STEM = science, technology, engineering, and math. New toys and products are designed to foster curiosity and get our kids interested in these subjects from a young age. From the mathematical processes involved in building, scientific discovery through experimenting, learning about electronics via circuitry, to toys and apps that demystify computer programming, there are no shortage of amazing STEM learning experiences for kids of all ages. Here is a list of the most appropriate STEM products broken down by age group for preschoolers (3-5 year olds), early elementary (ages 5-7), tweens (8-12 year olds), and teens (13+).
Preschoolers (ages 3-5)
Robot Turtles ($18.49) — Before your child turns to the computer, this fun board game teaches coding in a hands-on way. Inspired by the computer programming language, Logo, Robot Turtles provides a foundation for thinking about computer programming to make virtual experiences like Scratch easier to understand through this family friendly game designed for 2-5 players.
LEGO or LEGO Duplo— You can’t go wrong with a set of LEGO bricks as a gift. Kids who are just starting preschool would do well with LEGO Duplo whose chunkier bricks are easier to put together and pull apart. Older children with more developed fine motor skills would like the traditional size LEGO bricks such as the LEGO Classic Medium Creative Brick Box that provides for more open ended creativity than a LEGO set ever does.
Early Elementary Ages (ages 5-7)
Roominate (sets starting at $19.99)— Created by female engineers who happened to meet at Stanford, Roominate provides endless opportunities for building and a website that’s full of inspiration. Aspiring architects can snap together pieces, wire pieces to add lights and motion, and then connect them to the R Power Hub to the motor from via the app on a smartphone or tablet.
Super Sunprint Kit ($22.95)— The concept behind Sunprints is simple- create unique works of art by placing objects on the photo sensitive sheets of paper. Leave them outside in the sun for a few minutes and quick rinse of the paper with the image makes a permanent image.
Goldie Blox and the Builder’s Survival Kit ($59.99)— Goldie is a female role model in a traditional male dominated industry who inspires a new generation of girls to build, create, and problem solve as they’re exposed to STEM topics that they might not be interested in otherwise. With 190+ pieces, GoldieBlox and the Builder’s Survival Kit provides plenty of materials for open-ended fun. Girls can determine how difficult of an activity to take on as they take on an integrated approach to learning. Using basic engineering principles, spatial skills, and reading, girls will confidently solve problems to help Goldie.
littleBits (kits starting at $99)— For years we’ve been in love with littleBits. With endless possibilities for creations and inspiration that comes from an active community who shares the coolest stuff they’re making with these magnetically connected wired building blocks and circuit board pieces, littleBits pieces and sets are the perfect gift for curious elementary ages. If you’re not familiar with littleBits, start with the Base Kit ($99) that includes everything you need to start designing. If you already own the Starter Kit or a couple of sets, add your collection of Bits with the Gizmos and Gadgets Kit ($199.95) or Smart Home Kit ($249). Called the ultimate invention toolbox, Gizmos and Gadgets pieces allow kids to create things that spin, blow bubbles, make mischief, light up, and more. Automated smart home products are all the rage right now and kids can create their own 21st century connected home products that automate the curtains to open, feed your dog remotely, and get text alerts when you’re away from home and your dog barks, and so much more thanks to pieces in the Smart Home Kit. Yes, littleBits sets are an investment (you can also buy individual pieces on the littleBits site) but they truly promote scientific discovery through circuitry and electronics each and every time pieces snapped together during the creation process.
Dot Robotics Kit by Wonder Workshop ($49.99)— Wonder Workshop believes that the best way for younger children to learn coding is with a physical device to control. Dot functions as the brain and as the smarts of a robot, lets your child learn programming at an affordable price that early elementary ages can understand. Thanks to coding adventures with Dot, elementary ages are exposed to coding adventures that help demonstrate how the world works while combining various personality elements (eye, lights, sounds) and sensors (buttons, accelerometer, microphones) to become an incredible coding companion and teaching tool for young learners. For more information, learn more about Dot on the Wonder Workshop website.
Tweens (ages 8-12)
Jewelbots ($69)— Geek meets chick thanks to Jewelbots, a tech enabled wearable bracelet that makes girls want to learn how to code. JewelBots have been called “light up friendship bracelets for the iPhone era” and are going to be the coolest thing that tween and teen girls have encircling their wrist when they ship this spring. Why? Girls can program their Jewelbots to do just about anything they want- light up to notify you that your BFF is nearby, a cooler way to notify you that mom or dad is texting, or send electronic messages to a friend across the room without the worry that your note will be intercepted because passing notes is so 1989.
Dash Robot by Wonder Workshop ($149.99)— A real robot charged and ready to use out of the box? That’s what Dash is! Dash comes pre-assembled and ready to respond to voice, navigate objects, and dance or sing. Install the free Blockly and Wonder apps on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet for your tween to engage fun challenge tutorials that will teach them programming while they’re having fun making Dash do lots of funny things! Tweens will love that Dash comes with sensors that let it know when it’s about to run into something in front or in back of it, microphones that can hear sound and even detect where it’s coming from in a room, infrared sensors that let it see and communicate with other robots, like Dot. Tweens can even record sounds on their tablet or phones and have Dash play them back to surprise friends and family! Add the Launcher to turn Dash into a projectile-hurling machine. Use the smartphone mount to have Dash help film a fun movie with your smartphone. Use the included Brick Connectors to add LEGO® or LEGO® Technic bricks to your robot to transform them into whatever your tween can imagine! With over 600 built-in tutorials, challenges, and projects, Dash makes it easy for kids to explore programming at their own pace at home through exploration that makes learning fun.
