Supermarket Stocking Stuffers For Young Scientists

Scratching your head over what to get your budding scientist for Christmas? Look no further! Here’s a list of cheap and cheerful options!


AsianScientist (Dec. 21, 2015) – It’s the most marvelous time of the year!

Unless of course, if like me, the kid in your life prefers mycelium to My Little Pony and supernovas to superheroes. Then you’re probably scratching your head wondering what to fill their stockings with.

Fear not, I present to you the Mushroom Mum Guide to Affordable Stocking Fillers.

The best part? All of these items are readily available in any large supermarket. Place them in a box and top with a bow, and voila! A splendid scientific Santa surprise.

  1. Sculpt a Volcano

    What you need:

    • Plain flour
    • Salt
    • Vegetable oil
    • Cream of tartar
    • Food coloring

    Turn these ingredients into your own pliable sculpting dough. Once made, get a few small recycled jars or containers (I find old Yakult or Vitagen plastic bottles the perfect size) and sculpt different types of volcanoes around each.

    See if you can make a shield, cinder and composite cone. Try making different types of lava, like the wonderfully named aa and pahoehoe lava flows. Add some fleeing Playmobil men for added tension.

    This kept my seismic-activity obsessed then-five-year-old occupied for HOURS. Always a good thing.

  2. The Epic Eruption of Mount Krakatoa
  3. What you need:

    • White vinegar
    • Bicarbonate of Soda

    Now that you have your play dough volcano, it’s time to create an explosion that can rival the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, which (as my son Jordan takes great pains to remind me) created the loudest ever sound in recorded history. It was heard as far away as Australia, some 3,500 km away!

    For families with young scientists living in apartments, I have a special tip. I had two big white IKEA plastic trays that were designated “for scientific purposes only.” This helped to confine some of the mess of experiments. I also designated one bathroom as an “experiment zone,” so it was just a matter of hosing the surfaces down after the fun!

  4. Pet Tornado
  5. What you need:

    • Vegetable oil
    • Food coloring
    • Fizzy tablets (I bought store-brand vitamin C tablets)

    I modified a Steve Spangler experiment and created a Pet Tornado for Jordan. It showed in a rather spectacular fashion that oil and water have different densities. And that you don’t have to be in a category 5 storm to witness some pretty amazing weather patterns in your own home.

  6. Homestyle Botany
  7. What you need:

    • Seeds
    • Cool containers (try mugs, tall glasses, plastic tupperware, old water bottles, I even used my son’s outgrown rain boots!)
    • Patience

    Planting seeds and looking after plants makes for a really fulfilling project for kids. Jordan gets so much joy from checking on the progress of his plants everyday. From filling the various containers and planters with potting mix, reading the instructions on the seed packets, planting the seeds, watering as per instructions, and waiting for that joyous day when the first seeds sprout, the entire process teaches cause and effect.

    There’s something inherently poetic about the moment a zucchini flower makes way for a beautiful green fruit that you know will soon go into a pasta bake. And yes, even what happens to said zuchinni once it is in your body, and after it is err… expelled from it.

    *cue Elton John belting out “Circle of Life”*

    Last Christmas we gave Jordan a grow-your-own oyster mushroom farm. When the fungi finally bloomed sometime in February, it was like Christmas morning all over again.

  8. Experiment Journal
  9. What you need:

    • Notebook
    • Pencil, pen, ruler

    “If a toadstool sprouts deep in the forest but nobody sees it, did it really ever exist?”

    I posed the question recently to Jordan, who replied “Of course! You don’t need anyone to have witnessed it to be sure that it did exist.”

    When I probed further, he relented that it would be helpful if someone had recorded the toadstool’s ephemeral life above ground, and that he could understand why it is important to record information.

  10. Camera
  11. Probably the best thing we’ve ever gifted Jordan was our old digital camera. It’s added a whole new dimension to his nature walks and general daily activities. He’s turned his photos and videos into a blog, and to see him communicate his passion to the wider world is a pretty gratifying thing.

  12. Discovery
  13. At the risk of sounding a little hokey, the last stocking filler is that intangible something that fills the space between the wrapped parcels. The shimmering halo of discovery that accompanies each and every present a kid receives.

    So after the presents are unwrapped, why not take your young scientist out on a personalized experiential journey? An insect-collection hunt, a fungal foray, an exploration of the many facets of light in the city—whatever ignites a spark in their imagination.

    After all, part of the wonder of Christmas is built on a fiction that just might turn out to be true: that a red-garbed older man with a high BMI will squeeze down a chimney bearing gifts made by his sub-contractors.

    And until that hypothesis is completely disproved, we can keep on believing. So in the spirit of science, I wish all my readers the happiest of holidays and a joyous year ahead.

This article is from a monthly column called Mushroom Mum. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Source: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Dora Yip.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Dora Yip lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, and is mom to six-year-old Jordan and two-year-old Jonah.

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