Since starting this blog almost 11 years ago, there’s been an influx of STEM focused toys on the market. There’s no shortage of products designed to foster curiosity and get our kids interested in these subjects but the teacher in me can distinguish between items that provide worthwhile STEM learning experiences versus those that masquerade as them. The best STEM gifts for all ages provide hands-on experiences that make learning fun and these 33 items for toddlers through teens represent the best of what is out there this year.
My biggest STEM Gifts for All Ages guide published to date, this list contains items that emphasize mathematical processes involved in building, scientific discovery through experimenting, learning about electronics via circuitry, toys and apps that demystify computer programming, and other items that inspire a love of STEM. STEM gifts are broken down by age group for preschoolers (3-5 year olds), early elementary ages (ages 5-7), tweens (8-12 year olds), and teens (13+).
Best STEM Gifts for All Ages
Best STEM Gifts for Preschoolers
Pattern Puzzle ($19.95)
This colorful set of triangular blocks may not seem like a STEM toy at first glance but teaches beginning geometry thanks to the endless possibilities. Little fingers can create their own patterns or follow the idea guide to practice fine motor skills, planning, creativity, and spatial skills. For ages 3+
Magnet Building Tiles (100 pieces for $51.99)
It’s a good thing that it will be hard to keep young hands off these magnet building tiles because so much can be learned from a set of these colorful geometric shapes that allow kids to be creative in flat or in three dimensions. They also promote open ended play where their imagination is the only limit to the fun and learning about geometrical shapes, magnetic polarities, and architectural design in the most fun way possible. For ages 3+
Roarin’ Rocket Play Tent ($34.99)
Your child’s imaginary play can blast off to a whole new galaxy with this Rocket Play Tent that pops up and folds flat into a Milky Way themed carrying case. Kids will love the round mesh windows and stargazing through the observation deck in the rocket’s cone. Parents will love that play in and around the tent can occupy kids for hours! Big enough to share with a friend, siblings, and numerous stuffed animals who want to explore space, this is the perfect gift to gently encourage a love of planetary science.
Robot Turtles ($19.99)
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. For ages 4+
Take Along by Labyrinth ($29.99)
Generations of children have grown up playing BRIO Labyrinth and I love this new version of the classic turntable maze that’s portable and specially designed for younger kids that helps them practice fine motor and spatial skills in a fun way. The two-sided Take Along Labyrinth is completely sealed (hooray for no lost marbles!) so that it can go with you anywhere for hours of fun. Made beech wood and PVS-free plastic, this toy has smooth handles, a marble that glides effortlessly through the maze and has the power to entertain kids for hours whether in the car, out at a restaurant, or at home! For ages 3+
My First Ladybug ($4.93)
Duplo blocks are perfectly sized for toddler hands and this adorable ladybug lets the youngest ages have fun building and rebuilding a dual faced ladybug on wheels made out of 6 pieces. Once this cute insect toy is built, the ladybug encourages imaginative play and storytelling thanks to the double sided bricks that feature awake/asleep ladybug faces. For 18 months and older
Tegu Magnetic Blocks (24 piece, $64.99)
I love Tegu Blocks for their simplicity, quality, and the way they encourage kids to build through open-ended play. These magnetic blocks are made of heirloom quality, sustainably sourced hardwood and promote fine motor skills, pattern recognition, balance, sense of scale, imaginative play, problem solving, and storytelling through play. They’re delightfully addictive to play with and there’s no limit to what kids (and parents!) can create! If someone you’re shopping for already has a set of Tegu Blocks, consider gifting them a vehicle to add to their set such as the Tegu Looper helicopter ($25.49). For 12 months and up
Ara the Star Engineer ($15.95)
Ara the Star Engineer shatters every stereotype we might pass along to our kids about who engineers are, what they look like, and the kinds of things they do in a darling picture book written by an engineer mom after her daughter said, “Engineers are boys.” Through her book, Google engineering program manager, Komal Singh, inspires kids – especially girls and children of color – to explore STEM as it follows a 6-year old girl, Ara, on a quest to build an algorithm to solve a big problem (suspense!). During her adventure, Ara is helped by a diverse set of real-life women engineering leaders of color — a Tenacious Troubleshooter, Code Commander, Prolific Problem Solver, Intrepid Innovator. The book aims to teach basic problem solving & computer science concepts in a whimsical manner but also includes an attached mini-booklet that provides a deeper dive into tech thanks to online activity sheets with hands-on tech activities. Great read-aloud for ages 4+
