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The Best Science Toys for Kids

Whether your kid loves to explore the outdoors or engineer buildings, these toys are as entertaining as they are educational.

best kids science toys
Staff, Courtesy of Omano

As adults, it’s our job to foster curiosity and a love of science in the kids in our lives. And what better way to do this than through play? Toys allow children ample opportunity to learn all kinds of scientific lessons, from cause and effect, to how their bodies work, to lessons on the natural world around us, and what lies beyond us in the universe. But how do we choose from the myriad of science toys available? How do we know which ones are worth the cost, and which ones will actually help our kids develop their critical thinking so they can become better scientists?

What To Consider

Shelsea Ochoa, an educator performer who designs and shares science communication for all ages at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado, reminds us that it’s sometimes less about the toy itself and more about how we play with it.

“Any toy can be played with scientifically,” she says. “A toddler might learn that if you leave that light on for a couple of minutes, it starts to feel warm, [whereas] a middle school student might use the help of an adult to take apart the toy and see how it works.”

Consider your child’s interests when introducing them to science. For example, “If a child likes to ride their bike, get them some tools so they can test their speed as they ride over different terrains,” Ochoa says. If your child is an auditory learner, buy a toy that talks or makes sounds. Or opt for a magnifying glass in your child’s favorite color to get them excited to use it.

Ochoa also reminds buyers not to be swayed by gender-based marketing when it comes to children’s toys. “Many toys that are labeled ‘girly’ are not considered science toys, but they absolutely can be,” she says. One example she shares is how dinosaurs are often marketed toward boys and lumped into science toys, whereas animals like kittens are marketed toward girls but seen more as something to simply play pretend with. “With both toys, you can talk about adaptations, habitats, ecosystems, taxonomy, [and] migration,” Ochoa says. “It’s all about finding the science in what your child is interested in.”

Finally, Ochoa’s favorite science toys are the ones that can be used again and again. That is to say, ones which invite multiple ways for kids to interact or that present more complex problems to solve via play. “Toys that are designed to solve only one problem are less likely to be used more than once,” she says.

How We Evaluated

“At the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, we get a lot of wear and tear on our toys, and we do not have infinite storage space, so [we] have to be efficient and intentional,” Ochoa says. She shared some criteria she uses when seeking out great science toys, which we also used in putting together this list:

  • Toys that can be used in multiple ways and that invite children to come up with questions to answer through play
  • Toys that run a gamut of interests
  • Toys that are self-directed as well as collaborative
  • Toys of various sizes as some families have more limited space than others

As a parent to a 7-year-old, I considered toys I’ve used myself or seen used repeatedly by others. I also factored in options at a variety of budgets and kept in mind how well the toys might hold up to wear and tear. Finally, I consulted with other parents, educators, and caregivers to get their take on some of the science toys they’ve purchased that have gotten the most use over the years and read through various online reviews. The following 10 are hands down the best science toys available now.

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Best Kinetic Toy
Gravitrax Starter Set Marble Run
$25.99 (57% off)

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 8 and older
  • Installation Required: Yes

Marble runs are excellent tools for teaching kids about gravity, chain reactions, and kinetics. We selected Gravitrax thanks to its sturdy design and wide popularity—I’ve dealt with more wobbly marble runs, and tears ensued. This starter set features 122 pieces with nine ready-to-go track instructions, plus additional building exercises for added play. It’s excellent for kids ages 8 and up to play alone or with a friend.

  • Sturdier than other marble runs on the market

  • Younger users might still need help with putting some pieces together
Best Budget-Friendly Anatomy Toy
Squishy Human Body
$16.39 (45% off)

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 8 and older
  • Installation Required: No

This budget-friendly toy is a hit for anyone looking for an introductory lesson in human anatomy. Use the forceps and tweezers to help your little scientist remove and replace the nine organs and 12 plastic bones and muscles within the body, then read up on each in the included anatomy booklet. Although it’s geared toward ages 8 and up, many reviewers have mentioned kids as young as 4 getting just as much out of it.

  • Very engaging thanks to hands-on play and informative anatomy booklet
  • Very affordable

  • Organs are made of a squishy material that easily picks up lint and dust, so make sure to play on clean surfaces
Best For Coding Basics
Botley the Coding Robot
Learning Resources
$49.37 (38% off)

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 5 and older
  • Installation Required: Needs 5 AAA batteries

My child’s school used Botley for STEM class last year, and it was a huge hit. This adorable robot is great for an introductory lesson in coding. Use the included cards to program Botley to move forward, back, turn, and more. I’ve also seen kids attach markers to Botley and program it to move over paper to create art.

