The Best Science Kits for Kids, According to a Science Education Professor

MEL Science subscription kits top our list, combining hands-on fun with a VR app

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Anyone who has ever watched a baby drop something to the floor over and over again knows that children are born scientists, always observing physics, natural phenomena, and human behavior in action. While we recognize that STEM education in school is essential, we also are coming to realize that one of the best ways to encourage children to love science is to make it something they can play with at home, too. That’s why science kits and toys can be both fun and beneficial to children of all ages.

Reviewed & Approved

MEL Science offers subscription kits for kids ages 4 through 16 and up, covering coding, physics, chemistry, and more. We like its easy-to-follow, unusual experiments, and the accompanying apps that take instruction to the next level. For preschoolers, the Ada Twist Scientist On-the-Go Lab Set encourages children to pretend and become real scientists.

“When children play in science, they're creating all sorts of powerful cognitive anchors,” Chris Emdin, PhD, the Robert A. Naslund Endowed Chair in Curriculum and Teaching and professor of education at the University of Southern California, tells Verywell Family. “[Through play] they're able to witness the phenomenon in real-time, manipulate variables and see their effects. ... When you play with something, that becomes a part of who you are. When you play basketball, you're like, ‘Wait. I can do this.’ And that's the biggest thing: the ‘I can do this; it's not just for those other smart kids, maybe I am one of those smart kids now.’”

According to Emdin, author of “STEM, STEAM, Make, Dream,” science kits are best when they encourage kids to explore scientific concepts long after they’ve conducted the prescribed experiment. As parents, we also know that these toys are only good if they’re easy enough for our kids to understand, don’t require a lot of extra parts or ingredients, and remain engaging without getting bogged down in textbook-like instruction. We kept all those criteria in mind when researching the many kits on the market.

Based on Emdin’s advice, our own kids’ feedback, and our research, here are the best science kits for kids of all ages.

Best Overall: MEL Science Kit

5
MEL Science Kit

Source: MEL Science Kit

Pros
  • Unusual projects

  • AR & VR lessons

  • Easy instruction

Cons
  • Some projects are short

MEL Science kits offer some of the most interesting and engaging projects we’ve seen, with easy-to-follow instructions and scientific explanations, earning it our top spot on this list. Along with the monthly box that contains two to three experiments, the accompanying app allows kids and their grown-ups to view instructions and lessons, some of which use augmented reality and virtual reality. This latter element is why it earns Emdin’s seal of approval.

“I’ve seen them, I love them, and they work really well,” Emdin tells us. “Anything that incorporates the actual doing with the digital. What it means is that the [makers] are thoughtful about where young folks are interested.”

After receiving free samples of MEL STEM (for ages 5-9), MEL Physics (ages 8-14+), and MEL Chemistry (ages 10-16), we have to agree. Even kids who may be too young to study physics in school get a kick out of building a hydraulic lift and a solar-powered buzzer, and they’re not likely to forget what it’s like to put on a VR headset and zoom through atomic structures or play around with electrons. Older kids will get a kick out of mixing real chemicals and even lighting them on fire. Our one complaint about the kits is that some of the projects are over too quickly, and there’s not much you can do with them other than clean up and wait for the next one. But when the next month comes around, it’s exciting all over again to open that box and learn something new.

Ages: 4-7 (Coding) up to 10-16+ (Chemistry)

Best for Preschoolers: Just Play Ada Twist, Scientist On the Go Lab Set

Ada Twist Scientist On the Go Lab Set
Pros
  • Inspires imaginative play

  • Ties into book and TV character

  • Self-contained box for storage and travel

Cons
  • Experiments require adult’s help

Based on the Michelle and Barack Obama-produced Netflix show which is based on the children’s book by Andrea Beatty, this Ada Twist kit continues to inspire young children to view science as something fun and exciting that is in their reach. It’s a colorful wheely case that opens up to reveal test tubes, a beaker, safety goggles, a working scale, and other tools. Little ones can play with it on their own, or they can get a grown-up’s help to conduct preschool-level experiments according to the six instruction cards.

Ages: 3 and up

Best for Nature Exploration: Fat Brain Toys Buggy Light

Fat Brain Toys Buggy Light

Source: Fat Brain Toys

Pros
  • Encourages open-ended exploration

  • Doesn’t harm insects

  • Doubles as magnifying glass or night light

Cons
  • Not great for squeamish adults

If you’ve got a budding entomologist on your hands, or just a kid who loves the outdoors, this light can enhance their experience—without hurting the insects or letting creepy crawlies loose in the house. This is a big improvement over the jar with holes poked into the lid. The light doesn’t get hot, and there are built-in holes for oxygen. The lid is a magnifying glass, allowing kids to examine their specimens at eight times their actual size. When they’re not observing insects (or anything else small that fits inside), they can also use this as a portable night light.

