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Science Gifts For Kids? 368

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the explosives-always-go-over-well dept.
beernutmark writes "I have two science-loving kids ages 7 and 9. My youngest knew Neil deGrasse Tyson's name at age 4. With the holidays coming up, I am looking to get them some quality science-related tools. Two items on the list are a quality microscope and/or a real rock-hounding kit. I am looking for any other gift suggestions for this year or future years (or even for younger kids for other readers) and hints on good sources."
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Science Gifts For Kids?

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  • Anonymous Coward (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:17PM (#30406232)

    Think Geek

    • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:34PM (#30406500)

      I would have to agree. They have a very nice USB microscope that would allow your kids to take pictures and even movies of what they see. It's much more interactive than an ordinary microscope.

      Matt

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheCycoONE (913189)

      I agree Think Geek is a good place to go for ideas, but once you've found something check the websites of the neighborhood box stores. I've often found that I can find the same thing at Canadian Tire or some other shop for a lot less money and no wait.

    • Re:Anonymous Coward (Score:5, Interesting)

      by andyring (100627) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:48PM (#30406688) Homepage

      I had earlier versions of these:

      http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3814337# [radioshack.com]

      as a kid and learned a ton. Loved those kits!

      • by tool462 (677306)

        Agreed. I was using these kits around that age.

        Depending on how advanced and ambitious they are, they have some like that one but with microcontrollers as well.

        There's also ready-made robotics kits like Lego Mindstorms and Boe Bot http://www.parallax.com/tabid/411/Default.aspx [parallax.com]

      • I had one of these growing up too and it was one of my favourite toys. There are lots of opportunities to experiment by modifying the suggested experiments with changing resistance values and inputs and outputs.
  • Telescope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:18PM (#30406254) Journal

    If they Dig astronomy that is

    • Re:Telescope (Score:5, Insightful)

      by middlemen (765373) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:22PM (#30406306) Homepage
      And if you have a hot neighbor as well ;)
    • Yes. This is perfect. You get the magic of the stars, planets and moon, as well as the fun of optics. This is a gift that will be used for years. Mod Parent Up!!!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Seconding the telescope option. But don't do it if you're getting them a crappy one - it's easy to get discouraged with garbage. Do some research and don't get sucked in by marketing ploys advertising 99999999x magnification or whatever. Get a decent reflector with a useable aperture and good eyepieces.

      And yes, IAAA (I am an astronomer).

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

        Exactly right. Of course that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be expensive. A big (~10") Dobsonian like the one someone else mentioned is nice.

        Personally, what I have is a 5" newtonian, the Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ, $180 on Telescopes.com, that I really love, even though I have access to a massive 16" Meade monster for my job. Its small enough to carry easily, but big enough to give you pretty good views of planets, clusters, some of the brighter nebulae, and affordable even on a grad student's sti

      • Re:Telescope (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei (128717) on Friday December 11, 2009 @06:36PM (#30407926) Homepage

        I second what you wrote. To the original author: You'll need to have your expectations in order when you buy a telescope. And stay far, far away from the Chinese junk; it's borderline worthless. Some tips are below. First, your viewing expectations:

        Binoculars (~$100):
        * Moon: Great. Almost like in books or photographs.
        * Planets: Points of light. You will probably see the Galilean moons around Jupiter. You probably won't see Saturn's rings, but you might.
        * Galaxies and globular clusters: The brightest galaxies and globular clusters will look like fuzzy blurs on the starfield.
        * Open clusters: The brightest open clusters, such as the Pleiades, will have a number of stars visible within. Don't expect much from others.
        * Nebulae: Don't expect to see any but the brightest of them, and expect those to be in black and white, with no real detail of relevance.

