Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The American Girl Science Lab Set

The first thing I put in my shopping bag at the American Girl store in Boston was the Science Lab set.  Many of the accessory sets in the store tempted me--including the amazing Campus Snack Cart and Julie's Sound Accessories, but this was the set I wanted the most.  I was drawn to this set in general because I love science, but I also think it has a lot of neat pieces, including a microscope and a mini text book with actual printed words:

American Girl Science Lab
Our Generation Charlotte reading the American Girl science textbook.
I couldn't wait to de-box this set, so many of these pictures were taken in Boston, moments after I got home from the store, on my sister's green glass kitchen table.  That's why the familiar grey background is missing from most of the photographs.

The American Girl accessory packaging is great.  The Science Lab set comes in a compact cardboard box:

The box is simple, but very appealing.  The colors and designs are attractive and enticing.  Also, the box is fairly small, so there were stacks and stacks of them stored on the shelves right next to the school room display.

The only thing that unsettled me about the box is that it isn't sealed, and many customers at the store were opening the boxes and peering inside to see what was included.  Peeking inside isn't necessary, because a full list of contents is provided on the side of the box:

Because I saw a lot of boxes being opened in the store, I ended up opening this box before I bought it, just to make sure everything was still in there.  It's a vicious circle.  I'm not sure whether sealing the boxes with tape would solve this problem or make it worse.  People might just break the seal and open the box anyway...and then the store is stuck with a box that looks damaged.  

All of the items are loose in the box, surrounded by a small layer of tissue paper.  This is such a pleasant change from typical play doll boxes.  Rather than having everything tied down to a flashy backdrop and displayed in a box that is six times larger than it needs to be, this packaging is the picture of economy.  I love it.

The green apron is on top:

And all of the other goodies are tucked underneath the apron, each stored in their own small plastic bag:

Here is everything in the set:

American Girl Science Lab

The green apron is made out of a medium-weight cotton fabric:

It has a science logo iron-on.  The colors are crisp and the lettering is straight, but I wondered how this decal would stand up over time.  I scraped at the letters with my fingernail pretty vigorously and, to my pleasant surprise, they didn't peel or warp or anything--they stayed put.

The apron has velcro attachments at the neck and at the sides:

A blue American Girl tag is sewn to the bottom of the apron:

The set includes a pair of safety glasses, which is great because I really enjoyed all of the different glasses that were on display at the store, and wanted to be sure that my doll had her own pair.

The glasses have clear plastic rims and opaque turquoise temples.  They don't look as bulky as real safety glasses, and the color gives them some style:

The apron fits Our Generation Charlotte nicely, as do the glasses--the glasses even match her dress!  

I think these could pass for regular glasses.  I'd wear them.

The apron fits Princess & Me Rapunzel nicely, too, and the glasses look fact, they lessen the effect of her enormous eyes: 

The ear pieces are a little too long on this doll, but they can be hidden by her bountiful hair:

The apron fits the slim 18" bodies like EuroGirl and Magic Attic:

 But the glasses are hit-or-miss on this size doll.  They're just a tad too big on my EuroGirl:

That's a little scary, actually.

And crazy-big on the narrow-faced Heather:

Take me to your leader.
The apron doesn't fit My Twinn Hazel at all.  It looks like a tank top on her:

Um...did someone wash this in hot water?
Surprisingly, the glasses fit pretty well:

The set comes with three plastic test tubes:

And a test tube rack:

The test tubes each have a colored plastic rod inside that looks like liquid.  The rods slide back and forth inside the test tubes.  I like that each tube holds a different volume of "liquid."  Kids could practice reading measurement lines with these!  There are no marked units, though.

The beakers have measurement lines on one side, and the American Girl logo on the opposite side:

The little black lids do not come off:

American Girl Science Lab

The set comes with a mini textbook, which is one of my favorite pieces.  The cover of the book says Scott Foresman.  This is not the name of the author, but rather a publishing company for Pearson Education.  This book appears to be excerpted from a real Pearson science textbook.  

