STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The term has recently gained more traction as professional competencies in either or all of those 4 areas are likely to be a critical advantage in the job market for current and future generations.
In essence, STEM is a very broad term that covers all of the subjects taught in school. The reason why it’s so broad is that there are many different areas within these subjects. For example, you can be studying science but also engineering at the same time. You could also study math and technology.
All of the 4 main STEM disciplines have a host of overlapping skills that can be applied to a wide range of careers, including:
Understanding how things work, like biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy
Using technology to solve problems, like engineering, computer science, mechanical design
Designing products, systems, structures, machines, etc.
Solving math problems, like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, statistics, probability, etc.
Why do we need a STEM education?
The US is currently experiencing an unprecedented level of economic growth. This growth is being driven by new technologies, such as computers, cell phones, the internet, robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, etc. These innovations will continue to drive our economy forward for years to come.
However, these same technological advances also present challenges to the way we live and work. To keep up with this pace of change, it is important that students learn about the underlying principles behind these technologies, so they can make informed decisions about their personal futures.
Reasons to prepare your child for a STEM education
There are several reasons why parents should encourage their kids to pursue a career in STEM. Here are some facts:
As mentioned above, learning about STEM topics is often quite interesting and engaging. It’s not just boring facts and figures that are being learned; rather, it’s the ability to apply what you’re learning to real-world situations. If you want your kid to enjoy learning, then he/she needs to learn something that interests them.
If you’ve ever watched a competition on TV where someone is trying to solve a problem using only a few tools, then you know that it requires a lot of skill to complete. In fact, if you watch closely enough, you’ll see that most people who win competitions don’t actually use all of the tools available to them. They choose which ones they think are best suited for the task at hand.
This is exactly what happens when you try to solve a problem in any one of the STEM fields. There are always multiple ways to approach a problem and you must choose the right tool for the job.
It teaches creativity
One of the biggest benefits of pursuing a STEM degree is that it gives you the opportunity to explore your creative side. Many jobs require you to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to problems. By teaching your kids from an early age about the various aspects of STEM, you give them the chance to develop their own unique ideas and become more creative thinkers.
It develops critical thinking skills
Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information critically, weigh different options, and decide which option is best. Critical thinking is essential for success in many areas of life, but especially in the modern world. The ability to think critically allows us to evaluate situations, make decisions, and solve problems.
STEM subjects teach your kids to think critically because they force you to consider alternative approaches to solving problems. For example, there are many ways to build a bridge, However, each method has its advantages and disadvantages. You need to be able to identify the pros and cons of each method before deciding which would be best for your project.
It prepares your child for the future
While it may seem like today’s technology is very advanced, tomorrow’s technology will probably look even better. As long as humans are around, we will continue to advance technologically. That means that your children will have access to amazing advancements in science, engineering, math, and other STEM fields.
By encouraging your kids to study these subjects now, you can help prepare them for the future. This is important because STEM careers are expected to grow by 17% over the next decade. So, if you want your kids to have a bright future ahead of them, then they need to get started studying STEM now!
What to Look for in STEM Toys
Can STEM toys actually teach children science and math?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” But not all of them do it in the same way, so parents need to know how their children learn best — and what they should be looking for when comparing options.
Here are some things to look for when choosing a STEM toy for your child:
1) The Right Age
If you have a young child, you may not need to worry about this too much. But older kids and teenagers should definitely start learning about STEM concepts earlier than later. It helps to introduce them to STEM toys as soon as possible.
Gender plays a role in many aspects of life including STEM toys. Boys and girls often prefer different types of toys. If you want to provide your child with a diverse range of toys, make sure to look at both boys’ and girls’ toys.
3) Educational Value
There are plenty of fun toys out there, but you also need to make sure that they’re educational. Some toys are great for helping children learn specific facts about a topic while others are meant to encourage them to experiment and create something themselves. Does the toy work by itself or do you need to connect it to other items? Does it come with instructions so that you can teach your child how to operate it?
Safety is something that every parent wants to ensure when buying toys for their children. Look for toys that meet safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC ensures that toys are safe for children to use. They also help prevent injuries caused by unsafe toys.
5) Fun Factor
You can’t underestimate the importance of having fun while playing with a STEM toy. Kids love being active and interacting with their toys. They’ll enjoy using STEM toys that allow them to do both at once.
