Our Favorite STEM Toys this Year
The holiday shopping season is upon us, and while there’s no shortage of toys out there, many parents are on the lookout for STEM toys that are both fun and educational. The Works Museum has you covered this year. We’ve gathered some of our favorite STEM toys just in time for the holidays – and really, who better to recommend these than the educators, parents, and staff at an engineering museum?
We really, honestly love these toys. The Works Museum isn’t paid to promote any of them, we’re just excited about all the great resources out there for developing engineering habits of mind. We hope you like these STEM toys as much as we do!
Staff Picks for STEM Toys
Kit (Director of Education)
Pick: Brain Flakes
This building toy is inexpensive and made up of small plastic gear-shaped pieces that connect at 90 degree angles by sliding them together. I was unimpressed when we put them out for people to build with, but boy did I change my mind quickly. Builders are able to make organic structures such as trees and flowers and all kinds of amazing things. There are cheaper versions out there, but the real Brain Flakes work best. Intuitive and fun for all ages, preschooler to adult.
Sarah C. (Director of Marketing)
Pick: Snap Circuits
My kids have several of these sets including the basic kit, the remote control car, and the light and sound (aka: DJ) set. Hearing them problem solve together as they select the right pieces to build projects and make all the circuit connections is great. More challenging than Legos, but also with a bigger reward. My one son used his kit to create an optics show for his science fair last year. It was a big hit!
GoldieBlox is a fabulous engineering toy for girls! The toy features a main character,”Goldie”, who takes on design challenges to rescue friends and make great ideas happen. She has friends that are included in their own sets, along with storybooks included in most sets. Each set has it’s own design challenge, while collecting new sets provides young engineers with more supplies to take on their own design challenge ideas (materials are standard and sets can be mixed together, like Legos and K’Nex, to add to the building possibilities!).
Serious fun for girls & their friends to work on alone or together, with the super important message – “empower(ing) girls to build their confidence, dreams and ultimately, their futures.”
Sam (Events Specialist)
Sphero bots are always one of the biggest hits at our robotics and coding events! Basically, it’s this sphere-shaped robot, kind of like BB-8 from Star Wars (they actually have a BB-8 bot too). You control the Sphero from an app, which allows you to use block coding to design programs that give the robot instructions on how to operate and move.
If your child is newer to coding, you can do things like program the Sphero to navigate mazes. If they’re more comfortable with coding, you can use if/then statements, loops, and other computer logic to do more complex maneuvers and have it make decisions itself.
Pick: Wonder Workshop Cleverbots (Dot, Dash, and Cue)
Explore robotics and programming with these fun robots. With apps for storytelling, games, challenges, and programming, there’s so many things to do.
Riley’s Bonus Pick: Ax-Man Surplus
Ax-Man isn’t a toy, but a great place to shop for affordable materials. This quirky store has all sorts of random stuff to spark your creativity. It’s a great place to go if you know you need something for your project but you’re just not quite sure what.
Kaiya (Visitor Experience Supervisor)
Pick: Q-Ba Maze
This toy was in our Design Lab earlier this year. I’ve seen lots of families spending time playing with the Q-Ba Mazes, building intricate marble run mazes and having a ton of fun!
Sarah S. (Visitor Experience Supervisor)
Pick: Square Up
Children in our summer camps loved playing this game during recess. I wouldn’t expect kids to choose a board game over four square, but they picked it up on their own and were totally engaged!
Kara (Media & Communications)
My pick this year is undoubtedly Magnatiles. Parents absolutely rave about this one – I’ve heard more than one mom describe this magnetic building set as an investment – in a good way. What I love most about building toys is how they grow with your children – one year they’re making simple stacks of squares, the next they’ve created an elaborate stable for their toy horses. We often have Magnatiles out on our light table in the Museum, so if you want to check it out before you buy, stop in for a visit (though I recommend calling first to make sure it’s out).
Pick: LEGO™ Boost
With this toy, students have fun building LEGO™ robots and then programming them to drive around, sense motion or nearby objects, and respond. I love watching kids figure out what their robots can do. It introduces all the reasoning of computer programming in a really fun, intuitive pictograph style.
Pre-order Only STEM Toy Picks
Two of our staff picks are currently only available for pre-order (they’re just that new and awesome). We felt it was worth it to keep them on the list, even if they might not arrive in time for the holidays.
Beth (Director of Development)
Pick: Turing Tumble
Available for pre-order on Kickstarter, Turing Tumble lets you build mechanical computers using marbles to solve logic puzzles. It’s a fun way for kids (and adults) to see how computers actually work. I was able to try out this game at an event recently and can’t wait to order one for my family. Estimated shipping date is February 2018.
Pssst. You may remember another staff member writing about this game on our blog a few months back – double recommendations!
Frances (Experience Developer)
Brixo is circuitry that works with LEGO™! The conductive coating on Brixo’s LEGO™ compatible pieces replaces a standard wire and allows you to build circuits without learning how to use new pieces or materials. If you can put LEGO™ together, then you can build a circuit with this toy!
Want more STEM Toys?
Keep an eye out for more blog posts in the coming weeks – our Director of Education will be highlighting even more of her favorite STEM toys and books. Want to try some in person? We’ll be having an educational toy fair here at The Works Museum from December 14-January 1. We’ll have STEM toys and books in the Museum, as well as facilitated hands-on activities that focus on chemical engineering, robotics, mechanics, coding, and more. Follow us on social media or visit our website for more information in the coming weeks.