From LEGO and slime to solar and wind power, these best science experiment kits will have kids of all ages eager to experiment!
Reading about science and playing with science toys are great ways to build your kids’ interest in STEM. Conducting actual experiments is the logical next step, but it requires more preparation than reading or playing. The science experiment kits on this list have simple ways for kids to use the scientific method to learn about the world around them. There’s a lot going on with these kits: building circuits, launching rockets, and the ever-popular making slime! This list reflects my and my family’s interests. My engineer brother and scientist father even did some of the middle school activities when they were still in elementary school, and maybe your kids can too. Like our other articles, the age categories here are only suggestions.
Elementary School (Ages 6-11)
This kit includes a small but versatile complement of Lego pieces and the instructions for using them to make 10 chain reaction, or Rube Goldberg machines. There are instructions for making paper ramps and other components as well. The instructions are only a gateway: once kids have made a few of the machines in the book, they can start experimenting with new pieces and configurations to make their own chain reaction machines and learn some engineering principles in the process!
Chemistry sets have come a long way since the 1950s, you know, when one science kit for kids contained four little jars of uranium and equipment for measuring radioactivity (the Fallout video game series would be so proud). Thankfully, this National Geographic-branded kit does away with hazardous materials and instead includes all of the apparatus you’ll need to conduct 15 fun experiments, along with instructions for conducting an additional 30 experiments with safe, everyday household materials. Most of the experiments fall squarely into the department of things that bubble, fizz, and/or make a big mess. There’s a volcano to build and paint, a gas powered rocket, and instructions for making your own fireworks. National Geographic does an excellent job in its materials for kids, and this set is no exception. The instructions are clear and the scientific explanations are solid. Unlike the chemistry sets of my own childhood, there are no dangerous chemicals that require special disposal and no alcohol burner for your kids to set on fire. (Truth be told, that was always my favorite part.)
At some point along the line, making, playing with, and having long, scholarly discussions about slime became A Thing for elementary school students. My daughter’s slime phase is over, but there were a couple of years there when we made a lot of slime, and I would find vials of the stuff squirreled away in the house in places where I did not wish to find vials of slime. Elmer’s budget-friendly color changing slime kit includes all the materials you’ll need to make color changing slime, including the glue and the “magical liquid” that consolidates the other slime ingredients (lens solution, baking soda, etc.) into one bottle. The kit also includes an ultraviolet pocket light that you can use to “write” on your slime. Kids can experiment by varying the type and amount of ingredients on their path to their perfect slime. Elmer’s is really leaning into the slime making space, with snow slime, crunchy slime, and a celebration slime kit perfect for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Festivus, and other happy occasions!
I know this book isn’t an experiment kit exactly, but it’s so good I needed to include it in this list. There are lots of great chemistry experiments in this book that are easy to do and have a tangible result that you and your offspring can eat. I used this book quite a bit with my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop. One night, we made laxative-based edible slime. I explained to the girls what a laxative is (What did you do at Girl Scouts tonight?) and told them not to eat the slime. Those words were still hanging in the air when one of the girls turned to me with a mouthful of the stuff and said, “Don’t eat what now?”
Middle School (Ages 12-14)
Many scientists, including Richard Feynman and my father got their start in STEM by building a crystal set. This Snap Circuits kit is an updated version of the crystal sets that they built and a lot more besides. Snap Circuits kits contain color coded parts that snap together onto a plastic grid, forming electrical connections without soldering. This kit contains the pieces for 511 electronics projects, including a voice recorder, a light controller, and something called a “screaming fan.” The color coded parts and documentation help kids understand what they are making and what role each part plays in whichever device they’re making. There are several Snap Circuits expansions available: the Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 kit is the next step up, if you and your kiddo are looking for a challenge.
This kit contains a solar cell and a battery powered electric motor to serve as the foundations for building a little car, or a solar powered propellor, or two other machines. The kit has enough options that kids can experiment with different circuits and combinations of pieces to make their own machines too. It also comes with a magnetized screwdriver, which is really nice given how small the screws are. The description on Amazon assures parents that this kit does not require welding, which is a real relief.
High School (Ages 14-18)
If you’ve got a kid who’s a serious gearhead and $425 burning a hole in your pocket, this may be the project for you. This kit produces a functional wind turbine that will generate a significant amount of electricity. It is most definitely not a toy. That being said, putting it together and getting it to work will require experimentation, but at the end, you’ll have a real wind turbine that does real work.
Indulge me for a second while I go off on a tangent: much of the way that we middle class people structure our teenagers’ lives deprives them of the opportunity to do meaningful work. This is deeply harmful. Filling our kids’ lives with busy work that they can see is pointless deprives them of the only way to build self respect: doing things that are worthy of respect. Any teenager with a functioning brain knows that their homework means almost nothing and has no result, which makes it a task unworthy of respect. Your kids are going to benefit a lot more from doing something like building a functioning wind turbine <Link to Best Science Books for Kids Here>, taking apart an old car, putting on a musical, playing in a band, or any one of the “secondary” activities that mean a lot more to your kids than their classes do. My high school drama club had a far greater impact on the course of my life than any of my classes did, because to me it was meaningful work and worthy of respect. I sincerely hope that building a wind turbine, or a project like it, can play that role for your kids.