The liability-phobic dilution of kids' science has reached its apotheosis with "CHEMISTRYâ€¯60": a chemistry kit that promises "60 fun activities with no chemicals." Kids are expected to supply the chemicals from their parents' kitchen cupboards. As Sean at Make points out, this is a moderately clever move on the part of the manufacturer, as most of their competition have such inoffensive materials that this is a kind of end-run around the overlawyers, bubblewrapped status-quo for kids' science kits.
I'm certain many Newscripts readers learned to love chemistry during childhood as they experimented with science kits in tin boxes that contained real chemicals. The Chemical Heritage Foundation, in Philadelphia, has a wonderful collection of those kits. A recent article by Rosie Cook in the group's spring 2010 Chemical Heritage Magazine mentions a number of such chemistry sets for kids, including Gilbert, Skil Craft, Handy Andy, and the Porter Chemcraft kits.
Like reader Paul Johns of Washington, D.C., who pointed out the "chemical-free" chemical kit to Newscripts, I had a chemistry set growing up, too. It had an alcohol lamp for heating up solutions. Imagine giving that to a nine year old today.