DIY Thirsty Plant Kit ($32)— You have to love a company whose mission reads, “All of our products are vehicles for education that encourage everyone to make, play, code and invent with technology. Using everyday life as inspiration, our kits tap into the hobbies and passions that we love – music, gardening, cycling and gaming” especially when they make cool products that inspire kids. The DIY Thirsty Plant Kit is a solar powered moisture sensor designed to water your plants and keep them happy. Last year at CES I saw smart home products that sense the moisture level of houseplants and sends an alert telling you to water them but this eliminates the alert and the need to water because the Thirsty Plant Kit does it for you. Genius! For $32, these kits are a steal and I plan to give them to my kids as gifts to help save my own poor houseplants!
Shape by Shape by ThinkFun ($14.99)— Can you tell ThinkFun tops my list of fun, affordable, and educational games this year? Shape By Shape is a Tangram-style game that becomes more difficult as you fill in the frame around each shape you make. With over 60 challenges, Shape By Shape is a great exercise in conceptual thinking and spatial relationships and will be enjoyed by kids in grades K-2 and beyond. Ages 8+
Makey Makey ($49.95)— This invention kit for the 21st century that turns everyday objects into touchpads for your computer and has been named Forbes as a must have gadget for every cutting-edge school, Consumer Reports said it was one of 6 Terrific Tech Toys of 2014 and you can check out this Today Show Back To School Tech segment featuring the Makey Makey. The Makey Makey is an open-sourced tool great for anyone interested in music, art, or tech projects for experts and beginners alike.
NanoBlocks (starting at $11.99)— Teeny tiny NanoBlocks building blocks are a novel idea when it comes to building. Each pack contains enough blocks to create the idea on the package. Individual NanoBlocks animals are a great place for younger ages to start and more complex sets are perfect for older ages since they involve more pieces and detailed instructions to build architectural masterpieces like the Empire State Building ($44.99) or White House ($69.99). If you’re looking for something Lego compatible, I’d suggest the Laser Pegs over NanoBlocks since NanoBlocks can be used together but not with other brick systems. Ages 8+
Arckit (starting at $128.99)
Anyone – design fans, budding architects, hobbyists, even kids ages 12+ – can finally turn their creative vision into something tangible to enjoy on their own or Designed originally by architects for professional use and based on modern building techniques, ARCKIT’s multi-award-winning system of reusable, scaled model building kits is unlike any other as it teaches increasingly important STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to kids all while they have a blast making their own creations. Media have recently described ARCKIT as “the new Minecraft” and “a LEGO-like model building system for architects.” Each kit has pre-cut components that simply snap together without using glue. Once projects are completed, they can be taken apart and used all over again, to build something completely different. ARCKIT is a great gift idea for moms, dads and other family members who are interested in DIY activities or dream about designing their very own dream homes. More information at www.Arckit.com. Available at Barnes & Noble stores nationwide as well as online, prices range from $69.95-$399.95
Kano Kit ($149.99)— For the budding young hacker in your life, the Kano Kit provides the tools to build a full-fledged computer and learn how to code – all you need to do is plug it into a monitor. Colorful instructional storybooks guide young creators through the entire building process (no parental supervision needed) and once it’s built, Kano functions like a regular computer, pre-loaded with games like Minecraft and Terminal Quest and projects like Make Art that are learned, made and played with code. Great for ages 6-12.
The Screen Kit ($129.99)— Available through pre-order now with a promise that these will ship in early December to arrive before Christmas, The Screen Kit by Kano is a DIY HD display kit. It’s perfect for creators who are looking to expand their computing experience by making a portable, playful widescreen HD display. With simple steps and a storybook to guide the building process, kids can snap together the pieces, setup a driver, and learn how LCD screens work from the inside. With a portable case, take it anywhere—into the classroom or use it on the living room floor. The Screen Kit is custom-built for the Kano Kit, although it can be connected to any HDMI compatible device (i.e. digital camera, a PlayStation 4 or a MacBook).
Ozobot Bit 2.0 ($59.99) & OzoBlockly— Ozobot is perfect for kids who are interested in coding but need a concrete object to understand the building blocks of the coding language. This one-inch robot moves kids from augmented reality to physical play as they use color — black, red, green and blue –to program Ozobot to follow a path forward, backwards, fast, slow, right, left and more. Ozobot’s ability to see colored lines and know the difference is truly amazing plus it works on physical surfaces like paper or digital ones like smartphones and tablets. It works with the free OzoLuck, OzoPath and OzoDraw apps in either the Google Play for Android or iTunes store for iOS devices. Since sometimes seeing is believing, check out this video to see Ozobot in action.
Need more ideas? Visit my other STEM posts that will help you find the best gifts and resources to encourage a love of science, technology, engineering, and math for all ages!
- 10 Gifts to Inspire STEM Learning in Kids
- Ways to Inspire STEM Learning at Home
- How to Get Kids Interested in Coding & 7 Free Resources That Teach Kids How to Code
Samples were received for review purposes. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. All images courtesy of the companies.