Best STEM Gifts for Early Elementary Ages
Pinball Machine ($24.95 but currently on sale for $17.95)
What better way to learn physics than by assembling your own pinball machine! Designed just for kids, this pinball machine kit allows elementary ages to play with angles and momentum while trying geometric artwork to decorate your game board making it a perfect STEAM gift! For ages 5+
Earth Science Bingo Game ($18.95)
Learn earth science facts about mammals, marsupials, life underwater, fossils and minerals, flowers and bugs, birds and leaves, weather, and celestial beings through this classic bingo game. This set includes 6 bingo game boards, 48 playing pieces, and a cloth bag for storing in between family game nights. For ages 5+
What if there was a way that your kids could be inspired to code on a regular basis? They can thanks to Bitsbox, a subscription box that teaches real coding through fun projects that come in the mail every month. Each level introduces a new computer science concept. Kids start by coding from examples and progress quickly to inventing their own apps that are built on the Bitsbox website. Kids’ apps work on real phones and tablets for immediate gratification plus no experience is necessary to get started with Bitsbox! For ages 6+
Potato Pirates ($14.99)
Potato Pirates?!? The name alone will get kids interested in this game where they can learn up to 10 hours of coding concepts in 30 minutes. In this light-hearted card game of potato war, legendary Potato King has caused a programming error that has resulted in him being simultaneously stuck in seven different places! Successfully rescue Kings from the Deadlock of Doom to be handsomely rewarded, but beware because this mission will be anything but smooth sailing! In this lethal combination of potatoes, programming and pirates, kids are destined to learn coding concepts like loops and conditionals without really realizing they’re learning programming concepts. Ages 7+
Light Up Terrarium Kit ($29.99)
Terrariums allow kids to discover the beauty of nature inside and there’s nothing better to inspire a love of the environment during the cold winter months than with their own living garden that they can keep in their rooms. This all-inclusive kit a 4×6” terrarium jar, light-up jar lid, Micro-USB charging cable, easy step-by-step instruction booklet for all ages, soil, blue sand, river rocks, wheatgrass and chia seeds, small bunny and mushroom miniatures, removable stickers for decoration, spray bottle, and wooden stick to aid in planting the seeds. Kids will also love the switching on the light and watching their terrarium turn into a gorgeous illuminated tabletop garden at night. For ages 6+
Building, racing, creativity, and STEM skills come together in the Hot Wheels Track Builder System Race Crate that has everything your young thrill seeker needs to assemble and reconfigure stunts on tracks like Gravity Drop, Mega Jump, and Drag Race. With three stunts in one set, kids can race, stunt and challenge friends with everything they need for hours of fun thanks to options that create different obstacles. Parents will love that the crate is portable- just fold it up and place all the parts inside for easy transport and storage. For ages 6+
KiwiCrate is specifically designed subscription box for elementary ages that provides kids with a maker project to explore art, science, and engineering through hands-on creative learning. Explore! Magazine contains just-right comics, experiments, and games to extend learning and parents can access online tutorials and DIY projects to further develop their child’s interests. For ages 5+
Best STEM Gifts for Tweens
Hand Crank Flashlight ($34.95 but currently on sale for $22.95)
Tweens will love assembling their own hand-crank flashlight to learn how capacitors, stepper motors and diodes work and then using their creation for outdoor adventures, emergencies, or just battery-free fun. For ages 12+
Laser Chess ($39.99)
STEM meets strategy in a game that features real lasers for lovers of brain challenges. This modern chess-like game is easy to learn so tweens can get started playing a game that builds reasoning and planning skills, while serving as a stealthy way of sneaking in STEM learning. For ages 8+
Light Up Speaker ($34.95 but currently on sale for $22.95)
Build your own amplification circuit to power your own personal speaker to explore the science of sound. This kit contains everything your tween needs to build and customize their speaker with a glowing LED and teaches about transistors and electromagnetism through the included instruction set. For ages 12+
Could you outsmart cybercriminals? Hacker teaches programming principles through this coding game where players assume the roles of the coder, the hacker, and the security engineer. The goal is to program your cyber agents to navigate the shifting game board, avoiding viruses and alarms, and learning how to secure them from future attacks. Game play exposes kids to different facets of the coding process as they work to defend the world from cyber criminals by joining the security team who has to work to solve beginner to expert level challenges. For ages 10+
