What are STEM Toys?
The concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are essential in a world dominated by big tech companies. Technological progression is rendering more and more jobs obsolete but, in stark contrast, STEM jobs are predicted to grow 17% over the next decade. We think it is essential that you give your kids a head start in order to be successful in this rapidly changing world. Not only for job security, but because STEM jobs earn more on average!
STEM toys are educational toys that encourage kids to use their brains while playing. They stimulate the development of motor skills, lateral thinking and problem solving. From learning to code and building your own video games, to growing crystals and exploring the world under a microscope, to constructing your own cars, planes and more. They are the perfect way to tear your kids away from iPad’s, Xbox’s and Playstations and teach them some valuable life skills. So what are you waiting for? Read on for our recommendation of the top 10 best STEM toys for 2018.
Cozmo is our chosen number one best STEM toy in 2018, but what is it all about? Simply put, Cozmo is an artificial intelligence (AI) robot that evolves the more you interact with it, as well as a robotics kit designed to teach people to code. The more you play, the more he learns and adapts to develop his own unique personality. Packed with hundreds of emotions and voice tones, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t alive – especially when Cozmo calls your name!
Download the app and play games with Cozmo to unlock new skills, moves and modes. Anki also provide regular updates to keep things fresh, but the Cozmo Software Development Kit (SDK) is where things really get interesting. This extension allows you to write your own software for Cozmo and program your own custom experiences, giving access to advanced systems like computer vision, face tracking and path planning.
Anki provide some tutorial scripts to get things started, but from here it is up to you, your imagination and of course you coding skills. Program Cozmo to sing scales, Tweet or even interact with internet of things devices like smart lights! The Cozmo SDK can provide hours of fun, but also teaches kids and adults alike the fundamentals of coding. To find out more about learning to code with Cozmo, see our list of the best toys for learning coding.
Recently, Anki also added a graphical programming option for Cozmo called Code Lab based on Scratch. This is great for beginners who have no experience because, in order to create programs, you only have to drag and drop blocks of ‘code’ into a sequence. There are tons of interactive projects to get through that start with the basics and progress to more complex concepts like variables and functions. The idea being to learn the fundamentals before learning text based coding languages with the SDK.
It’s great to see Anki adding this new feature to Cozmo as it shows they are always listening to users and looking for ways to improve the product. We look forward to seeing what future updates await Cozmo!
The multi-award winning electronics kit from Snap Circuits has to feature as another one of our choices for the best STEM toys in 2018. With over 100 exciting projects included, this set will give your kid a foundation in how electrical circuits function. It includes 30 snap together parts which are easily fitted to the circuit board to give a hands-on experience of how electrical components work together.
What’s more, there are loads of expansions for those looking to step things up – the most exciting being the Snapino set. This new addition combines an Arduino micro computer with snap circuits electrical components, allowing kids to program custom functions into the circuit board! The best part is it’s compatible with all other sets. We think Snap Circuits can provide a valuable part of a rounded STEM curriculum and are not one to be missed this year.
Based on the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) program pioneered at UC Berkley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, this starter chemistry kit is perfect for budding young scientists who want to do some cool experiments outside the classroom. It comes with all the chemicals and equipment needed to learn the basics, such as the difference between acids and bases or using a pipette & test tube. With 11 awesome experiments including erupting a color-changing volcano, growing cystals and creating a sunset in a test tube, this kit is bound to get your kids excited about science!
Want your kid to get a job at Tesla Motors? Give them a head start with the 14-in-1 Solar Robot by OWI. This ingenious kit allows you to build 14 different robots all powered by solar (no annoying batteries)! Similar to K-Nex, you can fit the pieces together and then disassemble them with ease to make something new. The kit also includes beginner and advanced guides to suit all ages.
With renewable energy playing such a big role in our future, this is a great way to give your kids an understanding of the basics behind these technologies. Check out our full article on solar & eco toys to learn more.
No top STEM toy list would be complete without a microscope, and we believe the My First Lab Duo Scope to be the best value one on the market. The great thing about My First Lab’s is that it’s so much more than just a toy. This real, lab-grade microscope includes lenses with 40x, 100x and 400x magnification! It also has glass optics, rather than plastic found in lots of cheap microscopes, meaning that it produces a comparatively better image.
