Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths are all wrapped up in STEM learning, and although these subjects might sound a little serious for the festive season, your child will have stacks of fun with a STEM toy.
Live Science says that a quality STEM toy will keep your child’s attention as they, ‘Build, play, experiment and build again – in an endless array of variations,’ and along the way, they’ll develop skills that are valuable this Christmas and in all the years to come.
In fact, playing with a STEM toy creates opportunities for your child to:
- Develop their creative and critical thinking skills
- Test solutions and solve problems
- Explore and take calculated risks
- Connect conceptual ideas with hands-on experiences, and
- Discover new ways of doing things.
Before investing in a STEM toy, though, you want to make sure that it will hold your child’s interest and truly combine learning and enjoyment.
Early childhood psychologist, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek says, ‘The best STEM toys are active, engaging, meaningful, social and fun’ and to make your Christmas shopping easier – and more educational – here are some STEM toys recommended by researchers.
The best STEM toys for ages two to five
The good news is that STEM toys for toddlers and preschoolers don’t have to come at a high cost, and the great news is that these options have a high re-play value:
Wooden and other types of blocks
A set of blocks is a classic example of a quality STEM toy because it’ll provide endless opportunities for your under five to play socially, while thinking creatively and mathematically.
Magnetic tile building blocks
Magnetic tiles build on the block theme and teach ages three plus about shapes and engineering concepts, with some magnet magic thrown in.
A magnetic tile building block set will encourage your preschooler to experiment, create and problem-solve (e.g. when they work out that two triangles will solve the problem of a missing square piece); and this kind of set is a good investment because your child will still enjoy it once they go to school.
To build ingenious structures without the power of magnets, your preschooler just needs a Tinkertoy Super Building Set.
This classic set comes with 200 pieces and 30 building ideas, and while your junior engineer is pushing together spools, washers, flags, rods and end caps, they can also think up imaginative ways to play with the helicopters, castles, bicycles and cool creatures they’ve constructed.
Train and car tracks
Railway sets are another way to fire up your child’s imagination and STEM skills, and if they’re more rev-head than train buff, you can treat them to some car tracks instead.
Age-wise, track sets will go the distance from ages three to 10, and along the way, these sets provide opportunities for your child to build increasingly complex tracks and work with friends to run them.
Board games and puzzles
Christmas is the perfect time to bond over a board game or perplex over a puzzle and there are several options that boost STEM skills.
Meanwhile, puzzles are a brilliant way to extend your young child’s spatial abilities and build their skills in mentally rotating and moving shapes.
Dreampark’s large piece animal puzzles will flex your two-year-old’s cognitive skills, imagination and hand-eye coordination. And if your child is a little older, then the 48-piece Melissa & Doug Dinosaur Floor Puzzle or circular iPlay, iLearn Wooden Solar System Puzzle will strength their problem-solving skills and start to develop logic and critical thinking processes (e.g. knowing to put together the edge pieces first).
We live in a digital age and there are two STEM toys that will really introduce your preschooler to the wonders of coding and computer programming.
Fisher-Price’s Code-A-Pillar encourages planning and spatial reasoning as your child directs the robo-caterpillar with over 1,000 possible coding combinations. And TTS’ Bee-Bot is a programmable floor robot that follows your preschooler’s instructions and helps with their spatial thinking and pattern-recognition.
The best STEM toys for ages five and up
As your child gains numeracy, literacy and other skills, the STEM toys on their Christmas list can be more challenging, but still just as fun.
Here are some expert recommendations for school-aged children:
LEGO is a brilliant way to develop your over five’s spatial reasoning skills and creativity.
The LEGO Classic Creative Fun Building Kit and LEGO City Space Mars Research Shuttle and Mars Rover are both STEM-approved, and they’re excellent for developing fine motor skills in little hands and fingers.
Board games, card games and puzzles
Games and puzzles grow with your child, so once they’ve mastered the preschool board games and 48-piece puzzles, it’s time to move on to Monopoly Junior, The Game of Life Junior or a 100-, 250- or 500-piece puzzle.
The experts say that classic card games like Go Fish, Memory, Old Maid and Crazy Eights are also beneficial because they, ’Encourage a grasp of counting and basic math, and they encourage the social connections that help kids enjoy STEM activities.’
If you want to level up from the Code-A-Pillar and Bee-Bot, then Scratch Jr., CodeSpark Academy and Osmo are three quality options for STEM learning this summer.
Scratch Jr, is based on the kid-friendly programming language, Scratch, and it teaches ages five to seven how to program their own interactive stories and games.
CodeSpark Academy will challenge your child to solve problems in an early coding app, then build their own games.
And Osmo allows kids to bring their drawings to life on the iPad screen, go on an open-world coding adventure and generally, ‘Merge tactile expression with innovative technology’.
In summary, your child’s age and interests will help you decide which STEM toy ends up under the Christmas tree.
If you’re looking for more ideas, then the TIMPANI Toy Study lists some winning STEM toys for young children, and whatever you choose, a quality STEM toy will educate and entertain your child on 25 December and beyond.
A cool way to connect with Santa Claus
Of course, before any gifts magically appear under the tree, Santa has to make his list and check it twice to find out who’s been naughty and nice!
To encourage your child to be good in the weeks leading up to Christmas – and add a sprinkle of Santa magic – Apple makes it possible to have a video call with the big man himself.
The Video Call Santa app is a modern take on the classic meet-and-greet, and all you need to do is download the app, select Santa’s accent (British or American), choose from one of 26 different episodes, and set up a time that suits.
Once he calls in, Father Christmas will greet your child and ask them a series of questions like, “What do you want for Christmas?” The recorded video can be shared on major social sites, like Facebook, and although there are in-game purchases that add a personal touch (like Santa using your child’s name), the app is free to download.
All in all, this is a fun way to find out what your child wants for Christmas and get that festive feeling remotely. Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas!