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By Roberta Munoz
From squishy and slimy to simple and sweet—the science kits on display at this year’s Toy Industry Association Toy Fair covered all the bases. The products ranged from old-school anatomy and science experiment sets to cutting-edge construction kits. Here are a few of the products that stole the spotlight at Toy Fair 2014.
The Inhuman Squishy Zombie
It had to happen—zombie science! There were multiple zombie-themed toys at the fair this year and this was one of the most intriguing. The Inhuman Squishy Zombie is an undead “model” that teaches basic anatomy to kids by letting them play with internal organs and diagnose simple diseases. Similar to the “virtual human” plastic anatomy model, the squishy zombie is a lot softer and, well, squishier—it’s a virtual “unhuman.” Designed for older children, it will appeal to kids who are just getting interested in the grosser side of life. The kit comes with a graphic novel and instructions. Although this toy teaches some solid science, parents should use caution with young or sensitive children.
(SmartLab; $14; ages 8+)
Smartphone Science Lab
Smartphone Science Lab turns a phone into a combination camera and microscope. Kids can use the kit’s components to collect specimens and take super close-up photographs in the field with the microscope attachment and then share or save the images. The set comes with photographic filters and a book of suggested experiments. The resulting images are very impressive—little investigators can see every vein on a leaf or extreme details on the wings of a fly. The biggest drawback is that an expensive Smartphone is required—everything in this set is just an enhancement to the phone. Information sharing is encouraged, so parents and teachers should use caution with younger children.
(SmartLab; $10; ages 8+)
Forensics Fingerprint Lab
This CSI-inspired fingerprint kit is part of a series of simple kits designed to introduce kids to basic science concepts. The fingerprint kit comes with everything a budding forensic scientist needs—stickers, ink, dusting powder and more. Little sleuths can dust for prints, analyze the results and then play a simple detective game. One of the biggest pluses of the kits in this series is the focus on a single subject—kids can learn specific science concepts in their area of interest without getting overwhelmed. Safe, but a little complex—best for older kids.
(Geek & Co./Thames and Kosmos; $19.95; ages 8+)
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Global Water Quality
The Global Water Quality kit is another great offering in the Geek & Co. series that concentrates on narrow science subject areas. The focus here is on water quality, testing, and environmental issues. The set comes with multiple water-related experiments. There’s also a website tie-in with an option to upload results and compare and discuss issues with an online community. The information sharing component makes this seem like real, live science—and it is! Drawbacks include the various chemicals that come with the kit. Adult supervision is highly recommended, even for older children.
(Geek & Co./Thames and Kosmos; $19.95; ages 8+)
Kinetic Sand Dino Dig
This amateur archaeology-themed science set is a new twist on a cool kinetic sand toy that’s been on the market for a while. The basic kinetic sand kit consists of actual sand that’s been coated with a special polymer/plastic substance that makes it look wet—except it never dries out. The sand is moldable and delightfully tactile—and the newest kit now includes dinosaur bones that kids can dig up and then piece together like a puzzle. Digging tools and an information booklet with fun dinosaur facts are included. All of the elements are non-toxic and safe for kids.
(WABA Fun; $24.95; ages 4+)
Cubelets are small and colorful magnetic “blocks with brains” that can be combined in an endless variety of ways to create fascinating effects. Each block has a tiny computer inside with a unique function—some blocks sense things in the environment like light or obstacles; others spin, shine, or make noise. When combined, new block “behaviors” evolve organically—kids create tiny, individualized robots without math or programming. There are no instructions or right answers here—just open-ended, creative play. Snapping blocks together and watching what emerges is mesmerizing and a great spur to innovative thinking. The sets are more affordable for institutions than individuals, but Cubelets would be a great group learning tool for a cutting-edge classroom. The company website has a very comprehensive education section with guidelines and lesson plans for teachers.
(ModRobotics; $149.95; ages 4+)