The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize is the UK’s only award solely for books about science for children and young people. One of the book’s on this year’s shortlist is Science Experiments by Robert Winston and Ian Graham.
Essentially a book of recipes for experiments which kids and families can do at home, this book makes for a tantalising read. Divided into 5 sections covering “The Material World”, “Forces and Motion”, Energy in Action”, Electricity and Magnetism” and “The Natural World” there are 85 experiments, ranging from the very simple, requiring only things to hand in any kitchen (for example exploring changes of state, and how to avoid clouds in ice), to those which are more complicated, need time to prepare or specialist resources (like making your own metal detector, or creating bubbles with dry ice).
With nearly every page turn my 7 year old was pulling on my sleeve; “Can we do this? Can we do this one? Please, Mummy, pleeaaase?”. You can’t ask for a better response than that, if your aim is to get kids excited about science.
But just as you can’t review a cookery book without putting some recipes to the test, the most important way to find out what an experiments’ books is really like is to try out some of the activities.
We’ve done a good dozen of them by the time of writing this review and all the instructions have been very clear and easy to follow, with excellent results in all cases. The text is easy enough for my 7 year old to read herself, and the illustrations (a mixture of drawings and photographs) are clear and helpful, as well as inspiring.
However, quite a number of the experiments need either a fair amount of time in preparation (mostly in saving up junk that might otherwise have been thrown out) or for you to purchase materials which may not be cheap (e.g. powdered alum or phenolphthalein). It would be great if this book came with a list of suggested equipment and suppliers at the back (or linked online) so you could start stocking up and looking around for everything before handing over this book to your kids; it’s very demotivating if they read an experiment which they want to try but then can’t follow up their enthusiasm because the resources aren’t available.
I was also frustrated by the index. Having leafed through the entire book to get an idea of what we wanted to try, we couldn’t easily find the experiments on our mental check list using the index (for example, one activity involved eggs but the only experiment indexed under eggs was a different one entirely).
Despite these concerns, Science Experiments is a good book. It’s designed with elegance and clarity and simply looks much more appealing than other experiments-to-do-at-home type books we’ve read in the past.
We’ve learned lots together as a family as well as having fun, directly as a result of reading this book. My eldest has been very keen to both read the book and try out everything described inside its covers. But… I can’t call this a great book. Whilst Science Experiments by Robert Winston and Ian Graham probably does deserve to be on the shortlist for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize, I don’t think it will ultimately be the winner.
NB. In the US this book is sold under a different title and with a different cover: in the US: Science Rocks!
Hardback : 01 Feb 2011
8 – 11 years
My copy came from my bookshelves.
Claire Eamer at Sci/Why joins this week’s STEM Friday with a post about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Shirley at Simply Science offers us a review of I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen
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