STEM = science, technology, engineering, and math. Since starting this blog almost 9 years ago, there has been an influx of toys and products are designed to foster curiosity and get our kids interested in these subjects from a very young age and honestly, it’s never too early to start exposing our kids to STEM subjects.
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 hands-on STEM learning experiences for kids.
Here is this year’s list of my 22 favorite 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+).
Toddlers & Preschoolers
Spin ‘N’ Sort Spout Pro from Yookidoo ($34.95)
This year go beyond the cups in the bath and get Spin ‘N Sort Spout Pro, an automatic spout that attaches to the tub that allows kids to play and experiment with water. It features three interchangeable bath cups that each have different spouting action and a spinning gear for added fun. I love that it supports STEM by introducing young children to sorting, constructing and putting physics into play with spinning gear movement.
Eco-bricks (starting at $22.61 for 90 pieces)
What do you get the child who is always after their older sibling’s Lego’s? I vote for Eco-bricks. Unlike most Legos that are sold as a kit where the objective is to build the object on the box, a set Eco-bricks encourages open ended building and imagination to create with the bricks you have. They’re perfect for younger siblings and the natural wood makes them easy to distinguish from the multicolored bricks in an older brother or sister’s room so your preschooler can feel like this set is all theirs.
Bathtub Ball Track Set by HABA ($19.99)
Bathtime just got a lot more fun thanks to chutes that attach to the wall with suction cups and can be arranged and re-arranged in endless configurations. The Bathtub Ball Track Set also serves as a great way to learn about the basic principles of kinetic energy at a very young age!
Rainbow Rocket from HABA USA ($19.99)
Not only is the Rainbow Rocket colorful but it employs fine motor skills to be constructed, beginning math skills thanks to the geometric forms, and overall STEM awareness. Plus it’s fun to build, knock down or lift off, and then start all over again. All that for right around $20? Sold!
Early Elementary Ages
littleBits Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition ($159.96 on Amazon)
We love littleBits and whether you’re new to these magnetic building blocks or a fan like us, the Gadgets & Gizmos Kit is a great gift. With 13 bits, one of which is the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Bit, tweens now how the power to control their invention from any smart device using the free littleBits Invent app. The meaty instruction book provides plenty of ideas for young makers but chances are your child will make a couple and then take off creating their own cool inventions that they can’t wait to show you. For more information, read my full review: Why Young Makers Will Love littleBits Gazmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition.
Reptangles by Fat Brain Toys ($27.95)
Who doesn’t love a good challenge with endless possibilities? That’s what Reptangles provides while giving kids a chance to exercise fine motor skills as they find ways to construct polyhedra with these colorful turtle shaped building pieces. They’re also great for reinforcing math skills like patterning, sequencing, and geometry.
Tetris Link ($32)
Parents who loved Tetris can teach their kids the fun of the game all over again through a non-digital game that can be played with a partner. Drop blocks (called Tetriminos) into the grid to link same colored ones together to earn points while blocking your opponent from doing the same. Points are deducted for leaving empty spaces in the grid to challenge spatial skills.
Makey Makey ($49.95)
Last year I recommended Makey Makey for tweens but the honest truth is that kids as old as kindergarten can start using this invention kit. Perfect for 21st century learners, Makey Maket turns everyday objects into touchpads for your computer. Named Forbes as a must have gadget for every cutting-edge school, Makey Makey is an open-sourced tool great for anyone interested in music, art, or tech projects for experts and beginners alike.
Fabtronic Sewing Set by Teknikio ($19 on Amazon)
For kids who have basic sewing skills and want to learn some electronics, Fabtronic Sewing Set is an affordably priced and easy way to get started with adding lights to textiles and wearables. The kit comes with a guide and 7 reusable components that allow kids to repurpose items from the kit for endless possibilities of light up creations. It’s the perfect combination of science, electronics, and art for kids to learn circuitry in a hands-on way while blinging out their wearables in a way that their friends will want to know how they did that.
Sparking Sense Kit by Teknikio ($20)
The Sparking Sense Kit teaches mechanics, circuits, and design thanks to 12 reusable components that teach kids how to activate objects and art through switches that act as sensors. The Sparking Sense Kit comes with sensing switches and walks kids through how to activate objects to help them design their own.
A set of Cubelets opens up a world of possibilities thanks to blocks that sense, perform actions, and think. Each are color coded (sense blocks are black, action blocks are clear, think blocks are various colors) and have five connection faces and one special face that tells you its function. Snap together Cubelets to create your first robot and then experiment by swapping out Cubelets to make your robot do different things. Cubelets are a great hands-on way to introduce kids to STEM but for kids who want to take it farther, Cublets Blockly is a way that you can add unique behaviors to your Cubelets constructions. Traditional programmers will appreciate Cubelets Flash, a way to upload custom programs to Cubelets by dragging and dropping C files. I personally love that Cubelets is such a great introduction to STEM and there are so many different directions that kids can go in after trying their hand with an initial set of 6 or 12.
The Big Book of Maker Skills by Chris Hackett ($18.99 on Amazon)
For kids looking to take their projects to the next level, The Big Book of Maker Skills is a must-have handbook that featured wood and metalworking projects as well as those that involve power tools, electronics, and 3D printing. It’s a great book to thumb through for inspiration for your next great product and has plenty of ideas to keep tweens busy over winter break and beyond.
