As 2017 draws to a close, we thought we’d take some time to compile a list of STEM toys that would make good gifts for the learners in your life. We’ve compiled this list based on the recommendations of various groups that have taken the time to test out these toys with kids and teens to find out if they do actually make the grade. These groups include the Smithsonian (The Ten Best STEM Toys of 2017), The Wirecutter (Learning Toys and STEM Toys We Love), and STEMTOY Expert (The Top 5 Best STEM Toys for Teens 2017).
The toys have been grouped into two categories: Children’s Toys and Teens’ Toys. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but we hope it will provide you with some ideas to help you find gifts for those special someones.
Brackitz Pulleys 77 Piece Set Educational Construction Set
This unique toy is made up of pulleys and center weights that kids can put together in different configurations to make a bucket escalator, a zip line, or a drawbridge. The set comes with directions that kids can use until they get comfortable with using the materials. Then they can go on to put together simple machines of their own design after getting comfortable with the mechanics of a pulley system.
Electronic Snap Circuits
With this set, kids can explore the basics of electronics and circuit design by using components that snap together on a flat surface. Kids can experiment on their own or follow pictorial instruction cards. This set is great because it allows kids to build and design real circuits.
Gears! Gears! Gears! Space Explorers Learning Set
Learning Resources, $39.99
This crank and gear toy supports STEM learning introducing children to sorting, grouping, counting, design, and construction. This version of the Gears toy includes astronauts, planets, sun, spaceship, flag, and colorful stickers. The set provides opportunities to design and build structures, fostering problem-solving and design skills.
Geosmart Moon Lander
With this STEM-focused magnetic building toy, kids can learn basic engineering skills by putting together, taking apart, and re-arranging the pieces into new configurations. There is a dash of robotics included in the set, with a motor and remote control, giving kids the ability to put their vehicles through their paces.
Although this toy comes with a hefty price tag, kids are able use the set to build five multi-functional robots and control them with easy-to-use coding blocks on their tablet. In addition, since any Lego® block and be used with the set, there are endless possibilities for expansion right out of the box.
Osmo Coding Jam Game
This coding game requires an iPad or iPhone to run an app and play kids’ pop music creations once they’re done coding the app. Kids can make music through coding by snapping together cardboard coding blocks that the game’s app then translates into musical compositions.
Rule Your Room
This set from littleBits is a composed of ready-made, modular circuits that snap together with magnets. Colors designate their types: blue for power sources, pink for inputs, green for outputs, and orange for wires. Kids can connect a battery-supplied power source to, say, on/off and dimmer inputs, followed by a servo motor, to see how they work together to power and modulate the speed of the motor.
We’re including Cozmo here since it really is not only appropriate for kids but also for teens. This revolutionary robotics kit teaches kids coding and programming. This set comes with hardware, including a 30 fps VGA camera with state of the art facial recognition software, high-resolution facial display, powerful CPU and four motors with over 50 gears. The computing hardware in the kit enables Cozmo to recognize you, learn from experiences, and evolve a unique personality the more you hang out.
da Vinci Jr. 1.0 3D Printer
This 3D printer requires little setup and is an entry-level machine. The software that comes with the machine is designed for beginners. With the help of online step-by-step tutorials, teens can use the software’s model library and range of tools to create 3D designs. Teens also can download thousands of free 3D models from the company’s gallery, allowing for creative exploration.
DIY mBot Kit
Less expensive than, but similar to, Cozmo or Mindstorms, this kit allows teens to build and program their own robots. It is a kit for beginners to get hands-on experience about graphical programming, electronics, and robotics. Part of the building process involves assembling electrical components, made easy with color-coded wires.
My First Lab, $64.99
This microscope features lab-grade parts with glass optics that can produce clear, high-resolution images. The set comes with a 50-piece accessory kit, including a petri dish, pipette, forceps, non-toxic stains, and blank slides. The microscope would be a good way to get teens to look at the world around them in a new way.