When it comes to STEM toys, variety is key. Your kids won’t be interested in only one type of toy. Instead, try to find toys from multiple categories such as construction sets, puzzles, robotics kits, art supplies, etc.
7) Quality, Durability and Sustainability
Quality is another thing to keep in mind when shopping for STEM toys. Some toys are cheaply made and could break easily. Others might be difficult to assemble. Always buy quality products that are durable and easy to use. Some toys will last longer than others. Check the warranty information to see how long the manufacturer guarantees its products.
Plastic toys tend to be cheaper than wooden ones, but they’re also less durable. Wood toys are typically more expensive, but they’re built to last. And let’s not forget about sustainability. Plastic is non-biodegradable, whereas wood can decompose naturally. Choose sustainable toys whenever you can!
8) Easy of Use
STEM toys aren’t just for kids. Adults can play with them, too. You don’t necessarily need to purchase a lot of different toys to have a wide range of activities available. Consider getting a few basic STEM toys instead of dozens of individual pieces.
While you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on STEM toys, you don’t want to skimp either. A good price point depends on the age group you’re targeting. For younger kids, you’ll probably pay less per piece. As your kids grow up, however, you’ll likely need to spend more money. This is especially true if you’re buying toys that require batteries. Batteries can add up quickly over time. In that case, consider using rechargeable batteries whenever possible.
Some brands are known for making high-quality STEM toys and that reflects on the price tag. Other companies focus more on quantity rather than quality.
When you shop online, you can usually see which brand offers the best selection of STEM toys. However, you shouldn’t let brand name alone determine whether or not you purchase a particular toy. Read reviews and compare prices to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Different Types of STEM toys
While we often associate the concept of STEM toys with robots, there are many other types of toys that fall under this category. Here are some examples:
1) Construction Sets
These toys help teach kids how things work by allowing them to build something themselves. There are many different kinds of construction sets out there, including building blocks, Lego bricks, K’Nex, Erector Set, Mega Bloks, Duplo, Tinkertoys, Playmobil, etc.
2) Puzzles & Games
Puzzles and games are great ways to encourage problem-solving skills. Kids can learn math concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division while playing these games. They can also practice their memory skills and reasoning abilities.
3) Robotics Kits
Robotics kits allow kids to create their own robots. These types of toys are perfect for teaching kids programming skills, engineering principles, science concepts, and much more.
4) Art Supplies
Art supplies include everything from paints and pencils to clay and glitter. Kids can draw pictures or make art projects with these items. They can even decorate cakes and cookies with these tools.
5) Science Projects
Science projects involve learning about nature through hands-on experiments. Kids can do simple scientific tests such as mixing chemicals together, observing reactions, conducting observations, testing hypotheses, etc.
6) Math Toys
Math toys are designed to help kids learn math concepts. Examples include counting beads, measuring cups, measuring spoons, measuring rods, rulers, scales, etc Some of these items can be used in conjunction with other STEM toys. For instance, you could use a ruler to measure the length of string and then cut it into equal parts.
7) Craft Kits
Craft kits come in all shapes and sizes. Some of these kits contain crafting materials like paper, scissors, glue sticks, paintbrushes, stamps, markers, crayons, stickers, etc. Others may include sewing machines, jewelry-making tools, etc.
8) Educational mobile Apps
Educational apps are available for both iOS and Android devices. You can download free and commercial educational apps from Apple’s Appstore or Google Play. Many of these apps feature games, puzzles, quizzes, videos, animations, etc.
8) Software and web apps
Often, a web app or desktop software is available alongside their mobile counterparts. Minecraft or Roblox come to mind, but let’s not forget about other unique offerings, like synthesis.
STEM toys for toddlers
It has been scientifically proven that early exposure to STEM toys will improve cognitive development. This means that kids who play with STEM toys at an early age have higher IQs and better memories later in life. The benefits don’t stop when they grow up either.
Playing with STEM toys helps kids develop creativity, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and social skills.
STEM toys for preschoolers
Preschoolers are still developing their fine motor skills, so STEM toys for them should focus on building blocks, puzzle pieces, magnets, balls, etc. They’re also just beginning to understand cause and effect, which makes learning how objects interact fun.