Boolean Girl Project’s The Boolean Box is a build-it-yourself computer and electronics kit is designed for kids ages 8+ to code, build, invent and animate. This technology and engineering discovery kit includes a Raspberry Pi III, keyboard and mouse, an ebook, and online access to the unique and specialized Boolean Girl curriculum and projects designed to introduce young girls (and boys) to computer programming. The box contains everything a girl (or boy) needs to code in Scratch or Python (Emily’s favorite programming language) and complete simple circuitry tasks, such as the game controller project. Projects are free with the purchase of Boolean Box through the Boolean Girl website. For more information, read my full review: Boolean Girl Project Introduces Boolean Box, a Tech and Engineering Discovery Kit for Kids
MUSE Magazine by Cricket ($33.95 for 1 year, 9 issues)
Hands-on learning is great but there’s also a time to read and be inspired. MUSE is the science and arts magazine for STEM loving kids who are curious about things like if video games really kill their brain cells or what a gentleman ladybug is called. The articles are written by award-winning authors and accompanied by high-quality illustration and photography to fuel curiosity about the world around them and help inspire young learners. For the holidays, Cricket is offering a wonderful “Double the Giving” deal. Cricket is allowing families who purchase a Cricket subscription for their homes to designate a literacy charities like Libraries without Borders and Parent-Child Home Program to donate a second subscription to in order to extend the gift of reading to those who need it most.
BOSEbuild Speaker Cube ($149.99)
Earlier this year I shared BOSEbuild and this cool STEM project deserves to be a Tween Gift Guide pick because it’s something that my kids still love. BOSEbuild requires kids to get their hands on speaker components (coil, magnet and paper) and learn how they make sound to build their own customizable Bluetooth speaker that features legendary sound that BOSE is known for. It’s designed to work with the Bose’s free Sound app (iOS) so tweens can customize the appearance of the speaker cube with any color they choose. It’s perfect for using with a computer, tablet, or mobile phone. Plus since it’s Bose, the sound is amazing!
Scratch Programming Playground by Al Sweigart ($14.25)
If you are looking for the next thing for your Minecraft-loving kids and haven’t tried Scratch, the Scratch Programming Playground book is a great guide to teach kids how to program by making cool games. The easy to use Scratch involves drag-and-drop programming that’s perfect for beginners and with easy to follow instructions and coding challenges, kids will love being able to create games of their own.
Graphic artists who love to dabble in the digital world will enjoy making their own animations with the Crayola Color Alive Easy Animation Studio. The 30 page booklet includes characters and backgrounds that can be colored in and scanned using the free Easy Animator app (iOS and Android). When the characters and backgrounds are scanned into the app, kids can use a process similar to stop motion animation to make their characters move fluidly.
For STEM-loving teens, their imagination is their only limit. Great gifts include more supplies for their current projects or the components they need to start the brand new project they’ve been wanting to start over winter break. Another great gift is the gift of time at a local Maker Space in your area where they will have access to tools but also the collective hive of brain power of fellow makers. For DC area readers, we love Catylator MakerSpace for the flexibility of dipping your toes in to the maker world that comes with giving a gift certificate for a project, taking a class, or the endless possibilities for kids in their semester-long TeenSpace.
New Matter Mod-t 3D Printer ($399)
3D printing at home used to feel so far out of reach due to the cost of the printers and complicated software but the New Matter Mod-t 3D Printer makes it more affordable for the average consumer to get involved in the 3D printing revolution. New Matter’s MOD-t 3D printer is a full featured 3D printer that is well designed and attractive for $399. The MOD-t printer can print horizontally in .4 millimeter increments. Vertically, it can print laters of .1 millimeter. The printer can print objects as large as 6x4x5 inches and it has a speed of up to 80 mm per second. For more information about the Mod-t, read my full review: Getting started with the New Matter MOD-t 3D printer for Easy and More Affordable 3D Printing
The beauty of Arduino boards is that they’re quite affordable and by adding some components and a computer, you can learn to build and program all sorts of things. The Arduino Project Handbook helps get teens started thanks to simple instructions, colorful photos, circuit diagrams, and the necessary code that can serve as future inspiration to other products.
Take your paper airplane folding skills to the next level with the PowerUp 3.0 Bluetooth Smart Module that transforms any paper airplane into a motorized machine that can be controlled from your smartphone. I love that PowerUp 3.0 engages teens in a meaningful STEAM (STEM subjects plus arts) as they design a paper airplane but also incorporate principles of flight, lift, aerodynamics, and design to get their paper airplane into the air.
Teens who type a lot and are at risk of carpal tunnel or complain of tired hands and forearms due to so much time on the computer, will appreciate a mechanical gaming keyboard. Mechanical gaming keyboard features differ from traditional ones because they feature mechanical switches that are amazingly responsive so your fingers just need to touch the keyboard lightly to type. The G910 Orion Spectrum features backlit keys that your teen can customize from a palette of 16.8 million colors (think of it as a rainbow on your desk!) and a design that allows you to rest your wrists on the large palm rest and adjust the keyboard for maximum comfort.
Need more ideas for STEM gifts? 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
- 2015 Gift Guide: STEM Gifts for All Ages
Age Appropriate Gift Guides:
- Toddlers and Preschoolers (ages 18 months-5 years)
- Early Elementary Ages (grades K-2 or ages 5-8)
- Tweens (grades 3-7 or ages 8-12)
- Teens (ages 13+)
Specialty Gift Guides:
- STEM Gifts for All Ages (preK-teen)
- Subscription Boxes for Kids, Teens, and Adults
- Gadget Lovers
- Best Teacher Gifts
Must-Read Gift Guides Compiled by Friends:
Samples were received for review purposes. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. All images courtesy of the companies.