Smart play

When it comes to the explosive intersection of kids and chemicals, it’s not just about the baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano anymore. Solar-powered vehicles and other green-themed toys are on the rise; likewise modern adaptations of beloved classics. Xpress contacted local independent stores whose primary retail space is devoted to toys, and discovered the very latest in weird science.

The Toy Box
793 Merrimon Ave., Asheville. 254-8697

Toy Box owner Gary Green praises the “un-gimmicky” science kits offered by Thames & Kosmos, including the consistently well-reviewed Chem C500 Set, which contains more than 30 experiments including investigations of metals and salts, acids and bases, and various electrochemical changes. “It’s not just a bunch of chemicals and mixes — kids learn the science behind why these experiments work,” says Green. 

He also recommends the Green Science Kit’s Solar Rover: the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) named this aerodynamic wonder one of its best toys of 2010. Budding engineers learn how sunlight is converted to power — and get a stellar toy vehicle in the bargain.

Dancing Bear Toys (
144 Tunnel Road, Asheville; (828) 255-8697. 418 N. Main St., Hendersonville. 693-4500.

“We have a whole, large science section,” says Cassidy Cloyed, assistant manager of the Asheville store. She recommends the spinning-top generator from Toysmith’s Green Science line, and also the Ultimate Gum Kit from Scientific Explorer, where kids employ chemical knowledge to make various gooey concoctions. Although the majority of science kits are tailored for age 8 and up, Dancing Bear also sells a My First Science Kit for younger wunderkinds.

O.P. Taylor’s (
2 South Broad St., Brevard; (828) 883-2309. 2 Town Square Blvd., Suite 130, Asheville. 681-1865.

“Science is a huge part of what we do,” enthuses proprietor John Taylor. “We have everything from incredibly, unbelievably cool ant farms to [kits that] grow prehistoric, carnivorous, fly-eating plants, to hydrogen fuel cells kids can create themselves.”

But back to the bugs for a moment: The AntWorks Ant Habitat by Fascinations supports its residents in a clear, nutrient gel that elevates it above the sticky contraptions of old. And it’s not a random upgrade: the zero-gravity, “space-age” device is based on a recent NASA Space Shuttle experiment. 

Once Upon a Time (
7 All Souls Crescent, Biltmore Village. 274-8788.

Once Upon a Time owner Stan Collins gives his rubber stamp to Snap Circuits, an award-winning electronics kit that does away with the old days of scraping wires and other fun-inhibiting stressors. “There are 300 things you can do with it,” he notes. He also sells Toysmith’s popular crystal-growing kit, and speaks particularly well of the Carson Optical Digital Microscope.

Once an object is stabilized on the microscope’s platform, it can be wired to a computer to be viewed to fuller advantage. “It’s just fabulous,” says Collins in his soft-spoken way. “The increased technology lets kids learn something that much better.”

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