available for teaching children what science is and how to have fun doing it. I had some great science-y toys when I was young--an ant farm, a butterfly cocoon chamber, a jar for capturing and keeping insects without inadvertently killing them (an inevitable side effect of the traditional mayonnaise jar technique), and a telescope, to name a few. But here are a few of the options I wish had been available 20 years ago when they would have been a bit more age-appropriate than they are now:


A blood typing kit, which not only allows you to do something scientific with your own bare hands, but also learn something useful to your well-being.


A kit for hydroponically growing Venus fly traps right in your own home. I ended up teaching botany labs as a grad student, and also later worked in a greenhouse. Before that, I had no idea that I liked plants or was good at tending them. If I'd been able to grow them so easily in my own home, I could have discovered my green thumb much earlier!


An underwater digital camera mask. Perhaps if I'd been able to see what lurked beneath the waves, and therefore gotten comfortable with it, I wouldn't have been so paranoid about the ocean for so long. Or perhaps it would have made me be even more nervous. Either way, it would have been pretty cool to take pictures of what I saw down there.


A backyard safari field scope. I really loved insects in my youth, and to this day my grandmother cringes when she reminds me of how much I enjoyed picking up and playing with the tent caterpillars that dropped from the trees over their deck. I also remember being fairly fond of pill bugs. I would have loved being able to see them under a magnifying glass so I could inspect them up close and in detail.


What child of my era didn't love the Muppets? A plush Beaker field assistant would have been just the partner I needed on my treks through the wilds of our backyard.

The internet wasn't really a presence in my life until late middle school and early high school, and even then it did not play the central role that it does now for so many people. If it had been around then, though, I would have taken advantage of sites such as Science Toy Maker, which features videos and written instructions on how to make your own science toys at home. Fun, cheap, and educational--a perfect combination!

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