STEM Toy Review: Science Mad Toy Collection

We were sent a selection of Science Mad toys for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

My son has always loved science and for as long as I remember, we’ve done all kinds of experiments and activities at home. He’s had chemistry sets, telescopes, make your own slime kits, you name it, he’s exploded it in my kitchen. This year, Science Mad have launched a range of at home science sets for STEM loving kids.

STEM Toy Review & Giveaway: Science Mad Toy Collection

Science Mad! Digital Metal Detector

Over the weekend, we put a few of the kits to the test. The first one (and the one we were most excited about) was the Science Mad! Digital Metal Detector (£24.99). It feels like every beach we’ve ever been on has had a metal detectorist or two combing up and down it. A metal detector has always been out of our budget; but this junior version costs a smidge under £25 and as far as I can tell, it works just as well as the bigger ones.

STEM Toy Review & Giveaway: Science Mad Toy Collection

Light-weight but still sturdy, this Science Mad Digital Metal Detector is ideal for indoor and outdoor fun. This Metal Detector features sensitivity and volume controls, as well as LED lights and audio alerts. We combed up and down our garden and found a selection of buried metal items, no actual treasure though, not this time.

The metal detector is easy to set up and the instructions are really simple. You do need to use a 9 volt battery though, so that’s worth buying in beforehand if you’re giving this as a gift. It is designed for use by a child, so the arm is just about the right height for my ten year old to use without bending too much.

It’s a simple piece of kit, it’s great fun to use and it’s clearly a huge hit with my STEM loving son.

Science Mad! 5-in-1 Weather Station

Another part of the Science Mad range is the 5-in-1 Weather Station (£17.99). This was really simple to set up, we chose to put it in a plant plot in the garden. The weather station features,; a 3-cup anemometer to measure wind speed in MP/H or KP/H; an indicator that points to where wind is coming from; an integral compass to record wind direction; a thermometer to measure temperature in both degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius and a pull out rain gauge to measure inches and millimetres of rainfall.

STEM Toy Review & Giveaway: Science Mad Toy Collection

When we set the weather station up, the forecast was for a settled few days ahead. This meant that the first few times we checked it, there was nothing very interesting to report. However, autumn suddenly kicked in, and the rain gauge quickly filled up. We were also able to see how fast and in what direction the wind was blowing.

It’s a very well thought out piece of kit, with everything an amateur weather person needs. It’s suitable for ages 6+ and it’s so easy to set up, just slot everything into place and plant it firmly outside, somewhere where it’s not sheltered from the weather.

Science Mad! Night Vision Goggles

Lastly we put the Science Mad! Night Vision Goggles (£16.99) to the test. They are light-weight and hands-free, and if you’re a child who loves to go on spying missions, then these are ideal for that. The blue-tinted lenses and bright LED light beams help to give you night vision. The flip-out scope and 2X magnifying lens can help you get a close up view of things in the dark.

STEM Toy Review & Giveaway: Science Mad Toy Collection

My son reckoned they would be brilliant to take on camping trips and sleepovers, and I think he might be right. We also like to go on bat hunts, so these would be handy for those times too.

The Science Mad collection offers kids real scientific equipment and kits with real working features, which is excellent for learning more about science at home.

There is so much to discover in the Science Mad range; Telescopes, Microscopes, a Chemistry Lab Set and a Crystal Growing Set; a Planetarium Star Globe, a Light Up Globe, a Build Your Own Vacuum Cleaner Kit, Digital Walkie Talkies, a Rock Tumbler kit and a Circuit Lab kit!

The kits are great fun, and whilst we’ve enjoyed experimenting with them at home, we are very much looking forward to taking the metal detector out on the beach and the night vision goggles camping. The weather station is brilliant, and we will be doing a small project with it over half term, measuring the weather each day to learn more about it.

The Science Mad collection is available from a range of retailers including Very.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

My almost 8 year old absolutely adores science and we are very keen to encourage this at home. We are firm believers in learning through play, if you have fun learning then whatever you’re learning usually sticks. This week we’ve been putting the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot through its paces. This clever little robot can help with all kinds of things, from spacial awareness, maths, reasoning and geometry. It’s a clever piece of kit and no mistake.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

The Clementoni Mind Designer Robot costs £49.99 and in the box you will find:

  • MIND – Educational Digital Robot
  • A double-sided “board”
  • Transparent disc (to position the pens)
  • Three felt tip pens
  • 10 sheets of A3 paper
  • List of voice commands
  • Instruction manual

MIND is pretty simple to set up. You will need 4 AA batteries and one of those little screwdrivers to open the battery compartment. You will also need a tablet, we have an iPad which worked well. There’s a free app to download which you can use to operate MIND.

MIND has a control keypad in his back, a mode selector and microphone. You can programme him to move and draw shapes and he can memorise a sequence of up to 40 commands.

