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Five Gifts to Turn Your Child Into a Junior Scientist

A ladybug, a dinosaur skeleton, and a Mega Fossil Dig Kit.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash and herraez/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Exploring my backyard when I was 6, I came upon some bones from a raccoon or possum. Eager to mimic the excavations I’d read about in my science books, I reburied them for a special occasion. The next time my best friend came over, I suggested we dig for dinosaur bones and led him to the correct spot. He couldn’t believe his luck when he pulled up the small jaw and vertebrae! I’m not sure he ever figured out what happened, but I never told.

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Now as a busy parent in an age of screen time, it can be a challenge to make science come alive for my son in the way I remember. He has a blast catching crawfish in local creeks and temporarily adopting any mantis we are lucky enough to catch in the yard. But what if the weather is bad or I run out of ideas for projects? With a little research, I have found an amazing array of creative, engaging, and affordable home science kits. From the slightly gross to the downright adorable, these gifts are sure to transform any child into a budding scientist.

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For Future Paleontologists: National Geographic’s Mega Fossil Dig Kit

If you can’t be in the baking Montana sun brushing off velociraptor bones, this is the next best thing. The kit includes a dig brick loaded with 15 genuine fossils from a variety of ancient creatures, including dinosaurs. It also comes with the tools needed for this mini excavation, as well as a booklet explaining the different fossils and how they formed. This is a great project for the kitchen table. Just stick the dig brick on a small tray or some newspaper to make cleanup kid-friendly.

Another fantastic option for dino lovers ages 8 and up is the Smithsonian Diggin’ Up Dinosaurs T-Rex. The kit replicates an actual dig site, complete with a full plastic skeleton of a T. rex. After unearthing the bones, follow the enclosed instructions to assemble them, just like a scientist in a museum.

A Crash Course in Circuits: Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Exploration Kit

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Almost 5,000 reviewers have given five stars to this kit, which introduces children to electrical circuits through safe, hands-on experiments. Kids use the enclosed project manual to create over 100 different electrical circuits, with plenty of room for trial and error along the way. They will love figuring out how to power a flashing light, photo sensor, and even a siren with adjustable volume. (You might not love the siren, but at least they’re learning.)

For Budding Biologists: Student Owl Pellet Kit

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Owl pellet kits are a must-have for any kid scientist. Why? Two words: puke and bones. Picture a cross between a hairball and a dinosaur excavation. These delightfully disgusting blobs of regurgitated matter contain bones, fur, and other indigestible materials from the owl’s prey. I was skeptical initially, but the mysteries inside will fascinate children and adults alike. This kit comes with three pellets, plastic gloves, forceps, and bamboo probes. It even includes an illustrated guide to help kids identify the pellets’ contents and unravel the owl’s most recent meals.

For the Bug Lover: Insect Lore Live Ladybug Growing Kit

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Insect Lore has multiple options for your future entomologist, including butterfly gardens, mantis kits, and ants. This ladybug growing kit comes with an adorable enclosure, complete with tiny hills and plastic forests, as well as a magnifying glass and a tube of 10 to 12 ladybug larvae. Kids will love watching the larvae wiggle around the terrarium, transform into pupae, and finally emerge as vibrant ladybugs. The whole process takes several weeks, and kids can keep the ladybugs for observation for a few days before releasing them outside. The best part? Ladybug larva refills can be ordered quickly and easily from Insect Lore’s website.

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