Ages: 5 and up

Best for 5-Year-Olds: KiwiCo Kiwi Crate

Children playing with KiwiCo Arcade Claw

Kiwico.com

Pros
  • Easy instructions

  • Extra booklets and comics included

  • Projects become toys to play with again

Cons
  • Only some kits available without subscription

  • Materials aren’t durable

KiwiCo has become one of the most well-loved subscription services for children, as the brand has perfected its model of compact monthly projects. The Kiwi Crate, aimed at 5- to 8-year-olds, is particularly good at letting children believe they’re just building toys when they’re really getting a lesson in science and/or art.

The included instructions are very easy for kids to follow on their own, but adults can then help them read the accompanying booklets that explain the bigger concepts behind the arcade claw, rocket, or garden they’ve just made. Unlike many other science kits, KiwiCo’s projects are toys they can play with after the lesson is over. This allows them to absorb what they’ve learned and continue to mull over those scientific concepts. When they outgrow the Kiwi Crate, they can move up to the subscriptions designed for older kids.

Ages: 5-8 years (other crates available for 0-100 years)

Best for Coding & Robotics: KinderLab Robotics KIBO 15 Home Edition

KinderLab Robotics KIBO 15 Home Edition

Source: KinderLab

Pros
  • Research-backed toy

  • Screen-free coding 

  • Customizable design 

Cons
  • Cost

There are a lot of coding robots on the market right now, but Emdin says his own kids have particularly enjoyed Kibo, a robot designed by early education researchers at Tufts University. This little screen-free toy allows kids to manipulate input and output ports, and to program its actions with a sequence of coding cards. Kibo also encourages creativity, as kids can attach paper designs to its top and change them out whenever they like. 

If Kibo’s price tag seems a little too much, we also recommend Botley, the coding robot from Learning Resources.

Ages: 4 and up

Best for Electricity: Snap Circuits Pro Electronics Exploration Kit

Snap Circuits Pro

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Safe way to learn about electricity

  • Illustrates concepts clearly

  • Can combine with other Snap Circuit kits

Cons
  • Some parts break easily

Since we don’t actually want children to be messing with dangerous wires and outlets, or to take apart the gadgets we might want to use, it’s great to know there are kits from Snap Circuits that can teach them how electrical circuits really work. As the name indicates, the parts snap into place on a board and connect to each other, linking a battery pack (four AA batteries not included) to lights, a fan, AM and FM radios, a voice recorder, and more. This kit includes instructions for 500 different experiments, but kids can come up with their own designs and even add to this with other Snap Circuit kits. There are smaller kits for younger kids, too.

Ages: 8 and up

Best for Reluctant Scientists: National Geographic Super Gross Chemistry Set

National Geographic Super Gross Chemistry Set

Source: National Geographic

Pros
  • Unusual experiments

  • Easy instructions

  • All ingredients included

Cons
  • Messy

  • Only 15 experiments included

Some kids may already be under the mistaken impression that science is boring or just for kids who like sitting in the classroom. This kit, which includes all the ingredients and instructions to make things like a jiggling, squishy “brain,” “farting” slime, a “vomiting” test tube, and boiling snot bubbles, may make science geeks out of those kids yet! They’ll really be learning about polymers, phosphorescence, and other chemical reactions while mixing up all those gross concoctions. Just make sure they promise to help with the cleanup, too.

Ages: 8 and up

Best for 8-Year-Olds: Abacus Brand’s Bill Nye VR Science Kit

Abacus Brand’s Bill Nye VR Science Kit

Source: Abacus Brand’s

Pros
  • Fun experiments

  • AR and VR lessons

  • Clear explanations of science

Cons
  • App requires adult help

  • Extra household ingredients required

Those of us who grew up on Bill Nye the Science Guy will appreciate this opportunity for our children to do so too—only this time with a much more hands-on experience than we had watching TV. This 50-piece set includes plenty of scientific lab tools like a beaker, test tubes, an eyedropper, and more materials necessary to conduct 30 experiments, though you’ll also have to use some basic items that are probably available around the house. You can find all the instructions for the experiments—like creating a homemade “volcano,” a lemon battery, and homemade perfume—in the included spiral-bound book.

But for the full experience, adults can download the app and point their phones at the instructions to see Nye himself pop up to talk about what’s going on. Then, place the phone in the VR headset, so the kids can continue the lesson on the larger concepts involved. After receiving one of these kits free to test out, we learned that this combination of VR and real life helped keep an 8-year-old’s attention for much longer than just one or the other would, and a year later, he still remembers much of what he learned.