STEM toys for school-aged children
School-aged kids are ready to start learning the basics of STEM. They already know how to read, write, count, and spell, so now it’s time to introduce them to the world of technology. From coding to robotics, there are tons of great STEM toys for kids ages 5-12.
What STEM toy is good for which aspect of your child’s development?
Remember the 4 main subjects Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math? If you want to proactively encourage skill development in either or all of those in your child’s development, you need to first be aware of some underlying concepts. Here is a list:
STEM toys to learn engineering concepts
Engineering toys teach kids about the science behind engineering. These toys provide opportunities to explore different types of machinery. Let your child build cars out of Legos, model rockets, design bridges, create robots, etc.
STEM toys to learn physics concepts
Physics toys teach kids about forces, motion, gravity, momentum, energy, inertia, friction, acceleration, electricity, magnetism, optics, sound, temperature, light, and more. Your kid can build models, play with water guns, launch rockets, make music, and much more.
STEM toys to study chemistry concepts
Chemistry toys teach kids about chemical reactions, solids, liquids, gases, acids, bases, salts, metals, compounds, elements, molecules, atoms, etc. Your kid can experiment with chemicals, conduct experiments, make potions, and much more.
STEM toys for mathematical thinking
Math toys help kids practice basic arithmetic operations, fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, statistics, probability, and more. There are many different types of math toys: counting, measuring, graphing, sorting, patterning, sequencing, puzzles, and more.
STEM toys that encourage imagination
Imagination is essential for creative thinkers. Imagination plays a role in all aspects of human thought, including mathematics. Math toys that encourage imagination include playing cards, board games, origami, coloring books, and more.
STEM toys for spatial reasoning skills
Spatial reasoning is an important part of mathematics. Spatial reasoning helps us understand shapes, sizes, distances, angles, volumes, surfaces, and more. Many STEM toys involve manipulating physical objects such as blocks, dice, spoons, cups, rulers, and more.
STEM toys for computational thinking and coding skills
Computational thinking is another important aspect of mathematics. Computational thinking involves problem-solving using computers or calculators. STEM toys for computational thinking include computer programming, digital logic circuits, video games, and more.
Here is our list of the best STEM toys to teach your kids coding skills!
STEM toys for kids with special needs
Some kids have specific learning disabilities that affect their ability to process information. Special education teachers may recommend certain STEM toys to assist these students. For example, some kids who struggle with reading might benefit from a book that has pictures instead of words.
Some kids who have trouble following directions may find it easier to work through a game where they must follow instructions step by step.
1) STEM toys for kids on the autism spectrum
Kids on the autism spectrum often have difficulty processing social cues. This makes them less likely to interact with others. However, they do enjoy working independently on projects like building things with Lego bricks. They also love exploring nature and experimenting with new materials.
2) STEM toys for kids with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tend to be restless and fidgety. These behaviors can interfere with focus and concentration. Kids with ADHD may need to set aside time each day to complete schoolwork. A good way to keep your child’s attention focused is to give him/her something interesting to do while he/she works.
3) STEM toys for kids that are dyslexic
Dyslexia is a condition that affects how people read and write. Dyslexics have problems recognizing letters and sounds. This makes it difficult for them to read and spell correctly. Dyslexics usually have other challenges too. For instance, they may have trouble paying attention, completing tasks, remembering details, making decisions, and understanding abstract concepts.
4) STEM toys for kids struggling with math anxiety
Many kids experience math anxiety. Math anxiety is when a kid feels anxious about doing math. It can make kids feel nervous and uncomfortable in class. Some kids try to avoid math altogether. Others get so stressed out that they start avoiding school entirely.
STEM toys for kids who are gifted
Gifted kids tend to learn quickly and retain information easily. Gifted kids also tend to be highly imaginative and creative. If you think your child is gifted, consider buying him/her a STEM toy that will challenge his/her mind. Here is our recommended list of STEM toys for gifted children.
STEM toys for kids learning a language
Learning a second language is one of the most effective ways to develop critical thinking skills. Learning a foreign language helps kids understand different cultures and perspectives. It also teaches them to communicate effectively in a global society.
STEM toys for kids learning music
Music lessons help kids practice listening skills and become better musicians. Music also improves memory and cognitive function. STEM toys can help kids learn music because they provide an opportunity to explore rhythm, melody, pitch, tempo, and harmony.