12 of the best science toys

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

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Girls and boys are natural scientists: they experiment and explore and test and repeat and (mostly!) learn from experience; so toys with a science are pretty much always a hit. From slimy chemistry experiment sets to pond-dipping kits, there’s plenty of great science-y entertainment around for all ages, from toddler to teen. And don’t miss our award-winning picks within the list, as voted for after hours of toy testing by the MFM team, toy experts, Toy Awards judges and our all-important home testers.

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Here are the best science toys, as tested by children…

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1. AugmentifyIt Augmented Reality OCEAN Animal Cards, £12.99 – best for virtual reality fans

Age: 3+

Awards: Gold winner, Best ScienceToy, 2019 MadeForMums Toy Awards

What it is: The first augmented reality (AR) cards for kids, that make a game which can be played with the AR technology. The 24-card pack, featuring ocean animals and over 180 facts, works with a downloadable app. There are over 265 quiz questions to test a players’ knowledge, learned from the cards.

Why we love it: Anything that makes learning fun and memorable gets a thumbs up from up, but this set has the added bonus of being magical, with the 3D AR aspect, and environmentally aware by opening up conversations about the importance of recycling and the health of our planet.

Oana, mum to Andy, 4, says: “These cards are very interactive. It’s a brilliant introduction to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) vocabulary. Adults love it too! Andy especially loved the real-life animations, and I am sure we will still play this game as he grows up.”

These cards are unique on our list, for the relatively good price point and the use of modern AR technology.

Available from: Amazon

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2. Science in Wonderland, £24.99 – best for fairy finders

Age: 3+
Awards: Bronze winner, Best ScienceToy, 2019 MadeForMums Toy Awards

What it is: A kit complete with everything needed to make a kaleidoscope in a tree stump, make a ladybird’s wings flap with solar energy, make a fairy dance, make flowers bloom in seconds and create magic colourful butterfly wings. Yes, really!

Why we love it: The activities help teach early STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) principles under the guise of making your very own magic fairy garden play set – neat.

Sarah, mum to Hope, 6, says: “This toy is amazing for anyone who loves science or 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.”

Hope says: “’I would say it’s the best toy, it’s so fun. You get to see fairies though the little house and the ladybird gets to dance.”

Available from: Argos, Smyths and Amazon

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3. Science Mad Chemistry Lab, £29.99 – best for chemists

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.

Equipment includes a spirit burner, test tubes with rack, flask, tubing, goggles and 19 chemicals – some of which need handling with care. Comes with a very thorough step-by-step instruction book.

Why we love it: The ambition of this 2018 gold award-winning 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 tester Ed, 13, says: “Wow, there are so many experiments to do. And the chemicals you use are proper SERIOUS and everything.”

Tester Nuala, 11, says: “I’ve had great fun trying out different experiments – which is brilliant as I’ve just started science at school.”

Perhaps a more ‘hardcore science’ kit than the Science in Wonderland Kit.

Available from: Smyths Toys, John Lewis and Amazon

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4. Little Tikes STEM Jr Wonder Lab, £60.35 – best for spacious play areas

Age: 3+

What it is: It’s a pretty large toy lab – 40cm x 71cm x 85cm, to be exact; a 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: Our 2018 silver winner is 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 to James, 4, says: “James’ first impression was “WOOOOWWW!” and he then spent the next hour discovering all the bits, and looking at the electricity bit and experiment cards. This is such a good toy: lots of great experiments to do with little adult input with reasonably safe household objects such as shaving cream, vinegar etc. I think they will play with this set for several years and will begin to understand more and more as they get older. It took less than 10 minutes to put together, too!”

Yes, this set is glitzy and impressive, but it will take up a sizeable amount of space – something to take into consideration. Less room? Consider the Science in Wonderland kit, above.