        Low-end, 4-6" telescope (~$350):
        * Moon: Wonderful. Better than books and photographs.
        * Planets: Points of light. You will see the Galilean moons around Jupiter. If you're *very* lucky, you might see cloud bands. You will likely see Saturn's rings, but no real detail. You can get enhanced planet detail by stacking photographs (you'll need a webcam or DSLR and an appropriate mount)
        * Galaxies and globular clusters: The brightest galaxies and globular clusters will look like fuzzy blurs on the starfield. You can get greater detail if you hook up a camera and do long exposures (with tracking) or stacking of photos. You'll need a webcam or DSLR and an appropriate mount for this.
        * Open clusters: Like binoculars, but more stars.
        * Nebulae: Don't expect to see any but the brightest of them, and expect those to be in black and white, with relatively little detail. Color and detail can be greatly enhanced by long exposures (with tracking) or stacking of photos. You'll need a webcam or DSLR and an appropriate mount for this.

        High-end, 8-12" telescope (~$1000 or more). Assuming good viewing conditions:
        * Moon: Wonderful. Better than books and photographs.
        * Planets: Mercury and Venus are points of light. You might make out Mars' polar ice caps. You will see the Galilean moons around Jupiter, as well as cloud bands. You will see Saturn's rings, and perhaps some detail on them. Uranus and Neptune are dim points of light. Greater detail can come from stacking of images (you'll need a webcam or DSLR and an appropriate mount)
        * Galaxies and globular clusters: The brightest galaxies and globular clusters will *still* look like fuzzy blurs on the starfield, although on some globular clusters, you may see some individual stars. You can get much greater detail if you hook up a camera and do long exposures (with tracking) or stacking of photos. You'll need a webcam or DSLR and an appropriate mount for this.
        * Open clusters: Like a smaller telescope, but even more stars.
        * Nebulae: Only expect to see those that are at least fairly bright, and expect those to be in black and white, with relatively little detail. Color and detail can be dramatically enhanced by long exposures (with tracking) or stacking of photos. You'll need a webcam or DSLR and an appropriate mount for this.

        In short: No matter what you get, as far as consumer products go, the moon is great, while planets, galaxies, globular clusters, open clusters, and nebulae are generally disappointing unless you do long exposures and/or stacking to enhance them. But going with a better scope with a bigger aperture will let you see more detail with your bare eyes.

        General tips:
        * You may not even have given this a second thought, but think strongly about the physical size of what you buy. A pair of binoculars is a nothing task to grab and toss into the car to head out of town and go stargazing. A 50lb, 8-foot long Newtonian? Not so much. A big, heavy object will discourage you from using it. If

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by atomistic (1678742)
      If you get a telescope for them, be sure to make it a decent reflector. One of the biggest ways people go wrong getting into stargazing is by getting a cheap telescope that is worse than a pair of binoculars. Not only is the result blurry, but you can't get enough light to see the fainter objects that are the most interesting. Contact your local astronomical society for a good deal on a used scope. You might even be able to get a mount for a digital camera so your kids can photograph what they see and send
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Telescopes are a lot more fun if you know enough about the sky to find your way around (although these days, with so many high-tech telescopes that have "go to", that's not quite so important as it was.)

      Nevertheless, if you're going to eventualy get a telescope, start out by getting a planisphere and maybe a book on learning the constellations, and then promise "I'll get you a telescope as soon as you can go outside at night and identify fifteen constellations, and name fifteen bright stars."

      Oh, yes-- and

  • Try sparkfun.com (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:19PM (#30406262)

    they have some cool kits.

    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      Second this. I'm an older guy and getting back into dinking with electronics by playing with sparkfun stuff. My first kit should be at home when I get there. Can't wait :)

      [John]

  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:19PM (#30406264)

    Maybe they'll grow up to be Quantum Physicists.

    ...or really, really disturbed...

    • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:27PM (#30406388)

      Maybe they'll grow up to be Quantum Physicists.

      Goddammit, the deadness of a dead cat can be determined classically. Like with a stick, say.

      Way to kill the kids' dreams.

      Actually, the way physics has gotten so fucking esoteric, Schrodinger's cat is passe. What you do is get them a box with no cat in it. Then they can argue about whether there is a parallel box in the next county that does have a cat in it, or whether there is currently a dark, unobservable cat in the box. Or whether there is actually a box at all, or if we've invented the whole thing.

      Before you know it, they'll come up with something so dumb they'll be offered tenure.

