What image pops into your mind when you hear the word “scientist”? A nerdy guy or gal in a white lab coat hunched over a microscope? A wild-haired Albert Einstein look-alike mixing bubbling liquids in test tubes? Bet you didn’t think “cool.”
Unfortunately, that uncool factor keeps a lot of kids from going into science, which may explain why the U.S. lags many other countries in science, technology, engineering and math. But several companies have set out to turn those old stereotypes on their heads and make science cool. Besides being fun (and educational) for the kids, these science kits are also a fantastic way for parents and kids to play — and learn — together. Here are a few from Discover with Dr. Cool (www.discoverwithdrcool.com):
Break Open Real Geodes
When you first open up the box, there’s a moment of disappointment. All you find is a pair of safety goggles and a plastic bag with six roundish rocks. But don’t be fooled: There’s a lot more here than meets the eye. Grab a hammer (not included), put on the safety goggles, go outside on the sidewalk and crack open one or two of the geodes. Once your child has seen the beautiful crystals inside, she’ll be much more interested in reading the included Adventure Guide. The first thing you learn is that geodes are formed when gas bubbles get trapped in lava and are penetrated by minerals over millions of years. Knowing that those geodes are so ancient (and yes, they’re real) will make breaking open the next batch a lot more interesting.
Dino Dig Kit
Dinosaurs have fascinated people for centuries, and the Dino Dig Kit gives kids a small taste of what it’s like to be a paleontologist. Each kit contains a magnifying glass, a brush, a digging tool and an egg-shaped plaster thing that’s painted to look like a T-Rex head. It’s what’s inside that egg that’s so fun. Use the digging tool to chip away at the plaster and inside, your young scientist will discover a real dino tooth, a small piece of actual dino bone and some actual dino poop. Fortunately, all are fossilized. Because the plaster makes an incredible mess, we recommend doing your excavating outside. The included Adventure Guide gives a fun overview of what fossils are, how they’re formed, where they’re found and even a brief discussion of dino poop (the scientific name is “coprolites,” and the biggest piece ever found was 2 feet long and 6.5 inches wide).
Pan for Gold
We’ve all seen pictures of the California Gold Rush, miners squatting by the river with a pie pan. If you’ve ever wondered how you can find gold with a pie pan, you’ll love this kit. It comes with an actual pan (plastic), two bags of “pay dirt” (which is more like sand), tweezers and a magnifying glass. Most importantly, there are easy-to-understand instructions on how to use gravity, water and the ridges on the inside of the pan to separate tiny nuggets and even tinier flakes from the sand. As with the other Dr. Cool kits, this one comes with an informative Adventure Guide and Activity Booklet with trivia, puzzles, and more.