Science Supplies that Promote Hands-on Learning
If you want kids to enjoy science, you can’t overlook opportunities for hands-on learning.
Yes, I know that science experiments can be messy. But learning happens so much easier (and much more joyfully) when kids get a chance to apply what they are learning and relate book-knowledge to real life.
Can students learn about chemical reactions, the cell cycle, or how forces work by reading a textbook? Sure. But will they learn more if given a chance to explore these topics with hands-on labs and activities? Absolutely!
I learned long ago that the best way to make sure my kids had ample chances to do hands-on science was to gather my materials ahead of time. Having science tools and supplies handy made it that much easier to experiment whenever the occasion arose.
In this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite ideas for science supplies that are great for studying science at home. Your kids will love these tools and you can use these supplies to start your very own science supply cabinet (or add to an existing one). These resources are excellent tools for making science come alive. Students of any age will enjoy these items so much that they won’t even realize they’re learning.
The “Essentials” for Science at Home
*This post contains affiliate links
Below are the items I think are the most important to have on hand for science exploration at home. Can your kids do science at home without these tools? Absolutely! But these resources truly allow your kids to take their science to the next level.
A Digital Pocket Scale
The number one item on my list of must-have items for science at home is a digital scale. If I had my way, every science student would have one at their disposal.
Especially for students studying chemistry, a digital scale that can measure masses in 0.1 gram increments is important.
This is the scale that I own, and I love it. I’ve taken it with me to my co op science classes and with it, my students have been able to accurately calculate the density of different substances, demonstrate the Law of Mass Conservation, calculate how many molecules of chalk it takes to write their names, and much more.
I’ve even used it at home to satisfy my own curiosity. For instance, I once picked up two cans of soda at the same time and noticed that they didn’t feel like they weighed the same. Since each can was a different brand of soda, I thought it was possible that they were different weights even though they were in the same volume size cans. So I tested it with my pocket scale. And guess what. I was right! Having this convenient, lightweight scale at the ready made it that much easier to “think like a scientist” and test my hypothesis.
This scale is compact and lightweight—just the perfect size for a science exploration at home. Even though the scales are inexpensive, they are durable. I’ve had the same scale for 7 years and it’s still going strong.
You probably already know that you can create your own pH indicator at home from red cabbage. When added to an acidic solution, red cabbage juice will turn from purple to pink and if added to a basic solution, the indicator will turn green.
Red cabbage water indicator works great for determining if something is an acid or a base, but what if your kids want to take it further? What if they want to see which acid has the lowest pH? What if they want to see how the pH of one base relates to another?
You can buy packs of pH paper that you can use to determine the pH from pH 0 (highly acidic) to pH 14 (highly basic) in packs of 100 for a ridiculously low price. Just pull out a strip, touch it to the substance you’d like to test, and then compare the color of the strip to the key on the side of the package vial. Easy and no mess.
Students of all ages have fun testing common substances (such as coffee, milk, orange juice, soda, etc.) to determine their pH.
Inexpensive Lab Equipment
A nice set of labware is a great addition to your collection of science supplies. Students feel more “scientific” using beakers and graduated cylinders than they do using mom’s measuring cups.
When students get to high school science and need to accurately determine an object’s mass, volume, or density, having access to labware that allows accurate measurements is important.
A Set of Graduated Cylinders and Beakers to Make Accurate Measurements
You can find an inexpensive set of plastic labware that includes 5 plastic graduated cylinders (10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 milliliter volumes) and 5 plastic beakers (50, 100, 250, 500, and 1000 milliliter capacities) for less than ten bucks and it can be used by scientists of all ages. Younger students can use the set to examine which items sink or float in water, create a density tower, or learn to read a meniscus. Older students can use the labware to conduct experiments which require precision measurements such as those included in many chemistry curricula.
A Set of Test Tubes
A set of test tubes with lids are also a wonderful addition to your science supply stash. There are so many ways to use them. To start, you can use them:
- To transport liquid supplies (like vinegar) to and from co op classes
- Store DNA isolated from strawberries. Even better, use them to store your child’s very own DNA painlessly isolated from cheek cells. As long as you store the DNA in rubbing alcohol, it will last for years without drying out!
- Collect pond water specimens to look at under a microscope
You can find sets of test tubes online, but I’ve also found test tubes at the dollar store!
You can’t go wrong with a magnifying glass. I have several scattered in different rooms of my house and in my car. You never know where or when you’ll find something interesting, and these make it easy to get a good look up close.
You can find magnifying glasses just about anywhere (even at the dollar store) which make them perfect to use as stocking stuffers. I like the kind that come with a clip that can be attached to a backpack or key ring so it’s always easy to find.