It has a cute picture of a panda on the front and back covers:

I read through a lot of this textbook.  I wanted to know if it actually provides a good framework for studying biology.  I mean, there have to be kids out there who will read this book from cover to cover several times, maybe even making lesson plans from it as they play school with their dolls.  This puts pressure on the book to be reasonably well organized, interesting...and correct.  

The book has three chapters: Classifying Plants and Animals, Energy From Plants and Ecosystems.  The subject matter is a little random, but there's some good information in here.  

There are even little activity suggestions and test prep questions scattered throughout the chapters.

That plant cell diagram is a little sparse.
I hope these pages were taken from a really old textbook, because the list of kingdoms is incorrect.  The book states that there's a kingdom of "ancient bacteria" and another kingdom of "true bacteria."  In fact, scientists have known since the 1970s that the tiny organisms originally thought to be ancient bacteria are in fact their own unique group, the Archaea.  These critters look like bacteria, but are actually are just as chemically and genetically different from bacteria as I am.

Excellent summary of 1970s biology.
I also take issue with the introductory page on animal classification.  This page is correct, but I find it misleading.  It states that scientists classify animals into two main groups--vertebrates (animals with a backbone) and invertebrates (everything else).

Scientists categorize animals based on their genetic relatedness, and place them into groups called phyla.  There are over 30 animal phyla, and vertebrates are just a teeny, tiny set of animals within one single phylum.  All of the other thirty-something phyla of animals (more than 98% of all animal species on Earth...) are invertebrates--and they're not all closely related.  So, while the book admits that invertebrates outnumber vertebrates, setting this out as an important method of animal classification is an oversimplification...but one that is unfortunately common in science textbooks written by vertebrates.

The book is amazingly cute--it's just that the teacher in me has to correct the mistakes.  I can't help myself.

I have to live with her, guys.
The other main attraction with this set is the microscope and its miniature slides.   The slides come in a nice cardboard box with a schematic of an atom on the cover:

Atoms are too small to see with a microscope.

The box holds five different plastic microscope slides:

American Girl Science Lab

The scale is a little funny with these slides.  Some of the items are appropriately sized, but others would never fit on a real microscope slide.  Let me show you what I mean.  Here's the American Girl clover slide:

And here's a real slide with a real clover leaf:

That's pretty good.  But then, look at this red oak leaf slide:

Compared to a real oak leaf:

The other problem with the slides is that you'd never slap an entire leaf on a compound microscope slide.  A leaf is too thick to let any light show through--all you'd see is a big dark blob blocking all of the light.  Real microscope slides have tiny, very thinly sliced specimens that allow the light to shine through.  Like this:

I have no idea what silver berry scaly hair is...
What's great about the American Girl slides is that they each have the scientific name of the specimen printed on the label.  

Not only are the names correct and written in the right format (italics, with the first letter capitalized), but this method of identification is discussed in the mini textbook!  

Danaus plexippus
Cyanocitta cristata
Despite some inaccuracies (this is a toy, after all) I like the mini slides.

Here's the microscope:

It is made completely out of plastic, and doesn't have as much weight as I'd hoped.  I also wish it was just a little bigger--this would make it easier to use.

Here are some size reference pictures:

Here it is again with some handy labels:

American Girl microscope

The eyepiece on this scope really moves up and down if you turn the focus knob on the side:

There are three pretend lenses on the nosepiece.  On a real microscope, each of these would provide a different level of magnification.

There's a tiny, adjustable mirror underneath the stage that will reflect light into the lens.  This is how some microscopes actually work!

The eyepiece has a subtle American Girl star on its side:

The little plastic slides fit nicely on the stage:

And you can actually look into the eyepiece and see the specimen:

American Girl microscope

Here's what the violet slide looks like:

I don't think there's any magnification.

I can even read the lettering:

Here's a peek at the monarch butterfly slide:

I had to try out one of my real slides--with thin specimens that will allow the light to actually shine through.  

I adjusted the little mirror so that light was shining directly into the lens.  I could actually see a fair amount of detail in this insect wing!

