Reviewed by Louise Totton
Getting kids interested in science isn’t always the easiest of tasks, which is a shame, as speaking as an ex-primary school teacher, science is probably the most interesting, versatile and relevant subjects on the curriculum. It lends itself wonderfully well to both practical and theoretical learning, allowing learners to really get to grips with their subject matter and to then use and apply what they have learned to new scenarios, yet often children seem to see it as dry, boring or too difficult. Having said that, the counter this, there are more and more fabulous toys and games available to really try to pique your child’s interest in a massive range of scientific subject matter.
We have been lucky enough to have been able to try out lots of educational toys from the fabulous Thames and Kosmos range over the past few months, and for the last couple of weeks we have been trying out The Magnificent Mars Expedition from Thames and Kosmos’s Pepper Mint range. Now, whilst I absolutely do not accept that any toy, especially an educational toy, is only for a single gender, there is a genuine issue with girls being turned off science and a real need to address this.
The Pepper Mint series explores a range of science and engineering disciplines via a number of sets, led by the heroine of the piece, the intrepid engineer, Pepper Mint. We were sent the Magnificent Mars Expedition set, which focusses on learning about magnetism and invisible magnetic forces. In common with some of the other Thames and Kosmos sets that we have tried out, the child is led through the projects and experiments via a fun and colourful instruction manual which is presented as a story or a challenge. This helps to engage the kids with the task at hand from the start, and to really immerse them into both the story and the science, which is exactly what is required to really get their minds working!
The Magnificent Mars Expedition is the least expensive Pepper Mint set in the range at £25, and along with the instructional story guide, the box contains:
- 2 wooden sheets
- Cardboard sheet
- Test tube of iron filings
- Empty test tube
- Magnetic Ball
- Sachet of magnetic slime powder
- Petri dish
- Polystyrene disc
- Metal wire
The first impression you ever get from something like this always comes from the box, and I have to say that from the moment my 10-year-old clapped her eyes on this one, she was very keen to get cracking with it. From looking at the box, we knew that we would be building some kind of rocket and moon buggy on which to base our experiments and projects. I had expected these to be built from thick cardboard but we were really pleasantly surprised to see once we opened the box that the parts were actually made from a lightweight wood – far sturdier and longer lasting than it would have been if it had been made from card. I was also really impressed with the quality of all of the other components in the box – everything feels built to last and like you would be able to use it again and again.
The experiments in the book are set out through a story and plot involving Pepper Mint using her engineering skills and science brain to add yet more elements to her rocket. Every project and experiment talks about the science behind what is happening and why it works as well as talking the children through the instructions. This made the whole thing like more of a game than a learning exercise, and like the best educational products, the kids were first and foremost enjoying what they were working on, with the learning just going on in the background. The kit is suitable for children aged 8+; my eldest daughter is 10 and she managed to complete pretty much all of the experiments independently, although she really enjoyed the interaction of having me there with her whilst she was completing the projects. The set isn’t really suitable for younger kids, although my very sensible 7½-year-old was able to join in but with a good amount of adult supervision.
My favourite experiment was one called ‘Floating Pepper’, which demonstrated gravity, magnetism and weightlessness in space in a fabulous and really practical way. Actually, that was the case with all of the experiments in the book – they are simple, and they just work! There is very little more frustrating than a science set with experiments that don’t work, leaving the kids and the adults annoyed, and knocking any chance of your child engaging with it on the head! There’s nothing overly tricky in this set, and there were no experiments that we couldn’t get to work. It’s not easy to visually demonstrate invisible forces, but every single one of these projects was very successful in meeting this objective.
My daughter and I have had great fun with this set – she does love to learn, but physics isn’t something that she has ever expressed any kind of interest in before. It has really piqued an interest for her as it has introduced her to a fabulous and fascinating area of science in a fun, interesting, relevant and engaging way. Top marks for this one – we love it!
For more information or to buy visit thamesandkosmos.co.uk.