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My son's eyes positively lit up when he saw this box. I'm afraid he was hoping for something along the lines of home made fireworks, and health and safety laws being what they are today the odds of finding actual explosives in a child's science kit are unfortunately nil.
So what exactly do you get for between £15 and £20 of your hard earned money, depending on where you buy this?
WHAT'S IN THE BOX:
Plastic rocket ( bottle) with nose fins, cone, stopper and needle which must be attached to a bicycle pump.
Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate ( baking soda)
Sodium Tetrabrate ( borax)
Green and red food colour
goggles ( very cheap and useless)
and a couple of plastic cups and a bowl.
WHAT IS NOT IN THE BOX: (extra items you must have to make this work)
glass jar and lid
I would recommend extra baking soda, a torch, and perhaps some extra food colour for this kit as well. I have found this kit did not contain enough baking soda to do all the experiments once, let alone a repeating some activities.
WHAT CAN YOU MAKE?
A water rocket
An erupting volcano
slime - or if you mix it wrong a very realistic fake dog poo and puke.
"fizz bomb" - not at all a bomb but that fizzes up ( much better with food colour).
"Fantastic fireworks" -- I wish - this yet another oil and water experiment
Once my son got over his initial disappointment that we were not actually going to be able to blow anything up with this kit, he was still very keen to get started. Unfortunately, my husband had lent out the bicycle pump and by the time we tracked it down, the wee stopper for the bottle was lost, meaning we have not been able to do the rocket experiment as of yet, but I will may another rocket kit on it's own. Then again, I might just buy a small cork and make my own.I do know these work as we have used similar models in the past, but of course the fins and nose will end up bashed about in time. No major issue, it will fly without one. The rocket fins are pretty flimsy too in fact a plain 2 litre bottle will fly with the plug and enough air pumped in. Fins can be made from take away lids if needed.
My youngest absolutely loves the plastic volcano. We have done volcano experiments before , but my 3 year just loves the wee plastic one. This is meant to work by filling the base with vinegar and red food colour, then screwing on a small plastic top with a hole in it and a scoop of baking soda. If you could get this to work, I expect the "lava" would shoot out the small hole very nicely. We had no such luck though, as it kept stopping up. We ended up removing the lid and just putting a small amount of baking soda in the top. This worked quite well, and my boys repeated the experiment until we ran out of baking soda. The book suggests covering the volcano in sand, but we skipped this step - and I do feel the sand is unnecessary. I had foolishly assumed the sand was in a sealed packet and allowed my son to lift it from the box. He did - by the bottom and the majority of ended up on my floor. It's terrible gritty stuff anyway, more like kitty litter than sand if you ask me, with chinks large enough to leave a scratch on a laminate floor if you miss any. Play sand would work so much better if you did want to try this.
VOLCANO UPDATE - Problems with the volcano were our fault - Once we got the knack of it - the volcano is brilliant and the single best item in this set. We were trying to let the baking soda drip through the hole in volcano - all wrong. You dump the baking soda into the vinegar, give a quick shake and iut really is spectacular.
I don't know quite where we went wrong with the slime recipe. Well the first time I didn't follow the directions - but the second time I did very carefully. The first time we ended up with a very thick rubbery material, which looked very much like a poo. Taking advantage of this, we mixed green and red food colour to make a horrid brownish shade - dyed it and have a very nice fake turd. The next time I carefully followed instructions, but it was still too thick. This one, looking rather like puke, has added to my sons store of gag items. This was the end of the borax, and I did not want to dig out my own supply which is stored in a chemical kit ( Borax is mildly poisonous and should be kept well out of reach of small children and pets), so we'll have to leave that one for next time. When we do try this again I will be using 1/2 the borax recommended and will slowly add more if needed. If you require extra borax, it can be purchased from ebay and Amazon around £2 - £3
Fizz Bomb is another baking and soda and vinegar trick. Water and vinegar are mixed, a layer of oil goes on top. You dump baking soda on top of this. Once the baking soda sinks through the oil, it will react with vinegar water and bubble up. I prefer this with coloured water.
I nearly skipped the lava lamp section in the book, as I expected it to be the same old fizzy tap recipe that we have used before. It isn't exactly the same. This time you fill the jar with water, add a layer of oil and then add food colour drops and salt. Salt pushes food colour and oil down, as it is heavier than oil, the salt dissolves and the oil rise gain. At first you get coloured drops rising, but food colour is water soluble and you quickly end up with coloured water with clearish oil rising. I think this looks much nicer over a large torch - hence my torch recommendation. As the colours will eventually mix - it is best to use complimentary colours, like blue and yellow, or red and yellow - this is where extra food colour comes in handy. Red and green mixed would result in a very ugly brownish shade. We do have this still going a few days later and it will work over and over several times if you want to keep adding salt.
The fantastic fireworks was a complete flop in our book. coloured oil ( oil doesn't colour well) rises to the top of water -- ho hum.
Over all I think this kit is fun. I got mine from a charity shop for £3, so I am very happy with it. But I am knocking a star off, because I do not feel this is worth the retail price. The booklet is handy, and has some good ideas. I imagine it would be much more handy if you didn't have a number of science books with very similar ideas already on your book shelves. I do think they did a very good job of illustrating how the vinegar and baking soda volcano compares with a real one. The thing is - we have books on real volcanoes too.
Basically I feel that what you are really getting out of this kit is a plastic volcano, a rubber stopper, a football needle and a jar of borax. I could buy these things for far less money on their own, and replicate any experiment here with the addition of common household items like 2 litre bottles and of course baking soda. I feel that this kit might be very good for someone who hasn't done quite as many science projects as we have - but for us - other than the volcano - it really wasn't that exciting, and if I had paid full price I wouldn't be too well pleased. If I were the manufacturer I would leave out the sand, which must really increase shipping costs, use a smaller box and include a more complete rocket. They could either use a small plastic vinegar and baking soda rocket, which I already have of course - or even better one of the old water rockets that used to come with a hand pump but no longer seem to be available anywhere. A volcano with a clear side and actual magma chambers would have been really fun as well - but alas I do not make the kits - more's the pity - I would make better ones!
Do I recommend this kit? Well yes, in spite of finding it overpriced - it would make a fun gift for a child who hasn't already tried most of the activities. It's a nice way to get started on science activities, but not really suited to families who already do quite a few experiments. This kit is suggested for children over the age of 10. My sons are ages 3 and 7 and I see no problems with them using this, and I thing ages 6 -12 would be ideal. The key factor here though is parental supervision. This isn't a toy to hand a child and let them play with alone. In addition to the mess and possible accidents - the educational value of this set would be lost without an adult. Children aren't really likely to read all the bits on the science behind this on their own, and I do feel that an adult involved can casually mention the educational bits while everyone is having fun.
Please be aware that food colour can stain many objects and while I am uncertain of the exact level of toxicity of the borax. I do know that it has been banned in Britain as a laundry additive due to the danger of pets or small children ingesting it. My feelings are if there is any doubt it best to be extremely cautious. Is there enough in this set to seriously harm a toddler? I honestly don't know, but better safe than sorry. Although my son is well past eating stupid things, I do still keep toxic chemicals out of reach and our borax is in a box on a very high shelf with other chemicals for science experiments. Please use extra caution with this chemical if you very small children or pets in the house.
Finally if you are wondering if my title suits, pyromaniacs are obsessed with either fire or explosives :) We do quite like explosions, to the point that I hope I don't end up on a terrorist watch list as we have googled explosions and such so many times, and accidentally ended up on bomb making sites twice.