That makes me wonder how much additional effort would have been required to make these slides transparent and more accurate.  Not that I would expect there to be real insect wings in the slides--in fact, that seems like a terrible idea (especially for the insects!) but maybe something like a clear, hard plastic slide with a replica of an insect wing printed on the plastic so it looks real and so that the light can shine through?  I feel like for $36, this set could have delivered that level of awesome.'s a fun set:

American Girl Science Lab

Bottom line?  I love that American Girl has a science set.  The teacher in me hopes it is hugely popular. 

The green apron and safety glasses are well-made, look good, and can be shared by several of my 18" dolls.  I wouldn't buy this set just to get those items, though--they're a little plain.  The test tubes are cleverly made and have some great detail.  I like that they all hold different volumes of pretend colored liquid.  The test tube rack is simple, but it allows the test tubes to be showcased nicely.  American Girl dolls can't hold these tubes (nor can any of my other 18" dolls) so the play and posing options for the this part of the set seem limited. The test tubes do look great, though, and would add a nice laboratory feel to any schoolroom set-up.  

The best items in this set are the microscope, the mini slides, and the readable textbook.  The textbook does a great job of teaching a few basic things with its tiny 87 pages.  There is some actual science to be found within the three diverse chapters, however I did stumble on a few inaccuracies and oversimplifications.  The microscope is made completely out of plastic, which gives it a disappointingly lightweight feel. Real microscopes are heavy.  I also think it's just a bit too small.  However, it is very accurately designed, and the moving parts add to the fun.  The best thing about the microscope is that the tiny eyepiece and illumination mirror work, so you can actually look inside and see the slides.  The mini slides are fine, and they supply the real scientific names of their specimens, but since the microscope has a light source, why make slides that completely block out the light?  A little more attention to detail and accuracy would have made this part of the set truly incredible.

The price is high.  I was so caught up in the excitement of the store, I didn't internalize that I had paid almost $40 for this set until I got home.  I need to assume that I am paying a certain percentage of the actual value just for the brand name.  I find this easier to accept since I bought the set at the store, and got a really fun afternoon as part of the bargain.  I think if the microscope was a bit heavier and larger, or if the slides were more accurate, I wouldn't mind the price much at all.  

This is not a perfect set--or a perfectly priced set.  However, the science theme is close to my heart and these pieces will add a wonderful dimension to dolly schoolrooms across the country.  I can picture kids peering into the plastic microscope and maybe adding a real microscope to their birthday wish list.  I hope that kids are learning to pronounce the scientific names of monarch butterflies and blue jays because of this set, getting their first introduction to how animals are identified.  I think there might even be a few kids out there who are asking their parents if they can do one of the exploration activities in the tiny textbook.  When I picture these things, it's pretty easy to forget the little flaws and the big price.

American Girl microscope


  1. That is such a cute little book! if I was a little girl again I would of enjoyed this set and would of been excited about science. I agree that the microscope is a bit on the tiny side though.

    1. That's exactly how I feel, Sunny! My younger self would have loved this! Since the microscope is the centerpiece of the set, though, it would be ideal if it was bigger or more hefty. It's still pretty fun. :)

  2. That looks like a very fun set! I bet my daughter's AG will like it.

    1. It's pretty fun, Barb! If I had a daughter, I'd probably get it for her...and maybe a cheap full-sized microscope, too? Although, my sons have a microscope and they never use it. :/

  3. The science textbook is one that is currently used in schools across the country.

    1. My class used a Pearson textbook, too, but it was a more recent edition! The problem with life sciences is that they change almost daily! Hard to keep up. :)

  4. Omg I have got to get this. Sooo cute. Plus my favorite subject is science

    1. Yay! Good for you! :D Science (biology) has been my favorite subject all my life, too. I had some wonderful teachers!

  5. I love this set and it looks like so much fun, but I'm not sure I'm willing to pay $36 for it, especially since there are other AG items calling my name right now. Still, it's a great set, and I love those little test tubes and holder! :D
    Our Generation often releases knock-offs of popular AG sets. They're usually not quite as detailed (and typically colored pink...), but they're nice enough to use as photo props and to play with. Maybe I'll hold off on the AG one and hope Our Generation releases a science set sometime soon (and hope it's not drowning in pinkness :D).

