Year by year, the technology and learning experience featured in new STEM toys gets markedly better. 2021 is no exception! This year, there have been some exciting releases to help teach skills ranging from coding to robotics to engineering to biology.
There are also some STEM toys from previous years that are yet to be surpassed. And the best part is – it doesn’t matter if you are old or young, male or female – there is something for everyone!
We reviewed tons of STEM toys, science kits, engineering sets, and more. So these are the best STEM toys available this year. We looked at whether each toy would develop STEM skills, interests, and learning outcomes. Other important concerns were how open-ended it is, whether it grows with the child, and more!
- Our Top Pick: Best STEM Toy in 2021
- Best STEM Toys for Kids By Age
- Best for Teens (Ages 13 – 19) – Vector by Anki
- Best for Tweens (Ages 9 – 12) – Sphero BOLT
- Best for Smaller Kids (Ages 5 – 8) – Osmo Genius Starter Kit
- Best for Toddlers and Preschoolers (Ages 3 – 5) – Picasso Tiles 100 Piece Set
- Best for Babies & Infants (Newborns to 2 Year-Olds) – Rolimate Wooden Learning Toys
- Best STEM Toys By Category
- What to Consider When Buying a STEM Gift
- Frequently Asked Questions
Our Top Pick: Best STEM Toy in 2021
Mindstorms fans can no longer get the wonderful EV3 edition. But LEGO hasn’t let us down. This year, they released an exciting new edition: the 51515 Robot Inventor Kit! Charlie, Tricky, Blast, M.V.P., and Gelo are our new robot friends.
Use drag and drop or text-based coding to get your robots to perform over 50 activities! Blast, grab, punch, lift, clean up, shoot, play basketball or soccer… Gelo uses powerful and refined motors to move its legs independently of each other. With nearly 1,000 pieces, this set will provide your teen with weeks and months of play and tinkering fun!
Many extensions will make sure this robotics kit never gets stale. The ingenuity that has made all Mindstorms editions so popular over the past decade is already legendary. Combined with incredible customization, it has made it our best overall toy for 2021. With it, kids are bound to fall in love with robotics. Regardless of age, experience level, or even interest in STEM, this gift can’t fail!
Best STEM Toys for Kids By Age
Best for Teens (Ages 13 – 19) – Vector by Anki
Are you looking for a super-smart coding robot with awesome capabilities? Vector by Anki is an adorable toy that plays games, lifts, and carries his cube. It cuddles, recognizes faces, and charges himself whenever he runs out of juice!
This little pal will provide a lot of games and opportunities for imaginative play. But that’s not all there is to it. Its software development kit is based on Python, one of the most widely used and versatile coding languages. While having fun, your teen will also improve their STEM knowledge, math skills, and critical thinking.
The advanced SDK means limitless possibilities for all skill levels. Virtually any function you imagine can come to life! That is why we recommend both Vector and Cozmo, a slightly different Anki product, as great coding STEM toys for kids ages 13 and up. Cozmo is more kid friendly and fun for younger kids, though!
Best for Tweens (Ages 9 – 12) – Sphero BOLT
When you first see the Sphero BOLT in action, there’s something truly magical about it! An intelligent sphere that can move at up to 2 meters per second under its own steam?!
Weighing in at 1.1 pounds and being roughly the baseball size, the BOLT is packed full of high tech components. Gyroscope and accelerometer are standard across the range of Sphero robot balls, including the ping pong ball sized MINI.
The Sphero BOLT can be used for an enormous variety of activities and projects. At the simplest level, this robot ball can be controlled in real-time via an app on just any device. It’s like an RC car with only one wheel! However, the real learning starts with programming BOLT. It uses the popular block-based coding language, Scratch.
Best for Smaller Kids (Ages 5 – 8) – Osmo Genius Starter Kit
The Osmo Genius Starter Kit transforms your iPad into a wondrous Augmented Reality (AR) device. The Starter kit comes with a base to rest your tablet in. There’s also a specially-designed clip-on mirror that allows your device to ‘see’ the surface in front of it. Not fun enough? Its five immersive games might help!
We got hands-on with the Osmo Genius Kit and were very impressed! Our test subjects ages 6 to 8 love the games and find them a lot of fun. Note that there is also a ‘junior’ version available – the Osmo Little Genius. It includes games that are more suitable for ages 3 to 5.
Best for Toddlers and Preschoolers (Ages 3 – 5) – Picasso Tiles 100 Piece Set
The great thing about this Picasso Tiles 100 Piece Set is that it allows kids a very early chance to flex their creativity, love for math, and fine motor skills. And with 100 pieces, what a lot of things they can make!
The colorful, geometric magna tiles will keep kids engaged for hours. They snap together conveniently with a pleasing sound. What’s more, children of ages 3 and up will love them all the way into adulthood!
Best for Babies & Infants (Newborns to 2 Year-Olds) – Rolimate Wooden Learning Toys
There’s so much value in this Wooden Learning Toys Set from Rolimate! The largest item has slots for three wooden balls to hammer with the small wooden mallet. The balls then hit a xylophone and roll down its surface, making musical notes. This toy helps develop fine motor skills.
The set includes holes in various shapes on the side of the main ‘box,’ through which differently shaped blocks may be inserted. At this age, kids love colors, sound, and hitting things. Some adult supervision is desirable, though. If only to make sure the mallet doesn’t get used on siblings!
Best STEM Toys By Category
Best Coding Toy – Piper Computer Kit
The Piper Computer Kit 2 stands out amid an impressive array of options as one of our top picks for the Best STEM Toy of 2021. What impresses us most is the level of building, coding, and understanding that kids (and adults!) can meet while having a blast.
