Scientific American combed through a wealth of educational toys and kids' books to come up with picks for the bug lover, the budding engineer, the mathematician, the geologist and even a future fashion designer
1. PARASITES UNLEASHED
$9.95 at zygotegames.com; ages 8 and up
In this zoologist-designed card game, players race to complete a parasite's life cycle, learning gross-out facts along the way.
2. BIRD MODEL KITS
$9.95 each at birdkit.com; ages 14 and up
Build mechanical flying birds that flap their wings with the aid of a wind-up rubber band. The kits require patience and precision, but the hard work pays off.
3. DINOSAUR DUNG
From $29 at theevolutionstore.com
Own your own chunk of fossilized dinosaur feces, aka coprolite, which scientists have used to study dinosaur diets and habitats.
Photograph by Sam Kaplan
4. ITSPHUN MATH SHAPES
$19.95 at itsphun.com; ages 8 and up
This beautifully designed set of foam interlocking shapes lets you build 3-D geometric sculptures. A pamphlet explains regular polygons and Platonic, Johnson and Archimedean solids. But kids will have fun just experimenting.
5. LITTLE BITS STARTER KIT
$104.95 at fatbraintoys.com; ages 8 and up
Designed by M.I.T. Media Lab alum Ayah Bdeir, littleBits are tiny circuit boards that snap together with magnets. The kit comes with a battery pack, LED lights, a pressure sensor, a dimmer and other components.
6. JR. SCIENTIST TYRANNOSAURUS REX SKELETON
$24.95 at abra-electronics.com; ages 8 and up
This build-it-yourself model also comes with gypsum molds for making dinosaur teeth and other fossils. An accompanying booklet details each bone and explains what paleontologists have yet to learn about Tyrannosaurus.
7. A-HA! BRAINTEASER PUZZLES
$4.99 each at store.msichicago.org; ages 8 and up
These mini 3-D puzzles come in three levels—easy, medium and hard—and will keep youngsters challenged.
8. PROTOSNAP LILYPAD E-SEWING KIT
$24.95 at sparkfun.com; ages 10 and up
If you've ever wanted to make your own e-textiles, this beginner's kit, with conductive thread, five LED lights and an on/off switch, may help you land a future spot on Project Runway. Use the enclosed pattern or make your own.
9. A ROCK IS LIVELY
by Dianna Hutts Aston. Chronicle Books, 2012 ($16.99)
This beautifully illustrated book is packed with information about every rock imaginable: asteroids, geodes, rocks that crocodiles swallow to help them deep dive, and even the marble used to carve the statue of David.
10. INFINITY AND ME
by Kate Hosford. Carolrhoda Books, 2012 ($16.95)
A girl wonders about infinity and finds various imaginative ways to understand it, including the number of times one can cut a noodle in half and a never ending racetrack shaped like the infinity symbol itself.
11. THE BEETLE BOOK
by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin, 2012 ($16.99)
An introduction to the fascinating world of beetles in all their colorful variety, including anatomy, reproduction, feeding habits, and ways they evade predators.
12. UNUSUAL CREATURES
by Michael Hearst. Chronicle Books, 2012 ($16.99)
Hearst's enthusiasm for these 50 animals is infectious as he walks kids through the stories of the blobfish, the three-toed sloth and others, as well as the threats many of them face.
This article was originally published with the title All I Want for Christmas Is Dinosaur Dung.