The ten Finest Science Toys for Children
As adults, it’s our job to foster curiosity and a love of science in the kids in our lives. And what better way to do this than through play? Toys allow children ample opportunity to learn all kinds of scientific lessons, from cause and effect, to how their bodies work, to lessons on the natural world around us, and what lies beyond us in the universe. But how do we choose from the myriad of science toys available? How do we know which ones are worth the cost, and which ones will actually help our kids develop their critical thinking so they can become better scientists?
What To Consider
Shelsea Ochoa, an educator performer who designs and shares science communication for all ages at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado, reminds us that it’s sometimes less about the toy itself and more about how we play with it.
“Any toy can be played with scientifically,” she says. “A toddler might learn that if you leave that light on for a couple of minutes, it starts to feel warm, [whereas] a middle school student might use the help of an adult to take apart the toy and see how it works.”
Consider your child’s interests when introducing them to science. For example, “If a child likes to ride their bike, get them some tools so they can test their speed as they ride over different terrains,” Ochoa says. If your child is an auditory learner, buy a toy that talks or makes sounds. Or opt for a magnifying glass in your child’s favorite color to get them excited to use it.
Ochoa also reminds buyers not to be swayed by gender-based marketing when it comes to children’s toys. “Many toys that are labeled ‘girly’ are not considered science toys, but they absolutely can be,” she says. One example she shares is how dinosaurs are often marketed toward boys and lumped into science toys, whereas animals like kittens are marketed toward girls but seen more as something to simply play pretend with. “With both toys, you can talk about adaptations, habitats, ecosystems, taxonomy, [and] migration,” Ochoa says. “It’s all about finding the science in what your child is interested in.”
Finally, Ochoa’s favorite science toys are the ones that can be used again and again. That is to say, ones which invite multiple ways for kids to interact or that present more complex problems to solve via play. “Toys that are designed to solve only one problem are less likely to be used more than once,” she says.
How We Evaluated
“At the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, we get a lot of wear and tear on our toys, and we do not have infinite storage space, so [we] have to be efficient and intentional,” Ochoa says. She shared some criteria she uses when seeking out great science toys, which we also used in putting together this list:
- Toys that can be used in multiple ways and that invite children to come up with questions to answer through play
- Toys that run a gamut of interests
- Toys that are self-directed as well as collaborative
- Toys of various sizes as some families have more limited space than others
As a parent to a 7-year-old, I considered toys I’ve used myself or seen used repeatedly by others. I also factored in options at a variety of budgets and kept in mind how well the toys might hold up to wear and tear. Finally, I consulted with other parents, educators, and caregivers to get their take on some of the science toys they’ve purchased that have gotten the most use over the years and read through various online reviews. The following 10 are hands down the best science toys available now.