When we were first getting to grips with MIND we were mostly using the app mode and the voice commands to get it to draw geometric shapes. This is a good way to get used to how it works (and as a parent I can’t tell you how good it is to tell someone to do something and it actually gets done).

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

We moved on to the educational mode. For this you need the double-sided board, which isn’t actually a board, but a huge A1 glossy piece of paper. The yellow board features the Number Challenge. You choose your level; easy, medium or difficult. We chose the easy level. In this game, MIND needs to be programmed with the directions it needs to move in to get to the correct square on the board. There will be simple sums to complete along the way.

On the blue board you need to find you way around a maze, collecting objects MIND says you need along the way. This is a great exercise in logic, reasoning, strategy and spacial awareness.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

It’s a remarkably simple piece of kit. Once you have read the instructions and got the hang of it, it’s great fun and really, really educational. I know for my son playing with MIND will really cement some maths and give it a practical application. For me it’s the thinking ahead and in steps which I think will make a big difference to him. He tends to rush at things and this may help him to take a step back and approach things in a slower, more methodical way.

When I told my husband that the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot cost £49.99 he was impressed; he thought it would cost nearly double that. We really, really liked it and I hope that my son will play with it a lot.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

Things to remember about the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot:
  • You DO need a tablet to use alongside this
  • You DO need 4 AA batteries
  • If you are giving this as a gift, it’s probably worth carefully taking it out of the box and playing with it, downloading the app and figuring out how it works before you wrap it up. If you know what you’re doing beforehand, you can save an hour of setting up and instruction manual reading on Christmas morning. Trust me on this one.

It’s a big present to buy for someone, but it does have a lot of different functions. It’s enjoyable to play with, even on the basic drawing geometrical shapes mode and I really like that there’s lots of learning to be had with this. The best thing is that it doesn’t feel like learning and gives a child a practical application for their maths etc.

The Clementoni Mind Designer Robot costs £49.99, is suitable for ages 7+ and is available from a wide range of retailers including Smyths Toys.

We were sent the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Tasked with coming up with some interesting crafts and things to do with three children during the half term, I thought we’d start our week by making some egg and cress heads. I thought it would be interesting to watch them grow over the week. They’re easy to put together and all three had great fun making them and watching them grow over the week.

This activity is perfect for my 7 year old who is in Year 2. Cress grows incredibly quickly, and almost before your eyes. This fast growing crop was really exciting for the children to watch growing. Each day they found a new thing to be excited about. The best day was when they got to try eating the peppery cress, it’s a rare sight watching three children delightedly eating their greens!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Growing egg and cress heads is a great opportunity for children to talk about their observations about how the seed grows into a plant and guessing what will happen next. It can also help to promote scientific thinking and helps with linking science to real life experiences.

Growing Egg and Cress Heads

You will need:
A hard boiled egg each
Cotton wool
Cress seeds
Felt tips to decorate your egg

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

How to make your egg and cress heads:
Hard boil your eggs and get a grown up to carefully take the top off and scoop out the egg inside.

Gently decorate your egg however you want. We drew pictures of cats and dogs on ours, but you could do almost anything.

Fluff up some cotton wool and put it inside the egg. Then pour some water over the cotton wool. Sprinkle some cress seeds on the top of the cotton wool and put on a windowsill in an egg cup.

Check the progress of your seeds every day, sprinkle more water on the seeds every so often. Within a week all of your seeds should have sprouted and your egg head should have a thick crop of cress hair!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy this Jelly Bean STEM Architecture

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

If you want to keep my 7 year old son entertained for an hour; give him a bowl of jelly beans, a packet of cocktails sticks, show him the rudiments and watch him build all kinds of wonderful things. Welcome to the wonderful world of jelly bean architecture.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

I confess, jelly bean architecture is not an invention of mine. When we went to the Just So Festival last year, my son spent a happy hour or so building with jelly beans. It’s something that we’ve revisited at home a few times since and it’s great fun; not to mention wonderfully educational and developmental!

You need two things to start building – lots of jelly beans (we get cheap bags of them from the petrol station, there’s no need to go gourmet with these) and lots of cocktail sticks. You will also need the knack. The first few times you try to spear a jelly bean onto a cocktail stick, chances are you will stab your finger instead. The trick is to hold the jelly bean on a flat surface and carefully press down, piercing the hard sugary coating.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

You should think of each jelly bean as a corner piece. You can probably fit up to four cocktail sticks into a single jelly bean. Whatever kind of structure you’re building, the only limit is your imagination.

