Apps we like: Toca Lab

I’ve said before that we try to avoid too much screen time.  However, there are some very important technical skills that kids need to have in the world they will enter.  There are also some incredible learning tools out there.

One that we have really loved (for all ages!) is Toca Lab.  It’s available for Android, Apple, and Kindle.

This app begins with a Periodic Table of the Elements.  Each element has its own personality, which is really fun.

The child (or, let’s face it, you would love this, too!) chooses an element.  (At first there is only one.)  That element is then taken into the “lab,” where there are quite a few experiments that can be done on it.

The element can be spun in a centrifuge, exposed to extreme heat and cold, and lots of other things!  I have often heard laughter as my kids have watched the elements change under different stimuli.

This is a perfect introduction to the periodic table without the overwhelming and confusing aspects brought in.  Always scientifically correct?  No.  Always fun and interesting? Definitely.  It’s enough to pique kids’ interest in the elements, the periodic table, and what can happen when circumstances are changed.

Here is a blurb from Engadget:

You start out with just one element — the element “P,” or Phosphorus, to be exact — and you must use it to discover others. Finding new elements is as simple as playing around with the various lab equipment at your disposal. Taking Phosphorus and heating it up on a burner produces Nitrogen gas, element “N” on the periodic table. This has no basis in actual science of course, but it’s an extremely fun and rewarding way to fill out the table.

Not all elements respond to all experiments, however, so finding new substances quickly becomes a matter of exciting trial and error. Sometimes elements respond in ways other than simply becoming a different element, such as certain gases turning into thunderous storm clouds when exposed to electricity. This won’t help you fill out the table, but finding out how certain elements react to heat, cold, electricity or chemicals still offers the excitement of discovery.

In all, there are 118 elements to discover and experiment with, which should keep you busy for a good long while. However, it’s worth noting that the app is facing a good deal of criticism due to its extremely unscientific take on the periodic table. Many user reviews call foul, claiming that the app could mislead kids into thinking that freezing an element, for example, can turn it into another element.

If you are overly concerned with exact science, steer away.  But if you are interested in getting your kids introduced to the elements in a really fun, low-pressure way, this is the app for you.

There is an accompanying website, also, that briefly discusses each element, what it’s like, and how it was discovered.  Just the right amount of info for your beginning scientist!