It has the power to turn normal day to day things into something awesome and exciting. Take a strand of hair to reveal its crazy crystalline structure or check out spongy skin cells. Coming with over 50 accessories, the Duo-Scope will have you and your kids amazed whilst learning valuable microscopy skills like how to focus the lens and stain specimens. This is taught through an included activity guide, where kids can observe mould growth, learn about onion mitosis and more.
Endorsed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the Piper Computer Kit comes with everything you need to build your own simple computer and learn the basics of programming. The beautiful, handcrafted wooden computer case assembles like a puzzle piece, with easy-to-follow instructions to guide you through assembling the computers hardware.
Next, Piper’s revolutionary learning system will teach your kid coding and electronic engineering with an engaging story line based on a Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft. Kids can then experiment with the code to create custom games.
But this isn’t just a toy! It’s fitted out with some high spec hardware including a HD LCD display, 1GB RAM, 1200 MHz QuadCore CPU + tons of accessories. It’s also WIFI enabled so you can download expansions. The Piper Computer kit lets your kid tinkle with computer hardware and coding, something which Wozniak said “represents what enabled me to do all the great technology things in my life”. It’s easy to see why it made our best STEM toys 2018 list. If you are looking for something a bit more advanced, see our article on the best DIY computer kits.
If you want to set your kids on a path toward a career in mechanical engineering, LEGO is a great place to start. The classic pieces are super easy to fit together, with models varying in difficulty from tens of pieces to thousands! As such, it is great for a variety of age ranges. However, even the most complex of models still features LEGO’s signature easy-to-follow instructions.
The LEGO Mindstorms set is a relatively new addition, but has been incredibly popular, allowing you to build and program your own robots. The set includes instructions for 5 robots, but you can also download tons of builds developed by fans from the LEGO Mindstorms website! Learn to program them with intuitive, icon based drag and drop software for PC/Mac, or download the App for smart devices. There is also a text based programming option for more advanced users.
The set comes with over 550 LEGO Technic elements, including the revolutionary EV3 brick with its powerful ARM9 processor. With top spec hardware and great software for learning to code, the Mindstorms set is a must have on our best STEM toys 2018 list!
When it comes to STEM toys which help foster engineering skills, K’NEX are a household name. Signature ‘snap fit’ pieces join easily together and can be reassembled endless times, making K’NEX the perfect step up from LEGO. You can combine rods and connectors with moving parts to create all manner of models – from vehicles to buildings to Ferris wheels.
The 860 piece set comes with clear instructions for 100 models, but the versatility of K’NEX allows your kid to build whatever their imagination can conjure! This toy promotes the kind of lateral thinking skills critical for a career in engineering, and our best STEM toys 2018 list would not be complete without it.
The Kids First Botany Kit from Thames & Kosmos is a top STEM toy for teaching kids the basics about plant biology. The set comes with a tray of mini greenhouse domes, seeds and other equipment, plus a 48 page color guide. Kids can learn through 30 hands on experiments how seeds germinate, how plants grow and feed, as well as how different plants need different conditions to survive.
The set also teaches some more complex concepts, such as how plants transport nutrients and the basics of plant cell function. As such, we think this is a great STEM toy for complementing what kids are learning in science class at school. The bonus being it is also great value for money!
Want your kid to get a job at the iconic SpaceX? Well get them started by inspiring them with a build your own rocket kit, and Etse’s is a good place to begin. Taking about a day to build, the rockets rely on real engines to reach heights of up to 1200 ft! They then drift back down to earth using a built in parachute, but engines can be bought separately so you can reuse your rocket. Estes make tons of models with different designs and height limits, so you can choose whatever suits you best!
Summary of the Best STEM Toys for 2018
You may have read through that list and thought a lot of the toys were quite expensive, and you’d be right. Modern STEM toys tend to involve robotics and electrical components, which can be costly. However, if they inspire your kids there’s no telling where it could lead! You may also have thought they were a little to complicated or just not right for your child. If that’s the case, check out our STEM toys for infants, toddlers or girls.