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In recent years, there has been an increased focus on toys that actually provide some educational benefit for children, exposing them to new ways of playing and learning. But, what makes a toy a STEM toy? There are a variety of features that contribute to a toy falling under this category. Here is a breakdown of what exactly STEM toys are, where you can find them, and why they are beneficial for your child.
What does STEM mean?
To start off, what exactly does STEM mean? This term is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – important subjects that we learn in school and use every day. These subjects are visible throughout every aspect of our lives, and workers in these fields are in increasing demand in today’s workforce. As Engineering for Kids explains, “STEM education provides students with a well-rounded foundation of skills to help them understand a wide range of concepts and thrive in many industries.” STEM toys promote creative and critical thinking and often involve a lot of experimentation, trial and error, and imagination. With technological advances hurtling along at warp speed, knowledge and experience in these fields will continue to be needed for many years to come.
What are the benefits of STEM toys?
One of the greatest benefits of STEM toys is quite simply the exposure to these various fields of study, which can help to prepare your child for the ever-changing, rapidly-growing workforce. The sooner children are exposed to, and develop a love of, one or more of these areas of study, the more prepared they will be to determine what career best grabs their interest and sparks their passion, and perhaps even open up new doors that they had never considered before. Some children tend to shy away from these subjects in school, so exposing them to fun and engaging STEM toys at an early age can also help them to feel more comfortable with those subjects later on in school.
STEM toys are excellent choices to help develop cognitive skills in children as well. They often range in difficulty from fairly easy to quite challenging, and this can also help to foster problem-solving skills and creativity. STEM toys also help children with decision-making and memory recall, as they work to build, solve, create, and experiment.
Many of the challenges that society faces today can be addressed and solved through an understanding of STEM subjects. This understanding begins at an early age, and we are currently raising our next generation of scientists, explorers, environmentalists, and mathematicians who will be able to address these challenges and find solutions for them. Due to its problem-solving nature, STEM fields also utilize collaboration and communication a lot, so these skills are important to develop early on in life. Learning how to work together, discuss problems and solutions, and collaborate to figure things out are vital skills in the workforce today.
Finally, STEM toys are wonderful for helping to develop your child’s fine motor and gross motor skills, as many of the toys require acute hand-eye coordination, building, designing, and balance. Playing with STEM toys can help to develop this coordination and can help to enhance their fine and gross motor skills.
What Toys Are Considered STEM Toys?
There are so many wonderful toys out on the market today that would be considered a STEM toy, such as building sets, coding toys, math puzzles, chemistry kits, and crafting kits. Typically, toys that require your child to think for themselves, build, create, and solve problems would likely be considered a STEM toy. Here are some popular categories of STEM toys that your might enjoy exploring.
There are so many new coding toys out on the market, geared for younger and younger kids. Many of them feature cute little animals that your child can interact with and program to complete various tasks, using of course their emerging coding skills! Your child can use their imagination and creativity to solve problems and figure out how to get their toy to do what they’re asking it to, thus also learning about cause and effect. Some popular coding toys include Learning Resources’ Coding Critters, Fisher Price Code ‘n Learn Kinderbot, and Sphero SPRK+ STEAM Educational Robot.
Most kids at one time or another have wondered “what will happen if I mix this with that?”, and many of the science kits available today allow them to answer that question for themselves in a safe and fun way. There are many different science kits available; ones that come with microscopes and allow you to look very closely at different specimens, and others that allow you to safely mix different substances to see what the end result will be. Regardless of which kit your child gravitates to, rest assured they will be developing their budding scientist skills and learning while they’re having fun. Some of our favorite science kits are National Geographic’s Earth Science Kit, Bill Nye’s VR Science Kit, and Little Tikes STEM Jr. Wonder Lab.
Even if science experiments and coding animals don’t particularly grab your child’s attention, there are other ways to expose them to STEM toys that they will enjoy. Many kids love creating different things and using their artistic skills and imagination to make all sorts of wonderful things. The various creative kits that are available today are also considered STEM toys, due to how they encourage creativity, problem-solving, and the use of fine motor skills. The choices are endless, from DIY Bouncy Ball kits, to Clay Modelling kits, to DIY Bath Bombs.
Perhaps the ultimate STEM toy out there, LEGO continues to provide endless opportunities for children to explore, build, create, and imagine. There are LEGO kits out there that feature popular movie characters like Batman, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars. There are also LEGO kits that are designed to help further develop your child’s love of STEM subjects by combining their love of LEGO with a STEM application, such as the LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor Building Set, where you not only build your own robot, but you then use your coding skills to operate it! Other favorite LEGO kits include LEGO Star Wars Boost Droid Commander, LEGO Chain Reactions, and LEGO Friends Heartlake City Amusement Pier.
Toys that help children learn about nature, animals, and the human body are also considered to be STEM toys. There are an increasing number of wonderful toys out there that fall into this category, and help children to better understand their environment, how plants grow, and how ecosystems work. It may be creating a terrarium to observe how the little ecosystem survives and how. Or, perhaps it is a biology kit that comes with a microscope and allows your child to examine different specimens up close. For older children, an interactive human body will help them become familiar with the different organs in the body and how they operate. For younger children, Melissa & Doug have a wonderful magnetic human body anatomy set that teaches early biology skills to children as young as 3 years old.
Most kids we know love staring up in awe at the vast sky above, marvelling at the millions of stars out there. Some kids take this love even further and enjoy learning about the various constellations and galaxies out in our universe. This area of STEM toys include telescopes, solar system models, rocket models, and puzzles that teach the names of the planets. If your child is a budding astronomer, they may enjoy a telescope of their own, or perhaps a 3-D model of our solar system. Either way, these are wonderful STEM toys to introduce your child to.
There are many different types of building sets, and LEGO is not the only kind that children enjoy. In fact, one popular type of building set is the magnetic tiles that have become very popular recently. These tiles are great for emerging engineering skills, and the possibilities are endless in terms of what children can build with them. Another building set that your child will surely enjoy is the ThinkFun Roller Coaster Challenge, where they can create and build their very own roller coaster! Now, how fun would that be?! Marble games like Gravity Maze is another challenging activity where kids will use their engineering skills to solve the maze.
Whatever STEM toy you end up choosing for your little one, you likely won’t be disappointed. You will see your child engaged in thought-provoking play that encourages creativity and problem-solving. What toy will you choose first? Be sure to let us know which one is your favorite!