    • The point is that a live cat is put into the box...
    • by jank1887 (815982)

      I fail to understand your usage of the word 'or' in that context.

    • by tool462 (677306)

      And to be clear, that does NOT have to be an exclusive or.

  • Lots of things (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spribyl (175893) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:21PM (#30406282)

    Try

    Think Geek
    American Science and surplus.
    HobbyTron(Ramsey)

    Some gifts
    Lego
          Mind Storms.
        Any thing with gears and wheels.
    Lincoln logs
    Erector Sets

    • by v1 (525388)

      while browsing for those links I also found Exploratorium [exploratorium.edu] (Perplexus [exploratorium.edu] looks good)

    • by jank1887 (815982)

      Tinker Toys. Nothing beats the How a Differential Gear works youtube video, demonstrated with Tinker Toys. 'http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4JhruinbWc

      Just remember, while the kids can play with science, they can learn to do things with engineering. teach them to play with making things work.

  • A few are good... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:21PM (#30406288)

    legos are good for modular design, infinite re-use--but you might stay away from the technical or specialty sets, as they tend to be more problematic and less re-usable; capsuela is good for basic gears and so on, and modularity; We also played with BASIC a bit at that age, IIRC. Oh, and Rocky's boots. You must get rocky's boots. Digital Logic for kids.

    Some of these may have modern equivalents...

    • by tepples (727027)

      Oh, and Rocky's boots. You must get rocky's boots. Digital Logic for kids.

      That's available only for long-outdated platforms. You might have a better chance of getting Widget Workshop or KLogic running.

  • Think Geek has a bacteria science kit that I thought looked fun. More for the >12 group. Particularly good if you are trying to get them to wash up more.
    • Alternatively some yeast cultures and growth medium (and hops). You will have to dispose of the used growth medium yourself. ;)
  • by ZuchinniOne (1617763) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:21PM (#30406292)

    You can buy it here [unitednuclear.com]

    You could help them build a processing plant to purify it and then eventually have your own little nuclear reactor. All the other kids in the neighborhood will be soooo jealous!

    • All the other kids in the neighborhood will be soooo jealous!

      And Irradiated!

    • You can buy it here [unitednuclear.com]

      You could help them build a processing plant to purify it and then eventually have your own little nuclear reactor. All the other kids in the neighborhood will be soooo jealous!

      I'd first check with your neighborhood's nuclear proliferation by-laws. Buying uranium may risk sanctions from the other neighborhood kids who already have uranium. Your kids will no longer be able to play or share toys with the other kids in the neighborhood and will be ostracized.

  • by somersault (912633) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:21PM (#30406298) Homepage Journal

    I'd never heard of him, but apparently his name is actually "Neil deGrasse Tyson".

    And knowing the names of scientists is more to do with history than actual science.

    [/complaining]

    • He's a fairly popular astrophysicist who makes fairly regular appearances on the History channel's "Universe" series and has been on the Colbert Report more than any other guest [wikipedia.org]. He's also the director of the Hayden Planetarium and was one of the most vocal supporters of the position that Pluto should not be classified as a planet. He is also a member of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry [wikipedia.org]

      • by Knara (9377)
        He's essentially evolving slowly into the new Sagan, in a way. He is personable, funny and can boil complex scientific concepts down to street level. Pretty cool. The little bit where he wouldn't leave the Green Room on The Daily Show (or Conan O'Brien?) until he got done with his Rubik's Cube was hilarious.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:22PM (#30406310)
  • Some ideas (Score:4, Informative)

    by fliptout (9217) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:23PM (#30406322) Homepage

    A crystal radio kit. A Radio Shack 101 experiments in one. A basic Stamp kit. Mindstorms. A chemistry set. Magnets. Rocket kit.

    Even something more technical that a parent or grandparent would enjoy doing as a project together with the kid. I've got fond memories of designing circuits with my father, building things with my grandfather, etc.

