Part I: Liquids, edibles, slimy things. (The next part will tend towards the electronic and robotish.)
Focusing on elementary school, mainly around 2nd or 3rd grade, this is what I see on the market this year. A lot more water, day to day pragmatic science, and specialized kits that generally produce stuff you eat, throw out, or otherwise dispose of, which saves a lot of closet space in your home!
The The Purple Cow Crazy Scientist Water Gel Science kit is fairly amazing. It is small, has a limited number of experiments, but the core experiments are a great deal of fun. The kit mainly uses supraabosrbent polymer (aka orbee) beads.
The Thames and Kosmos Air+Water Power Plus Science Kit by Thames & Kosmos comes in a few different version (but this may be the best one) and you can also get subsets of it such as the much less expensive Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Power. This uses both pneumatic and hydraulic systems to build vehicles and machines. I have a feeling this will be Huxley’s favorite Christmas present this year (unless he gets it for his birthday)!
The Thames & Kosmos Various Perfume Science Kit includes several perfume oils and stuff you need to turn them into perfumes. Not good if you don’t like perfumes. Covers the biology of smell and related chemistry. If you kid really gets into this, they could become a famous perfume designer and take care of you in retirement.
Little Treasures Little Treasures Offers Pure Water Science Kit That Brings Science to Life! is a new kit, and unique in that it does not try to give you a gazillion different experiments (most of which end up being variations of a much smaller number). This is just about filtering, and embraces something we all love: clean water.
There are two variants of this kit, which do about the same thing. One is the 4M Clean Water Science, which is possibly made of betgter materials, and costs about the same. The other I mention just so you may decide to avoid buying it. Annie Water Science Kit for Kids Game Science of Cleaning The Dirty Water Clean Perfect for School Science Projects with 4 Experiments appears to be the same exact kit as Little Treasures, but for 20 bucks more! Nice package, though.
Shockingly, I have not seen in person the Tenergy Odev Geo STEM DIY Building Toy 2-in-1 Salt Water or Solar Powered Robot Car Kit, even though Tenergy tends to send me their stuff (such as this great robot). But the other products they make for kids (robots, etc.) have been very good products. You see a lot of photovoltaic and salt water cars out there and most of them suck. This one, I suspect, is better than average.
Last year, Huxley got a National Geographic Geode Kit and we loved it. We’ll take another one. These are real geodes that you take a sledge hammer to. They are not necessarily high end or large, but they are fun. The kit includes a fairly useless magnifying glass and a great set of googles.
The following kits provide the basis for doing one thing that you can generally eat, wear, or otherwise use up. Things you can use up are good. Things that teach kids the science behind some day to day object are good. So, these are generally good. None of them are worth the $20+ list price, but they are almost always on sale. I’d pay $12-14 for most of them, but at least one is currently yours for less than $5 if you act soon!