With Piper, real ownership for the computer is achieved because you actually build it! We cannot overstate the benefits of doing that. The ironic thing about modern life is that PCs have become more and more ubiquitous. Yet, general understanding of what goes into them and how they work has declined.
And building this DIY computer is just the start. Once the child assembles it, it’s an awesome and fun tool to learn coding. The blending of physical and digital worlds continues, with puzzle-solving in a special edition of Minecraft. That’s even more physical controls, switches, buttons, & lights. So much to learn and even more to enjoy!
Best Robotics Kit – ELEGOO UNO R3 Smart Robot Car
The ELEGOO UNO R3 Smart Robot Car V3.0 is incredible value in STEM learning and fun for the price. While LEGO Mindstorms and Boost impress us immensely, the LEGO polish admittedly comes with a higher price tag.
ELEGOO’s kit packs an impressive parts list and gives kids ages 12 and up a great challenge to assemble. Indeed, for children with no electronics experience, the LEGO Boost would be a better option. Nevertheless, if your junior robotics engineer is up to the challenge, they’re rewarded with an Arduino-powered Smart Robot car that is fully programmable. It can avoid obstacles, trace lines, and be controlled via mobile devices.
Best Science Kit or Toy – MEL Chemistry
MEL Chemistry is a Science Kit subscription that will blow your kids’ minds! (And probably yours!) Here at STEM Toy Expert, we’ve played with a lot of chemistry sets in our time. Heck, we loved chemistry so much that we made it a career – working in chemistry teaching and research for over 20 years!
With MEL Chemistry, you get a monthly delivery of 2-3 experiments sent to your door every month. The starter kit includes some cool equipment, glassware, and even a VR headset! There are heaps of chemistry experiments possible at home, using common chemicals in the kitchen and around the house.
And there’s plenty on offer with 28 topics spread over a year and a half. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry because you can pause or cancel the subscription at any time.
Best Electronics Kit – Snap Circuits Classic Electronic Kit
Electronics sets are terrific for curious young minds. They are a very safe way for kids to experiment with electricity and the results of experiments are usually instantaneous! The Snap Circuits Classic SC-300 Electronic Exploration Kit is an excellent first electronics set for kids 8 years old and over.
This set has over 300 projects (that should keep them busy!) and 60+ parts. Experiments are very relatable for kids, with options such as a photosensitive electronic organ, a lie detector, an AM radio, and more. This set is undoubtedly the most popular in the Snap Circuits range by Elenco, and for a good reason!
Best STEM Subscription Box – KiwiCo Tinker Crate
The KiwiCo Tinker Crate is a wildly successful subscription box for kids ages 8 to 10. KiwiCo was founded by a mother of three to help parents support and encourage the kids innate creativity and curiosity.
Many parents are running out of ideas on how to get their children to learn as they play. STEM boxes are a great way to get those ideas and materials conveniently delivered to your door regularly.
We believe the Tinker Crates are a sweet spot in terms of projects available and the age these kits are targeting. Tweens and teenagers love projects like building a trebuchet or a hydraulic (via syringe!) claw.
For kids (and adults!) of other ages, KiwiCo has lots of other options catering from 0 to 104 years-olds! I guess if you’re 105, you’re out of luck! And for all our top picks, be sure to read our guide to the best STEM subscription box for kids.
Best STEM Board Game – Terraforming Mars
Toys are wonderful, but sometimes, board games will be the go-to option.
Who doesn’t wish to be the first person ever to live on Mars? That’s easier said than done, though. Your child needs to raise oxygen levels, build cities and infrastructure, produce food and water for sustainability. That’s what Terraforming Mars is all about! For every successful project, players get victory points. Naturally, the winner is whoever has the most points.
The missions will take hours of gameplay, so the game is only suitable for teens and up. It will help kids learn tons of fun and useful info about Mars. There are many ways to win, which boosts problem solving. To keep children involved in a screen-free play, you can always get expansion packs.
What to Consider When Buying a STEM Gift
We considered several criteria to arrive at our recommendations for the Best STEM Toys this year:
First and foremost, we looked for high-quality toys made from good components. Nothing is more frustrating for children and parents than toys that don’t function as intended or last beyond unwrapping. Or even downright dangerous toys with sharp edges, unsuitable materials, or even lack of adequate instructions!
STEM Learning Outcomes
We might have ‘toys’ in our name, but the products we are interested in lead to new learning and STEM skills through play. Great STEM toys ask more questions than they answer. They provoke the imagination and lead to new creative endeavors.
In many ways, the best STEM toy is the one that gets used! It is hard to define exactly what makes a toy fun for kids to play with. You’ll know it when you see it! Some products have a certain kind of magic to them, in design and execution. It draws kids (and adults!) in and leads to smiles all-around.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a STEM toy?
STEM Toys are educational toys that promote interest in Science Technology Engineering and Math. They also help your child unobtrusively learn critical thinking through play. Learning has never been more fun!
What are the best STEM toys?
Our site has detailed reviews and comparisons to help choose the best STEM toys for any child. Great STEM toys for children will depend on their ages, their interests, and your budget. The good news is that we have suggestions that cater to any age, interest, and budget! The only thing we decided not to include is a video game or two. Not because they are not educational, but because we want to reduce screen time!
What are toddler STEM toys?
Toddler STEM Toys are learning toys aimed at developing skills and interest in the STEM disciplines – Science Technology Engineering and Math. These skills are often things like basic logic, creativity, problem solving, and numeracy at the toddler age. STEM toys that are great for toddlers are stacking cups, wooden building blocks, tiles, and simple puzzles.
Last update on 2021-04-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API