Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Happy Atoms

Happy Atoms

Spring 2017 Toys
Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: Thames & Kosmos
Price: $159.95

What makes the atoms in Happy Atoms happy? These well-designed model atoms represent their electrons as magnets (anchored on flexible connectors) that are drawn to other atoms, seeking to form closed-shell orbitals in stable,"happy" molecules. The closing of the magnetic connections between atoms form a physical reminder of the release of energy in molecular bonding, Covalent bonds require two electrons to form, but ionic bonds require only one; the dual connectors make the covalent bonds readily and intuitively distinguishable from ionic bonds, a useful mnemonic for beginning chemistry students. The atoms scale up in size as their periodic table row increases, and the number of electron connectors per atom serve as a visual reminder of the group (column) on the table, again useful for learners just beginning to explore basic chemistry.

The physical models are paired with a digital app, currently available only for iOS devices. The app scans the atoms and molecules and identifies them, adding them to a student's Molecule Map. Students are encouraged to play with the models to discover new molecules; when stymied, a student can get assembly instructions for other molecules. Within the map, students can explore more information about the molecules they have collected. For kids and families who prefer more structure to these atomic explorations, the app also provides guided research, encouraging students to seek out and build molecules with particular characteristics. The app is compelling and proved highly motivating and informative even to high school-level learners.

The kit's manual provides a rapid-fire introduction to general chemistry concepts, as well as instructions for creating salt water to explore ionic bonds and a red cabbage indicator to evaluate acids and bases. The manual is relevant and informative but dense and would best be used as a supplement to a chemistry book written for the individual's appropriate learning level. The set also includes a disappointingly minimal Periodic Table of the Elements that covers only the first three rows, the eighteen atoms of the kit; though the app alludes to the full table, at no point does it present it for exploration or explain its purpose.

The price of the kit is substantially higher than that of other chemical modeling kits, both because of the quality of materials and the amount of design effort that went into the kit and the app. This set would be ideal for children who already love science and are looking for a fun and safe way to begin to learn chemistry in particular. Happy Atoms would be well-suited to a classroom or co-op environment in which many children could benefit from its better qualities while receiving guidance from an experienced teacher.

Emily Crawford   ©2017 Parents' Choice
Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master's in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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