    --Kate :)

    1. Oh, I would LOVE to see an Our Generation version of a science set! That would be great--and I agree, better still if it wasn't completely pink! I'll keep an eye out for that, too.

    2. There is Sia and she comes with a labcoat, glasses and another outfit plus a blue microscope with the same amount of moving. Basically everything in this set expect the play slides and textbook. Emily would like Sia is a posable red head. Their is two 9 dollar sets with chemistry and life sciences. All up was about 60 Australia, with more stuff and the slides and apron missing.

  6. This looks fun, although I wish you included a picture of your American Girl modeling it too. :)

    1. She's coming! She climbed out of her box yesterday afternoon...and she does love science! ;)

  7. The last picture in your post is SO amazing! Gosh, I can see such genuine curiosity in her face, and the slightly messy hair adds realism and even movement.. perfection. You've outdone yourself. :)
    Now I'm considering getting some AG accessories for my own non-AG dolls, but not sure how they'd fit.. how big are the glasses? Like how long is the clear part, earpiece to earpiece?
    Thank you for another splendid review :)

    1. Thank you so much, Alrunia! :D

      The glasses have the following measurements:
      Clear part (from earpiece to earpiece) = 3.25 inches or about 8cm
      Length of earpieces = 2.75 inches or about 7cm
      Height of lenses (from top to bottom) = 0.75 inches or 1.5cm

  8. I need this set like whoa. I just got my second AG - thanks to a generous aunt with a gift card - and between my two girls, I think one of them must be a science wonk. Just a matter of figuring out the new one's likes and dislikes!

    1. Yay! Lucky you! Which one did you get? I'm sure one of your girls could be persuaded to like science. ;)

    2. I got #49 - Medium skin tone, dark brown/black hair and blue eyes! I've named her Elyse, and she rocks the color blue like no one's business. I'll have to get the set at some point and see which one of my girls take to it.

      ALSO! The package arrived today! Thank you SO much for Twyla and Katie! Katie's my first Liv doll, I'm excited to do a deboxening on her!

  9. I just love that last profile shot of your OG doll peering into the microscope. It is so realistic and endearing (not sure if that's the right word). Incidentally, my everyday glasses look almost exactly like the safety glasses in the set. The only different is the arms of my glasses are white with a silver stylized design (like cheetah print) on them.

    1. Thank you so much! :) I agree that Charlotte looks endearing with her new microscope.

      Sounds like you have some cool glasses! I really like all of the eyewear options we have these days. When I was a kid, there were only about two styles to choose from--and three "colors:" black, tortoiseshell and shiny. :D

      I do think the glasses in this set look more like everyday glasses than safety goggles. This is a good thing for me, because I wanted an assortment of normal glasses for my AG doll. I love how these dolls look with glasses on!

  10. That is so cute! I wish Barbie's science set was this detailed. Not sure if this is a viable tip, but when I want dolls to pose with things they can't actually hold, I use the reusable glue dots from the scrapbooking section. They make them in a size that I think could work with an 18" scale hand, and provided it's not a hot-hot-boiling set you're working on, the sticky dots hold things up pretty well (saves you from trying to twist and turn a clear rubber band about).

    Don't know if you've seen them in your stores, but the Barbie: Life in the Dream House line has a Midge! She looks closer to the old Midges than earlier Midge attempts. Plus she comes with a spare outfit, which at 16.99 is a pleasant surprise.

    1. Ooh, Barbie has a science set? I was just looking online for something like that for Holly and didn't see anything.

      Glue dots are a fantastic idea! I think my kids even have some of those for school projects. Thank you for the suggestion! Now maybe my girls can go back to the lab and actually carry some test tubes around! :)

      Oh, wow--look at Midge! With red hair! Thank you for the link. I'll keep an eye out for her in the stores today.