Lip Balm Boutique ($18.95)
Beauty based chemistry definitely counts as STEM and is a great way to expose kids to a different kind of science. This chemistry kit allows kids to discover the science behind lip balms and moisturizing lotion and contains 6 containers, one mold, a lotion bar, beeswax, and more to create a custom line using all natural ingredients. For ages 8+
Code Master ($29.99)
Make programming fun by learning the basics without a computer! In Code Master, your Avatar travels to an exotic world in search of power Crystals. Along the way, you use programming logic to navigate the Map. Think carefully, in each level, only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success. Once you collect all the Crystals and land at the Portal, you win! Playing Code Master won’t just teach you principles behind programming, you’ll also build planning, sequential reasoning and problem-solving skills. For ages 8+
Piper Computer Kit (on sale for $199 during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, regularly $299)
Piper is perfect for budding engineers with an interest in computer science. This build-your-own computer kit enables kids to build, code, and tap into their imaginations right out of the box to teaches relevant STEM skills. While it might be intimidating to open a box that contains laser cut parts, wires, and other computer components, take a deep breath because the enclosed Piper Blueprint walks kids through each step of building their computer. The directions are easy to follow and well laid out and teach technology basics, electronics, and coding. Once Piper is built, tweens can use buttons, wires, and breadboards to navigate obstacles, overcome challenges, and create games. Their mission is to save the world by playing a damaged robot named Pip who needs some systems fixed. As they get help from PiperBot, kids will learn how to add on to their hardware with wiring, sensors, and more. Lots of skills are involved in the building process and this makes Piper hands on learning at its best! Pro tip: If you’re considering Piper, the company will be offering it for $199 vs. the full price of $299 as a Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal when you shop here or on PlayPiper.com. For ages 7+
There’s a difference between passive and productive screen time and Gravitrax allows tweens to use their phone as a tool to build their own marble runs or with the help of the free GraviTrax app for iOS and Android devices. While kids can certainly build through unplugged and experimental play using the starter set, the app allows them to test their run, use blueprints to build the actual system, and experience the race with different balls, various camera perspectives, including the marble’s point of vice using the Virtual Reality feature (VR headset not included). Builders can also add expansion packs (starting at $9.99) on to their set to create more epic tracks! For ages 8+
Light Up Wire Art ($34.95 but currently on sale for $22.95)
Let them exercise their creativity with this STEAM based set that has everything your teen needs to create their own custom neon signs with EL wire. Choose from five existing templates or create one of their own design and then hang their creations or display one using the included wooden stand. They’ll love flipping the switch to see their awesome glowing final creation come to life!
TinkerCrate is a monthly subscription box containing everything your tween needs to create a STEM project each month. Every kit provides materials, a blueprint with step by step instructions, Tinker Zine Magazine with more experiments and activities, plus access to video tutorials. Click here and use the code EARLY for 60% off your first month of Tinker Crate! For ages 9+
A Beginner’s Guide to Circuits ($17.95)
Perfect for teaching beginning electronics, A Beginner’s Guide to Circuits features easy-to-follow instructions for young readers who want to understand everyday electronics around them. The book begins with an introduction to reading circuit diagrams that shows readers how to connect components on a breadboard, a reusable board with holes for connecting circuit parts without soldering. The nine projects (cookie jar alarm, blinking LED, touch-enabled light, digital piano, party lights, LED marquee, and more!) include a parts list of inexpensive and readily available materials and a detailed diagram to orient the reader as they assemble the circuit step-by-step. Throughout the book, author Øyvind Nydal Dahl shows readers how to apply resistors, transistors, capacitors, and other components to their own circuit designs, helping kids gain the skills and conﬁdence needed to venture into more advanced projects. For ages 8+
Inspired by Rory Kennedy’s documentary of the same name that aired in October 2018, Above & Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow provides the history of how NASA started, the challenges the agency has faced along the way, it’s great achievements, and the way it will continue to push the boundaries of space exploration for years to come. Stunning images, fascinating profiles, and an age appropriate format makes this book a great addition to any space fan’s library. For ages 7+
