Girls and boys are natural scientists: they experiment and explore and test and repeat and (mostly!) learn from experience. So, toys with a science theme are pretty much always a hit– as well as being brilliant for developing an understanding of the world and grasping some early biology, chemistry and physics skills.

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There are plenty of great science-y toys for all ages, from toddler to school age and, with the help of our army of intrepidly investigative child testers, we've selected the very top ones for your budding scientist– from slimy chemistry experiment sets to exploding volcanoes and from AR dinosaurs to butterfly hatching kits...

Here are the best science toys for age 3 and up, as tested by children and rated by parents…

1. Massive Erupting Volcano, £25

massive erupting volcano

Age suitability: 8+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 32-piece kit that builds into huge (30cm-high) volcano. First you make the frame, then you cover it with plaster-covered fabric strips, then you paint it – and then you use the (non-hazardous) chemical powders to fill it with bubbling, erupting lava. Comes with boulders, prehistoric trees and dinosaur figures, and big poster with volcano facts and illustrated instructions.

Why we love it: There are quite a few volcano-eruption kits around but we haven't seen any where the volcano is as big as this – and where constructing the volcano is a little project all by itself. We also like that there are 2 different shapes of volcano to choose from – and that it comes with accessories for pre and post-eruption play. Our child tester Imogen, 11, was impressed. "It was fun to make and it was really big when it was finished. "The eruption is so cool, I really want to try making it erupt with different colours as that would look amazing. I liked the little dinosaur figures too, so I can also play with it afterwards as part of a bigger game. The information about volcanoes was really interesting to read – I'm going to put the poster up on my wall."

Available at: Amazon, Thames & Kosmos and Bright Minds

popular science kit

Age suitability: 5+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A science kit designed to teach you about glaciers, ice fossils and sea level rise as you conduct 13 different experiments, using the supplies in the kit (some additional products required). Comes with a 32-page booklet, filled with climate facts and step-by-step instructions for each experiment.

Why we love it: With the chance to make your own snow, ice cave or create gooey glacier slime, this kit helps teach kids about climate change in an engaging, hands-on way. The booklet is packed with facts that are presented in a really accessible way for children and the experiments are a lot of fun – although it's worth noting that some of them need extra materials, not all of which you might have handy, such as glycerine. Our child tester Finley, 7, said, "I thought this set was awesome. I really enjoyed playing with it: making the ice fossil and snow were some of my favourite experiments. The set is also serious and important as it teaches you about climate change. Children like me need to learn about it, so we can help the planet and have a better future. I hope other kids learn a lot from this set." Nice to see everything in the kit is made from recycled plastics, FSC paper and card.

Available at: Amazon

3. AugmentifyIt DINOSAURS & Prehistoric Creatures Augmented Reality (AR) Quiz Game, £12.99

augmentifyit dinosaurs

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 4+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A deck of 24 flashcards that feature pictures and facts about prehistory and include 18 dinosaur cards which, with the help of the free-to-download app, can be brought to life via augmented reality (AR). The AR animations also give you access to 300 quiz questions.

Why we love it: This little pack offers great dinosaur thrills and is very good value for money. Helen, mum of our child tester Toby said, "I think this is good. It’s fairly easy for a child to line the card up on the AR viewer and make the dinosaur appear. I also like that there were a range of cards, including sea creatures and skeletons. Toby was especially excited by the T-Rex and the Megalodon. He said, 'Wow, Mummy- look at the shark!' and then, with the T-Rex, he was trying to grab it behind the phone and pretending his hand was getting eaten!"

Available at: Amazon

4. National Geographic Crystal Garden, £10

Crystal Garden

Age suitability: 8+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None

What is it: A kit that allows you to grow 2 crystal trees in any of 5 different colours. Includes with 2 cardboard trees, a crystal solution, 5 felt-tip pens, a tray and a learning guide.

Why we love it: Unlike some crystal sets, this one is relatively straightforward to set up (with good, clear instructions), It 'works' in about 6 hours and the tree shapes are lovely to look at. Our testers liked that you can choose which colour your tree is yourself.

