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This National Geographic Giant Crystal Growing Kit was bought for Christmas a couple of years ago. Father Christmas bought it for around £20 and it's widely available and can be found cheaper. National Geographic is a brand that you presume is going to be of good quality but this kit was disappointing.
The box looks smart and professional (you know what I mean) the crystals pictured look great. The kit is for children 10 years and over, and I think needs an adult to supervise. Inside the box there is an impressive array of stuff:
Plaster of paris
3 petri dishes
2 plastic moulds
1 large measuring cup
1 small measuring cup
2 measuring spoons
15 granite base rocks
15 blank labels
Aluminium potassium sulphate
Everything you need (except the jam jar) to make 12 different fantastic crystals- shame it didn't really!
The first problem we encountered was the instructions, poor to say the least, anyway we followed them as best we could. My son was keen so after popping on the goggles we got started. There was a lot of faff making these, you have to measure the chemicals with water and then heat it up in a pan to dissolve the salt crystals which was the second hurdle as you aren't supposed to over heat. Third hurdle was the colour of it, if you spill some it won't ever come off (I know this for a fact!!). Of course it was everywhere!! strangely it didn't stain my pan- just a pine table which needed sanding.
Having done the heating, mixing and then pouring into a jam jar we put it away and waited. Some crystals started forming after a few hours and a days later we had our first 'crystal'. It was rubbish, the colours were vibrant- too much so, they didn't hold together and we ended up with a crumbled mess, not really a display piece.
After several attempts we gave up and it ended up gathering dust on the shelf. For us it didn't work very well and what results we did have were poor. Saying that my son enjoyed mixing the chemicals and then checking everyday to see what was happening so in that respect it was okay. Experimenting is seeing what will happen whether successful or not so on that grounds I would recommend it.
I'm giving it 3 stars for that reason alone.
I'm sure every reader here immediately recognises the National Geographic brand. They have published magazines for since 1888, and the name to me conjures up images of exploration. The society which produces this magazine has supported a vast array of scientific or geographical projects including - Jaque Costeau's undersea exploration, Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees, Peary and Henson's North Pole exploration of 1905 and much, much more. Of course they had a few snafu's as well - the biggest embarrassment being a falsified story of a tribe with no concept of violence , aggression, or hatred - just pure joy and innocence - a shame they never existed. But overall, the National Geographic society is known for quality exploration and research. In addition to the main magazine, they also produce a children's magazine, a television channel, an array of books of and dvd's and a line of educational toys for children, and in general, I would associate the National Geographic line with high quality products. This time however, this was not the case.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX:
10 bottles of crystal growing salts
plaster of paris
2 plastic molds
2 measuring cups
2 measuring spoons
magnifying glass ( poor quality so I would advise using a better one)
15 pieces of granite as starter bases - but these are too small to work so just bin them.
WHAT IS NOT IN THE BOX:
You will need growing dishes - preferably small and round - glass jars cups etc -- I do keep a science box so this was not a problem. You will also need several rocks, at least as big as 50 p coin, which should have rough surfaces and not contain large calcium deposits. Do not use any type of flint or metamorphic rock with a glass like surface. You'll also need a pot to heat mixtures, and plenty of newspaper, kitchen roll or cloths about. If possible, larger chunks of granite would be ideal.
This was not our first crystal growing set. We had previously picked up a Smithsonian set from ebay and the results were pretty good. Smithsonian is not widely available here though, so I chose National Geographic as a replacement set, expecting even better results from such a well known brand. It is a very good thing we had grown the Smithsonian crystals before hand, as we had some idea how this was meant to work, and had learned the hard way that only rocks with a rougher surface work. Thankfully, the Smithsonian set had an excellent set of instructions, which were very clear and well detailed. I actually ended up pulling these out and attempting to read both sets of instructions in trying to figure out how to do these. I may not be a rocket scientist, but I would normally find following instructions intended for a 10 year old a fairly easy task. The National Geographic sets instructions can only be described as horrid. Well I can think of a few better words - but I don't think we are meant to use them on dooyoo - and in all honesty - I may think them but I don't ever say them. Not only could I write a far better booklet myself. I expect my 7 year old child could write something far more clear and concise as well. You get 30 pages of information, but only a small amount relates to actually using this product. But you will get plenty of other "activities". For instance you may discover ice crystals in your freezer - slightly interesting yes - but I really want to grow the crystals.
Despite the horrid instructions, we made the best of things and attempted to grow the crystals. Thankfully, my science box has a number of containers of all shapes and sizes, and we collected various rocks to get started. In short you heat up a batch of chemical salts and water dump it over your chosen rock and wait about 2 weeks for it to evaporate. Please be advised that this is very messy, and the solutions can stain. Dress the children in old clothing and wipe up any stains immediately. If you would be upset by having your fingertips stained various shades for a day or two, you might consider gloves as well. Once mixed the crystal growing containers must not be moved as any disturbance effects the growth so think carefully where you are going to put them beforehand. Keep in mind if this spills it may stain. You may also find tiny crystals grow up the sides of your container and can manage to create some staining around the container. I advise placing the cups on takeaway lids. If a cup cracks and leaks expect staining so bad you may need to redecorate.
We have now made most of the crystals, but I'm afraid our results have been very poor. In fact I am so disappointed I will be writing the company. I never really expected anything like the crystals shown, but having used the Smithsonian set, I was expecting so much more than what we got. We have 3 sets left to make, but out of 7, I only have two reasonably decent crystals, and even these are poor by comparison to the other set. We did use our own rocks for most, but I used the enclosed tiny rocks for two crystals. One was a total flop, but the blue is remarkable. It is incredibly fragile, and I don't think it will survive being removed from the growing dish - so it can not be displayed - but it is exceptional. The crystal is very fine needle like spires, but it has a luminescent metallic sheen which I can't describe. I don't honestly think it was meant to come out like this, but it is unique. I only wish I had grown it on a larger rock as the tiny rock that came in the kit is just a pebble in the middle of the cup, and I feel a larger rock might have made this crystal a bit easier to remove from the cup.
In spite of the poor results, my sons still had some fun with this set. We did get a couple of usable crystals, and we still have the plaster of paris molds and geode shaped crystals to make. Although this kit is intended for ages 10+, I see no reason a younger child could not use this as long as parent actually handles the heating and pouring of hot liquids. These are of course chemicals though and should be used only with adult supervision as well as being stored out of reach of any child young enough to possibly eat any of these chemicals. I do feel these kits in general are a grand idea. They allow children to learn new things, are a great way to spend quality time together as a family and are just plain fun. I believe exploration and discovery are the very best ways to learn - and these kits are a great way to facilitate this. I am giving this two stars instead of one, in case the poor results are my fault for not understanding the instructions completely, but I do think the company producing this should provide good instructions as well so I simply can not go any higher than this.
If I had not grown several crystals before, I would just think these kits do not work, but having used another brand, I know they can work, and in fact will be looking to buy more. I will avoid any kits with the National Geographic brand name though, and as it appears this kit was made by Trends for National Geographic - I will be trying very hard to find a kit made by another company. I only wish the Smithsonian sets were more widely available here.