Whether for a birthday, Christmas, graduation, or pretty much any other celebration, buying presents for kids shouldn’t be that difficult. Theoretically, it’s just a process of picking a topic that interests the child and then choosing from a selection of presents on that topic. But with so many toys, gadgets, and kits on the market, a seemingly simple task can become a deep dive requiring compass, maps and spreadsheets.
Thankfully, we’re here to make the job a whole lot easier. Here are our tips for selecting the right kinds of science gifts, as well as examples of some of the best-loved science toys, chemistry sets, anatomy models, and more: there’s something for every child, interest, and budget.
Top scientific toys and science gifts for 3-year-olds and under
Top science gifts for 4-year-olds to 12-year-olds
Top scientific toys and science gifts for 3-year-olds and under
Some people think young children are too young to learn about science. But nothing could be further from the truth. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are like sponges when it comes to learning new things, so there’s no better time to expose them to science.
For kids three and under, it’s important presents don’t contain loose parts that could present choking hazards. Similarly, if a child is going to suck on a toy, it must not contain lead or other harmful heavy metals and chemicals. Toys sold in places like Australia, the US, and the UK have to comply with strict standards that cover these kinds of hazards. Just be sure to choose a toy that’s certified as being safe for children aged 0-3.
The best science gifts for 3-year-olds and younger children tend to combine many different educational elements. For example, they might encourage scientific discovery and creativity.
And since kids grow and mature so rapidly at that age, many of the top toys are designed to evolve as the child’s skills develop. For example, some toys start off on the ground for babies who can’t yet sit independently, and then can be raised up for kids that are sitting and then standing. Many science toys for this age group have varying levels of difficulty to keep kids engaged for several years.
Here are some examples of wonderful science toys for the littlest learners.
Crinkle books — for newborns up
From birth, children benefit from a wide variety of sensory stimuli. That makes the humble crinkle book an oldie but a goodie. These books are made from soft cloth packed with materials that make a crinkle sound when scrunched and played with. They also often feature sections of material with different textures and other features like flaps. And for those difficult teething weeks and months, some books even feature silicone sections that great for babies to chew on to soothe tender gums.
These presents make great first storybooks and also encourage babies to enjoy exploring the world around them to see how it works — a critical quality in any scientist! They’re also an inexpensive gift option. The best soft crinkle books feature a ring that enables the book to be hung from a pram or stroller, so it can’t be dropped, or the arch from a baby play mat, so Bub can lie on their back and explore the book as it hangs above them.
Lamaze makes beautiful crinkle books that are well made, have flaps and other engaging features, and promote skill development (e.g. counting) and an appreciation of the world.
Baby Einstein Curiosity Table™️ Activity Station — for 12 months and up
This play table has removable legs, so babies can use it lying down or sitting. Once they’re on their feet, the legs boost it to a great height for standing play. Kids using this table can learn about colour and begin to explore mechanics thanks to the toddler-friendly gears. The included dry-erase board makes it a great, well-rounded toy.
This is one of the more expensive science toys for little ones, but because kids won’t grow out of it quickly, it’s a great investment.
Dino Egg Dig Kit — for 3-year-olds
Many youngsters (and their older guardians!) love dinosaurs, so this kind of toy is a great idea for a present that could ignite a love of science. Kids crack open the egg with a child-friendly chisel and brush (just like a palaeontologist digging for fossils) to find a dinosaur. Learning cards then teach them about what they’ve found. The box comes with 12 eggs, so one child could learn about 12 different dinosaurs, or it could make a great party favour. One family even hid the eggs at the beach for their son to uncover like a treasure hunt. The possibilities for Jurassic fun are endless.
Top science gifts for 4-year-olds to 12-year-olds
Around the age of four, kids start learning more specialist science skills. There are still plenty of science toys and gifts that build general science skills, like scientific inquiry, but many toys begin to explore a single scientific discipline. Think chemistry sets, anatomy models, engineering construction sets, and more. Some science gifts also have practical applications, such as Galileo thermometers.