Your tween will be off searching for materials for their next project thanks to the 20 DIY projects that teach electronics and craft skills in this book. Inexpensive, readily available materials are used to create paper circuits, soft circuits, wearables, and robots while kids learn about working with conductive thread, sewable LEDs, copper tape, small motors, simple sensors, and more. For ages 9+
Circuit Scribe Drone Builder Kit ($99.99)
Circuit Scribe’s Drone Builder Kit is a teen’s dream because everything they need to build and fly their own drone comes inside the box. Teens simply sketch and snap to make their drone soar. They begin by drawing circuits on the drone arms using conductive ink inside the Circuit Scribe pen to power the cardboard drone, snap the drone hub and motors in place, and download the app to their phone to fly their drone up to 250 feet. The on-board camera provides teens with a birds eye view thanks to the 480p on-board camera that allows them to record and take photos directly from the app. Designed for indoor and outdoor use, the dron has a 3 minute flying time and a wifi communication controlled range of 150 feet. The built-in gyroscope and auto-leveling technology helps keeps the drone upright but if it crashes, you can rebuild it thanks to the reconfigurable design. For ages 13+
Your Moon Phase Jewelry (starting at $36)
Gift a moon lover with a piece of jewelry or art that features a phase of the moon that has special meaning thanks to Your Moon Phase. Visit the site to discover the phase of the moon on any given day in history, in any part of the world and have it grace a necklace, chain or bangle bracelet, pair of earrings, or a print with an explanation of the qualities associated with that particular moon phase.
Some of the best gifts are the ones teens will use every day and those who love math and science and need a graphic calculator for school, the Casio fx-CG50 is one of the best one money can buy. This graphic calculator features a high resolution LCD display with over 65,000 colors, natural textbook display, picture plot technology, 3D graphic capability, build in conic sections, and more! While you may not have wanted this as a gift when you were in high school, this will be an appreciated gift for a teen who is taking advanced math and science classes and will be taking the AP, SAT I/II, PSAT, NMSQT, and ACT in the near future. Fx-CG50 is permitted for all major exams and approved for AP, SAT I/II, PSAT, NMSQT, and the ACT! Just be sure that if you get this as a gift, you also have your teen affix a Mabel’s Label to it so it can be returned to your teen when left behind. *Note: I featured this graphing calculator last year and since then it’s dropped in price from it’s original price of $74+, making this year the year to grab one if this is something that would help your teen in their math and science classes!
Geometric Laser Projector ($44.95 but currently on sale for $22.95)
Lasers make a great holiday gift especially when your teen has to use their skills to assemble this variable speed laser projector. The included instruction set walks your teen through how to assemble a variable speed laser projector that is capable of producing a variety of different geometric patterns while teaching the science behind lasers, potentiometers, and motors.
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.
Glow Lab ($44.95 but currently on sale for $29.95)
The science of fluorescence, phosphorescence, and chemiluminescence come to life thanks to this KiwiCrate set that has everything your teen needs to try 3 chemistry experiments exploring these three types of light sciences. The included UV light, a spiral stand to help mix solutions, and other items will help them learn about cold light, invisible light, and experiment with fluorescein, zinc sulfide, and luminol reactions.
Win Hacker and Laser Chess from ThinkFun!
I am a huge fan of ThinkFun’s learning games that empower all ages through play and as you’ve probably noticed, their products are consistently featured in my STEM gift guide as well as other holiday gift guides. This year ThinkFun wants to share the STEM learning love and are offering Hacker and Laser Chess as a reader giveaway in a prize package worth $64.99. Enter below and good luck!
2018 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDES
AGE APPROPRIATE GIFT GUIDES:
- Toddlers & Preschoolers
- Early Elementary Ages (grades K-2, ages 5-7)
- Tweens (ages 8-12)
- Teens (ages 13+)
SPECIALTY GIFT GUIDES:
- Gadget Lovers
- Frequent Fliers
- Outdoor Adventures
- Shop Small Businesses
- Best Subscription Boxes
- 9 Gifts that Make it Easy for Families to Give Back
- Gifts for Teachers (from the perspective of a former teacher, with input from current teachers)
I hope you enjoy this year’s picks and wish you happy and stress-free holiday shopping!
Affiliate links are included in gift guide posts. Samples were received to facilitate reviews.