I have been asked by a few people what my favorite STEM-based holiday gifts for kids are. So I thought I would put together my top 7 holiday STEM gifts!
Certainly, it can be really overwhelming knowing what to get as the selection of toys available nowadays is vast. Meanwhile, as I sit here typing my middle son is googling John Deere farming toys!
Reuniting Learning and Play
We have come to this place where learning and play have been separated and it is my opinion that we need to bring them back together. After all the research is now showing that learning through play is more meaningful.
Our current education system is based on surface learning where facts are presented and memorized. Deeper learning, the kind we want for our kids, is where those basic facts are then applied to real-world examples and in a real tangible way. There is no better way to take learning to that deeper level than through play.
Time to talk STEM toys!
So which toys made it on to my Top 7 holiday STEM gifts list? STEM has become such a hot buzz word that it has become a label to add value to toys. Some toys desire that label but sadly a lot do not! When looking at toys there a few key questions to ask yourself.
Is it a creative toy or a creative tool?
Mitchel Resnick in his book Lifelong Kindergarten says,
“Just because a toy itself is creative doesn’t mean that it will help children become creative… Ask not what the toy can do for your child; ask what your child can do with the toy.”
There are some really neat toys out there that have all the earmarks of STEM. However, creativity ended with the inventor and does not translate to the play. On the other hand, our aim always with STEM Training is to engage the kids in a creative way. They work through the STEM Training Process: Challenge, Research, Plan, Make, Tinker, Reflect, Share, and Improve.
Could it be the spark your child needs?
I am a firm believer in exposure to as much as possible because that is the only way to allow a child the opportunity to find what the purpose of their gifts and talents are. Toys can be part of that exposure. Don’t underestimate the value of early exposure. Some of our greatest inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs were fueled by a spark in their childhood.
For example, Henry Ford at 12 years old saw a steam tractor that lit the spark that became Ford Motors. Also, Thomas Edison spent his childhood experimenting after his mother gave him a science book full of experiments. Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, feel in love with animation as a child and found the vehicle for his ministry through it.
Top 7 Holiday STEM Gifts
Toy 1: LEGO Mindstorms EV3
Firstly, this is definitely my top, number 1, absolute favorite toy of all time!!!! Anything LEGO really but see No 2 for more about that! There are two versions and I recommend the slightly more expensive Education Edition. It has the rechargeable battery, which as every parent knows you should be given shares in battery manufacturers as you leave the hospital with your bundle of joy!
This robot is so versatile in what you can do. I’ve seen my son turn it into a projector reel for his animation. The robot comes with sensors so it can be programmed to do so much autonomously. The coding software that comes with it, is simple to use. In addition, for the more advanced coders that like languages like Python there are now ways to program it outside of block programming.
You can purchase the Educational Edition on Amazon for $469.95 or the less expensive version for $349.95. In short, the rechargeable battery, extra sensors, and storage case make the Educational Edition worth it. You can also get the Educational Edition on LEGOeducation.com for $411.95 with $8 shipping.
Toy 2: LEGO
I have highlighted the LEGO Brick Box because a box of bricks alone will spark creative play, develop fine motor skills, allow for imagination, creativity. But really ANY LEGO product falls into this category. In short, I do love all the amazing sets that LEGO produces. My boys have enjoyed the LEGO City sets for years. They will follow the instructions, build the set, and then they turn it into what they want exactly.
However, there is one important note to fully embracing the amazing tool LEGO is, let them take it apart. There are museums and parks out there that have sets beautifully made on display. However, you only get a little part of the usefulness of LEGO if a set is built and displayed. Above all, you can create endless challenges for your child to build. During my childhood, the best thing my parents got me was LEGO.
The Medium Creative LEGO Brick Box is available at Amazon for $27.99. Most major retailers carry the box and most of the sets.
Toy 3: LEGO WeDO2.0
Forgive me for staying with LEGO but for younger kids, I have to share this simple robot too. That is to say, this is a great starter into robotics and coding for kids around 4 years old up to around 9 years old. Furthermore, it is simple, block programming software. Also, it comes with a whole curriculum that kids can work through from learning about bees to cars.
You can get the WeDo 2.0 on Amazon for $197.95.
Toy 4: Hue Animation Studio
For your budding artists and animators, this set is a great way to start a kid in the world of animation. Firstly, the camera is perfect for making stop motion animation (they can use the LEGO from the sets above!). In addition, the software is simple to use and there is a Getting Started book with instructions to getting started and projects to work through.
The complete kit is $59.95 on Amazon.
Toy 5: 3D Printer
Why just give a toy when you can give a toy that will make lots of toys? That is essentially what you will do when you get a child a 3D printer and open up Tinkercad. 3D printing technology is exploding and the cost is dramatically reducing while the technology is advancing quickly. I don’t personally have the 3D printer that I recommend, the one I have is extremely outdated, however, this one is on my wishlist and I have a friend that uses it.
This printer does need to be built, however, for a little extra Amazon does offer it with the installation. Certainly, by all accounts, it’s relatively easy to build. Again if life is a learning experience then building it yourself will only help the understanding of how it works.
Toy 6: Magformers
For younger kids, Magformers are a wonderful toy. They are great for fine motor skills and exploring shapes and buildings, as well as magnetism. In addition, they are very durable and the bright colors make them very appealing to the kids.
You can all the Magformers sets on Amazon starting at $18.99 and ranging upward in price depending on the set.
Toy 7: Microgreen mini kits
I do need to give the disclaimer that I haven’t used the Mountain Valley Seed Company Microgreen mini kits but I have used their other kits and seeds on a regular basis.
Microgreen farming has been life-changing in our household, not just from the fact that discovering them came after researching for a FIRST LEGO League project but also from a diet perspective. My oldest is so picky as an eater but from being involved in growing Microgreens he eats them nonstop. But if you do get this for you kid, don’t tell them that bit!
So there you have it, my top 7 holiday STEM gifts! The list could be so much longer. I did run the list by my personal STEM R&D department, my boys and they gave it a huge thumbs up!
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