This holiday season, give the gift of doing science

Science is the gift that keeps on giving.

Kelvin Kay/Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of gift lists out there at this time of year. There are even science gift lists! Some feature art items like science scarves or knitted phases of water. Science gift lists for kids include perfume making kits, crime scene investigation kits or squishy anatomical models. All of these are fun ideas, and we might even covet a few of them for ourselves. The best of them allow budding scientists to learn about science while making something fun in the process. But they can often get pretty pricey.

You don’t always need to buy a kit to give the gift of science experience! Sometimes you don’t need to buy anything at all.

Eureka! Lab has put together a list of gift ideas that can help kids experience science for themselves. Got a student who loves science? A friend who needs a new project? Just want to combine some Coke with Mentos and watch it explode? You’ve come to the right place.

Diet Coke and Mentos are an explosive combination, and a great way to give the gift of science. Video: EepyBird/YouTube

Check out some DIY science projects

With simple items like Post-its, steel wool, a garbage can, or some Diet Coke, you can give students memorable science experiences, often for just a few dollars. Looking for ideas on what to build? Want explanations for the science behind why Diet Coke and Mentos are an explosive combination? From the mad scientists who mastered that explosion for YouTube comes a whole book of projects in How to Build a Hovercraft: Air Cannons, Magnet Motors, and 25 other amazing DIY Science Projects. The book offers 25 DIY science projects, from the self-crushing can to a mini rocket car, complete with an explanation of how each project works. The projects are ranked from easy to difficult, and are relatively inexpensive. Eureka! Lab may be trying a few of these out very soon. You could buy it yourself, or recommend it to your library.

Make a nature logbook

A nature log can help you discover the world outside your own home. Take your young scientist outside and write down what you see. Is there a fallen tree near your home? How long as it been there? How can you tell? Does anything live on it? Go out to the same area over several months and observe how nature changes over time. Find natural samples like leaves, mosses or mushrooms (don’t eat the mushrooms), and look them up together. What kind of tree is it? Is it native to the area? Keeping a nature log can highlight how much nature there is right outside your door. Some free nature logs are available for download.

Learn how the body works

There are many products out there to help you track personal data, from how many steps you’ve taken to how much sleep you get. But students can also get to know their own bodies by tracking certain habits. When are you most alert? How much do you sleep? When do you sleep the best? What and when do you eat during the day? When do you exercise? When you skip a meal, do you notice? What is your resting heart rate? How does it change with exercise? Does it change if you exercise more often? Keeping track of these things with someone can help students learn healthy habits. They also provide opportunities for students to understand their own bodies and how human bodies work. Maybe people really do better in school when they eat breakfast, and maybe they sleep better if they exercise. But why? Time to look up the science!

Give a gift to spend time together learning about science

Consider giving your favorite young scientist a gift certificate to a local science museum, or a coupon that is “good” for a hike or nature walk. Spending time in museums together or out enjoying nature can help nurture an interest in science.

Try science on your own

You could buy an attachment that turns your cell phone into a microscope. Or you could build it yourself! For the price of parts, there are many ideas for DIY science projects on Instructables, a site devoted to making things. Go through them and find some fun options. You could build the DIY microscope and take it out into the wild to get a closer look at the world around you. You could make carnations in many different colors, or try science experiments with eggs! Do the projects together, and then study more about the science behind them. How do the colors get in the carnations? Why does an uncooked egg spin badly, while a hard boiled one spins well? Try the science, and see if you can figure it out!

Buy the parts, and bring the science

There are many companies out there that give you the parts so you can build the science. From GoldieBlox  to Littlebits to Roominate to good old Legos, you can work with students to build and create, and learn about science in the process.

Help scientists do science

With citizen science sites like Scistarter, you can find scientists in your area that need your help. You could help tally terrapins, report the “wild” in your community or monitor light pollution. Not only do you get to learn things about the world, you get to help working scientists do their jobs. Most of the projects are free. It’s a great opportunity to get started in science. Many museums are doing citizen science as well. For example, you could go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to find out if you can taste fatty acids.

There’s an app for that

Do you know someone interested in space? There are apps that can teach you about the moon, or rocket science 101. There are other apps that can give you a beautiful introduction to theelements, show you the brain or bring science experiments straight to your iPad. Many of them are free and can give your young scientist hours of information and a few eureka moments. There are also great sites that can help nurture an interest in things like science or technology. You could do an Hour of Code together, or watch videos and learn about evolution. Whatever your interest, there are apps and sites to get you started.

There are lots of great science gifts out there, but the greatest gift is doing science together. Do you have other DIY projects or low-cost gift ideas? Let us know on Twitter, or send us an e-mail.

Power Words

element  Each of more than one hundred substances that cannot be broken down into simpler substances.

microscope  An instrument used to see objects and details too small to see with the eyes alone.

pollutant  A substance that taints something — such as the air, water, our bodies or products. Some pollutants are chemicals, such as pesticides. Others may be radiation, including excess heat or light. Even weeds and other invasive species can be considered a type of biological pollution.

terrapin  A turtle that swims and lives in fresh or brackish water, a distinct group from the turtles that live in sea water, or tortoises that live on land and do not swim.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.