Available from: Little Tikes and Amazon

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5. My Living World Window Bird Feeder, £14.99 – best for bird watchers

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 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! Not as ‘kaboom!’ explosive as the chemistry sets we’ve also included on our list, but definitely quietly cool in its own way.

Available from Amazon and Wicked Uncle

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6. Zoomy 2.0 Handheld Digital Microscope, £55 – best for budding scientists

Age: 4+

What it is: A handheld digital microscope that offers up to 54x magnification and connects to a laptop or computer by USB. The top can be twisted to zoom in, and there is a button to let you take photos, plus LED lights to illuminate things not visible to the naked eye. Available in blue, pink or green.

Why we love it: It’s a small-hands-friendly bit of science kit that generates hours of entertainment, if our child testers are anything to go by. They were zooming in on all sorts of things around the house – including their mum’s faces!

The photo option is great, earning it silver our 2017 Toy Awards. Every scientist needs a microscope, hey? The only snag is the price, but you do get what you pay for, here.

Available from: Learning Resources and Debenhams

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7. Nickelodeon Experimake Sludge and Slime, £20 – best for slime fans

Age: 8+

What it is: A super-slimy experiment kit. Comes with protective googles and gloves, plus the tools, ingredients and step-by-step instructions to make an invisible monster, slimy snakes, sludgy goo and slime balls.

Why we love it: Slime, slime and more slime – what’s not to love? This Bronze winner from the 2017 Toy Awards is messy play spliced with science and maths! Our child testers really enjoyed cooking up their potions and their parents were impressed that the kit has been development by proper scientists. You can do additional experiments using the kit and easy-to-find extras such as milk and washing up liquid, too. Much more hands on than some of the finds on our list, but worth comparing to some of the kits at the top of the list. This one is great value, but not as long term play worthy as say, the Little Tikes set.

Available from: The Entertainer and Amazon

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8. Insect Lore Live Butterfly Garden, £20 – best for nature lovers

Age: 4+

What it is: A kit containing everything you need to watch five caterpillars eat, spin silk and metamorphosise into Painted Lady Butterflies over 3-5 weeks. Comes with a pipette, an instruction book and an 29cm-tall mesh habitat for viewing the butterflies. The live caterpillars arrive separately in a cup, with all the food they will need.

Why we love it: It’s well thought out and teaches children the value of patience! Our child testers thought it was magical and became very attached to their caterpillars. 

Available from: Insect Lore and Amazon

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9. Cubetto, £195 – best for helping children get into coding

Age: 3+

What it is: A 23cm x 21cm x 3cm wooden robot that teaches coding in a physical way, rather than with screens. Your child guides Cubetto through maps and books by using coloured wooden instruction blocks placed into a control board. Requires 6 x AA batteries.

Why we love it: Coding is a key life skill for today’s kids but there’s something delightfully traditional about this toy too, as it is wooden. Yes, it’s pricey and a bit complicated for younger children to get their heads around at first, but we’ve found they really love it after a few tries. It is unique on our list, since it teaches coding skills – never too early to get ahead of the game, right?

Available from: Primo Toys and Amazon

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10. Smart Lab Squishy Human Body, £19.99 – best for teaching about biology

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. Of course kids will want to get involved because it’s a little bit gross – just watch their faces as they learn how amazing our bodies are.

Available from: Smyths and Amazon

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11. ScienceWiz Cool Circuits Junior, £24.99 – best for kids that like a challenge

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. Needs 3 x AAA batteries.

Why we love it: Another game set, similar to the award-winning AR cards in that they both challenge the mind. Cool Circuits is teasing to the mind and pleasing to the eye!

Plus your child will get a real sense of satisfaction in solving the circuits, so much so that they will never even notice all the super clever, highly educational stuff they are doing…

Available from: Amazon

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12. Galt Horrible Science Shocking Rocket, £6.99 – best for DIY-loving kids

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. The best-priced item on our list, the rocket is fun to make and to use – making it even better value!

Available from: Amazon and Hobbycraft

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