Science rules! Little scientists will learn this (and will be chanting the name of their new favorite science guy) by the time they reach the end of the experiment booklet in Bill Nye’s VR Science Kit.
Bill Nye is a science communicator who hosted the educational ‘90s show Bill Nye the Science Guy. Parents who are nostalgic for the home experiments offered in that show can now pass on those fond memories with the Bill Nye VR Science Kit from Abacus Brands, a company known for offering STEM toys that incorporate virtual reality (VR).
The Bill Nye kit, which is designed for kids ages 8 and up, comes with a smartphone-compatible VR headset, an experiment booklet, and a whole bunch of supplies to run experiments with. The booklet is satisfyingly large and features 30 experiments in total, plenty to keep any up-and-coming scientist occupied.
The experiments are a series of well-known projects that explain scientific concepts. There’s everything from a baking soda volcano that teaches kids about chemical reactions to a soapy water bucket that demonstrates the concept of surface tension. If a kid has a fun science teacher or has been to an educational day camp, there’s a chance they’ve seen some of these experiments before.
Though some of these projects are well-known, this VR kit does bring a lot of new content to the table, most notably the addition of Bill Nye. But some setup is needed to get things started. First, there is a free companion app — Bill Nye’s VR Science Kit — that kids need to interact with the VR elements. There is also an optional app that parents can use to track kids’ progress going through the kit, called the Abacus HQ Parent Portal app. That one isn’t necessary to get started with the VR kit but is handy if you want email updates on your young scientist’s experiments. The app associated with this specific kit is decently large, so it’s a good idea to download it ahead of time so kids can get to experimenting right away.
Speaking of preparing ahead of time, some of the experiments require a little bit of prep, too. The kit itself includes supplies for many of the experiments, but you are expected to supplement that with some household supplies. For example, the gooey slime experiment requires a beaker, some school glue, some food coloring, a spoon, and baking soda, all of which come in the kit. But it also requires some saline solution, which isn’t included. A quick flip through the book and a grocery run with a list in hand might be a good idea if kids want to be able to experiment uninterrupted.
Once supplies are ready to go, kids can get experimenting. A heads up to any housekeeping parents: A number of these experiments are messy, so be ready for some cleanup (hopefully with some young scientist assistance!).
To utilize the VR elements, kids will need a smartphone with a camera — Android 7.0 or greater or iOS 9.0 or greater — and the companion app. Using that smartphone, they can scan the pages of the experiment booklet to open a whole new world of interactivity. A little, bobble-headed cartoon Bill Nye will be the first to greet them on-screen and explain the experiment. The instructions also include short videos that kids can watch by holding the camera to the corresponding picture in the booklet.
The VR headset is a fun addition. Throughout the experiment, different portions incorporate things like footage of actual volcanoes for the baking soda volcano, with Nye’s voice in the background explaining how eruptions function. Kids can also find themselves in a lab space with Nye on video going through concepts such as static electricity. The headset accounts for head movement so kids can look around the full scene as they learn.
Kids can wear the headset throughout the whole experiment, though I tended to just leave the strap part off, clip my phone in quickly, and hold the hedset up to my face like temporary goggles when I got to a VR portion, just for convenience.
If a kid has a tendency to get nauseous with these kinds of moving screens, you can also set the app to augmented reality (AR) mode instead, so they can watch the videos on the phone rather than putting the whole thing up to their face.
The content and background of the experiments themselves is really quite solid. It’s an excellent foundation for a number of scientific concepts, all brought together in a fun, engaging package. And Bill Nye is refreshingly comfortable saying words like “electron” and “viscosity” and explaining what those mean instead of completely oversimplifying things. Curious and scientific kids will appreciate this willingness to go in-depth, in a way that’s still understandable to a growing mind. Nye doesn’t talk down to kids — he excitedly and genuinely explains what each experiment is.
Even without the VR components, the booklet is a strong collection of fun facts, science concepts, and experiments that kids can have a bunch of fun running. This kit doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its relatively well-known experiments, but it really elevates them with Bill Nye’s voice and supplemental video and VR content. Future scientists will want to run experiments over and over with this one (and might even want to watch some Bill Nye the Science Guy after)!