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STEM Toys for Curious Kids

The STEM toy market has grown in the last decade as parents look for toys that can make play both engaging and educational. If you search on Amazon.com for "STEM toys"  you will get over 2,000 results. That is why SB&F began investigating STEM toys, both old and new, in order to help parents and educators select the very best ones. With so many options on the market, the editors decided to begin with a few interesting selections manufactured by companies that specialize in educational toys focused on science and engineering. 

Among the initial selections are toys from five manufacturers and/or distributors. The toys were reviewed by volunteers from the AAAS staff who are parents of young children. The journal has also recruited a committee of toy reviewers, consisting of primarily young STEM professionals, including AAAS staff, who will continue to examine and evaluate toys on an ongoing basis. These evaluations will be made available throughout the year in reviews, blogs posts, and articles.

Alex Brands

The Alex Brands® Family offers some of the most highly recognizable branded toys, sports balls, educational activity kits, games, science kits, construction sets, and novelty products in the industry.

Known since 1986 for quality art supplies and crafts kits for kids, ALEX® has expanded over the years to a lifestyle brand for creative fun. From infant to toddler to tween, they strive to inspire kids to express their creativity by providing innovative creative toys for babies, preschoolers, and active play, many with a science or engineering focus.

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Alex Brands® sent SB&F several of their toys for review, ZOOB, an award-winning building set consisting of pieces that move after you put them together and The Ice Cream Science Kit.

SB&F tested the 75 piece set. but there are many different configurations of ZOOB from which to choose. The manufacturer suggests this toy for kids ages 6 and over. We tested ZOOB with the daughter of AAAS Senior Project Director Suzanne Thurston.  The four-year-old had a little trouble snapping the pieces together but thoroughly enjoyed mixing and matching pieces with supervision. (Older children should have no trouble snapping and unsnappling the colorful beads.) Once the pieces were snapped together, she appreciated the flexible nature of the pieces which allowed her to continue having fun with them after they were assembled.  

The Ice Cream Science Kit is part of the Scientific Explorer® series.  Scientific Explorer® kits are created and field tested through collaboration with scientists and educators at UC Berkeley’s Great Explorations in Math & Science program (GEMS). Their stated goal is to help kids develop critical thinking skills, inspire imagination, and encourage exploration through interactive experiments and activities that help make learning fun. Kavita Berger, Associate Director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy, tested the kit with her son.

Zoob and Scientific Explorer kits are available from major retailers and independent boutiques (in-store and online) including Amazon.com, Kohl’s, Learning Express and Barnes & Noble.

brinca dada

The folks at brinca dada describe themselves as “people who don’t believe that toys need to be noisy or flashy to be exciting.” They believe that toys should be beautiful and fun, specializing in beautifully constructed wooden toys, but featuring other other concepts too. They  submitted two of their toys for review.

One was the Stunt Brothers Parachutists, a toy that teaches kids basic principles of physics. The toy is part of a developing line of toys that will be designed around the concept of a stunt show as a vehicle to teach basic principles of physics and other sciences. The Parachutists help kids learn about gravity and comes with a booklet which provides experiments that kids can do to help solidify the concept in their minds.

SB&F tested it with two youngsters at AAAS headquarters. Though they were too young to really benefit from the activities suggested in the accompanying booklet, they certainly enjoyed the parachute as a toy, as you can see in the on the Reviews and Gallery page.

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The other toy brinca dada toy sent for review was Constructures, architectural blocks that consist of a set of windows that create unique modernist structures. Constructures also encourage math and language skills and help kids develop modular thinking skills which is an important STEM skill. Our tester, daughter of AAAS Program Director Suzanne Thurston, really loved these blocks and used the 13 piece set to build a structure she identified as a store.

Designed by brinca dada founder, Doug Rollins, SB&F tested the small Constructures set that contains 13 pieces. The medium set contains 30 pieces and the large set contains 51 pieces. The large set is probably your best bet. They are available from the maker and from other independent toy sellers.

GoldieBlox

GoldieBlox are perhaps the greatest Kickstarter-initiated STEM toy. Started by engineer Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox is a company that strives to inspire the next generation of female engineers by creating construction and engineering kits for little girls. They had the distinction of being the first small business to air an ad during the Super Bowl. The rising company then followed up this success with a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

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Each GoldieBlox kit combines a construction toy and a book that features Goldie, a smart young girl wearing a tool belt who helps solves problems by building machines. The toys engage kids in building through Goldie’s stories, which are written and illustrated by GoldieBlox founder Sterling.

AAAS staffer Neela White volunteered to test GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine with her two daughters, ages 6 and 8. The results in the video on the Toy Gallery Page. Spoiler alert: they loved it!

Anchored around a story in which Goldie and her friends team up to invent a solution and save the Bloxtown Film Festival from being canceled. Kids learn how to build a zoetrope, a pre-cinema animation device, while learning about illustration and animation. It comes equipped with 4 movie packs and instructions for creating more original animations. The kit is supplemented by a free app that kids can use to make even more movies.

GoldieBlox kits can be found at major retailers across the country.

Joinks

Joinks are a construction set made from flexible connectors and wooden sticks that can be used to construct all kinds of creative structures that bounce, wiggle and move! Joinks were designed by product designer Richard Elaver who is also an assistant professor of Industrial Design at Appalachian State University. He developed the idea with support from a successful Kickstarter. Originally called Flexure, the renamed Joinks are being distributed by Fat Brain..

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According to Elaver, Joinks are “easy enough for a toddler and complex enough for a chemist.” In fact, he created Joinks especially for youngsters who too young to use less flexible construction set. SB&F tested Joinks with two four-year-olds who were able to figure them out immediately. But the adults playing with them were equally transfixed. (See the video which stars the daughter of AAAS project director Suzanne Thurston and the son of AAAS senior project associate Neela White.)

The Joinks sticks are natural wooden dowels, and come in lengths of 3, 5, and 8 inches. These numbers are part of the Fibonacci Sequence, and provide a convenient additive relationship, 3+5=8. The colorful and flexible Joinks connectors are made from silicone and make construction simple with ever-expanding possibilities.

Kids and adults can build together, adding pieces and connectors to grow and transform the creations. They are adaptable to a variety of creating styles. You can start with a plan or create as you go along. Some of the connector pieces have suction cups secure your structure as you build, which is helpful and also helps to teach kids about balancing structures.  

Joinks can be purchased  from Fat Brain; wholesale pricing is also available, which is recommended for day care centers, afterschool programs, libraries, and other sites that host educational programs for young children. 

TEDCO Toys

Chances are you have played with a gyroscope at some point in your life. More than likely, it was a Chandler gyroscope. For over 70 years the Chandler Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, produced and sold virtually tens of millions of gyroscopes all over the country. The company was purchased by TEDCO, Inc. in 1982, a research and development company founded by Ralph Teetor, a well-known and highly respected inventor as a vehicle to foster his inventions. 

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Today, TEDCO is owned by Teetor's daughter, Marjorie Teetor Meyer, her family. and a group of TEDCO employees. Most of TEDCO's direction has been turned over to the employees with a new emphasis on manufacturing scientific and educational toys like the original Gyroscope. Located in the heart of Middle America, the people of TEDCO are committed to developing top quality toys that, in the spirit of Ralph Teetor, promote creativity, education, and fun. You really can't go wrong with their selection of gyroscopes. 

TEDCO toys can be ordered directly from the company or you can search for a retailer near you that carries the toys on the Company website.

Author

Maria Sosa

Senior Project Director