STEM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math, has been a hot buzzword for years now. It’s a rapidly expanding job field and a crucially important part of education … but more than that, the explosion of everything STEM-related means that there are more cool educational toys on the market than ever before. From little kiddos to tweens and teens, extremely awesome STEM toys abound (and, honestly, we want to play with some of these ourselves). Here are eight of our favorites — pick one or a few, hide the iPad, and watch your kids explore.
Age range: 1 year+
Akin to the beloved Lego, Plus-Plus is an open-ended construction toy made out of, you guessed it, a modified plus sign. With options for both young kids (ages 1-6) and older ones (5-12), these cool shapes come in tons of mixes and sets and are sure to provide hours of fun. You can build upward, outward, or flat, and the singular shape makes for seriously cool structures. 10/10, would play with these as a 26-year-old.
Age range: 8-12 years
These are the droids you’re looking for — and you get to build them yourself. If you have a little coder on your hands, they’ll love to tinker with this cool kit for hours on end. With this set, kids can create their own droid and make it come alive. An app will allow them to control the droid, code new actions for it, and take it on more than 22 missions. Why do I feel like Mom and Dad might end up stealing this cool robot for themselves…?
Age range: 8 years+
Budding electrical engineers will love this awesome kit. Connect the squishy dough any way you want, then poke the connectors of the electrical components in and watch your creations light up, buzz, spin, and more! Parents, this toy encourages fine motor skills, creative thinking, and spatial reasoning. With seven colors of dough and 40 LEDs (five each of red, green, white, yellow, blue, purple, orange, color-changing), this kit is sure to be a hit.
Age range: 4-12
I had a talking globe just like this when I was growing up, and let me tell you, it was FUN. I used that thing until it burned out (but I still can’t tell you where Oceania is). This updated version is even cooler, with Explore, Find It, and Measure It modes, and it comes with an interactive stylus. Plus, it’s voiced by none other than Bindi Irwin — yes, that would be Steve’s daughter. She’ll give you cool facts about the countries you click on, as well as the flora and fauna surrounding the area. I might need to buy another one of these.
Age range: 6 years+
These weird, turtle-shaped connecting blocks are beyond cool — and two of them fit together in 100 different ways! One set comes with 24 turtles that can create a veritable city of polyhedrons (how’s that geometry for you?) and sliding towers. The kit also includes an exploration guide to help younger builders learn the basics before they strike out on their own.
Age range: 8 years+
Forget Hot Wheels — this car is powered with salt water, which is way cooler. A single droplet of saltwater on the fuel cell will keep this car racing for a whopping 15 minutes, thanks to the chemical reaction between sodium and magnesium. Fun fact: I would have liked chemistry a lot better if we got to play with these. To stop the car, just take out the magnesium plate, rinse everything with tap water, and dry completely. Three magnesium plates are included in the kit, which means hours of racing are waiting.
Age range: 7-12
I feel like everyone had at least one ant farm growing up (or the sadder alternative, sea monkeys) and it provided hours of fun. This Ant Factory is even cooler because it features a farm gel that doubles as ant food plus color-changing LEDs. The future really is now. There are three magnification spots so you can really see what’s going on inside as well as an air vent that will allow the bugs to breathe without escaping into the waiting mouth of your house cat. It also includes an activity guide to further engage your budding entomologist.
Age range: 5+
Even little kiddos can learn to code with Botley, the fun robot. And with a host of interactive features, kid and robot alike can continue to learn and grow together for years to come. The kit includes a 77-piece activity set and does not require a phone or tablet to work. Botley can detect and move around objects, follow looping commands, navigate obstacle courses, follow black lines, and much more. And as an extremely cool, added bonus, you can also unlock hidden features.
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Jessica Suss is a native Chicagoan residing in Washington, D.C. She is currently getting her master’s degree in secondary English education at the University of Maryland. She enjoys petting other people’s dogs and is faithful to Lou Malnati’s alone. Jessica is also a supporter of MAZON and No Kid Hungry.