We find it best to warm up by building some simple 3D shapes, pyramids and cubes are great. How many cubes can you stack on top of each other? Can you fit a pyramid on the top? Who will eat the last jelly bean? You can then move on to more complex structures. In the picture here Ben has built a fire station.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

Jelly bean architecture is perfect for budding architects and structural engineers. Anyone who is interested in building and construction, 3D shapes, maths, anything like that, plus it’s tremendous fun! It’s probably the most enjoyable STEM craft we’ve done together.

STEM Crafts: Learning with Jelly Bean Architecture

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Christmas is a time for crafting and creating with the kids. We love doing Christmas crafts and we were excited when we heard that ex Blue Peter presenter and craft queen Konnie Huq, had partnered with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to create a selection of homemade STEM toys for Christmas.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Konnie Huq has put her Blue Peter powers to practice for a good cause, making Britain’s most popular Christmas toys at home for a fraction of the cost. The Christmas STEM toys she has created include –

  • Dissolving egg
  • Magnetic slime
  • Icosahedron bauble
  • Marble run
  • Balloon boat
  • Bouncy balls
  • Smartphone projector
  • Living gingerbread house
  • Kaleidoscope

Konnie has put together a set of free to download how-to instructions for all of the above crafts.

Konnie, who spent over ten years craft-making on Blue Peter, is supporting a campaign by the Institution of Engineering and Technology to inspire more children to consider careers in engineering. The toys are designed to make learning about science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM) more accessible and affordable. These handmade STEM toys – which include a dissolving egg, magnetic slime, a kaleidoscope and even a smartphone projector – are educational, as well as fun.

Making your own slime is so popular right now, but we thought we would try something a little different. We really liked the idea of building our own living gingerbread house.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Make your own living gingerbread house

You will need:
A number of plain sponges
Small plate
Spray bottle (clean)

How to make a living gingerbread house
Choose one or two sponges to be your base. Fix them together with a cocktail stick, remember these are sharp so be careful of your fingers.

Choose more sponges to be the walls. Cut one sponge in half across the longest
side (i.e. make two regular rectangles, not two long strips) and fix those onto the shorter sides of your base with cocktail sticks. Fix two sponges onto the longer sides of the base.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Take two sponges and cut them down their long side on an angle so that they fit together to form the apex of a roof. Fix them together with cocktail sticks, put on the top of your structure and fix into place with more cocktail sticks. You should now have a house shape made of sponges. Put your house onto a plate.

If your house is a bit wobbly, you can secure it using a glue gun or some craft glue. If you have used glue, allow time for the glue to dry and set before you move on to the next stage.

Next, you need to cover the house with seeds. You can use mustard or cress but
there are many fast sprouting seeds, so the choice is yours. We chose cress.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

Dab some water onto the roof of your house and spread the seeds onto the roof.
Pour a little water onto the plate so the sponge base can soak it up. Check the
sponge is nice and moist. Then sprinkle the seeds onto the base.

Leave your house in a warm, bright spot for the seeds to germinate. Spray the house with water using a spray bottle each day, and pour a little water over the house if it feels dry. In a few days the seeds should start to sprout, in a week they should be thriving.

Crafts: Make Your Own Christmas STEM Toys

It’s so easy and lots of fun to make too!

 Disclosure: We were sent a shopping voucher to buy the materials for this craft.

Toy Review: Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur

Interactive toys are starting to become really popular these days. We were sent the new Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur to try out. Given that the boy loves dinosaurs in all forms, we thought we’d be onto a winner. But what did we really think?

First of all, if you’ve ordered one of these from Father Christmas I suggest you carefully open the box, put the batteries in (you’ll need a small screwdriver) and then have a read of the instructions. You’ll need to download a free app to get your dino up and running. It’s probably better to do all this before you’re sat in a room with an impatient child who wants to play with their toy now, this instant, immediately!

Toy Review: Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur

The Cognitoys Dino is really easy to set up. The batteries (4AA’s if you need spares) just slot into the battery compartment underneath. You download the app and connect the dino to your Wi-Fi  and then he’s good to go.

The mouth of your Cognitoys Dino will change colour to indicate what he is doing. If it’s blue he’s talking, if it’s yellow he’s listening etc. You press down the button on his tummy to talk to him and let go of the button when you’ve finished.

The Cognitoys Dino is meant to be an educational toy which helps to develop and improve problem solving skills; creative reasoning, social interaction and active play. He’s fun and funny; so when he asks you a question or asks you to solve a problem, it doesn’t feel overtly educational. The dino is aimed at children aged 5+. It’s designed to adapt to your child’s development and educationally ‘grow’ with your child.

My son who has recently turned 7 was pretty excited to be playing with the Cognitoys Dino. Style wise it’s quite a soft and cartoony looking dinosaur and I did wonder if he’d reject it for being too babyish, but he didn’t. He liked the look of it and gave it lots of cuddles.