  • Makershed Kit (Score:5, Informative)

    by odin84gk (1162545) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:24PM (#30406334)

    Chemistry Kits:
    http://www.makershed.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=89 [makershed.com]

    Electronics Kits
    http://www.makershed.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=49 [makershed.com]

    Sorry to make it look like spam, but I'm a fan of the "Make" site.

  • Electronics Set (Score:4, Interesting)

    by emandres (857332) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:24PM (#30406336)
    This isn't exactly astronomy related like Niel deGrass Tyson's stuff, but when I was a kid I got an electronics set, complete with a bread-board, several LED's, a rheostat, heaps and heaps of resistors and capacitors, and several other things having to do with digital and analog circuitry. That was one of the best Christmas presents I ever got, and still from time to time wish I had it to pull out and tinker with. I remember one time I probably could have burned the house down had I not smelled the melting plastic on the set. What happened was that I had learned at school how to make an electromagnet out of a battery, a coil of wire, and a nail. Well, I did the same thing with the set when I got home, but then left it on for about an hour. As you well may know, connecting the two terminals of a battery without any resistor can cause the batteries to overheat, and most likely rupture. I think I probably caught the thing just before the batteries broke, because they were very hot. Anyway, I'm rambling, but you get the idea: I learned to love tinkering with electronics as a kid, and now am majoring in Computer Science.
    • by Again (1351325)

      This isn't exactly astronomy related like Niel deGrass Tyson's stuff, but when I was a kid I got an electronics set, complete with a bread-board, several LED's, a rheostat, heaps and heaps of resistors and capacitors, and several other things having to do with digital and analog circuitry. That was one of the best Christmas presents I ever got, and still from time to time wish I had it to pull out and tinker with. I remember one time I probably could have burned the house down had I not smelled the melting plastic on the set. What happened was that I had learned at school how to make an electromagnet out of a battery, a coil of wire, and a nail. Well, I did the same thing with the set when I got home, but then left it on for about an hour. As you well may know, connecting the two terminals of a battery without any resistor can cause the batteries to overheat, and most likely rupture. I think I probably caught the thing just before the batteries broke, because they were very hot. Anyway, I'm rambling, but you get the idea: I learned to love tinkering with electronics as a kid, and now am majoring in Computer Science.

      So that's what happened. I exploded a battery when I was a kid. Luckily no fire started and I wasn't in the room so I was safe. Of course, that battery that exploded was just a small watch battery but it made a pretty loud sound considering.

  • Get one of them a pan balance. learn about mass, density, gravity. Compare quantities of things. I'll bet it gets a fair amount of use.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:24PM (#30406342)

    and challenge them to make a working breeder reactor. I hear they do that sort of thing in the boy scouts.

  • Telescope (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Galileoscope is a high-quality, low-cost telescope kit developed for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 by a team of leading astronomers, optical engineers, and science educators. No matter where you live, with this easy-to-assemble, 50-mm (2-inch) diameter, 25- to 50-power achromatic refractor, you can see the celestial wonders that Galileo Galilei first glimpsed 400 years ago

    priced at U.S. $20 each plus shipping

    https://www.galileoscope.org/

  • by jqweezy (1459231) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:25PM (#30406362)
    Get them self defense classes.
  • Snap Circuits (Score:5, Informative)

    by CognitiveFusion (602570) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:27PM (#30406386) Homepage

    Snap Circuit Kits make good introductions to electronics. Think circuitry LEGOs.

    http://www.elenco.com/snapcircuits.html [elenco.com]

  • Because I had one of those Radio Shack 150-in-one project kits and I played with that for years. I can't claim that it helped me in my digital logic and system design class, but still...
    • by compumike (454538)

      I too had one of those as a kid -- the ones where you follow the book to connect the various spring terminals! While I might be able to go back and learn some more from it now, I can't really say I learned much from it at the time. It was very much focused on just following the step-by-step directions, with little emphasis on creativity / customization / concepts. So after finishing my Masters in EECS from MIT, I decided to build my own electronics kits for the "digital generation" [nerdkits.com], with a tremendous foc

      • by Knara (9377)
        Heh, yeah. Mine was so old the most "advanced" bit was a very small solar panel on it. I was quite enamored of the fact that you could make the little lightbulb turn on and off just by putting your thumb over the panel.
    • They sure do, but they're much nicer now [electronickits.com]. My 9- and 8-year-old kids get the kit out, unprompted, to build stuff pretty often.