Available at: Argos and Amazon

5. Science in Wonderland, £24.99

Science in Wonderland

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 4+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A preschooler kit full of fairy-themed experiments, including making a kaleidoscope in a tree stump, making a ladybird's wings flap with solar energy, making a fairy dance, making flowers bloom and creating magic colourful butterfly wings.

Why we love it:
It's well thought out and presented very attractively. Sarah, mum to our child tester Hope, 6, said: "This toy is amazing for anyone who loves science and fairies. Hope plays with the fairy for hours, watching it dance up and down the water. She finds new things in it every time she plays."

Available at: Amazon

6. My Living World Window Bird Feeder, £12.99

Age suitability: 5+ | Best for age: 5 | Batteries: None

What it is: A 26cm x 7cm x 16 cm bird feeder with strong suction cups, so you can attach it to any window. Comes with a bird guide to help you identify your feathered friends, and a one-way mirror.

Why we love it: It's such a simple but clever idea. Not strictly a toy, we know, but, after a big thumbs-up from our child testers, we couldn’t resist including it. It has a one-way mirror, so you can look up close at the birds that come to feed, but they won’t be scared away by you viewing them.

Available at: Amazon and Wicked Uncle

7. Learning Resources GeoSafari Jr My First Microscope, £20

Learning Resources GeoSafari Jr My First Microscope

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A 20cm-high preschooler microscope (up to 8x magnification), with 2 eye pieces, focusing dial and LED viewing light. Comes in Green & Blue or Pink & Purple. Requires 3 x AAA batteries (included).

Why we love it: We really like the soft double eyepiece – preschoolers aren't too hot on closing one eye to peer down a single eyepiece. And it’s great that it works without slides: you can just plonk a pebble or flower on the fixed stage and push the button to light up what you’re viewing. Our testers loved the large and chunky focusing dial, too.

Available at: Learning Resources and Amazon

8. Insect Lore Butterfly Garden, £17.99

Age suitability: 4+ | Best for age: 4+| Batteries: None

What it is: A kit containing everything you need to watch 3 to 5 caterpillars eat, spin silk and metamorphose into Painted Lady butterflies over 3 to 5 weeks. Comes with a pipette, an instruction book, a 29cm-tall mesh habitat for viewing the butterflies and a voucher to send off (between March and mid-September) to get your caterpillars and all the food they need.

Why we love it:Our child testers thought it was just magical and became very attached to their caterpillars, as they watched them wriggle and spin silk – and grow enormously. Peak excitement – and a test of patience – is the chrysalis stage, which takes about 10 days, and results in wonderful butterflies.

Available at: Insect Lore and Amazon

9. SmartLab Squishy Human Body, £17.99

Age suitability: 8+ | Best for age: 8 | Batteries: None

What it is: A 30cm-high toy skeleton with true-to-scale bones, muscles and squishy organs you can remove with tweezers and forceps. Comes with a stand, a organ-iser poster (geddit?) and a 24-page 'lab guide'.

Why we love it: A hilariously yucky way to learn more about the skeletal, muscular and vascular systems in the human body. All the biological info is clear and well presented – without being too po-faced and textbook-y. If we're being picky, there's the odd thing that, super-strictly-speaking, isn't quite anatomically correct but we're impressed by just how much our child testers enjoyed this.

Available at: Smyths Toys and Amazon

10. I'm A Genius Habitats and Ecosystems, £19.99

im a genius habitats and ecosystems

Age suitability: 7+ | Best for age: 8 | Batteries: None

What it is: A kit for making your very own see-through 'ecosphere' (choose from a rock pond, a snail garden or a pond), through which you can observe plants and creatures interact. Comes with peat moss, seeds, tools and an illustrated instruction booklet.

Why we love it: It doesn't look like much when you open it but there's plenty here to do – and masses to learn. The booklet is very good, explaining ecosystems and the water cycle really clearly – and nicely in line with what our child tester, Martha, 8, was learning at school. Martha found the sphere "fun to make" and loved the booklet: "I didn't know there could be parasite plants!"

Available at: Toys and Bears

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About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she's also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

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