The holidays are right around the corner! Want to give the kiddos in your life something educational that is also fun? Consider STEM toys and games.
What is STEM?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education and is an important part of our daily lives. The U.S. Department of Education reports that only 16% of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. Internationally, the U.S. ranks 17th in science and 25th in mathematics, much too low if we want to continue to be the global leader in STEM fields.
Additionally, a 2010 Georgetown University report estimates that by 2018, STEM will provide the sixth-largest share of job openings in the economy over the next decade.
“In 2008, STEM Occupations accounted for about 7.3 million jobs, or about 5 percent of the 147 million in the U.S. economy. By 2018, they are projected to increase to 8.6 million jobs, or 5.3 percent of the nation’s 162 million total position.”
– Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
The increase in demand for STEM workers with the low number of Americans qualified to fill these positions has prompted both government and non-government organizations to take steps to promote education in these areas, hence the focus on STEM education.
Benefits of Toy Blocks and Construction Toys
Parenting Science reports that toy blocks and construction toys help children develop “motor skills and hand-eye coordination; spatial skills; a capacity for creative, divergent thinking; social skills; and language skills”. Additionally, research has linked higher math tests scores in high school students who engaged in complex block play in preschool.
STEM Toys and Games for Children
If you’d like to provide your child opportunities to learn while having lots of fun, here are 10 toys and games (in no particular order) to get their creative and STEM juices flowing.
If you’ve never heard of Legos, you’ve probably been living under a rock or in an alternate universe where fun doesn’t exist. This popular brand of construction toys has been around since 1932 and builds sets for all ages. Fun fact: Want to reach the moon? Build a column out of Lego bricks. You’ll only need 40 billion.
K’Nex are another popular construction toy system with a series of rods and connectors. The sets are designed for children ages 5-12, and they now offer themed products like Angry Bird and Mario building sets.
Children can explore simple mechanics and science with Gears! Gears! Gears! toy sets. Much like LEGO and K’NEX toys, these sets can be put together to form buildings, farms, vehicles, airplanes, and more.
Get your child interested in physics with the Marble Run. Colorful tubes, chutes, drop-throughs, merry-go-rounds, and spinners click together to form a fun track for marbles. The starter kit comes with 103 pieces, 20 marbles, and a reasonable price tag.
GoldieBlox was started in 2012 by Debbie Sterling, a mechanical engineer, in order to get young girls interested in engineering. The company made national headlines last year with their viral commercial parodying Beastie Boy’s 1987 song Girls. Since then, GoldieBlox has expanded their product line from their initial belt drive Spinning Machine and now offer a free app, too.
Roominate was founded by two Stanford graduate students, Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen, in the hopes of inspiring young girls to pursue careers in engineering. These toys empower children to build, design, wire, and innovate. From helicopters to homes, there are endless ways to entertain young inventors.
Children ages 8 and up will enjoy tinkering with littleBits. Electronic modules snap together with magnets to allow children to learn about prototyping and electronic circuitry. The littleBits library has over 60 modules that make millions of combinations, so there are plenty of ways for children to be creative. Check out the Projects page for inspiration.
Teach your children the fundamentals of programming – with a board game. Robot Turtles, “The Game For Little Programmers”, gets kids to write programs with playing cards. It’s so much fun that kids won’t even know that it’s educational. Grown-up participation is encouraged, as children get to have fun bossing the adults around.
Inspire your children to build and code a computer with the Kano kit. Building a Kano computer is as simple as a putting together a Lego set. Children all over the world have made games, choreographed music, animated characters, and more. The kit is intended for children between the ages of 7 and 14.
There’s a good chance your children are already playing this popular video game. Players build structures with blocks to protect against nocturnal monsters in the Minecraft world. However, there are two modes to play the game: Creative (non-competitive) and Survival (competitive/adventure). Both modes allow for multi-player play, so you can join along in the fun. The game is available for PC and Mac, Xbox and PlayStation consoles, as well as for iOS and Android devices.
Bonus: Build-On Brick Mug
And for the adults who want to mix work and play, may I suggest the Build-On Brick Mug? Make your afternoon coffee breaks even more fun. Just grab some of your kids Legos, and you’re good to go. (Ahem! I think our office could use some of these… hint hint.)
STEM toys for children are becoming more popular as the need for technology education increases in our society. Have you purchased one of these STEM toys or games for your children? Do you have any other recommendations? Please feel free to share it in the comments below.