One of the most important things to avoid when choosing a science present for a kid in this age group is anything the child in question might consider juvenile. For example, a construction set with big chunky pieces is more likely to be suitable for a 4-year-old, and while it might still be lots of fun for a 12-year-old, a child of that age may refuse to engage with it because they think they’re too old for it.
Another pitfall when shopping for this age group is the opposite problem – selecting something that’s too advanced. A challenge is a great thing, but if the activities in a science kit are too difficult, kids can get discouraged and put off science for life! Similarly, parents often appreciate it when friends and family buy science gifts their child can do on their own, without a parent needing to be there every time the present is used.
Here are some examples of great science toys and gifts for kids in primary school.
IQ Builder STEM Learning Toy — for 4-year-olds to 8-year-olds
Instead of traditional Lego and other kinds of building blocks, kids who like to build often love construction sets with a wider variety of components. The IQ Builder is a perfect example of this kind of kit. The set contains balls and sticks (and specialty pieces, like wheels), which have been cleverly designed to enable kids to build just about anything they can imagine. There are also instructions for building simple and complex objects, including a helicopter. Kids can use this kit to explore weak and strong architectural designs and more.
National Geographic Volcano kit — for 4-year-olds to 12-year-olds
No matter the age, it’s hard to find a child who doesn’t like making their own volcanoes. Some kits include a cheap plastic volcano, but this kit gives kids the tools to make their own bespoke plaster volcano. A wonderful twist is that it also includes ‘pop crystals’, so kids not only make lava flow from their volcanoes, they can make them bubble and ‘explode’ just like a real volcano. Perhaps the best bit is that the kit includes a piece of pumice and a geode, both of which were created by real volcanoes.
Osmo Detective Agency — for 5-year-olds to 12-year-olds
With so many concerns about the amount of screen time kids get these days, Osmo’s award-winning STEM kits are a great solution, because they combine physical pieces with an educational app. The Detective Agency kit makes geography fun.
Green Science Clean Water Science Mini Water Filtration kit — for 6-year-olds to 8-year-olds
Any child interested in sustainability, growing plants, or health will enjoy learning how water can be filtered and purified with this well-designed kit.
National Geographic Air Rocket — for 6-year-olds and up
No list of science toys for kids would be complete without something that creates rockets. What makes this set especially good is that the rockets light up, and they can go really high (up to 100 feet or ca. 30 metres). The instructions also include flight experiments that teach kids about physics (motion and aerodynamics).
4M Kidzlabs Earth & Moon Model Kit — for 7-year-olds and up
Many kids get given solar system models to build and paint. Unfortunately, many of them are flimsy plastic and unrealistic. Not so with this kit. The Earth and Moon are realistic and high quality, and kids can use it to fully understand what happens as the moon revolves around the Earth.
The same brand also makes a Solar System Planetarium.
Snap Circuits Junior — for 8-year-olds and up
Children interested in engineering will be thrilled with this beginner circuitry science kit. For more reluctant to learn kids, especially young gamers, this kind of kit can ignite a love of science as they begin to understand the circuits their computers are built with. One of the best things about this engineering kit is that it’s very reasonably priced, yet children can use it to build over 100 different circuits that do something interesting (play music, run a fan, power lights, etc.).
Learn & Climb Crystal Science Experiments — for 9-year-olds and up
There are plenty of crystal growing kits out there. This one stands out because it includes a way to display the crystals, and includes the tools to grow crystals in different (and captivating) shapes. Some of the crystals even glow in the dark! The manufacturers recommend this for ages 6-12, however, crystal growing takes some patience and manual dexterity, making it well-suited to slightly older children. Also, the science behind crystal growing can often be better appreciated by those aged 9 and older.