  • Includes lots of different challenges for Botley

  • Programming Botley can initially be a bit confusing for younger users
Best For Unlimited Play
Magnet Building Tiles 60-Piece Set

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 3 and older
  • Installation Required: No

Magnetic tiles are all the rage with kids (including my own), and though there are more expensive brands, PicassoTiles offer more bang for the buck. Toddlers and preschoolers should be happy building with (and then knocking down) creations made from this introductory-sized set, but older kids might prefer larger sets to make more elaborate creations. Bonus: Most magnetic tiles are compatible in case you want to try different brands.

  • Compatible with various magnetic tile brands to mix and match

  • Expect the occasional toddler meltdown when creations get accidentally knocked down
Best Entomology Toy
BugView Quick-Release Bug Catching Tool and Magnifier
$11.99 (14% off)

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 6 and older
  • Installation Required: No

There are plenty of fake bug catcher toys out there that are great for playing pretend, but the BugView is the real deal. Kids will love safely collecting bugs inside and outside with this easy-to-use tool, then viewing the critters up close thanks to the attached magnifying glass (just make sure to teach them how to do it without harming the little creatures). And of course, it’s handy for parents, too, who might want to catch-and-release any insects in their homes.

  • Simple design makes it easy for kids to catch and release bugs safely
  • Very affordable

  • Kids might bring bugs back home (make sure to set some ground rules early on!)
Best For Mini Microbiologists
JuniorScope Microscope for Kids
$89.00 (32% off)

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 6 and older
  • Installation Required: Yes

Every good scientist needs a microscope, and though the price tag of the JuniorScope is a bit heftier, it’s worth the investment. Rather than the usual plastic lenses that often disappoint young scientists, this particular microscope uses glass objective lenses with magnification levels as powerful as 400x that will definitely peak your child’s curiosity. Kids as young as 6 will enjoy viewing the prepared slides and then finding new items to place inside the included blank slides.

  • Works better than most kid-friendly microscopes
  • High 400x magnification

  • Expensive
Ride-On Toy With A Scientific Side
Plasma Car

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 3 and older
  • Installation Required: No

This ride-on toy was hot years ago, but it’s still a fun toy that can be used scientifically. Built to hold up to 220 pounds—making it a great toy for younger and older kids—this toy uses gravity to move forward as the rider steers side to side. To add to their scientific inquiry, ask kids to notice what makes them move faster and test what types of surfaces provide more friction (say tile versus grass).

  • Generous 220-pound capacity limit

  • Pricey
Best For Astronomy Lovers
70mm Travel Scope

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 5 and older (with adult supervision)
  • Installation Required: Yes

Most child-centric telescopes out there won’t actually do what they’re meant to do—bring the cosmos a tiny bit closer to you. But with this travel scope, kids of all ages will get a kick out of seeing the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, and more. Stargaze in your own backyard, or take it on the next camping trip to get a front row seat to a meteor shower. No doubt your youngsters will have a newfound appreciation for the universe.

Related: The Best Telescopes for Observing the Cosmos

  • Included carrying case makes it even more portable
  • Easy, tool-free assembly

  • Tweens and teens might not be as impressed
Best For Observing the Natural World
Binoculars for Kids

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 3–12
  • Installation Required: No

Of course, there’s plenty to explore right here on Earth, and what better way to get a closer look at wildlife safely than with a pair of binoculars? These shock-resistant, waterproof binos come in a variety of colors and offer 8x magnification. Take this handy tool and toy on your next hike, boat trip, or even walk around the neighborhood to catch a glimpse of birds and other wildlife.

  • Durable shock-resistant, waterproof design

  • Some reviewers say the cord material could be softer
Best All-Around Fun
The Original Dueling Rockets Launcher
Stomp Rocket

Key Specs

  • Age Range: 5 and older
  • Installation Required: Yes

What kid wouldn’t have a blast playing with a rocket launcher? This simple toy packs loads of fun while also encouraging your kids to think more on aerodynamics. How much force is needed to launch the rocket? Does it change where the rockets fall? What exactly causes the rocket to launch in the first place? Plus, it gets kids outside and moving, so there’s all the more to love.

  • Quick and easy set up

  • Younger kids who are lighter in weight might have trouble launching as far
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