  11. This was on my "omg must get" list when I visited AG Columbus last week, and I'm pretty pleased with it. I think AG made the slides opaque because they're tiny, easily-lost pieces as it is, and making them clear would just be a nightmare for parents. That said, I do agree that they're the weak point of the set!

    1. That's a good point about the slides, Jen. I hadn't thought about how easily they'd disappear if they were transparent! That would be a pain. I noticed that the slides in the store in Natick were a little warped, too. I am hoping I can keep mine nice and flat.

      It just occurred to me that they might have made the slides flexible and opaque for safety reasons, too. Hard, clear plastic might break and cause some sharp edges.

      Glad you got the set and are enjoying it, too! Isn't the microscope fun? :D

  12. Oh I'm SO tempted by that play set! My degree is in Biology and that little text book kills me! I may have to get it for my birthday!

    1. Oh--a fellow biologist! Awesome! The little textbook is SO cute. I could not get enough of all three of those mini books when I was at the store. I love that AG would actually take the trouble to fill the pages with REAL information. It's crazy. Besides, I have always loved mini books (like all of the Beatrix Potter stories). There's just something irresistible about them!

      Happy birthday! ;)

  13. I kind of want this set, but only a little bit--I have a doll sized lab coat I picked up a few years back that I think would work better than the apron. I'll probably wait, though--modern AG sets tend to be around for about 2-3 years. And there's a lot of second hand historical stuff I'm leaning towards, since that is the bulk of my collection.

    I'm pretty sure the boxes are open like that because they were open like that when the company was mail-order only (and there was the idea that the boxes should look a little like presents), and so there wasn't much outside handling. They just haven't changed that. Also, looking in the box means that I can make sure I have everything before I leave.

    1. The boxes do look like little presents! That's neat. Thank you for sharing the history--I like that the company has stuck with their traditional ways.

      While it made me uncomfortable to see people looking through the boxes, I'll admit that there was something nice and relaxed about having the boxes be so simple and unsealed. I felt like there was some trust between the store and the customers.

      A white lab coat would be fantastic! I wish they'd included a lab coat with this set. Maybe aprons are more accurate to what's being used in schools these days? I don't know--my students don't wear anything. I'll have to ask my son what he wore when he dissected a frog...

    2. I should correct that to say, my students don't wear anything over their regular clothes. They do wear something, thank goodness. ;)

  14. That book is adorable! (I am a sucker for mini-books.) Too bad about the little mistakes, but I'm sure the good outweighs the bad.

    Would you happen to know of any playscale toy microscopes?

    1. I am a sucker for mini books, too! And the good definitely outweighs the little mistakes with this book. :D

      I don't know of any playscale microscopes (wish I did!) but Tina mentioned a Barbie lab set, above. I might have to do some searching around to see what's included with that set! A microscope that small would be very fun--especially if it had moving parts. Can you imagine? Eeee!

    2. I did a search for that when I saw her mention it, but I haven't had any luck finding more information about it since then. It would make sense if Barbie did have such a tiny microscope, but there's just so much Barbie merchandise to shift through on the internet.

      If you ever find out it's official name, I'd love to know it!

  15. Wow,very cute,I want to have one.Love love love!!!

  16. I've been waiting for this review ever since I saw your post about the AG store! It's such a cool set, although looking at it made me kind of sad. What do you call that feeling when you realize a toy set is better equipped and more functional than everything we had at the university? Also, I never heard of Archaea and our books had Fungi in Plants and Protista in Animals (the teachers explained the correct classification, but the books were from the 50s and older). I really don't think minor inaccuracies will scar children for life. The set is amazing!

    1. Oh, gosh--I hear you! I taught at a community college and the lab supplies were tragic. :( I do feel a pang of sadness when I see toys that have vastly more luxury than what most real people have.

