As a parent, I am always looking for gifts that my kids will love but will engage and challenge their natural curiosity about the way things work, as well as being toys that have staying power, that they can play with over and over again. Toys and games that promote S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering and Math) learning are a good place to start.
I've chosen the items below based on our experience with the products or because they have caught my eye and I've added them to our wish list. This is a complementary list to my STEM toy and book combination gift guide as well as my Math Gifts that Kids Will Actually Love, so I have lots more ideas for you on those gift guides.
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Gears! Gears! Gears!. Many of the items on this list are for elementary school aged kids and tweens, so let me begin with a fabulous choice for preschoolers on up. The gears fit together in so many ways, giving kids an early start to engineering with a fun alternative to Standard Unit Blocks.
Code Master Programming Logic Game. ThinkFun is one of my favorite brands for games. I have featured many of their games, such as Gravity Maze as a game of the month, and their single player Rush Hour logic game is my #1 gift recommendation for kids. ThinkFun sent us Code Master to try out and my kids LOVED it. A single player using programming logic to create a sequence of events that will allow them to navigate a map in search of crystals. There are 10 maps with 60 levels. It is recommended for ages 8 and up. My almost 7 year old has become a little obsessed with it, but he needs me to sit with him and give him a lot of guidance. My 10 year old easily plays by himself. I love how much of a challenge the game is, while also being enjoyable.
Compose Yourself Music Card Game. This is a truly unique game and you do not need to understand music in order to play! The concept is so simple and yet the possibilities are endless. There is a set of 60 transparent cards, each with a 4 beat sequence that can be read backwards and forwards, right side up and upside down. With the help of an exclusive website, kids create musical compositions by entering card numbers. Compose yourself is not just good for established music fans, but a wonderful way for children who may not necessarily be musical savants to learn about rhythm and melody.
ThinkFun Maker Studio - Gears Building Kit, ThinkFun Maker Studio - Winches Building Kit, and ThinkFun Maker Studio - Propellers Building Kit. These engineering kits are so cool. Each set includes all the parts kids need to make several projects. Each project also comes with an engineering challenge so kids can test out concepts like friction, torque and propulsion. Plus, little engineers are welcome to use their own imagination to experiment and build their own designs. The three different sets can be combined for even more fun.
Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit . We have a Snap Circuits set and it has served us very well. It's one of the most popular open ended science engineering toys on the market. It's a best selling toy year after year and has won numerous awards.The Snap Circuits Extreme Student Electronics Training Program set is currently a huge bargain compared to buying all the other sets and allows your kid to build over 175 different experiments
Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit is a super cool set in which kids use LEGO to engineer gadgets and machines that set in motion chain reactions. We have several Klutz books and they all have extremely clear instructions, which are GREAT for kids who can get frustrated in the building process.
Castle Logix. We've had this game for years now. There are 48 building challenges from beginner to expert. Each challenge is an invitation to construct a castle according to a picture, using four blocks and three poles. But be careful, it's not always as easy as it looks. This games using spatial reasoning, logic and my kids have even used the pieces in pretend play.
LEGO Master Builder Academy. In case you had your head in the sand like I did, you may not be familiar with all the inventive LEGO sets that go beyond basic building. I especially like the Master Builder Academy projects and the LEGO Technic Building Kits in which kids incorporate LEGO Technic Power Function Accessories into their projects.
littleBits Electronics Premium Kit has won a ton of awards for its innovative way to encourage makers to create, invent and re-invent, and engineer imaginative devices. Although littlebits contains instructions for hundreds of inventions, there is nothing to stop (and everything to encourage) kids to build their own.
Most of the above items are intended for single users, but if you are looking for a family game, try Ravensburger Make 'N' Break - Family Game. Players use visual perception, spatial reasoning to build structures as they race against the clock.
Chibitronics Chibi Lights Circuit Stickers STEM Starter Kit. If your kids are new to circuit experiments, this is a great place to start. I was delighted when Chibitronics sent us their starter kit to experiment with. The kit allows kids to experiment with circuits without a lot of wires. The kit contains batteries, copper tape, peel and stick LED circuits and a notebook to allow kids to create open-ended designs. The Chibitronics website has many extension ideas to keep kids inventing.
DIY Gadgets from Tech Will Save Us. What I love about the DIY kits from Tech Will Save Us are the comprehensive resources they offer on their website in order to take tinkering with their kits to the next level. You can read my reviews of their DIY Gamer Kit and the Electro Dough. They have a number of interesting sets, though -- such as this DIY Synthesizer and a solar powered moisture detector for your little scientific gardener!
Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late. I bet you never thought you'd have a kid who would use math as an excuse to stay up late! Well, neither did I! This book contains riddles, puzzles, problems that are kid-friendly. The best part is that each problem is divided into three different challenge levels so that kids of all ages and skill levels can stay up late with math! I dare you to let this book help you and your kids love math!
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