A Microscope (or Pocket Microscope or Foldscope)
A magnifying glass is a must-have for any home, but sometimes you need something with more magnifying power.
A microscope is a fantastic tool for learning science, especially once children reach high school. In all of my years of teaching, I have yet to meet a student who hasn’t been amazed at viewing the complexity of the microscopic world: whether by using professionally-preserved specimens or by simply looking at the everyday things of life (like an insect wing or a piece of hair).
There are many microscopes on the market at many different price points. I myself own three microscopes (but then again, I am a microbiologist). If you’re looking for a great microscope for not much money, this one gives a great bang for your buck. What I like about it is that it can be used both with and without a cord. It provides great magnification.
I also own this microscope, which I’ve had for the entire 20 years I’ve been homeschooling. It’s a great microscope with great resolution. I also own this advanced microscope that comes with a dual head. This enables me to take photos and record videos of what I see under the microscope. Home Science Tools has a lifetime warranty on their scopes.
But as much as I adore my microscopes, you can’t lug a traditional microscope around everywhere.
That’s why a pocket microscope is a fun tool for any budding scientist. There are many options available with a range of magnifying power. You can even find pocket microscopes that come with a smartphone adapter in case you want to take pictures or shoot video of what you’ve discovered.
Another alternative is the Foldscope. The mission of Foldscope is “to break down the price barrier between people & the curiosity and excitement of scientific exploration.” A Foldscope is a microscope that you assemble yourself. Its size and shape make it convenient to shove in your pocket or backpack, and it provides amazing quality magnification.
With a pocket microscope or Foldscope on hand, your kids will always be ready to investigate the things they find as they go throughout their day.
Lab Goggles, a Lab Coat, and Gloves
Kids should be ready to engage in hands-on science activities whenever possible.
Whether experimenting in the kitchen, the classroom, or in the great outdoors, it’s always important to stay safe. You can buy lab safety goggles designed for science exploration, or you can pick up a pair from the dollar store. While older kids might complain about having to wear them, younger kids will feel like “real scientists”.
It’s also important to protect clothes for the times when science gets messy. Kids can cover their clothes with an apron, but you can also buy a lab coat online. I like having some disposable aprons available for things like dissections. That way I can just throw them away rather than worrying about washing them.
I also keep some gloves handy for labs dealing with stains or “gross” stuff. When I teach chemistry in my co op, I have my students buy a pair of reusable gloves that can be found at the grocery store (the type that are typically worn when washing dishes or cleaning the toilet). My students keep them in their backpacks and are always prepared for when we will be dealing with potentially caustic chemicals.
I also keep boxes of disposable gloves handy. When I’m collecting water from a mucky pond, dissecting a preserved specimen, or performing a Gram stain on bacteria, I can use a pair of gloves once and then toss them in the trash.
Science “Extras” to Make Learning Fun
Pocket Nature Guide and Binoculars
There’s a time and a place for learning from a textbook, but nature is one of the best teachers there is. Every single time I’m outside, I see something that sparks my interest.
A nature guide is a wonderful tool for exploring the outside world. There are so many great guides available—whether you are interesting in birdwatching, identifying local plants or insects, or figuring out which animal has visited your yard based on its tracks (or even its scat!).
A set of binoculars is a great tool for any budding naturalist. Our family owns several pairs of binoculars, which we keep in our cars and beside our big picture windows. Especially once the weather is too cold to be outside, it’s so fun to spy on wildlife from the comfort of home. You can find a great pair of binoculars for not much money at all, like these from Home Science Tools.
Macro Lens for Your Smartphone
By far, my favorite Christmas gift this year was a set of lenses for my smartphone. These lenses come in a set of 3 (a macro lens, a fisheye lens, and a wide-angle lens) packaged in a durable carrying case. I keep them in my purse (or linked on my belt loop) so that they are at the ready when I see something to explore. Up until now, I’ve had the most fun with my macro lens. Whenever the mood strikes, I easily clip the macro lens onto my phone camera and use it to capture close up shots of whatever I choose. Here are some of the shots I’ve taken so far.
To show you how easy it is to use these lenses, I recorded a Facebook Live. You can view that here.
Have your kids ever dissected an owl pellet? It’s an incredible activity!
A common misconception is that an owl pellet is owl poop.
Actually, an owl pellet is the regurgitation of the portions of an animal that the owl is unable to digest. Owl pellets often contain animal fur and many bones. Owl pellet dissections are a great way to help kids understand food chains and how energy flows through an ecosystem.
My sons have dissected many lab pellets over the years, and have been able to assemble whole animal skeletons from the bones found in a single pellet. Many kits (like this one) even come with a bone sorting chart to make identifying the animal easy.
