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10 of the best science toys

Chemistry experiments, butterfly-hatching, rocket-launching, circuit-making: we've picked the best – and most exciting – science toys for children of all ages

10 of the best science toys

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.

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From slimy chemistry experiment sets to butterfly hatching kits, 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.

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

1. National Geographic Crystal Garden, £10

Age: 8+

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 from: Argos and Amazon

Science in Wonderland, £23

Age: 3+

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 from: Argos and Amazon

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3. Science Mad Chemistry Lab, £29.99

Age: 10+

What it is: A kit that contains chemicals and equipment for 100 pretty hardcore science experiments including chromatography, growing crystals, investigating the actions of acids and alkalis – and way more. Comes with a spirit burner, test tubes with rack, flask, tubing, goggles and 19 chemicals – some of which need handling with care –and a very thorough step-by-step instruction book.

Why we love it:
The ambition of this kit blew us away: the experiments are many and varied – and so much more the stuff of real chemistry than any other experiment kit we’ve seen. Our child tester Ed, 13, said: “Wow, there are so many experiments to do. And the chemicals you use are proper SERIOUS and everything.”

Available from: Smyths Toys and John Lewis

4. Little Tikes STEM Jr Wonder Lab, £60.35

Age: 3+

What it is: A 40cm x 71cm x 85cm pretend science lab that is as all singing and dancing as it looks. Has over 50 accessories, sounds and phrases, and 20 proper experiments to conduct.

Why we love it: It’s wonderfully toddler-proportioned and the experiments are great fun but don’t need too much adult intervention. We like the Wizard’s Brew experiment in particular. Fiona, mum of our child tester James, 4, said: “James’ first impression was “WOOOOWWW!” and he then spent the next hour discovering all the bits. This is such a good toy. I think James will play with this set for several years and will begin to understand more and more as he gets older. It took less than 10 minutes to put together, too!”

Available from: Little Tikes andAmazon

window bird feeder

5. My Living World Window Bird Feeder, £14.99

Age: 5+

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 from:Amazon and Wicked Uncle

Learning Resources GeoSafari Jr My First Microscope

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

Age: 3+

What is it: 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 from: Learning Resources and Amazon

7. Insect Lore Live Butterfly Garden, £20

Age:4+

What it is: A kit containing everything you need to watch 3 to 5 caterpillars eat, spin silk and metamorphosise 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 from: Insect Lore

8. Smart Lab Squishy Human Body, £19.99

Age: 8+

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 from: Smyths Toys and Amazon

9. ScienceWiz Cool Circuits Junior, £24.99

Age: 6+

What it is: A puzzle where you solve the challenge by completing the circuit to light up the board. Set includes a light-up 13cm x 13cm game board, 8 3D fluorescent circuit pieces, 6 barriers, 40 puzzle cards and a solution book. Requires 3 x AAA batteries.

Why we love it: It’s definitely teasing to the mind as well as pleasing to the eye. Our child testers got a real sense of satisfaction in solving the circuits, so much, in fact, that they probably didn’t really register all the super clever, highly educational stuff they were doing.

Available from: Amazon

10. Galt Horrible Science Shocking Rocket, £6.99

Age: 6+

What it is: A Horrible Science kit for making a water-fuelled rocket. Contains a plastic rocket, nose cone, fins, rubber stopper, valve, stickers, sticky tape and Horrible Info leaflet. You will need a bicycle pump or similar to operate it.

Why we love it: The rocket’s really easy to make and operate – and very exciting when it blasts off (even if you do get sprayed with water). It can be used again and again too, so it’s a total bargain-buy. ‘Super-fun’ was the unanimous child-tester verdict on this one.

Available from: Amazon and Hobbycraft

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