      • by Knara (9377)
        May more advanced than the one I got, that's for sure. There's no springs at the terminals or anything!!
  • HST (Score:4, Informative)

    by jockeys (753885) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:28PM (#30406416) Journal
    I've had good luck and good service from http://www.hometrainingtools.com/ [hometrainingtools.com] Home Science Tools. I got presents for my nephews there this year, they have all sorts of fun kits and things, (including a very nice rockhound kit) and the prices seemed pretty competitive. Even ordering last week I got the stuff pretty quickly.

    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any way, just a satisfied customer.
    • by EricWright (16803)

      Ooh, THAT HST... And here I thought you were suggesting he buy the Hubble Space Telescope for his kids.

      On second thought...

  • Some of my favs, in no particular order:
    1) Chemistry set
    2) Electronics set
    3) Rocket kit (build and launch)
    4) RC Plane kit (build and fly)
    5) One really cool gift was a big kit with a toolbox, various wood, paint, and a book of all the different things you can build. Things like a wooden clock (it included the electronics part, you just built the face and painted it). A bird house.

    Check out http://scientificsonline.com/ [scientificsonline.com] for more ideas
  • by compumike (454538) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:29PM (#30406428) Homepage

    Whatever you do, find something where there's real teaching and interactivity and creative thinking going on -- not just polishing some rocks or a step-by-step Lego project. And furthermore, interacting with your child while they're using whatever science gift you pick is also extremely valuable.

    Ages 7 and 9 may be a bit young... but we know that 11-year olds do well with getting introduced to electronics and programming, and the interaction that it offers with the physical world through various sensors and actuators. In our experience at NerdKits electronics kits [nerdkits.com], our youngest customers tend to learn the fastest, because they are the most fearless! They're able to try building something, get something wrong, but just keep working at it until they succeed. Our various free video tutorials [nerdkits.com] help teach various electronics and programming concepts as well.

    Here's an 11-year-old's NerdKits "Kid Review" in Make Magazine [make-digital.com], or a reading by the author of the review [youtube.com].

    Challenge them a bit -- with a bit of guidance, they're capable of taking on more than you might think!

    • Mod this up - I completely agree.

      Even if they are too young to grasp the idea of programming, getting them going with electric motors and such circuitry you find in various toys, (Lego Technic comes to mind) will go a long way in leading them down pretty useful skills in the future.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cstec (521534)

      ...Ages 7 and 9 may be a bit young... but we know that 11-year olds do well with getting introduced to electronics and programming

      11?!? What the Hell are you talking about?

      My 8 yr old has worked for years in BASIC and the Mindstorm's awful visual environment, has passed SnapCircuits (which rock) and starting raw wiring comps. Even my 5 year old is starting to work in Logo. Sure, they're quick, but statistically speaking I bet most of the kids of Slashdot readers are!

      Don't ever assume something's too hard. Throw them in the deep end and see what happens, you'll be surprised, and you can always give 'em a hand if they're drowin

  • Eyeclops bionic eye (Score:3, Informative)

    by nizo (81281) * on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:32PM (#30406470) Homepage Journal

    A decent microscope that you plug into your TV. The kids have had theirs for a year and still play with it all the time.

  • Uh, ask them? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by snarfies (115214) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:33PM (#30406488) Homepage

    Why are you asking Slashdot? Have you tried, like, asking THEM? I know you're nerds and all, but geez.

  • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:34PM (#30406498) Journal

    Swiss army knife
    Magnifying glass.
    Soldering iron.

  • Not plastic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by goober (120298) on Friday December 11, 2009 @04:36PM (#30406546)

    Don't fall for anything made of plastic that says "Educational!" on the package. Science toys don't teach kids anything. Parents do! Look for something that you can do and learn together. Steer towards gifts that have wider applications, e.g. don't get a telescope, get binoculars! Don't get a microscope, get a hand magnifying glass! Don't get a nature DVD, get a bird book!

