For Christmas 2011 my son received a wild science kit called the smile laboratory and it was pretty poor. When he saw the wild science rocket ball factory advertised on the television he decided he wanted that one too but even as a small child noted "I hope it isn't as rubbish as the slime lab" and so I was in two minds about whether to buy the rocket ball kit or not. In the end I decided to give it a go and buy it for my son as I don't like to let him down with presents he has specifically asked for because there isn't much that he really does ask for. This is my review of the product.
==What is it?==
The rocket ball factory is a kit which is made by wild science. They have various kits on the market some of which are marketed towards boys which I think this one is but there are also ones like make your own perfume or bath bomb which come in pink boxes and are more marketed towards girls! This kit is so that you can make your own mass accelerating launch balls.
The kits are designed to have links to the science national curriculum and so whilst they are intended to be a fun activity there is also an element of learning in there as well. With the previous wild science kit we had I have to say that my son and I didn't really learn anything at all from the kit and so I did wonder whether this one would be any different. It claims to allow you to explore the science of inertial energy blasters and super elastic collisions.
The packaging of the product makes it look a fun item and it is something that would appeal to children. The rocket balls have been given faces and are shown shooting off at what can only be a super fast pace whilst a young scientist complete with lab coat and goggles looks on amazed! The box is a good quality cardboard which won't damage easily and I think that is really important for an item such as this where you are likely to come back to it on a few occasions as you want it to keep all of the bits and pieces safe inside.
The kit is suitable for children aged eight plus but I would personally recommend that an adult does this with a child anyway even if they are eight years or slightly older.
Inside the kit there are the following items:
40g red coloured polymer
40g yellow coloured polymer
40g glow in the dark coloured polymer
3 plastic tubes
2 wooden dowels
1 small mould
1 medium mould
1 large mould
1 extra large mould
1 instruction manual
What is great is that there is a plastic insert inside the cardboard box which houses all of these items neatly and so you don't need to worry about them rolling around and things spilling or anything when they are in the box.
To make the balls initially you need to snap all of the moulds together and insert the tubes in to the holes in the moulds. The only mould that doesn't have a plastic tube inserted in to it is the extra large one. We initially struggled to work out which way we should insert the tubes in to the moulds because it isn't really clear on the picture but then we did soon work it out because there needs to be a space to pour in some of the polymer crystals to the moulds.
You do need to have a tray or something suitable to catch any of the spilled polymer so there isn't any wastage and my son and I used a foil tray which we sometimes pop cupcakes on to take to peoples houses as we knew we could throw it away after we had finished. It doesn't say you have to have something which can be thrown away because of course you can wash the tray or dish out but we found this worked best for us.
You need to use an old spoon to scoop up and pour some of the crystals in to the moulds to make the basis of the rocket balls. Now I think a small scoop would be a really good addition to this kit because a spoon is a bit big to go in to the polymer pots and so it became a bit tiresome trying to scoop out tiny bits at a time! My son wanted to make one ball totally glow in the dark but with the others he experimented a bit more and made them multi coloured by layering the crystals. I think it is a really good idea to experiment a bit with the crystals because then it is a bit of a surprise to how the ball may look when it comes out! You do need to try and pack the crystals in to the moulds and so I would advise tapping the sides of the moulds to make sure they are all moving down properly so you are not left disappointed when you're ball doesn't work out right.
You need to hold the mould in water for around thirty seconds according to the instruction manual and then you should push the tube that is still in the mould up and down five or ten times for around a minute. Now we discovered that holding the mould under the water for thirty seconds wasn't enough when we opened the first mould and basically found two halves of coloured crystals which hadn't joined. The manual warns you of this and advises to keep them under water for a minute for all moulds then and so this is what we did and it worked much better.
You have to open up the moulds quite carefully to keep the crystals fused together but it is really fun to see how they look when you get them open. My son thought that one of his rocket balls looked like a planet and so it opened a discussion about space and the planets for us which is along the science theme again. The balls are quite sticky when they come out of their moulds and you need to give them time to dry off. Obviously the smaller ball will dry quicker than the larger one and when they are not sticking together anymore they are dry enough to play with. I would imagine we left them around fifteen to twenty minutes as a maximum and then they were fine to play with.
The book does give you some ideas for experimenting with these balls and they do focus on popping all of the balls on to the wooden dowel which is attached to the extra large ball in various orders to see what happens when they are dropped to the floor and if the small ball fires off as a result of the force the other balls inflict on it. Sadly we didn't get wonderful results with any of the experiments we tried but my son did have fun trying at least. In the end we took the wooden dowel out of the extra large ball and sat at the end of our hall way and rolled the balls down to the vestibule door and tried to make them roll back as near to us as possible and so we were still looking at science and forces but we just did it in a way which was fun for us and which allowed us to actually talk about what we were doing.
When we finished playing the force and rolling game my son bounced the balls around a bit on the laminate flooring and found that they balls were reasonably bouncy and whilst they were perhaps not as bouncy as a rubber ball you would purchase from the shop they were a good offering and he was pleased with them. The only thing with these balls is that you need to keep them in a plastic bag so that they stay moist otherwise they will harden up and no longer be bouncy. Even in the plastic bag after a few weeks my son's rocket balls were less bouncy as they became harder. This isn't a massive issue as there is a good amount of the polymer crystals to make sets of the balls but it is a shame that they don't last better really.
This is certainly a better science kit than the slime laboratory that we had previously owned. Whilst the experiments in the instruction booklet didn't give us the best results we were able to create our own experiments and game involving the rocket balls which were fun and had us talking about science.
This kit sells for £11.50 currently on amazon and at that price I would say it is quite a good product. If you can get it for a tenner I think you are laughing really and it is something which is quite simple, not too time consuming but that will have educational qualities as well as fun ones.
Thank you for reading my review!