Science kits are so much fun to play with, but it can be a royal bummer when experiments fizzle or equipment breaks. For optimum fun, less frustration for you, and to avoid putting a sad face on your future mad scientist, consider these guidelines when choosing your next rainy day adventure.
Choose a kit that is UL recognized or UL listed. In case you are not familiar with them, Underwriter Laboratories (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit company that tests products for safety. They rate everything from microwave ovens to credit card payment software to Christmas tree lights to, you guessed it — science kits!
You can tell that a product is recognized by UL by looking at the packaging and locating their symbol (the circle with the UL inside of it). If the product is listed by UL, then the circle will have the word “listed” under it.
If shopping online, enter the following text string into your favorite search engine for best results: “science kit” UL listed. The results will give you a good idea of the companies that produce UL recognized or listed kits that have been evaluated and considered reasonably safe. And, you just might find a specific kit that fits your interests.
Knowing you, O Nerdy One, you’re going to want to know the difference between UL listed and UL recognized. The difference is a little murky, but here’s where you can sate your hunger for information.
In my experience, the best science kits come from scientific companies, and not from toy companies. Many of the brightly colored, cartoony kits you see on big box store shelves are probably not going to deliver on performance. Look for kits produced by laboratories or manufacturers that sell equipment that is also used in classroom laboratories or research labs. These kits often have equipment and accessories that can be used multiple times, thereby adding to the kit’s overall value. All you need to do is resupply the consumable materials and you’re good to go for the next blizzard basement activity!
The last tip for success: Consider age-appropriateness. If your experiment takes longer than five minutes, your seven year old is probably going to yawn and be bored whereas your twelve year old may be more apt to grasp the subtle intricacies of a more complex, longer duration experiment. For younger kids, find experiments that entail some kind of destruction — like geodes. Between the tender ages of five and eight, people tend to break all kinds of stuff by accident, so it’s great fun to break something on purpose that adults aren’t going to be mad about. Also, experiments that are too easy or projects that are too quickly accomplished might not satisfy the more mature kid in the room (you) or your nine- to fifteen-year-old.
And, if you don’t see anything that energizes your switch, consider using some of the stuff you already have in the garage or basement for a sciencey, fun, secretly educational activity! There are some great ideas on YouTube and other video sites. But, be sure to do some advanced prep. It’s not like you can run out to the hobby store or the hardware store in the middle of the next Snowmageddon.