This story is part ofour year-round collection of the best gift ideas.
Like many parents, we’re always on the hunt for gifts that can keep kids interested, enhance creativity, and… shhh, don’t tell them – make them learn something. STEM toys are a great way to get your kids coding, building, and learning more about the real world, all while having fun. Putting an educational twist on playtime doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Check out some of our favorite toy gift ideas that fit right into that STEM space: science, technology, engineering, and math. From a cool robot factory to magnetic building blocks and even a chocolate pen for budding chefs, here are our suggestions for the best STEM toys to gift your kids. These hands-on educational toys and activities will get toddlers building, mixing and exploring to help ignite a spark within. We won’t blame you for wanting to play with them yourself.
Kids who love candy (and who doesn’t?) will appreciate this Gummy Candy Lab kit. Not only will they learn about different chemistry concepts, but they’ll also get to munch on delicious treats in the process. The kit comes with everything you’ll need to make candy, including a plastic mold, carrageenan (a natural gelatin), cherry and lemon flavorings, and storage bags. Maybe if you’re really nice, they’ll share it.
This fun and challenging K’nex kit will keep budding engineers busy for hours. The best part? The end result is a massive 3 foot tall motorized Ferris wheel that will provide even more endless hours of entertainment. This kit is recommended for ages 9 and up, but keep in mind that younger children will likely need adult supervision to help them with the more intricate pieces.
Artie can also sense colors and follow lines, be remote controlled, and has a “cliff sensor” to keep from falling off tables.
National Geographic kits are a great way to get kids excited about science. Even if your child isn’t much into geology, they will be impressed with these sparkly geodes. Kids can open each geode to see the crystals inside. The kit also comes with a learning guide, so once you’ve opened the geodes, you can learn about the different crystal variations. And who doesn’t like to break things with a hammer?
Circuit Explorer is like Lego, but this STEM skills toy teaches the basics of how a circuit works in programming. Children learn that they need to connect the side lines to complete a circuit and make things light up or move. Choose from three different sets featuring spaceships, Mars rovers and space stations or mix and match pieces to invent your own monster machine. They can even connect with Lego bricks.
There’s a whole world of Lego for education, and you won’t find it in the toy aisle. The Lego Learning System has kits packed with hundreds of bricks and instructions to guide students through various lessons, each kit geared towards different ages of children. These educational kits are designed for the classroom, but anyone can buy these educational toys directly from Lego for hands-on learning at home. (And there are teacher’s guides to help parents, too.)
Our favorite is the Spike Essential Learning Kit for grades 1-5, which includes a few tech pieces like a light array, color sensor, and motor. The kids also use an app to program their creations. With 449 bricks and 40 lessons, the kit teaches computational thinking skills, design engineering, physics, and math, all told through a story of cute Lego figure characters. If you want something cheaper without the technology and programming parts, but still want to keep the math and physics lessons, check out the BricQ Motion Essential Kit for $120.
Thames and Cosmos
Thames & Kosmos makes some of the best build-it-yourself engineering toys and they are often hard to find. (We’re looking at you, candy claw machine other Mega Cyborg Hand.) But here’s a fun gem we’re still seeing widely available: This wacky, waving, arm-flapping inflatable tubeman has a fan that lets kids conduct experiments with air pressure, airflow, and aerodynamics. Air basketball. air cannon Air tube man. Good for ages 8 and up, and we emphasize the “top” because you obviously want this for your desk. (There is no judgment here.)
Thames and Cosmos
Making your own robot doesn’t need to require any programming skills. This is the Kids First Robot Factory from Thames & Kosmos, and it’s good for introducing kids to the basics of engineering. The manual is an illustrated storybook that guides youngsters through building eight different battery-powered motorized bots. With this construction toy, kids can also make their own contraptions, and as they progress through the story, they learn why each robot moves in its own way.
Here’s a different twist on the DIY robot. Kids can build anything their young minds can imagine out of plastic with this 3D printing pen. The 3Doodler Start Plus is slim and lightweight, making it easier for little hands to hold. On a 30-minute charge, this pen melts popsicle sticks so kids can draw them in any shape, but the nozzle and melted plastic aren’t hot, so it won’t burn little hands. (And I’ve tried it; you can put the tip on your skin and draw on your finger. I didn’t bother giving it to my kids.) Draw directly on paper or a table and the plastic creation jumps right out.
It comes with 72 strands of filament and an activity guide with 10 new projects. To take learning to a higher level, there is a $9 Edu Power Accessory Kit with more activities.
Do you want something tastier? Draw it in the chocolate kitchen with Skyrocket’s chocolate pen. A warming tray keeps the chocolate sticky while your battery-powered pen soaks up the sweet stuff in the cartridge. Draw, eat, repeat. This fun pen comes in multiple colors, and little hands will have an easy time filling the molds. You can also draw the shape you want on wax paper and it will cool down in 10 minutes. Sure, this activity is more of a creative art, but there are chemistry lessons you can teach with refreshing candy. And that makes desserts a science!
There are easy ways to get kids to be sneaky, even if you’re not the sneaky type. I subscribe to KiwiCo Crates, which are hands-on learning activities in a box. Packed with some science and engineering lessons, they come in the mail and are tailored for different age groups. I am a long time subscriber of my children and I like the quality of the articles. But it’s not just for little tikes; there are boxes for all ages, including engineering boxes for adults. Subscriptions start at $18.50 per month, but you can also shop the KiwiCo store or purchase items individually.
If you’re stuck trying to come up with screen-free activity ideas, well, just look at the old-school screen. Lite Brite is back. The machine has slimmed down a bit, but she still has the pegs that she used to love to drill into the holes. All that creative thinking and pixel art can inspire the game programmer of tomorrow.
This cute robot for kids ages 6 and up teaches basic programming, is multi-challenging, and has no screens—no phone or tablet required. Botley can detect and move around objects, follow looping commands, dodge obstacles, and follow a black line that charts the course of her child. And with a 77-piece activity set included, there’s plenty to keep kids busy.
Even the little ones in your life, as young as 18 months, can learn STEM with these magnetic foam builders. The smooth blocks effortlessly connect and spin so you can build creatures with heads, wings, elbows, and other body parts. And don’t worry about the blocks getting dirty, they’re dishwasher and bathroom safe.
My 2 year old hasn’t gotten tired of them after a year, and my 5 year old still plays with them to invent all kinds of vehicles and creatures. It’s always a win to get a toy that has a good shelf life, and you can expand this educational stem toy with multiple boxes.
I am a fan of this geometric brain training toy. There are many twists and turns to the magnetic building block trend, but I have personally liked Magformers in the way it is designed and the options available for different types of box sets, so it can be easily expanded for different age ranges. My advice: Get a starter set with wheels, so kids can kick their creations up a notch. Some models can even be remote controlled.
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