Solar Energy Science Kits and Solar Toys
Many of us have had some limited exposure to solar energy systems
or products and know that solar energy will play an even greater role
in our children's future. Given this one of the best science
activities you can find for kids are easy to use kits for kids where they can
experiment with solar electricity. These kits and toys can make
great birthday presents and Christmas gifts and, unlike a lot of toys, require no batteries!
Solar Energy Science Kits
There are a great number of
solar science kits on the market which can provide a wide spectra of
activities for kids while teaching them the basic concepts behind
solar energy. In most kits there are experiments
that allow children to use small solar cells to create electricity and
power simple mechanical devices. Some kits are designed to allow a
child to carry out a single project such as building a solar powered
car. Others are broader in scope (and more expensive) and allow
children to use the solar cells to build and customize many different
types of machines. A couple of the kits are somewhat
miniaturized versions of a solar home which struck us as interesting,
particularly for those who might be thinking of adding solar to their
real home. A bit more bizarre were the kits that let you build
solar-powered windmills. Seems to us a toy windmill should be
wind powered, not solar powered. Silly us!
Not all of the kits
are based around solar photovoltaic energy. We have found a few
kits that address solar thermal energy as well. One of the
better kits covers the history of solar heating and lets you
experiment to improve heating efficiency. It includes a gravity-fed
water system with a small solar collector which can be used to test
and record data on heating capabilities. The lessons allow you to
determine heating potentials, background reflection-absorption
abilities and thermal transfer. A bit more advanced but
appropriate for older kids. It probably could come in handy at
one of those science fairs.
Most of these toys are designed for children 8 years and older.
One thing to keep in mind is that many of the mechanical project parts
are very light weight given that the solar motors are small and so
they are potentially breakable. If your child is a bit heavy handed
when playing with toys you might want to supervise them when using
Nearly all of the educational kits we have reviewed come with
educational documentation that explains the basic concepts of
photovoltaic cells and most also touch upon the nature of the energy
within light. In reviewing the solar science kits that are on the market we
found that the kits with the most polished booklets tended to be both
the most popular and the most effective.
Also, for those of you who may be looking to use the kits as part of a
school or home school science program, there are several kits that not
only include booklets but a few which include lesson plans for science
education as well.
One note of caution. Many of the solar educational kits are
imported. We found the kits imported from Europe, particularly
some of the ones from Germany, to be of excellent quality. However on
some of the kits from Asia the print materials supporting the kits
were minimal and did not always appear to reflect high quality
translations to English.
Types of Solar Toys
In addition to the kits there are also numerous solar toys on the
market. While some of these make some attempt at being
educational most are just intended to be fun. We have been
impressed by the creativity and ingenuity behind many of these toys.
A number of the toys are transportation oriented and include a lot of
futuristic looking cars and boats. Some are pre-built with the
solar cell already in them while others are kits you can put
together. We suspect that building the cars will be more fun.
Some of the car kits also included multiple gears which is a great way
for kids to begin learning about the concepts of gears and ratios.
As for boats we were impressed by one kit that let you build a solar
powered boat using empty plastic soda bottles for flotation and a
solar powered fan for an engine. Very clever. Another theme with solar toys
are animals. There are a variety of solar bugs, frogs,
cats and dogs all powered by solar cells. And if your kids are more mechanically inclined
there are some not too menacing solar robots as well.
If you need a toy for the somewhat older set (think teenagers and
grownups) one of our favorite gifts was a solar powered headphone
radio. The solar cells are built into the top of the headset
band and charged the built-in batteries. For those of you who
like gadgets there are a variety of solar powered sculptures and
figurines. Can you believe solar powered bobble head figurines?
For something more practical there are some fairly useful items such
as solar calculators, solar watches, solar radios and solar
Where to Find Solar Science Kits and Toys
Solar powered toys and gadgets are available on the Web and can be
found at most major toy stores. We have seen some available at
Toys R Us but you may find their selection is somewhat limited. We
have had better luck either looking online or at specialty toy stores
that sell science related toys. Good luck and may the sun be with you!