Chances are with the holidays in full swing, your kids are telling you (every couple of minutes!) what they’re putting on their wish lists.
More and more often, those asked-for items might be STEM toys, ones that help children develop their science and technology skills while having fun. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and is generally used to refer to toys that promote one or more of those skills in age-appropriate ways.
Many STEM toys focus on computer skills and coding, but that is just the starting point of what they can offer children. There are great toys that run the skill-building gamut, from chemistry and biology to architecture and robotics, all in ways that kids will find fun and engaging. The best STEM toys help children learn new information or skills, building their cognitive thinking abilities, and require them to participate instead of passively getting information or results.
Read on to see which science gifts you might want to wrap up for your children, of all ages, this holiday season.
Coding is essentially computer programming, the process of using specialized computer languages to tell machines what to do and when to do it. Coding teaches children about reason, logic, pattern building and identification, and cause and effect — and it’s an increasingly sought-after job skill, so getting started early makes sense!
Coding toys can be simple or highly complicated, and there are some that teach the skills of coding without using any computers or robotics at all. The Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar uses a cute caterpillar to encourage children to create their own sequences and patterns. Older kids can enjoy simple circuit-building kits and cute code-based robots like Cozmo or Boxer. And children who are really interested and want to learn a simple coding language like Scratch will enjoy kits from Kano.
Your kids may not realize it, but there are several childhood favorites that help them develop their math skills. The abacus is a centuries-old classic, of course, and something that even babies can enjoy. Board and card games that require children to count and use simple arithmetic can help them become more confident with those skills. Monopoly Junior and Sushi Go are two options that work for a variety of ages and don’t require literacy of all players. And many preschool-aged kids are fascinated by calculators. Put one in their stocking and they’ll feel like they have their very own mini-computer.
There’s one enduring popular STEM toy that you probably played with as a kid: LEGOs. That’s right, this classic construction toy teaches children about geometry, engineering, and problem-solving. After all, children have to sort out how to follow directions to build complicated sets or use trial and error to see how to make their creations stable. Other construction-based toys and even classic wooden blocks have similar benefits.
Dumping a pile of plastic blocks in front of a kid is not a passive activity. LEGOs require their own action and creativity for fun, and it’s a beneficial toy regardless of whether your child is one who likes to follow the instructions exactly or one who gets creative and mixes sets together. As a bonus, children tend to stay interested in LEGOs for years — it’s a toy with staying power.
Puzzles & Games
Many toys encourage STEM skills without having a single motorized or computerized component. Puzzles are one great example, as they require children to think logically to solve a problem — a lot of computer programming is essentially puzzle solving. You can start with basic puzzles with just a few pieces for young children, and gradually increase the complexity as they get older. Large, complicated puzzles are a great family activity, too! Even young kids can participate by finding and putting aside all of the pieces of a certain color.
Classic Science Toys
Plenty of science toys were available long before the STEM label was trendy. Think about toys you likely had as a child: a chemistry set, a kid-friendly microscope or telescope, or an ant farm. These toys all help your children learn about disciplines like chemistry, biology, and astronomy while encouraging them to experiment and explore the world around them.
Several companies make microscopes and telescopes appropriate for a variety of ages. There’s a wide assortment of science experiments for kids available in kits, from straightforward chemistry sets to ones disguised as kits for making candy or bath bombs — you can really cater these to your child’s particular interests. Even the slime-making kits that kids are crazy for right now teach basic chemistry skills.
STEM Toy Subscriptions
If you receive your own subscription box in the mail, you know how nice it is to have a little treat show up every month. There are several STEM toy kit subscription services that can give your kids that same excitement to check the mailbox.
The STEM Club Toy Subscription is aimed at three different age groups. Children aged 3-4 might get a simple construction set, while those aged 8-13 could receive a circuit-building kit. Other science kits go all the way up to age 16 and focus on skills like engineering and experimentation. And Bitsbox is one of several subscription box services that focuses on a specific STEM skill, coding in this case.
Science toys were never so fun!