  • Seriously you are asking this question after Thanksgiving?

    All the good stuff is sold out already.

  • You should check out They Might Be Giants' newest album "Here Comes Science" (a CD/DVD combo, available at Amazon for $13).
  • Like this old-fashioned one [instructables.com]!

  • A 7 year old should enjoy classic bits like gyroscope, prism, and magnets. The Levitron and ROMP (random oscillating magnetic pendulum) are inexpensive and fun.
  • Let's give all 12 year olds 1 lb of sodium metal, plus a short book explaining it.

    The average IQ of our country's kids would double in one week!

    • by EricWright (16803)

      Because 90% of the kids would kill themselves tossing the entire lb of Na into their bathtub?

  • Programming and robotics? [lego.com]

    Mentos and a two liter of diet coke.

    A box of baking soda and a bottle of vinegar.

    A model rocket kit at any hobby store.
  • Give them http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan's_Cosmos [wikipedia.org] DVDs to watch. Greatest science gift for kids ever! (With the possible corollary that if they don't interest them, they are already lost :) ).
  • For a unique spin on beginning electronics. It's a very different medium from traditional science kits, but your kids can make usable, wearable electronics while learning about circuits. With the kits, you can sew a simple circuit to a shirt/hat/jacket using conductive thread and a tiny LED (perhaps for the 9-year old). You could also make a small felt accessory to control your iPod. There are a variety of kits, from really easy, to a bit involved.

    Tell them I sent you :-)

  • I bought my then-eight-year-old an electronics kit last year for Christmas. He really didn't touch it much until summer, when school let out. Then he had a blast all summer making various alarms, sensors, light sequencers... ...this year I think I'll go for a chem kit.

    Oh, and a linux-based notebook isn't too bad either. He is currently using an old one of mine to learn typing by using TuxType (http://tux4kids.alioth.debian.org/tuxtype/index.php) and doing math on Tux Math.
  • Get a copy of this PDF 'goldenchem.pdf' print it on good paper and have it bound. You may be able to find an original copy of the book but not likely. Just remember when ever they open the book and try the struff, don't hover.
  • Between the time I was six to ten years old, I was given a series of electronics kits that I loved and used to pieces (rather literally, at that). The last two in the sequence that I was given were the 200 in 1 kit [elenco.com] and the 300 in 1 kit [elenco.com].

    After those, I hit up the local Radio Shacks for breadboards and the like, and Digi-Key when I was a teen. Radio Shack still carries some of the parts.

  • Where ever you go a towel is useful. Don't forget your towel.

  • The majority of out-of-field science that I know (I'm a professional neuroscientist), I learned reading books while in grade school.

    I still remember many of the images and wonderment from those books. I must have spent hours and hours studying them. I *loved* those books.

    These days, the equivalent are published by DK. They are horrible by comparison (everything is dumbed down to bite-sized paragraphs rather than presented in long-form that helps build concentration), but perhaps better than nothing.

    I hav

  • A decent quality scientific calculator and enough training with it that they can start using to discover the joys of solving problems. I think I had my first solar powered scientific calc when I was about ten. A handful of years later in high school I moved up to a more complicated graphing model. I'm sad to say I don't have the original calculator but I still have the latter. It served me well through high school, college admissions exams, and then a bachelors degree in the sciences. Of course these da

  • Batteries, wires, pushbuttons, little (incandescent) lightbulbs etc. I think it was officially meant for dolls houses, but it sure was great fun.
  • by syousef (465911) on Friday December 11, 2009 @05:11PM (#30407010) Journal

    For the microscope, get them interested with a "toy" one for about $30 and if they find that fun, move on to a more serious unit for $300 and up.

    Binoculars. I've been happier with binocs I picked up for $25 than I have been with a pair I bought for $150. Once you start spending over $50, you're best to do your research and buy a pair around the $200-$300 from a reputable brand. 7x50 is best for astronomy. Anything over 10x isn't suitable to hand hold. Zoom binocs are more fragile.

