Almost two years ago, my son Fin and I took a look at Little Passports, a subscription box service for kids that introduces them to geography and foreign cultures. Today, the company has expanded significantly and their latest offering is Little Passports: Science Expeditions, another subscription service that offers boxes designed to introduce a range of different scientific concepts.
Science Expeditions is aimed at kids aged nine and up and is broadly similar to the original Little Passports service. Your initial kit on signing up is themed around forensic science. Kids will receive:
- A booklet containing three experiments to try out
- Test tubes and a rack to hold them
- A pipette
- A fingerprint analysis card and ink pad
- A magnifying glass
- A comic featuring cartoon kids Sophia and Sam meeting scientists studying a range of different disciplines (many of whom are female) and carrying out some of the same experiments from the kit themselves
- A lab book to keep a record of their work
- A sticker
- A large Science Expeditions branded bag to keep everything in
The kits for subsequent months are similar and focus around a specific theme. The theme for month two is Caves and Crystals, and other box themes include Vision and Optics, Hydrology, and the Northern Lights. Each one contains three experiments, relevant equipment, a comic, and a sticker for your lab book.
For many of the experiments, everything you need is provided in the mailing, however, for some others, you will need to provide extra items in addition to those included in the kits. Mostly, these are simple items you will almost certainly have lying around such as paper, a ruler, or a spoon. Occasionally, however, the kit calls for a significant amount of “from home” equipment in addition to what is provided. Notably, one experiment in the starter kit requires a strawberry, salt, rubbing alcohol, and liquid dish soap, plus cups, a Ziplock bag, a toothpick, and other basic equipment. I found myself disappointed by this as in order to perform this experiment, parents may well be required to go out and purchase a number of items after paying out for the kit itself.
Fin and I carried out some of the experiments from the Forensic Science box and the Caves and Crystals box. The three experiments in the Forensic Science kit are:
- Hints from Prints (teaches different types of fingerprints, how each is unique, and how they can be used by law enforcement to help solve crimes)
- Spatter Studies (teaches how the spatter pattern of liquid differents depending on the forces at play when the liquid is dropped)
- A Very Berry DNA Extraction (teaches the basics of DNA and how to extract a strand from a strawberry)
The Caves and Crystals experiments included:
- Grow Your Own Crystal
- Stalactite on A String
- Sand Stalagmites
Our first experiment was Hints from Prints. First, Fin used the ink pad to look at his own fingerprints. He used the guide in the instructions to identify his fingerprint type from the three basic patterns shared by everybody–loop, whorl, or arch. We also used the ink pad to produce fingerprints from members of our household, then compared them to one another. Fin was able to see the differences in the prints and spot different characteristics such as bridges, islands, dots, and eyes.
Next up we tried Spatter Studies. This experiment can get messy so I advise doing it in an easy-to-clean environment and putting down plenty of old newspaper or sheets. Using paint, white paper, a ruler, and the pipette, Fin dropped paint from different heights then compared the spatter markings it created, noticing that dropping the paint from higher heights resulted in wider, messier splats. Thankfully, the booklet didn’t go into details about what most adults think of when they hear spatter patterns being discussed on TV crime shows…
Finally, we attempted to grow our own crystals. This is the longest running experiment we tried, as it takes well over a week to complete, although, thankfully, most of this time requires simply leaving it alone. In order to grow the crystals, we simply put some (supplied) gravel into the growing container, mixed the crystal powder with boiling water, and poured it over the gravel. Then, when the water had cooled, we sprinkled a few remaining bits of crystal powder into the container and left it alone. We started noticing crystals growing within only a few days, and after a few weeks had distinctive crystals that Fin was able to remove and look at under a microscope. This was by far his favorite experiments from both kits.
The experiment cards also include more information on the subjects being studied. The Caves and Crystals card included information on stalactites and stalagmites (plus how to remember which is which), plus a guide to what crystals are and how they form, while the Forensic Science card discussed DNA and cells.
I found myself generally very impressed with Little Passports: Science Expeditions. The kits contained a wide range of experiments, from quick and simple ones like taking your own fingerprint, to complex ones such as the strawberry DNA extraction. I did find myself disappointed in how frequently other equipment was needed and feel like this should be made clearer on signing up for the service, although I appreciate that sending chemicals through the post could complicate things–especially where international shipping is concerned.
Getting kids interested in science at an early age is vital, especially given today’s political and cultural climate where ignorance is increasingly accepted and “alternative facts” given a frightening amount of airtime. If Little Passports can encourage even one child to develop an interest in science, and the scientific process, then that can only be a good thing.