STEM learning is a big deal in our home. My boys are math and science oriented and I like to encourage their imagination in that respect so their focus doesn't stay on "just the facts". For several years I created a book and toy combination gift guide and this year I am focusing on STEM gifts. That's Science-Technology-Engineering-Math. The good news is that all of these ideas can be considered good options for STEAM learning, too. (A is for Art and design.)
Parents love the idea that a gift for the kids can have play, imaginative and educational value. We also want toys that kids continue to play with weeks, months or even years after the wrapping paper has been recycled. I've taken care to choose STEM games and toys that will grow with your child. The choice of an accompanying book is designed to extend the activity and encourage creativity.
If you are looking for math specific gifts, be sure to take a peek at my Math Toy, Games and Books Gift Guide. For more book ideas, our list of books to inspire inventors and engineers is full of suggestions. (Note: links below are affiliate links.)
LEGO Bricks & More Builders of Tomorrow Set. Even if your child has a zillion LEGO sets, he probably still needs one of these basic brick sets. All the special sets have so many tiny and specific pieces, my kids find it hard to build anything from their imagination without these basic bricks. We actually added two of these sets to our collection so the kids could engineer whatever they wanted. The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 1: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More! includes step by step instructions for lots of ideas to inspire kids.
PicassoTiles® 100 piece set Magnet Building Tiles are nearly identical to MagnaTiles, but less expensive. Every parent I have ever talked to has said that colorful magnet tiles are one of their kids very favorite toys and they have played with them for years. Pair it with If I Built a House, about a kid who dreams about his elaborative, inventive house, to spark a child's design creativity and STE(A)M imagination.
I am a convert to the glorious goodness that is in the monthly subscription box, Tinker Crate. You can read about our experience making a motor. Honestly, a gift that lasts all year long is the best kind and monthly, 3, 6 or 12 month subscriptions are available. For those in between days, get the kids a copy of Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes: Unforgettable Experiments That Make Science Fun by our favorite go-to science guy, Steve Spangler.
Robot Turtles Game is big news in the board game world. It's been featured on major news sites and was the most backed board game in Kickstarter history. Since being picked up by ThinkFun, the price has become affordable and has it's now a top selling game. Robot Turtles teaches young children about basic programming without ever using an "on button". Since this game is best for preschoolers through 2nd grade, pair it with the picture book, Boy and Bot, about the friendship between a boy and his robot, and how they learn to "fix" each other.
Elenco Snap Circuits SC-300 Physics Kit is a must have set for every child. We have gotten so much use out of ours. We got it several years ago for my older son, and now his younger brother is starting to explore it. Inspire your kids with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the true story of how a boy brought electricity to his village in Malawi.
Gravity Maze. This is THE game I am getting the kids this holiday season. If you follow our game of the month feature, you know we have closets full of games. I recently gave away a few preschool aged games to make room for this challenging logic building game and marble run. I can't wait to play it with the kids. Gravity by Jason Chin is an amazingly beautiful book that will have kids eager to explore the force that keeps us grounded and wonder what would happen without it.
I just learned about Deluxe Roominate and it is completely awesome! I would have adored having this as a kid! Kids use interlocking, modular pieces so kids can design an build their own furniture. It also comes with electrical circuits so kids can build windmills, lights, carousels, and more. There are several different sets available and pieces are all interchangeable. I especially love the Roominate Chateau. So cool. I really think both boys and girls will love this. Pair it with Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, about a 19th century girl who started inventing things at the tender age of 12.
Every year I eye the MindWare KEVA Contraptions as a possible gift for the boys. These super cool sets encourage kids to put their engineering skills to work building chutes, funnels, curves and tracks for ball runs. The New Way Things Work is a book that will grow with your child and peak their interest in how machines are put together.
Qwirkle Board Game is one of our family favorites. I featured it in our game of the month series. It teaches logic, patterning, spatial awareness and strategy. It's a MENSA select game so you can feel super smart while playing it! This was a hard one for which to find an appropriate book! I'm choosing Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature because it teaches about mathematical patterns is appropriate for both younger and older kids. It also has gorgeous photos.
Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes was the basis of our experience with the perfect STEM play date. We've tried several paper airplane tutorials, but this was the absolute best. The paper is good quality, the instructions are clear and there are great extensions and ideas for exploring the engineering of paper airplanes. Kids will enjoy reading The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont and learning about he first pilot to lift off and land a completely self-propelled plane.