Buying a new toy for a child should be an exciting and fun experience, but for many parents, friends and loved ones, sifting through a seemingly endless collection of brightly colored and poorly constructed pieces of plastic that will undoubtedly be cast aside after only a few moments of play can be frustrating and expensive. That’s why whenever we search for a new toy for the tiny human in our lives, we focus on STEM toys. Not only are they fun to play with, but they also provide an educational element that can spark a newfound passion for children.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM toys can be found for all age groups and focus on developing problem-solving skills and critical thinking, while also engaging users in STEM-related subjects. STEM toys often include additional benefits, including helping to develop fine motor skills, color recognition, spatial awareness and reading and math skills. Many of the toys on our list can be used for independent play or group play, making them ideal for only children and children with siblings.
Whether the child you’re buying for is academically inclined or not, STEM toys help make learning fun and accessible thanks to the wide variety of age and milestone-specific options available. For toys that both parents and kids will love, check out our top picks for the best STEM toys below.
1. Elenco Snap Circuits Jr.
Future engineers will love the Elenco Snap Circuits Jr. set, which comes with 30 electronic parts. Using the easy to follow and fully illustrated manual, kids can build over 100 different projects including a sound-activated switch, a musical doorbell, a flashing light and a siren with an adjustable volume knob. The electronic circuit kit encourages design and problem solving skills and provides kids with a tangible finished product that they can proudly show off. Once kids master the Junior set shown here, their building can continue thanks to the several expansion kits available for more advanced electrical circuit building.
2. Adventure Academy
BEST VIRTUAL GAME
This might not be a toy in the traditional sense, but it’s exactly the kind of play modern kids are looking for today. Parents might be familiar with ABCmouse, an online learning platform for kids. Adventure Academy was created by the same team, and it’s a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) for kids and tweens. Adventure Academy is an entire virtual world centered around a Hogwarts-like academy where kids can take classes, play games, go on quests and meet interesting characters. There are tons of math and science-related activities within this world, and kids will have hours of fun exploring. Since kids love their screentime, the best STEM toys of 2020 aren’t necessarily physical. Get the most out of screentime with this educational video game. Right now, an annual subscription costs $60 per year.
3. The First Years StackUp Cup Toys
BEST FOR BABIES
It’s never too early to help little ones explore the fascinating world around them. Although infants might not be ready for coding and circuit boards, they do love cups. These colorful and stackable cups from First Years are an excellent toy for babies, helping them understand early engineering concepts by fitting smaller cups into bigger cups. They also learn math skills by looking at the numbers printed on the bottom of the cups. Plus, one of the cups will inevitably be lost and therefore subtracted from the collection. Parents know that one cup always gets lost. We love that these BPA free cups have small holes on the bottom, making them fun for water play in the bathtub. Their soft and lightweight design also makes them a great option for toys to use in the stroller or car seat.Buy: The First Years Stack Up Cup Toys $3.99
4. Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set
BEST FOR GROWING WITH CHILD
There aren’t many toys that can be used from infancy to childhood, but the Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set fits the bill. Made with natural wood and free from lead, plastic and all toxins, the Tegu blocks are an open play toy that encourages building and design. Babies will enjoy holding (and chewing) the smooth blocks with soft edges and older kids will have fun creating buildings, vehicles and anything else they can think up. The Tegu are great for traveling and use in restaurants thanks to their strong magnets. Parents will also likely have fun creating new shapes with the blocks, which double as a stress reliever for tired adults.Buy: Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set $26.10
5. Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit
BEST FOR TODDLERS
Kids love imitating adults, so encourage their real-world play with the Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit, a much safer alternative to the real thing. Not only do kids get to practice their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination with the interactive toolbox, they learn spatial awareness and colors. They also learn how to match shapes by pairing the ‘nails’ and ‘drill bits’ with the correct tools and openings in the box. Designed for kids ages 3 to 5, the toolkit also has storage for all the pieces included, another bonus for adults who are tired of tripping over tiny toys.Buy: Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit $14.49
6. Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope
BEST SCHOOL PREP
If you have a budding scientist that loves picking up plants, insects, rocks, and anything else you don’t want coming home from the park, try the Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope. A great indoor rainy-day option for little nature lovers, the interactive microscope comes with 60 images that budding biologists and botanists will love seeing magnified. Kids can set the GeoSafari Jr. to fact mode and hear Bindi Irwin describe what they see through the microscope, or choose quiz mode and test themselves on what they’ve just learned. The microscope has English, Spanish, French and German settings, teaching languages as well as science.Buy: Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope $29.05
7. Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set
BEST CODING ROBOT
Toys that teach kids how to code are the latest craze and for a good reason. As more schools implement technology in the classroom, engaging kids in tech-based learning is necessary to ensure they don’t fall behind. On the downside, parents’ ongoing struggle to balance screen time becomes more difficult. That’s why we love the Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set, which teaches kids ages five and up how to code without the use of a smartphone or tablet. A remote programmer and coding cards teach kids how to code Botley and deliver commands that will have him racing around obstacles and moving small objects.Buy: Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set $36.45
8. Yellow Scope Foundation Chemistry Kit
BEST TOY GEARED TOWARDS GIRLS
We are typically not fans of gendering toys, but study after study has shown that girls are rarely encouraged to pursue STEM subjects, often dropping these courses in later years even if they show an aptitude and an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That’s why we like the Yellow Scope Foundation Chemistry Kit, which can be enjoyed by any child but is specifically targeted towards girls. The kit teaches important basic science concepts like chemical reactions and molecular motions and does so in a fun and engaging way. Realistic lab equipment like goggles and beakers are included, as is a detailed 32-page notebook that includes fun facts, quizzes, and room for important notes from future leading scientists.Buy: YELLOW SCOPE - Foundation Chemistry Kit: Dozens of STEM Experiments That Take Girls Seriously $49.99
9. LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Kit
BEST FOR TEACHING ROBOTICS
Build a robot, teach it to walk, then take it apart and build an entirely new robot with the LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Kit. Designed for kids ages 10 and up, the kit includes over 600 pieces that can be used to build 17 different robotic designs. Combining engineering and tech, the Lego Mindstorms set includes instructions to teach kids how to code their robot to walk, talk, grab items and shoot targets. Once the robot is built, kids can go online and access the Robot Commander App, which includes building instructions for more robots as well as learn-to-program tutorials and an online game.Buy: LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robot Kit $350.00
10. littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit
BEST FOR STAR WARS FANS
If the force is strong with your little one, they’re going to love the littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit. Kids first get to work on their problem solving and engineering skills by building their own Droid. Little Jedis can use all the pieces included in the kit or customize the Droid with their own add-ons. Next, kids can help their Droid explore this galaxy by using a coding app that teaches them how to instruct their Droid to move or ‘speak’ using authentic sounds from the Star Wars films. The electronic blocks can be rearranged in several configurations to help the Droid perform more than 22 ‘missions.’ The app features step-by-step tutorial videos, which means kids can build their Droid and operate it without the help of a parent or adult, which is good because parents and Star Wars don’t always have good results. We mean you, Darth Vader.Buy: littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit $35.00