      Oh no--fungi grouped with plants!? Ahhh! Still, having the book be wrong and the teacher tell you the right classification might have made you remember the information even better, right? And, then you a get a sense for the history of the field and how much has been learned. I can remember kinda liking it when my high school textbook was out-of-date on something and my teacher would tell us the new information. It made me feel special--like we were on the cutting edge of science! ;)

    2. No worries, I remembered everything correctly :) but the bad part is that it wasn't a community college... it was the country's biggest university. Wow, I feel like I missed out on a lot of things growing up in the post-Soviet chaos.
      Anyway, I got distracted. I think the set is worth its price, if only for the tiny readable book. I, like many posters above, am a sucker for miniature books (can I still say that if I don't have any?) :) You could probably make more pretend slides out of clear food containers, pressed plants and nail polish. 30$ is the price of a swimsuit MH doll (maybe not where you live, but it's a real price). Would you rather have an almost naked doll or a cool science set?

  17. This review is wonderful. It really changed my mind about this set.

  18. This is wonderful! I love your review of the science set. It is on my wish list for the new items this year.

    With regards to the text book and classification...I recall (way back when) that when the topic was introduced to us in middle school they gave us those two vertebrate and invertebrate. Perhaps it was easier for us to grasp the concept with throw two rather than diving right into all 30. High school biology got a bit more detailed about classification, genus, and species.

    I completely understand where you are coming from for wanting the mini book to contain 100% accurate information.

    Thank you so very much for your review. This is staying on my wish list.

    1. Thank you so much, Melody! I hope you get the set!

      You're right--invertebrate vs. vertebrate is a good place to start with young kids, maybe because it's like introducing animals as "those you know" vs. "those you don't know!" I also totally agree with you that teaching all 30+ phyla would be brutal (I don't even know them myself!)...I tend to stick with 9 (still too many, if you ask my students!) :P

      I have a warped viewpoint because I have to un-teach this vertebrate/invertebrate division with my class so that they can appreciate the importance of other groupings.

      You know, I absolutely love that we are having these conversations because of a doll toy! How cool is that? ;)

  19. Very interesting. This own my wish list for sure!

  20. This is a very cool set. So nice to see a toy that might inspire girls to be something other than fashion designers!! I love how you love Science. You will be pleased to hear that my 6 your old son has decided that he wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Mostly he wants to mix potions but he always been interested in how the body works.

  21. What a great set! and I even made it through your biology stories without feeling dumb yay! No seriously, you're such a teacher Emily hahahhaaha I love ''seeing'' you like this xD I think my favorite part is the test tube set. They look so fun, imagine those MH size.. wow that would be truly awesome. I think you did a great job getting this set, it's really fun. Yes it was a lot of money but it's understandable you fell for it :)
    Also, I laughed out loud at the ''science textbooks written by vertebrates.'' part, hahahahaaahaahahahaaha.
    And, in case you wouldn't read my comments on you older posts (I'm totally caught op now) thank you so much for introducing us to Ever After High. I did some research and I really adore Raven Queen and Apple White. Is it just me or does Raven Queen remind me of Spectra? Maybe that's why I like her so much..

  22. Silver Berry Scaly Hair is a mystery as old as science itself - i remember whatever it is being included with every microscope set I had as a kid, and even the ones the schools had.

  23. I used to work at AG (in Boston, as a matter of fact!), and it is appalling how everyone feels compelled to open the box and take everything out and get it all mixed up, even though everything is openly displayed to be touched and felt and played with! Children and adults alike felt the need to do this!!! I would occasionally get a parent and child combo, filling up the huge red shopping bags and then sitting on an open space of floor (usually near the big front windows) opening up multiple boxes and going through everything, with everything splayed out all around them. It was mind-boggling! I couldn't tell whether it is the "entitlement" attitude of a lot of kids these days or lack of respect or what but it blew my mind on a daily basis! As far as this set goes, you did an excellent job of portraying it, a very accurate review! There are some great aspects, some lacking a little. We, as employees, were psyched to see this set when it came out but it didn't sell as well as we thought it would. The locker sold much better. I can be much more objective now that I don't work there anymore and I actually think that there is not enough of the "learning" accessories and unfortunately, MyAG especially, focuses on fashion too much. The Historical Characters are sooooo much better, because you can "act" out their stories and even get more elaborate with them, but nothing new ever comes out for those dolls, even though there is so much left to explore with them, in terms of new product. It is sad, really.

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