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Experiment kits: a playful way for children to learn about science

from Peter Thomas

Experiment kits are ultramodern toy classics. These days, such kits open up the entire STEM world – from mechanics and statics to electronics and computer science. And learning by trial and error is always fun.

What do slime monsters, the Bauhaus centenary and laser sensors all have in common? The answer is that these topics are all part of STEM experiment kits. The abbreviation stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In the English-speaking world, though, the term STEAM is being used more and more frequently, after having been extended to include the creative dimension (the Arts). The message is loud and clear: science is creative!

By using experiment kits, children can learn about the worlds of the various scientific disciplines in a playful way. And they always have to try out something new and let themselves be surprised by the results. Such great fun! And it also often arouses curiosity about the associated occupations. Just how important such impulses are has just been demonstrated by the German Economic Institute (iwd): at the end of 2018, there were more vacant STEM positions in Germany than ever before.

A playful way to learn in the classroom

fischertechnik Education / Crawler excavator
fischertechnik Education / Crawler excavator

So it's only logical, therefore, that toys that allow for experimentation and technical construction have their place not just in the nursery, but also in the classroom. "Learning through practical application in the classroom has always been important to us," says Marcus Keller, Managing Director of fischertechnik.

The manufacturer based in Germany's Black Forest offers large science kits such as "STEM Engineering" in the "fischertechnik Education" series. Overall, fischertechnik covers topics ranging from statics and mechanics to robotics and renewable energies.

Pepper Mint flies off to Mars

Publishing house Kosmos has a great tradition when it comes to experimentation, too. It was nearly 100 years ago when the first kits of Swiss teacher Wilhelm Fröhlich appeared at the then Franckh'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

Easy Elektro Coding / Kosmos Electro Coding kit
Easy Elektro Coding / Kosmos Electro Coding kit

The electrical and electronic experiment kits from Kosmos have their finger on the pulse of the times. The new "Easy Elektro Coding" set works with Arduino, the open microcomputer system. "Children can first program this using block codes, later using the more complex Arduino code," explains Thomas Nolde, Kosmos Product Manager for Experiment Kits.

Kosmos is also enjoying success with its "Pepper Mint" experiment kits, launched in 2018. They were developed especially with a view to targeting girls. The next science adventures in the series will come out in 2019. They will lead the young STEM heroine to a secret island and to the planet Mars, Kosmos spokeswoman Chanel Henkel reveals. "Our approach of combining experiments with a strong story was absolutely the right thing to do."

Good stories

Gropius construction set honouring 100 years of Bauhaus
Gropius construction set honouring 100 years of Bauhaus

The principle of the good story is also behind the latest kit from Ankerstein, which is going to be issued to coincide with the Bauhaus centenary in 2019. The elements can be used to build variants of a house designed by Walter Gropius. The legendary architect himself was an enthusiastic user of the Anchor Stone blocks. "This is how adults and children discover important basic principles of the statics and interrelationships of architectural design," says Ines Schroth, Managing Director of Ankerstein.

While the classic building blocks from Rudolstadt have a large adult fan base, Hape is targeting pre-schoolers with its "Junior Inventor" range. With a toolbox, work table and workbench, they can carry out a wealth of physics experiments in fields ranging from mechanics to optics: screw things together, try them out, be astonished! That goes down really well. "We want to expand the range," says Ganesh Sugumar from Hape.

New ideas for experiments

One-Bot / AIQI
One-Bot / AIQI Roboter-Set

The digital dimension currently accounts for a wealth of good ideas in the current market. Robotic toys in particular are expanding the options of carrying out tests and experimenting by means of programming interfaces. "Marty" by Robotical, for example, understands the programming languages Scratch and Python. The kit is also successful in schools, say Myles Bax and Finlay Page from the Scottish manufacturer. And systems with a lot of different sensors, such as AIQI's ONEBOT, combine mechanics, electronics and computer science into a single coherent whole.

But new ideas aren't just all about experimenting. Packaging is also benefiting from creative approaches. For example, Franzis has developed small kits that mean that an experiment is packaged in an "egg". "No chocolate, but full of technology," say Michael Büge and Martin Koschewa of the Munich publishing house. The aim is the same as that of the brand's classic experiment kits: "Communicating knowledge through experimentation – and preferably as an experience shared by different generations".


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Author of this article:

Peter Thomas, Journalist

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