If you’re a parent of school-aged kids, you already know why it’s vital that you help your children grasp crucial concepts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It’s no secret that STEM occupations are our future; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that occupations in STEM fields post above-average growth, increasing at a rate of over double that of non-STEM careers. Whether you want to encourage your youngsters to become engineers, scientists, coders, or mathematicians, one of the best places to start is (surprisingly) in the toy aisle.
STEM toys and kits are specifically designed to help early learners grasp core concepts, including problem-solving, independent learning, and key development skills, all while challenging the problematic stereotypes that STEM fields are too hard or that they’re open only to certain groups, genders, or races. By introducing these key concepts in a way that’s fun, approachable, and inviting to all, STEM games and toys help spark lifelong interests and skills in young learners. If you want to lay the STEM foundation for your budding scientist or engineer, here are some of the best gifts for the job:
A Building Kit
Building toys are about as classic as it gets, and they’re still very much in style. From blocks for the little ones to complex LEGO sets for middle school kids (and, let’s be honest, adults), there’s no toy quite as engaging as the building kit. These sets teach core spatial themes while laying the groundwork, so to speak, for important engineering concepts that will come into play later.
A Microscope Kit
If your child has shown an interest in any field of science, you’re going to want to get him or her comfortable with using a microscope. These are some of the most basic yet powerful tools real scientists use every single day, so it’s imperative that future STEM stars are familiar with microscope concepts. You can purchase a kid’s microscope kit to get started with everything you need.
A Coding Game
Have you browsed the toy aisle at the electronics store lately? It’s pretty amazing what they’ve come up with—codeable robots, coding video games, and board games that teach basic programming languages, to start. These come in options for kids at any age and are great for helping to foster any young learner’s interest in technology.
Don’t forget to help them expand their STEM library! Of course, which books you buy will depend entirely on the age of your recipient, but there are plenty of titles available for kids at any age. Start at the library or your local bookstore for some great recommendations or check out this wonderful list put together by a book-loving mom.
A STEM Puzzle
Puzzles are, by definition, games or toys designed to test one’s ingenuity or knowledge. By that logic, all STEM games are really just puzzles designed as fun. With that being said, there are some official STEM puzzles out there—from jigsaw puzzles to 3D assembly kits—that will help puzzle your child all the way to advanced STEM concepts.
A Visit to the Science Center
Who says your gift has to be something tangible? Some of the best presents are good memories! Consider taking your curious child to a place where STEM dreams are made, such as the nature center, the science center, or even a real-life lab. Field trips are some of the best ways to encourage active learning, after all.
An Experiment Kit
Teach the scientific method and introduce kids to concepts in biology, physics, chemistry, and more with premade experiment kits. These mind-bending kits come with everything you need to conduct real-life experiments at any level, including dissections, chemistry experiments, and observing the natural growth of plants or bacteria.
A Math Toy
Anyone who takes a stab at some of the super entertaining math toys out there knows that one plus one can equal major fun. As surprising as it is, these math-focused games and toys will keep curious kids entertained for hours, whether it’s a good, old-fashioned abacus, cute counting cubes, or pattern blocks that teach foundational geometry ideas.
A Globe or an Atlas
Don’t forget some of the oft-overlooked sciences like geography. Giving a child his or her very first globe or atlas set can spark a deep love and fascination with Earth sciences, geography, and travel. You can double-down on the STEM-inspired fun by giving the kids on your list a globe puzzle they can build themselves or by selecting a topographic globe with raised reliefs to illustrate important natural concepts.
A Plant Growing Kit
Looking for an awesome way to entice a child into the field of biology, botany, gardening, or environmental science? Start by teaching them a little bit about plants through a kid-friendly growing kit. Whether you grow something edible—an herb garden, perhaps?—create a terrarium, or plant a tree in the backyard, these fun activities will spur a plant-based passion in your youngster.
Forging the STEM Love Early On
Like anything in life, getting your child interest in STEM concepts is all about associating them with fun and enjoyment. You want to mix learning with creativity, exploration, and plain-old fun in order to help encourage them to try and enjoy something new. These awesome STEM-focused toys and games make absolutely ideal gifts for youngsters who exhibit that early scientific spark. When you foster it at a young age, you can be sure your child will excel anytime he or she is faced with a challenge in one of these important fields or in life in general.
Cheryl Stevens is the Community Relations Specialist for AmScope. She oversees all company-wide outreach programs and initiatives. Her passion in life is helping others see the value in and implement STEM programs for children at an early age.