For years, educators have used PTC paper when they teach about genetics and heredity.
On average, 75% of people can taste PTC, while 25% cannot. The majority of the people who can taste PTC (nicknamed “tasters”) report that to them, PTC tastes extremely bitter while other tasters report only a mild bitter taste. The other 25% of the population (“non-tasters”) can not taste PTC at all.
When students in my class were asked to taste PTC paper by touching it to their tongue, the majority of them knew they were tasters right away. They didn’t have to tell me either; I could tell by the look on their faces!
Other students, curious to know what all the fuss was about, insisted that to them, the PTC paper tasted just like paper. Even within my own family of 4, some of us are tasters while others are non-tasters. With that knowledge, it was easy to use our phenotypes (our observable traits) to figure out our genotypes (which genes we have).
Despite its taste (to some, that is), PTC is a harmless chemical that can be purchased online from vendors such as Home Science Tools or Amazon. Most vials contain 100 pieces of PTC paper—enough to perform many tests. The ability (or inability) to taste PTC makes this trait an excellent one to choose to create a family pedigree. Include a vial of PTC paper as a stocking stuffer this year, and use it to explore the genetics of taste in your family.
Blood Typing Kit
Do you know your blood type?
Did you know that with 8 different blood types possible, a child can inherit a blood type that is unlike like either of his or her parents?
There are lots of reasons why it’s important to know your blood type.
Did you know that you can figure out your blood type at home? Blood typing kits like this one make it easy.
Everything you need to determine your blood type comes in a small, sealed bag.
Step-by-step instructions guide you through the process of testing your blood for the presence of the ABO and the Rh antigens. There’s no need to send off the results; you will be able to read your own results at home in minutes. I have used these blood typing kits both at home (to determine my son’s blood type) and in the classroom during a unit on genetics and heredity.
Agar Petri Dishes
If your kids have never used agar petri dishes to investigate microorganisms, you are missing out on a great learning opportunity.
Students of all ages are AMAZED at the abundance of microscopic life all around them: in the air, in the water, and on surfaces everywhere.
There’s almost no end to what the scientists in your family can explore with these petri dishes. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Which surface of your home is host to the most bacteria?
- How well do you wash your hands?
- Which cleaner is most effective at disinfecting household surfaces?
- Is a dog’s mouth really cleaner than a human mouth?
- Is the “5 second rule” really a good rule to follow?
How to Store Your Science Supplies
I’m no expert in organization, but I have been teaching science for nearly two decades. Needless to say, I’ve acquired a lot of science paraphernalia.
After too much time spent hunting for supplies I knew I had, I came up with a system.
I bought some clear plastic bins that I could stack. I sorted my science supplies by topic inside the bins. In one bin, I store all of my bottled chemicals for when we study chemical reactions in chemistry. I store my supplies for microscopy (cell dyes, slides, cover slips, medicine droppers) in another bin. All my wires, bulbs, battery connectors, switches, wire strippers, and other items used when studied circuits and electricity go in another bin. You get the picture. I also have several larger bins in which I store my bulkier items like dissecting pans, balances, hot plates, extension cords, petri dishes, and so on. I label the outside of each bin to indicate what it contains.
Whenever I need something, I scan the lists on my bins until I find what I’m looking for. Magnets? Got them. Sterile swabs? Yep.
It may not be Pinterest- or HGTV-worthy, but it works for me. I learned a long time ago to let go of perfection and go with what gets the job done.
More Ideas for Science Tools
If you’re looking for more ideas for science tools, head over to my Amazon Storefront. There, you can find my favorite resources for teaching, learning about, and exploring science. I’ve listed items by category: Educational Gifts, Gifts for the Science Geek, Chemistry Favorites, STEM Science Favorites, Biology/Life Science Favorites, and High School Must-Haves.
You can find fun gifts for everyone on your gift list, no matter what their age or stage in life.
More Ways to Explore Science from Home:
If you don’t feel up to the task of teaching high school biology, chemistry, or anatomy and physiology, you’re in luck. I teach biology, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry as part of online classes and one-on-one.
I am also available for private tutoring. You can learn more here: Live Classes and Online Tutoring
I have also created a number of self-paced, online classes suitable for middle and high school. Currently, they are available for the following topics: Microbiology, All About Bacteria, DNA: The Alphabet of Life, Genetics and Heredity, and The Science of Leaves. You can learn more about them here: Kristin Moon Science Online Courses.
*As an affiliate for Amazon and Home Science Tools, I may earn a commission if you use my affiliate link to make a purchase. This doesn’t affect your price in any way, but helps me with the cost of maintaining my website so that I may continue to share resources to help you understand, teach, and love science.