    Telescope. DO NOT pick up a department store telescope. Start them off with a dobsonian. (Good for everything but deep sky photography). What counts most in a telescope for deep sky observing is diameter. 8" is a good compromise. These days you can larger telescopes that collapse so you might be able to go up to about 12" but price increases with size. Make sure it fits in your car.

    Hiking GPS. One that does mapping. I'm partial to Garmin.

    Camera. Often overlooked, it can be used for a wide variety of things. Low power microscopy, bird identification. Something that does PASM. Ideally something that has decent macro and has at least 10x zoom. You can pick up brand new cameras that fit this description for around $200. They won't match much more expensive camera, but they do well. Next step up is an SLR.

    Radio scanner. Becoming less of a good idea as transmissions are moving towards encryption. But still an excellent tool for plane spotting. Take s snapshot with a good zoom camera and you'll be able to look up the plane's registration in a publicly available database which will give you make, model, owner etc.

    Chem sets might be disappearing but electronics kits that teach the basics are still around.

    For younger ages a good mechano set isn't a bad place to start learning basic engineering principles.

    Kites and remote control aircraft are excellent for teaching about aerodynamics. Anyone can fly a small kite but if you want to learn to fly r/c aircraft be sure to join a club and do it right or you'll waste time and money and have frustrated kids. Best idea these is to start on a simulator.

    Never forget the value of a good book or documentary. Carl Sagan's Cosmos is a little bit dated but still excellent. Universe. Walking with Dinosaurs....lots of good science stuff available. Your kids don't need to be cartoon and fairytale drones. You can set up one day a week to watch a series. If it's available for free on TV all the better.

    Check out some of the excellent scientific software around. Some of the most amazing stuff is free. From planetarium software to math software, it's all there if you're willing to spend time learning and teaching with it. Don't discount web sites as well. I can think of a couple of incredible web sites including NASA and Hubblesite. There's a lot of stuff that's out of copyright but still relevant. I just downloaded some out of copyright birding books the other day. Check out open library. There may even be value in university level Open Course Ware depending on the subject (but remember your kids don't know calculus so keep math topics light).

    If there's a local library, get your kids a library card and take them there when you can.

  • As a kid decades back, I LOVED paging through Edmund Scientific catalogs.

    Now, as an adult, go visit their site: http://scientificsonline.com/ [scientificsonline.com]

    If you can't find anything there, you're not looking hard enough!

  • Not really tools, but a lot of fun - http://www.particlezoo.net/

  • Your Time. Don't just give them the kit (any kit) and leave it at that. Sit with them and YOU start making stuff with them looking and get them more involved as you go along. I remember my first geek activity. It was when I was 4-5 years old . My father took apart an antique clock apart and cleaned it and later asking me to do small things to do. That is what got me hooked to DIY. Later when I was about 7-8 years old my mom used to read short Sci-Fi stories to me and that's what got me hooked into reading
  • Stethoscopes, scales, rulers, measuring cups.

    Other good things:

    Model rockets - If they are young they can help you build and then they can launch.
    Magnets, lots of basic magnets.

    A Place they don't ahve to worry about making a mess so they can make experiments fail.

    Encouragement in doing stuff, and you doing it with them.

  • Endless fun. Something simple, yet capable of demonstrating all kind of strange things. Really forces one to use their imagination. Best demonstration of how something simple can be used to do more complex things, like byte code, but less esoteric, and doesn't require any kind of reference text.
  • A good place to look would be http://scientificsonline.com/ AKA Edumund Scientific corp. They have just about every kind of science gift. I've ordered from them before and can recommend them.

  • if you can gt to a store. There are a lot of fun and safe chemicals you can get at the grocery store to experiment with.

    Speaking of which, cooking is science.

    Finally, LET THEM MAKE MISTAKES.
    For example. When doing the diet coke and mentos experiment, let them do it on there own. Just watch. They may get sprayed with soda, but so what?

    And laugh with them and teach them that failure is an option.

As the trials of life continue to take their toll, remember that there is always a future in Computer Maintenance. -- National Lampoon, "Deteriorata"

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