The gift of science in the hands of a child can open a world of imagination and discovery. More likely, that gift will end up unopened in the closet with the other "educational" gifts. With that in mind, here is a list of science gifts that don't suck. Oh yeah, they're all under $50. We're stingy, remember? A special thanks to my wife Cheli for helping me narrow down the list.
Kids love watching things grow. As much as they like sprouting potatos, I have to imagine they would really like a meat-eating Cobra Lilly, Venus Fly Trap, Pitcher Plant, and Trumpet Plant. If Carnivorous Creations is too hardcore for your kitchen, check out Odd Pods Space Cacti kit.
Gas-Engine Model Set
Build your own Gas-Engine model with firing spark plugs and valves that open and close. There is also a V-8 Combustion Engine kit that is slightly more expensive, but looks pretty bad-ass.
Of all this year's gift ideas, I think this is my favorite. I really don't see what scientific skills they teach, but I would love to be able to skate around on my carpet. These Carpet Skates are in all the on-line science shops so I'm going to put them on my list.
Wall Climbing Robot
There are a number of toy robots on the market, but this robot climbs walls with suction-cups and vacuum technology.
Supersonic Listening Device
This looks like something to keep kids occupied for hours. With the Supersonic Ear II Electronic Listening Device, little Dylan and Lola can listen to faraway birds and noises while preparing for an illustrious career with the Department of Homeland Security. Just make sure they're really off playing in the park when you talk about them being adopted.
Bubblegum Making Kit
'Nuff said. Also check out the make a bouncy ball kit.
I loved these cardboard bricks back when I was a little kid and they only came in red. Definitely one of the most fun toys I had. Heads up to parents - if your teenage kids seem too big to still be playing with these blocks, be aware that the cardboard unfolds to hide things.
Electronic Gadgets for the Evil Genius
If you're shopping for an older and more socially awkward child, check out this book from Bob Iannini. Find inside illustrated instructions and plans for a laser beam cutter, a lightning bolt generator, a pyrotechnic blaster, and 25 other projects that can be built for less than $100. Check out some of the other books at Think Geek, especially Sneaky and Sneakier Uses for Everyday Things.
Make Your Own TV Remote
From the SmartLab line of products, this kit contains everything you need to build a universal remote. Also check out the other SmartLab products and this kit for making an FM radio.
Mystery Detective Kit
I've seen a couple of detective kits, but this is the only one with such an array of realistic forensic tests and chemicals including "DNA and fingerprint sheets, mystery pens and powders, litmus and chromatography papers, testing tray, measuring spoon and easy instructions." Note: I keep having problems with hearthsong.com’s bizarre URLs. If the link doesn't work, go to Hearth Song and select Educational Products. This is one of their featured products. Here’s another cool fingerprint kit.
A year subscription to Make Magazine is an awesome gift idea. Enter the code CMAKE and get 50% off, which makes it only $29.99 year. (If you're not familiar with Make, check out their site and podcast).
Color Changing Clock & Other Gift Ideas
Even though this comes from the Discovery Store, I think that the Color-Changing Clock has probably even less educational merit than the carpet skates. However, a twelve-color changing clock? Come on - that's pretty cool.
With one week left until Christmas, you may have already given-up on the idea of an educational gift. If you just want to be the "cool" Uncle/Cousin/ManMommyMakesUsCallDaddy, then check out Wishing Fish and McPhee. Both sites have great gift ideas - especially for those whom you have no idea what to give. They also have great stuff for grown-ups. Be sure to check out McPhee's pirate section.
If you have any other gift suggestions, please comment or email me at stingyscholar at gmail dot com.
I hope this list helped. If not, at least I got my Christmas shopping done.