Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Magic School Bus Kits - a Review

My kids have always loved The Magic School Bus. We have several of the books, and have watched most (if not all) of the shows. My daughter loved The Magic School Bus when she was younger, and my son (3rd grade) still loves it. So, when I was planning my son's Science for 1st, and I found the Magic School Bus kits, I got an idea. I decided to make his Science for 1st-3rd Magic School Bus based (of course, we used many resources not related to MSB for each topic, as well). I ordered kits for each topic we studied in 1st & 2nd grades. We read the MSB books related to the topics, and watched any episodes of the show related to the topics. We enjoyed them. The kits were fun. He didn't learn much from them, but they were a fun addition to his Science. I changed my mind about continuing to use them for 3rd grade, though. They were just too simplistic and not challenging.

We bought & used the following kits (some for school, some for fun):
Diving into Slime, Gel, and Goop
Going Green
Journey into the Human Body
Jumping into Electricity
Secrets of Space
Soaring into Flight
Solar Energy to the Rescue
World of Germs

The World of Germs & Diving into Slime, Gel, and Goop were the favorites. Most of the others were alright. As I said, they weren't challenging, but were fun. The only one we really didn't enjoy was Secrets of Space. He learned nothing from the kit. It was all just demonstrations. He did kind of enjoy the fact that he was the one to do the demonstrations, because he likes to explain things to people and share his knowledge. However, we both wished that we had found better activities for that topic.

The materials are not high quality, and I wasn't really expecting them to be. After all, I paid about $16 for each kit. I was expecting cheap, disposable materials, and that is what we got. Yes, some of the items are reusable, but they are simply not a high quality.

My biggest issue with these is the age range. They are all listed as being for preK/K - 5th/6th grade. I find that to be really inaccurate. They would be great for toddlers - K/1st, maybe into 2nd depending on the child. However, I simply can not see a child in 4th-6th grade getting anything out of any of these kits.

They are also good for keeping around for something fun for the kids to do on weekends/breaks/free time, especially if your kids are a bit destructive. My son is very hard on things. I wouldn't want him playing around with high quality lab equipment on his own, not yet. He can be very destructive, and glass test tubes, etc. would likely end up broken.

They are easy for a child to do without adult supervision. That was one reason we got them again in 2nd grade. He could do the activities alone. We also liked that the activities start with a question, and doing the activity will answer the question. This is a nice, easy intro to the Scientific Method. We created Lab Sheets for each activity and filled them out as the activity was done. This way, he learned at an early age how to follow the Scientific Method & how to fill out a Lab Sheet (what the question was, what his hypothesis was, what materials were needed, what process was followed, what the results were, what his conclusion was). I think that, by doing things the way we did, he got a solid foundation in understanding these important concepts. For that use, these were great.

So, to sum up:
*Not really appropriate for the whole age/grade range listed.
*Would be great for younger kids
* Easy to use without adult supervision by kids age 6/7+
* Good for use during free time, just for fun
* Not high-quality, but sturdy enough to withstand destructive children
* Not challenging for Science-minded kid, but fun addition to Science in lower grades
* Helps introduce & reinforce the Scientific Method

All in all, I'm not sorry that we used them. I don't feel like they were a waste of money (except maybe the Space one). A part of me wishes that I had found them earlier. If I had found them when he was younger, I would have used them with him as a toddler & for preK. However, if we had used them then, I would have needed to find something else for 1st & 2nd. Plus, he likely would not have been able to use them independently had we used them at such an early age. He is a perfectionist, and being able to do these kits & fill out the lab sheets on his own has really helped build his confidence in his ability to do school more independently. So, I think he really did get more out of them, using them in 1st & 2nd, even if it wasn't what they were meant to get out of using the kits.