MEL Chemistry – Your Gift Solution

Image Credit: N Engineer
Image Credit: N Engineer

Twelve. That’s a tough age to shop for.

They’ve outgrown (or already own) every toy out there, aren’t old enough for a car or car accessories, and how many electronics can one kid have, right? And likely, if they’ve already got a phone, a gaming device, a tablet and/or computer, no little gadget is going to be cool enough. Or, you’ve already got your eye set on this year’s big game and you don’t need to read on. In fact, you should be telling me what to get my 12yo (seriously, tell me!).

Well, I had the opportunity to try out the MEL Science Chemistry kit, and, I have to say, it’s a winner.

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This is one of those subscription-based gifts, and this one delivers a box with two or three Chemistry experiments each month. When you first sign up, you receive a Starter Kit (with a stove, goggles, beakers, and other basic supplies), along with the first two experiments. I received a large box that included the Starter Kit and several boxes of experiments, so we didn’t exactly follow the prescribed two experiments per month approach, so I can’t write to that part of the experience.

But the main difference for us is that rather than open one box and do the experiments, my kid chose to go through and pick whichever experiment struck his fancy, jumping between kits. Which, if you don’t get through all your experiments before the next box arrives, is another way to approach these kits.

Full disclosure: while the recommended age for these kits is 12+, and I do have a twelve-year-old at home, I’ve been doing these experiments with my 10yo. See, my middle schooler has homework and soccer, and didn’t have the free time. But now that both his older brothers have so much homework (my other son is in high school), the 10yo has more after-school brother-free free-time available.

And the MEL Science kits, I’ve discovered, are a great activity for the two of us to do together.

Sure, we aren’t baking cookies together as often, but that’s probably a good thing. He’s excited to learn more about the science behind the experiments, and often wants to repeat experiments when his friends come over. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the point of having friends over if you’ve got to hang out with them anyhow (I suppose you might be thinking, how can you leave two ten-year-olds unattended with fire and chemicals, but you’re wrong).

Image Credit: N Engineer
Image Credit: N Engineer

To be absolutely clear, science is done under close adult supervision. I don’t cook, make a sandwich, check the mail, or browse my phone. No, I participate from start to finish – set up, reading through the steps, watching the video on the accompanying iPhone app, supervising as my son prepares and conducts the experiment (helping only as he asks, and ensuring he isn’t misunderstanding anything), and cleanup (which I supervise, but don’t take over).

There are 38 sets in all. Each box is a themed kit, containing multiple experiments, including instruction cards, chemical reagents, and whatever other supplies you’ll need (measuring spoon, sheets of paper or foil, whatever the experiments require). The cards each offer detailed steps, and information regarding how long the experiment will take (NOTE: it is wise to allocate twice as much time for the experiment —

  1. to preview what will happen;
  2. experiments, like cooking projects, never go perfectly as planned (while the cook time is fixed, all the prep times inevitably takes longer for a novice); and
  3. to ensure it isn’t time to head off to soccer practice and whoops, Mom, could you clean it up?).

The two boxes that come with the starter kit are Tin and Chemistry of Monsters. Then, over the course of the year, you receive another 36 (three kits per month, if math serves me right). Which translates to quite a bit of chemistry.

My son and his friend even took one of these experiments into school to share with their classmates. It was the sugar snake experiment, which created a giant black snake out of sugar.

Image Credit: N Engineer
Image Credit: N Engineer

All in all, MEL Science Chemistry kits are definitely worth considering; their website offers quite a bit of information about the types of kits, the pricing, and any questions you may have (so I won’t repeat it here).

What I will tell you is that my kid really enjoys doing these experiments. And as there’s always something different, he hasn’t fallen prey to being bored by it. Later in the school year, when it’s time for the Upper Elementary Science Fair, he’s going to go through these experiments to find something for his project.

That said, at $49.90 per month, a MEL Science Chemistry subscription is a considerable investment for many. I’m not saying it’s not worth the price, just that it’s bound to be a consideration. Of course, if you can set aside the time to try out a new kit every two weeks–after school or over the weekend–it definitely offers you an interesting and engaging activity to share with your kid, just about the age when it’s easy for them to drift away.

Heck, introduced in this context, I’ve been finding chemistry more fun than I could appreciate in high school, when I was a little overwhelmed with my overall course load to discover any passion for the material. Now, at home, after school as a bonding activity with my kid, not only is chemistry fun but I also feel relaxed enough to realize I am capable of doing the experiments. And with a yearly investment of just under $600 (although only available as a monthly subscription for a one-year term, although you can pause and restart the deliveries), you’ll want to be sure they get used.

Heck, even if your kid doesn’t use it, each kit comes with enough supplies for two to three experiments twice each, so you can use this as a refresher course in chemistry. That said, there is an app that provides instructional videos and lets you view 3D models of chemical compounds to help further understanding of the underlying chemistry.

If it fits into your budget, a MEL Science Chemistry subscription is a great gift idea for the right kid (and if interest wanes mid-year, it’s interesting enough for adults to enjoy and learn a thing or two).

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a sample box of MEL Science Chemistry experiments for review purposes, but the opinions are entirely my own.

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Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of Bhutan is Thimphu. And now, so will you.