My 4.5-year-old son, Decker, is a big fan of The Magic School Bus apps. The Magic School Bus series of apps provide a great story side-by-side with interactive elements that are revealed by exploring various parts of the screen, some in plain sight and some hidden. He’s enjoyed the Dinosaurs app and the Oceans app, so I knew he was going to enjoy the latest new thing featuring Ms. Frizzle and The Bus — hands-on science exploration kits delivered to our door once a month from The Young Scientists Club.
There are currently 12 kits available, with topics such as Magnets, Volcanoes, The Human Body, Water, and Fossils. The test kit provided to me was Solids, Liquids, and Gases. Inside the eye-catching package was an instructional book containing a colorful workbook for a student. The workbook contained easy-to-follow instructions for a total of seven experiments — there are sections of the workbook for the student to write down his or her answers to questions posed before a particular experiment is performed… followed by characters from The Magic School Bus book series answering the questions before continuing on with the next experiment. At the end of the workbook are more detailed instructions for an adult, along with a shopping list of items that aren’t included in the kit. But that list was small, and I was surprised to find a large number of items, each in their own bags and labeled for easy identification. There was a stir stick, a funnel, a bag of raisins, a fizz tablet, a balloon, a bag of Borax powder, a small container of white glue, and a small measuring cup. Items I had to purchase or hunt for in the cupboard included bottles of white vinegar, seltzer water, food coloring, cornstarch, and some skim milk plus some cups and a bowl. Not a difficult list of items to obtain at all.
I chose my neighbor’s garage as the laboratory (mine is full of tools and quite cluttered right now — time for spring cleaning) and the participants included my son, my neighbor’s daughter, and a friend from school. I had built up anticipation by telling them that we would be learning some new stuff about water as well as making some slime and a bouncing rubber ball. The slime and rubber ball made their eyes light up!
Now, I will say that the intended audience for these experiments is children, ages 5 to 12. In my group were two 4.5-year-olds and a 5-year-old, so I did spend some time setting up the experiments beforehand while my three students sat close by and watched and waited. But I believe that any child age 8 or up could easily follow the instructions and perform these experiments on their own with adult supervision.
Experiment 1 was called Dancing Raisins. The kids watched as raisins dropped into a glass of seltzer water formed bubbles and slowly rose to the surface before dropping again… and then rising again. Over and over. I let each child drop in 2 or 3 raisins, so no one was left out. Later experiments would involve only one or two tasks, so I had to be careful to spread the work around and let each child be the lead on an experiment or two. Thankfully, all the experiments were fun and none of the kids felt left out.
Experiment 2 involved mixing vinegar and baking soda into a bottle and then placing a balloon over the neck of the bottle. the carbon dioxide released filled the balloon and I let each child squeeze the balloon so they could feel the pressure (not much, but definitely there). As we did our experiments, I talked to them about liquids, solids, and gases, asking them to give me examples of each. These are smart kids, and they knew ice and steam (aka, smoke) and that pouring involved liquids.
Experiment 3 involved dropping the fizz tablet into a glass of water and seeing the solid disappear at the bottom of the glass as it slowly converted to a gas.
Experiment 4 was called Goop — it involved mixing milk and vinegar… two liquids combining to make a solid. None of them wanted to touch the goop, but they could all easily see the solid forming on the surface. When I poured it out nearby, I got a lot of EEEWWWWS! And smiles.
Experiment 5 continued the Goop experiment, but I could only get 1 of my 3 scientists to touch the goop. In this instance, they had helped me mix water with cornstarch. When you stir a finger through the mixture, it feels like a liquid. But take two fingers and pinch the liquid and all of a sudden you feel a solid. I really liked this one, and I could tell that my single tester enjoyed it because he wanted to keep pinching and releasing the mixture.
Experiment 6 was one of the two class favorites — Making Slime. Mixing some food coloring (green) with glue, and then stirring that mixture into a mix of Borax and water caused a nasty looking collection of slime to form at the bottom of the bowl. Once again, only one of my testers volunteered to touch the slime, but all three enjoyed using the stir stick to pick it up and let it slowly ooze back down into the bowl. I got a lot of smiles for this one, and the green color really enhanced the gross factor with the kids.
Experiment 7 was called Making a Bouncy Ball. Chalk this one up to adult error because I couldn’t quite get the final result to solidify enough to actually form a bouncing ball, but I could see how it would work if I’d been more patient. Mixing the Experiment 6 slime with a little bit more of Borax, a bit at a time, caused the slime to solidify a bit more with each added bit of Borax. My one brave scientist took the slime in his hands, rolled it into a sort-of ball, and grinned at me with green colored hands. I took the slime mixture and tried to roll it into a more solid ball, but no luck. Still… not a failure, as my three young scientists absolutely loved the 60 minutes or so of hands-on activities. Cleanup took about 5 minutes while they played.
Am I sold? Absolutely. I asked all the kids if they’d like to do another one in a month, and the answer was YES! So, I’m off to sign up for the remaining experiments. At $19.99 (shipping included), I can honestly say that the educational opportunity offered up with these pre-packaged kits is totally worth it. One hour of fun with three kids is about $6.50 per child… and my neighbor shared some pictures from the event with other parents who have expressed interest in participating next time.
Honestly, I had just as much fun as the kids. It’s nice to see well-designed hands-on kits available that are fun yet safe, and I’m already looking forward to the next kit — it’s a great opportunity for a parent to spend some time with a child and for the child to learn something new. And with summer just around the bend, I’m glad to have something available that can be shared with my son (and his friends) that doesn’t require batteries. With 11 more kits left, the hard part will be getting Decker to pick which one he wants to do next. (And hopefully they’ll be adding more kits as time goes by.)
Update: Decker has selected Weather Station. I thought for certain he’d pick Fossils, but who truly understands the thinking processes of a 5-year-old? And I’d like to thank Kristen for taking some great pictures of the fun!
Also, you can get the entire 12 kits spread out over 1 year for 50% off for the next two days — that’s $10 per kit!