Toy Review: Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur

The Cognitoys Dino is easy to activate, just press its button and say “hello”. The dino then randomly starts playing games with you, or tells you a story you have to interact with, and tells jokes or answers questions. He’s really quite good fun. I did like the storytelling, he stops every few minutes to ask you questions and check you understand tricky words. It’s all good age-appropriate stuff.

The app which you download to set it up and activate it also acts as a parent portal, meaning you can keep an eye on what your child has been doing with the dino.

I thought the Cognitoys Dino was an excellent tool to help a child’s development. I do have a couple of slight niggles I want to talk about. You may have noticed I’ve referred to the dino as a he, that’s because he speaks with a gruff male dino voice. I think it would be good to have different voice options to choose from. Helpfully, there are three volume settings underneath, so if your dino is a bit loud you can always turn him down a little.

My other slight concern is that many children have speech issues and I wonder how well the dino is able to process what the child is saying. It didn’t always pick up on what my son was saying. He tends to speak quite fast and sometimes blurs his words into each other. This did force him to speak a bit clearer, which is probably no bad thing.

I’m not that keen that it uses batteries, I think in this day and age it should probably have a USB charging option or a charging stand you can put it on to power it up. Batteries seem such an analogue way to power this interactive toy.

The other thing is manners; something we’ve relentlessly drummed into my son. When the Cognitoys Dino asked him if he wanted to play a game Ben replied “Yes please”, but the dino didn’t really understand what he’d said. I know this is a personal niggle, but manners are everything and it would be nice if the dino could recognise and reward good manners to help reinforce what we do at home.

The Cognitoys Dino currently costs around £104 from Amazon UK. It’s a clever piece of kit. We found it really simple to set up and my son found it easy and really enjoyable to use. It’s not perfect, but it is very clever, engaging and hopefully a tool we can use to encourage some good developmental activity at home.

To find out more about the Cognitoys Dino, visit their website.

We were sent the Cognitoys Dino for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

This week the small-ish boy got very excited about a special delivery of Aqua Dragons. These were pretty special Aqua Dragons, they’d been up in space and even had a certificate to prove it! What with my son’s burgeoning interest in science, he was super-pleased when this new STEM set arrived, and so was I, it’s a pet I wouldn’t need to clean up after!

What are Aqua Dragons? They are live, aquatic pets which hatch out of their eggs once you’ve created the right environment for them. They grow, swim, eat and they can even reproduce. The dragons are very similar to triops or sea monkeys.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

The Aqua Dragons in Space: Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit contains –

  • Asteroid shaped tank with LED Light up and glow in the dark base
  • Magnifying lid
  • Thermometer to monitor water temperature
  • Bubbler for oxygenating the water
  • Aqua Dragons Eggs that have been sent to space
  • Aqua Dragons Food
  • Glow in the dark feeding spoon
  • Set up and care instructions
  • Collector’s edition Authenticity Certificate with the space flight specifications
  • Aqua Dragons APP: including games, fun facts and your 360º space flight video

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

The set up is pretty straightforward and the instructions are clear. If you’re buying this as a gift for someone who will want to set it up straight away, it’s worth making sure you have a room temperature bottle of mineral water and two AAA batteries. Everything else is supplied.

Smaller children might need the help of a grown up when setting it up. The tank needs the batteries inserting (it lights up and illuminates the dragons as they swim about). Top the tank up with bottled water and add the sachet of eggs, giving them a little stir. Put the dragons in a light, warm-ish place (the ideal temperature is around 20-27 degrees and you get a little thermometer with the kit) and leave them to hatch. The life cycle of the Aqua Dragons is approximately 45-60 days long.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

It was at this point we packed our bags and went on holiday for five days, leaving Dad in charge of feeding and caring for the Aqua Dragons. After a couple of days we received word that the eggs had hatched and teeny-tiny dragons were swimming about in the tank. When we got home we raced upstairs to see them for ourselves.

Review: Aqua Dragons in Space - Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit

We discovered that Dad had done a pretty good job of looking after them. The tank had lots of little dragons swimming about and it was all very exciting!

Our Verdict on Aqua Dragons in Space:

The Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit was very simple to set up. It’s suitable for aged 6+ and my 6 year old had no problems setting it up (other than Dad putting the batteries in the tank for him). We also liked how low maintenance they were.

The Aqua Dragons are both interesting and educational. They’re definitely something which prompts discussions about life cycles and what the dragons actually are (they’re actually brine shrimp, or artemia). I think having these weird and wonderful creatures is almost a rite of passage and it’s certainly one my son is enjoying right now.

He was especially excited that the eggs had been into space, just like his hero Tim Peake. I really like that they come with a certificate to prove that they’ve been in space, something you can see in the video below –

The Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit is available to buy and costs £29.95. It’s suitable for ages 6+ and would be a great gift for science loving kids who are also pestering for a pet!

Note: We were sent the Aqua Dragons in Space for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.