Ages: 8-13

For kits that capture the fun of hands-on science and offer instruction via video and virtual reality, we highly recommend MEL Science’s various subscriptions. If you want to get younger kids excited by the natural world, try an open-ended toy like the Buggy Light from Fat Brain Toys

How We Selected the Best Science Kits

We researched dozens of science kits available through major retailers and direct-to-consumer sites, looking at cost, covered subject matter, age level, and consumer reviews. Our own kids have also tested out several of these kits, and we’ve seen how well they engage children, teach them scientific concepts, and excite them about science in general.

We also consulted with dad and science education expert Chris Emdin, PhD, Robert A. Naslund Endowed Chair in Curriculum Theory, and professor of education at the University of Southern California, who is also the New York Times best-selling author of “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too” and “STEM, STEAM, Make, Dream.”

What to Look for in Science Kits

Toymakers have recently realized that there is a good market for science-related toys for kids, so you now have a wealth of products to choose from, in a variety of subjects and age levels. Here are some criteria to help you narrow down your choices.

Age Level

Most science kits for kids will give you guidelines about appropriate ages. Smaller kids won’t need very complex experiments to engage them, but you’ll want something they can play with safely. Older kids can handle written instructions and accompanying lessons on scientific concepts, though you also don’t want to bore them.

Emdin says it’s OK to consider giving a child a science kit that’s meant for kids that are older than they are, as long as there’s an adult there to supervise them. “I give my kids the ones that are a couple of age ranges ahead,” he tells Verywell Family. “It's not because I think they’re particularly advanced, but I’m curious as to what they’ll do with them and what kind of questions they’re going to pose.”

Subject Matter

“I think it should be less about where the young folks are developmentally, but also about what their general interests are,” Emdin says. If you don’t know what interests a child most, there are plenty of kits that demonstrate a broad range of scientific subjects. Others will be more focused on something like electricity, chemistry, biology, or robotics. Ideally, they’ll eventually get to play with all kinds of different scientific disciplines over the course of their childhood, so you can switch it up from year to year.

Ease of Use

Clear instructions are essential to making a science kit fun and educational for children. If they can’t read yet, look for a kit that offers visual instructions. Some kits have accompanying websites or apps that give directions and related science lessons, which is especially helpful when the grown-up involved doesn’t have a background in the subject. 

“The best science kits are accessible,” Emdin tells us. “You don't have to have any advanced, complex scientific or mathematical knowledge to get started.” 

Engagement Over Time

Some experiments in science kits are easy and fun, but they’re over in just a few minutes, and there’s little guidance on how to continue exploring the subject. Emdin recommends science kits that lead kids to continue playing and learning beyond that experiment.

“I want something that my child's gonna sit with and be there for a few hours, and the more time they spend, the more discoveries are happening,” Emdin says. “You want to build science as a lifestyle, not just as a set of events. You want to activate the imagination, where the young person is thinking and dreaming and figuring and imagining beyond what’s in front of them.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should be in a science kit?

    There are standard science kits that come with common tools, such as beakers, test tubes, safety goggles, and certain safe chemicals. But this isn’t to say every science kit should have all of those things. A science kit for physics could have nothing but wooden or cardboard parts that fit together. What’s important is that the packaging or product description is clear about what is included in the kit and whether you will need to add other supplies to conduct the experiments safely. One thing you can’t do without is a set of instructions that are easy to follow.

  • How do you make a homemade science kit?

    Science is everywhere, and so are the materials you need to teach your kids about it. 

    “A science kit is simply anything young folks can play with that won’t harm them,” says Chris Emdin, PhD, Robert A. Naslund Endowed Chair in Curriculum Theory and professor of education at the University of Southern California. “Your refrigerator is the ultimate science kit. Eggs and milks and bread, and the twisty ties for bread and dishwashing detergent. ... It’s just creating space to let your children play and pose questions. And hopefully you know the answers to those questions, and if you don’t you go on an online deep dive together to figure out how these things work.”

    You can buy a few tools to help with that exploration, such as a reliable kids’ microscope, but there are plenty of experiments you can complete with only household materials. Visit websites for organizations like the Boston Children’s Museum or PBS’ DIY Science Time for some ideas. 

Why Trust Verywell Family

Sabrina Rojas Weiss is a parenting editor at Verywell Family and the mother of a 9-year-old boy. Not so coincidentally, she’s been writing about parenting for nine years, following a career in entertainment journalism. It wasn’t until adulthood that she realized she loved science, so she’s doing her best to make sure that doesn’t happen with her son. His favorite kits of the moment have been the MEL STEM and Physics kits, mostly because he loves the VR elements.

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