Lucky Doug 12-in-1 STEM Solar Robot Kit — for 10-year-olds and up
The manufacturers of this kit recommend it for ages eight and up, however due to the complexity of the build, it’s better suited to slightly older children. It’s a great kit for any child interested in robots or sustainable energy, and it’ll keep kids entertained for ages as they build 12 different styles of robot, which can wheel, walk and even surf.
For kids that aren’t as practiced with building, the Giggleway Electric Motor Robotic Science Kit is slightly easier to use. The robot design is fun, but don’t be fooled by its looks. There are some small screws in this kit that make it difficult to use for younger children.
Thames & Kosmos Architectural Engineering STEM Experiment kit — for 11-year-olds and up
While younger children can use the kit, especially if they have help from a grownup, this advanced construction kit is well suited to children aged 11 and older. Unlike other building kits, kids won’t just use this to build generic planes and buildings. Instead, this architectural engineering kit enables children to build complex models of famous, real-world buildings like the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower, and other intricate creations, like a Ferris wheel.
4M Kidzlabs Anti-gravity Maglev — for 12-year-olds and up
Kids of all ages (especially fans of the maglev transport method in Sim City), will love watching things float as if by magic. Kids aged 12 and up, however, can begin to really understand the physics behind how a maglev works.
National Geographic Dual LED Student Microscope — for 12-year-olds and up
This is another science gift that can absolutely be appreciated by younger kids, but it’s a perfect fit for 12-year-olds. Using different settings, children can use this microscope to view specimens on microscope slides (you can use it as a slide scope) as well as larger objects (you can also use it as a dissecting scope). Budding biologists love being able to use a microscope that’s not as difficult to use as a professional microscope, but is also better quality and has better magnification than a toy microscope.
Top science gifts for teens
Teens can often enjoy science gifts that are suitable for ages eight and up, since such kits and gadgets tend to be aimed at a wide range of maturities. Teens can be some of the most difficult kids to buy presents for. However, by this age, many teens have keen interests in specific areas, so that can make it easier to choose a gift they’ll love.
Teens are far less likely to enjoy a science gift made from flimsy plastic, so look for items that appear well made. And as their knowledge and understanding of science is more advanced than that of the younger age groups, teens are far more likely to appreciate science kits and gadgets that delve deeply into the technical science behind the activities and actions.
Another thing teens are more interested in are practical science gifts that enable them to explore the science of everyday phenomena.
Anatomy models and chemistry sets are particularly popular with this age group, and there are separate sections for those later in this article. With that in mind, here are some more generalised science gifts for teens.
MindWare Science Academy Lip Balm Lab kit for teens who aren’t that keen on science
This kit can be enjoyed by younger children too, but for a teen that loves makeup and lip balm, especially if science isn’t really their thing, this makes an engaging gift that demonstrates that science isn’t just about lab coats and construction kits.
Galileo thermometer for the teen who has heaps of science kits
Galileo thermometers are beautiful and fascinating, as they use science to measure the air temperature without any fancy digital weather station equipment. This one is elegant and measures a nice range of temperatures. It also doesn’t take up too much space in a cluttered teen’s bedroom.
Alternatively, a Galileo thermometer, hygrometer, and Fitzroy Storm Glass weather station offers additional functionality and a different aesthetic. Teens with a little more space, and those who love the look of quality wooden products, will treasure this bit of analogue kit.
Joytech Music Tesla Coil (these make great gifts for science nerds)
Fun, loud, and shocking — what more could you want from a gift for a teen? Even the most science-averse teen will love this – but anyone who likes a bit of light and noise will absolutely adore it.
Cryptex Da Vinci Code Mini Cryptex Lock Puzzle Box
Fans of the Da Vinci Code, or codes in general, will love this metal puzzle box. It’s billed as a gift for anniversaries and other similar events, but it could be a great present for any event.
Best chemistry sets
Many people think one chemistry set is much the same as any other. But that’s simply not the case. Some of the less reputable kits include chemicals, but they’re mostly household items that are cheaper to buy individually rather than in a science kit. At the other end of the spectrum, some wonderful kits have a strong focus on teaching advance chemistry skills, which is great for older kids and ambitious future chemists. But that’s not necessary exciting for a 6-year-old who just wants to make slime and explosions.
