Science gifts for Christmas: 2003

It’s time once again for my scientific gift guide. (No, I don’t mean I have the purchasing of gifts down to a science–if I did, I’d set up in business and be a millionaire before the New Year. I mean, it’s time once again for my guide to scientific gifts.)

Not being in a position to play with all the science-related toys on the market, however–again, more’s the pity–I have instead scoured the World Wide Web (so you don’t have to), consulted authoritative lists of dozens of science-related gifts–and then picked out the ones I like the most. (See, I told you it wasn’t scientific.)

From the holiday toy list of the magazine Parenting for High Potential, for example, comes the Capsela 620 Bug Builder. Lots of toys teach kids about gears, motors and electrical circuits, but this one is probably unique in that you learn about those things by building bugs rather than robots or trucks. You can create a translucent green motorized grasshopper. a praying mantis, –or create your own mutant insects. Combine these parts with the other Capsela building sets–they’re interchangeable–and who knows what you can come up with? (Oh, yeah, and there’s a science concept guide included, just to prove the toy is educational.)

Meanwhile, the Parents’ Choice Foundation’s Holiday Gift Guide includes what has to be my favorite toy of all this year–the “Whodunit? Forensics Lab.” It provides state-of-the-art (well, state-of-the-toy-art, anyway) instruments, and presents you with six cases to solve. To do so, you’ll analyze handwriting, decipher (synthetic) blood types, examine mysterious fibers, and more. It’s rather expensive, at around $80 U.S., but then, it does include a 200X zoom microscope!

Which allows me to segue into my usual Christmas recommendation that one of the best science gifts of all is a microscope. The Christmas when I got my first microscope (I was seven) is probably the childhood Christmas I remember best. There are several inexpensive children’s microscopes on the market: one on the Parent’s Choice Foundation’s list is the Quantum Alphascope Microscope, which comes not only with standard microscope slides, but “curiousity boxes” (used to corral squirmy things).

Another great science gift is a telescope (and yes, I had one of those, too–still have it, in fact). I found the Discovery Kids SL-70 Telescope on the Parent’s Choice Foundation’s list. This 70-mm refractor has a short barrel, which makes it easy to transport–and it comes with a padded shoulder bag for just that purpose. But there are many wonderful telescopes available. They’re a fairly pricy choice–the one I just mentioned costs $149 U.S.–but they can last a lifetime.

Personally, if I were buying one now, I’d shell out extra money for one with computerized controls for finding interesting objects in the sky–I spent most of my childhood observing time just trying to point it in the right direction.

We should also mention some of the top toys identified in the annual toy report of the Canadian Toy Testing Council, such as the Quantum Pad Learning System, which uses specially designed books with interactive features (i.e., children might press a picture of a pig to hear it oink, or get a word of encouragement after solving a math problem). There’s a whole line of books available in many subject areas, and the device is just the right size for taking on long car trips (and yes, it includes a headphone jack).

Another one high on the Canadian Toy Testing Council’s list is Magic Science, part of a series of kits called “Slinky Science” from James Industries. This would have appealed to me as a kid, too, since I had a lot of interest in both science and stage magic. The kit explains the science behind 21 tricks, which can be performed using materials supplied in the kit, along with a few readily available household items. Another Slinky Science kit high on the Council’s list is Slime Science, which provides five different slime recipes, along with all the necessary ingredients and measuring utensils–and, of course, a thorough explanation of the science behind the slime.

Finally, at the very top of my list of recommended scientific gifts is a membership to our own Saskatchewan Science Centre. From the outstanding collection of permanent exhibits to the wonderful visiting exhibits to the breathtaking IMAX films, it really is a “Powerhouse of Discovery.”

The Science Centre exists to make science fun–and that’s exactly what all the gifts I’ve mentioned this year accomplish. I’d welcome any one of them under my tree myself!

(Hint, hint.)

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