Science Toys / Gifts for a 9 Year Old
April 15, 2016 6:24 PM   Subscribe

My nephew has a birthday coming up. This year he's really in to outer space (from the horse's mouth; really includes most space related things). Please help me find this year's birthday present.

I don't live nearby, so taking him on an outing won't be possible, at least not without a lot of lead time.

He's very interested in science and professes to be a nerd. He's enjoyed science experiment kits and tin can robot kits in the past. He enjoyed the first two books in the Norby series and has a favorite adult who is also a nerd.

He's very into space this year. I'd like to get something related to this, but it is not a hard and fast requirement.

I would prefer that the gift be fun and enjoyable for him while also being educational and/or creative. He has (to quote my sister) "Too Many Lego!"

He used to be really in to Minecraft and has been playing something called Terraria(?) lately.

He is not allowed play dough as his younger sister inevitably gets it embedded in the carpet.

Books are great, but I send him those every month or two (and part of his holiday present was the entire Timmy Failure series). His birthday present should be something other than books.

He's about to turn 9, but is fairly advanced for his age by most metrics. He does have supportive and fun adults around to help, so I won't shy away from things that may be a little too advanced if you think he'd especially enjoy it.

I don't have any friends with kids his age. One more reason I have MetaFilter!
posted by MuChao to Shopping (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What's your budget? A lot of them are kinda spendy, but you can find cheaper, not-scientist-quality-but-plenty-good-for-a-9-year-old telescopes on Amazon for as low as 40-50 bucks. I was fascinated with my family's low-end telescope at that age.
posted by SquidLips at 6:37 PM on April 15, 2016

Response by poster: Wow, all that detail amd so many rereadings and I forgot budget! I'm able to spend about $50 - $75 this year. That may change in future years, and I'm sure I'll ask again in a few years.
posted by MuChao at 6:41 PM on April 15, 2016

You can get basic top illumination USB-to-laptop microscopes for about $40 up. They are a lot of fun for kids. Quite honestly really high powered magnification is not necessary, many everyday things look really cool at x20 to x50 magnification.
posted by carter at 6:43 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Binoculars. no more than 8x-10x, but big(!)(glass diameter) at least 50mm. The lenses should be clear and opalescent like a camera lens, not mirrored or colored. Big moon map poster.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:51 PM on April 15, 2016

As a science-y kid I loved crystal growing kits, those little round star maps to help me identify constellations, the little plastic carnivorous plant terrariums, and my kiddie microscope.
posted by xyzzy at 8:09 PM on April 15, 2016

If you get a telescope, you should probably also include a book on astronomy that will help him make sense of what he's looking at.
posted by orange swan at 8:31 PM on April 15, 2016

So I grew up absolutely soaking up National Geographic's Picture Atlas of Our Universe, which has some pretty incredible photos and artwork, but since it was published mostly pre-Hubble (originally published in the 80's, but was revised in 1994), it is fairly dated. I haven't read it, but it looks like Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond is the spiritual successor to that book, although based on what I could see in the Amazon preview it lacks some of that optimism towards space and the future that made Our Universe so exciting to me as a kid. You might also take a look at Universe from the Smithsonian, which looks very good as well.
posted by Aleyn at 9:42 PM on April 15, 2016

The Kennedy Space Center gift shop has some cool things for kids, including flight suits and space-related toys.
posted by FencingGal at 10:05 PM on April 15, 2016

I loved the Space Shuttle Operators Manual but that might be a little depressing.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:46 PM on April 15, 2016

Not space related, but my kids loved Snap Circuits at that age. I'd be careful with telescopes, a crappy one will be more frustrating than anything else. Good binoculars are a better bet.
posted by COD at 6:08 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

As said above, binoculars are definitely the way to go over a telescope at that price range. $50 will get you a telescope that's nearly unusable, with a tiny aperture, too much magnification, and a wobbly tripod that's a headache to point at anything. But, the same money will get a pretty nice pair of binoculars that will be a lot easier to use for astronomy and also useful for other things. The kid will be able to see the moon in fantastic detail, the moons of jupiter, the colors of planets, and stars clusters, etc. SexyRobot has good advice above on which ones to pick. (If you'd rather not think about it, 7x50 is a good choice. Skip the unusually cheap ones.)

If you do want to go with a telescope, getting one he can build himself might be more fun. Note that it's still a crappy telescope to use for looking at things, but it's a fun way to learn about optics. This probably falls into the "little too advanced for him" category.

Personally, I loved astronomy as a kid and wound up in a closely related career, but the actual "looking at stars" part was never terribly interesting. Snap circuits, a microscope, or a metal detector would have been way more fun.

If his family is game and there's a suitable large open space nearby, a model rocket launch kit, a bunch of engines, and perhaps a second rocket falls in your price range and is vaguely space-related. But, it's also in the category of gifts that will cost his parents money and effort in the long run, so I'd talk to them first.
posted by eotvos at 7:24 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kerbal Space Program has been endorsed by Elon Musk

That with a rocket kit will probably warp him for life. In a good way.
A water rocket may be a better option, certainly cheaper to fly.
posted by Sophont at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh also, I've seen binoculars these days with a standard tripod screw mount, so if they already have a camera tripod that's definitely a feature to look for, esp for astronomy.
The Stars by H.A. Rey (of Curious George fame) is a great starter book for astronomy, and they have also started reprinting the Golden Pocket Guides (so many good ones, such great illustrations), the good one is also called Stars.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:13 AM on April 19, 2016

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