The key to choosing a great chemistry set is therefore matching the included items and experiments with the abilities and interest levels of the child that will use it.
Chemistry set for youngsters
Pre-schoolers might get a kick out of making things go boom, but it’s not a good idea to let them handle anything toxic. So, the best chemistry sets for 4-year-olds and children in early primary school are those that allow children to explore scientific tools independently yet entirely safety. It also helps if there aren’t too many instructions to follow, as many kids can’t read, or read well, at this age.
This Science Lab Activity Set from Learning Resources is a great choice. Little learners will love using beakers, magnifying glasses, lab goggles and more, but there aren’t any harmful chemicals included. Many kids love using the tools to examine things in the garden and mix baking ingredients and food-safe dye.
Chemistry set for middle primary
For slightly older kids – around six or seven up – chemistry kits can start including experiments with instructions to follow. Kids at this age love anything that fizzes, is brightly coloured, or involves slime (warning: do those experiments outdoors).
Thames & Kosovo’s Ooze Labs Chemistry Station is a great example of a wonderful chemistry set for this age group. It’s got easy-to-follow instructions and a range of interesting chemistry experiments for that age group.
Another popular kit is the Horrible Science Explosive Experiments kit. It has similar experiments in it, but it may be more enticing for a child who’s reluctant to learn about science.
Chemistry set for late primary
Once a child is ready to progress to something a little more complex, a chemistry set with more technical explanations is a good option. This is when kids are often more interested in learning the why behind chemical reactions.
A kit like the Thames & Kosmos Chemistry C500 set is a great choice as it has clear instructions for 28 experiments as well as excellent explanations of what happened in each experiment and why.
Alternatively, kids who enjoy cooking and baking but shy away from science tend to enjoy science kits that play on their interests in the kitchen. The 4M STEAM Powered Kids Kitchen Science kit is a great example. Kids can learn to generate electricity using a fork and build a rocket using food (baking soda and vinegar).
Chemistry set for teens
The C500 set is also a good option for teens coupled with a molecular model kit, as it allows teenagers to extend their learning of what’s happening in chemical reactions.
Something like Old Nobby’s Molecular Kit has plenty of atoms and bonds and makes it easy to construct a wide variety of chemical compounds.
Some kids aren’t that keen on experiments and the equations that go with them. Many of these children are far more interested in the human body, and so can get excited about anatomy models.
When looking for a model, aim for something that’s easy to put together and includes a guidebook, so the child can learn more about the body as they build the model. Something colourful is a bonus, as it makes it easier for kids to distinguish all the organs once the model’s been put together.
There are full-body anatomy models like this one from Thames & Kosmos, which suits kids in mid primary school right up to young adults entering university.
Then there are models for specific parts of the human body, like this one for muscles.
This skeleton model is great for anyone interested in human bones.
If the brain is more their thing, kids will love this cross-section brain model because it gives an accurate representation of what the brain looks like from the outside and highlights each region of the brain within. For kids studying the brain at school, each region is even numbered, to make it easier for them to test their memory.
If a cross-section doesn’t cut it, this more representative brain model offers a way for kids to explore more realistically shaped elements of the brain, such as the ventricles, corpus callosum, and hippocampus. It’s also compact enough that it can live on a study desk.
Know a child who wants to be an optometrist? This model of the human eye is perfect.
And for a child who’s interested in many aspects of the human body, there’s this great value-for-money bundle, which includes anatomy models of the entire body, skeleton, brain, and heart.
A science gift for every child
No matter whether a child is science shy, a science supremo, or anything in between, this list contains a gift that will stimulate their love of learning and the world around them. So, don’t wait. Get shopping!
Originally published by Cosmos as Top science toys and gifts (plus a guide to making the right choices)
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