STEM for Christmas

Stephen DeAngelis

November 30, 2018

Children will never become interested in things to which they are never exposed. This is especially true for the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The best way to introduce children to these subjects is through active involvement and play. There is no better time than Christmas to excite children about STEM subjects. Why? Because each year companies introduce new, STEM-related toys aimed at introducing children to, and getting them excited about, science and technology. The staff at Brandpoint notes, “Inspiring kids’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math now could help prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that occupations related to STEM are projected to grow 13 percent by 2022 — faster than projections for all other occupations over the same time.”[1] Using the gift-giving season to inspire children can be pricey; but, it doesn’t have to be. Below are some STEM-related toys ranging in price from under $25 to over $100.

STEM toys under $25

Bloxels. I found this toy available on Amazon for $16.99. The only rub is your child already needs to own a computer or laptop. Julie Ryan Evans writes, “If all the beeping, buzzing and battles of video games are what excites [your children], then this build-your-own video game kit will blow them away. It contains everything they need to create game rooms, fascinating characters and intriguing art. Recommended for ages 8-12, they can bring the games of their imagination to life. They simply download an app that’s compatible with their computer or tablet and then use the game board and colored blocks to build the game. Once they’ve laid it all out, they snap a picture with the ‘in-app’ camera and they can edit it digitally. Bonus: Not only can they create the game, but they can also share it with their friends so they can play it too. Game on!”[2] If you want your young girl to get interested in STEM subjects, gaming is a good way to get them started. A study from the University of Surrey, found, “Young girls who play video games are more likely to find themselves studying STEM subjects down the road.”[3]

Scientific Explorer Crime Catchers Spy Science Kit. This kit is available on Amazon for $12.75. Evans writes, “For budding sleuths who dream of catching criminals and solving mysteries, this spy kit is a perfect fit. Little Sherlocks can match fingerprints and DNA and decode secret messages with the tools it provides. There are eight activities in all, and two mysteries to solve. The kit includes baking soda, citric acid, flour, PH strips, filters, a test tube and more to help them act and think like a real forensic scientist. It also comes with step-by-step instructions, so they can figure out just how to use it all. Designed for kids ages eight and up, this spy kit provides a great way to encourage an interest in science or build on one that’s already blooming.”

STEM toys under $50

Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit. This kit is available on Amazon for $46. Steven John writes, “The box on the Elenco Electronic Snap Circuits kit says it’s appropriate for ages 8 through 108, but I will say that not only does my 4-year-old love ‘playing circuits’ (as he calls it), but he can now actually build simple working circuits on his own, such as those that use a single switch to illuminate an LED or play a tone. The game also doesn’t require an app or separate smart device, so it’s a toy he can enjoy entirely independently. Note that it does have a lot of small parts that would be a hazard for infants.”[3]

Fisher Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar Toy. This toy for toddlers is available on Amazon for $46.75. Evans writes, “For the preschool set, this cute and colorful code-a-pillar will pull kids in with fun and teach them a thing or two along the way. It comes with one motorized head that blinks, lights up and makes fun sounds as well as eight segments that make it perform a variety of motions depending on which way the segments are connected. Once they get the hang of it, there are targets kids can try to make the caterpillar reach by combining the segments correctly. It’s all about trial and error, which is what STEM is all about. Designed for kids ages three to eight, it’s a great way to introduce problem-solving and coding skills from a young age. Plus, it’s just a whole lot of fun for everyone.”

STEM toys under $100

Osmo Genius Kit for iPad. As its name clearly states, your child will need an iPad to use this kit, which is available on Amazon for $70. Evans writes, “For kids who can’t seem to get enough screen time, this kit can help them make great use of that time. The award-winning toy turns their iPad into a fun, hands-on teaching machine and helps build skills in math, spelling, creative thinking and drawing. Designed for kids ages 5-12, the games will adjust to their skill level and keep them challenged and entertained for years. The kit contains game pieces plus a base that allows them to interact with the screen as they play and learn. The base can be used with a variety of other Osmo games as well, which can be purchased separately. Note: An iPad is required (the kit works with iPad Pro 9.7 inch, all iPad Mini, all iPad Air and all iPad 2 and up).”

Meccano – Meccasaur. The Meccasaur is available on Amazon for $65. Bobby Bernstein (@ThirstiestGamer) writes, “One of the hottest toys last year was Meccano’s Meccanoid robot kit that created a programmable robot for your kids to interact with. This year, the company has returned with something along the same lines: the Meccano Meccasaur. It will teach them how to build the robotic dinosaur, and when they’re done, the Meccasaur will interact with them. He responds to petting, will answer yes/no questions, and he stomps around, roaring at his foes.”[5]

STEM toys over $100

Little Tikes STEM Jr. Wonder Lab Toy with Experiments for Kids. The Wonder Lab normally sells for around $120 but is now available on Amazon for $97. The Wonder Lab is recommended by Mayim Bialik, an actress, author, neuroscientist, and mother, who is most famous for her television roles on Blossom and The Big Bang Theory. Bialik insists, “The earlier we get kids interested … the better, so they can pursue those careers and all of our worlds will be better. Little Tikes, I think, is ahead of the curve … in getting younger kids involved with STEM and if I had this when I was a kid it would have been the most amazing thing ever.”[6]

Cue Coding Robot. This coding robot is available for $150 on Amazon. James Brains writes, “I especially liked that the Cue Coding Robot has a vast array of activities that kids can keep coming back to as they develop their tech skills. Though the Wonder Workshop Cue Coding Robot is expensive for a toy, it’s durably built and has enough tasks and missions to keep your child engaged for countless hours.”[7]

Concluding thoughts

Too often, parents believe STEM subjects can only be learned at school. But, if you really want to get children excited about science and technology, fun at home is the place to start. I believe hands-on activities to problem-solving and STEM subjects is what stimulates a child’s natural curiosity. That’s why I, along with a few colleagues, founded The Project for STEM Competitiveness — a project-based, problem-solving approach to STEM Education that helps schools near where we live demonstrate to students that STEM subjects can be fun and applicable in their lives. We believe learning how to solve everyday problems will help students in every aspect of their lives. If you want to have fun along with your child this holiday season, buy them a STEM-related toy that will fill them with wonder and awe.

Footnotes
[1] Brandpoint, “Fun and accessible STEM resources for kids,” Eagle & Times, 9 October 2018.
[2] Julie Ryan Evans, “The 7 Best STEM Toys to Buy in 2018,” The Spruce, 13 November 2018.
[3] Shelby Rogers, “Girls Who Game Three Times More Likely to Study STEM, UK Research Finds,” Interesting Engineering, 21 October 2018.
[4] Steven John, “The Tech Toys That Secretly Teach My Kids Coding Skills,” New York Magazine, 4 April 2018.
[5] Bobby Bernstein, “21 Best STEM Toys for 2018: The Ultimate List (Updated!)Heavy.com, 12 November 2018.
[6] Luigi Lugmayr, “Mayim Bialik Recommends Little Tykes Jr. Wonder Lab Holiday Toy,” I4U News, 7 November 2018.
[7] James Brains, “This $180 toy robot has virtually limitless activities that teach my kids STEM skills, and it’s a lot of fun,” Business Insider, 12 November 2018.