Why Kids Should Play with STEM and Science toys
STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) toys and kits are the perfect way to spend a fascinating day. These toys can stimulate the brain like no other, giving kids a chance to explore their curiosity about our world and how it works.
There are loads of reasons to play with Science toys and kits. Here are our top 5!
1. Enhance cognitive development (AKA build strong brains)
Learning new things builds connections in our brains and helps us increase our memory retention.
This is very helpful in school (hello exams) and work later in life. Science toys build knowledge about our world. Whether your kiddo enjoys digging deep into a dino excavation kit or peering at a leaf through a magnifying glass, there is so much knowledge to soak up about our planet and beyond.
Kids find science far more fascinating than grown ups give them credit for. Our son's favourite book at 1 year old on was a heavy duty coffee table book full of photographs of plants, animals, rocks and gems. No cartoons or graphics. No simplification. Just straight up, real life examples of the incredible diversity on our planet. People found it shocking when they came to our house that our toddler was happily flipping though a science tome, but really, of course kids find the world around them interesting! It's all brand new and gloriously mysterious. Feed that curiosity!
2. Improve critical thinking and problem solving skills
Critical thinking and problem solving skills are absolutely massive when it comes to success in school and work, but also personal happiness.
Most science toys involve setting and testing a hypothesis, analyzing results and planning for next time. How does a volcano work? What do dinosaur bones tell us about what happened to them? This question and answer process teaches kids to think critically about the information they've learned and apply it to their world.
Any kind of scientific experiments or kits also offer a huge opportunity for problem solving skills. If your crystals aren't growing - why? What do you need to change about their environment? Why does baking soda and vinegar create a foaming reaction? If you build a catapult and it's not firing well, what can you do to fix the problem?
And don't even get me started on the brain building magic of marble runs. Even as an adult, I can almost feel my brain getting stronger when I put one together! How can I build it super tall but fairly stable? Why is the marble skipping off the track? How can I slow it down so it stops doing that? It's amazing brain exercise for any age. Read more about the marble run we have at our house.
Read more about critical thinking and problem solving skills and how to build them in your kids.
3. Overcome challenges and improve patience, focus and grit
In a hyper instant gratification world full of ads, apps and social media, I think the gift of focus and perseverance is one of the most useful and thoughtful gifts we can give our kids.
Science experiments and brain teasers are awesome for encouraging kids to stick through a sometimes tough process to achieve their goals. It takes time to dig out that exciting dino skeleton. You don't figure out that STEM brainteaser immediately - you have to work and work at it. Most science experiments involve several steps to go through carefully before you see your desired result.
I grew up pre Internet/smart phone/Ipad/Netflix. I can't imagine what it's like to grow up in a world so desperate to distract us at every turn.
We need to build up our kids' abilities to focus so they can accomplish their goals as they get older. Grit, or the ability to persevere towards a goal despite challenges and obstacles, is a huge predictor of success.
Makes sense! No matter how naturally talented you may be, if you can't push through the inevitable monkey wrenches in your plans you'll never get anywhere.
4. Build confidence
Learning new concepts and information about how the world works builds confidence in kids.
When a kiddo sees a leaf falling and knows why and how the lifecycle of a tree works, they feel proud of that knowledge. Ever noticed how once a kid learns a new fact, they love to "teach" anyone who will listen? That's pride in their newfound knowledge talking.
5. Promote a love of learning
Science toys and books are an excellent way to promote learning for the fun of it.
When kids have fun learning new concepts, they're more likely to view learning as something fun and exciting. This is huge for success in life - lifelong learners are far more likely to solve the problems they come across as they simply think "What do I need to learn to get around this" rather than "I don't know! I guess that's just how it is".
Lifelong learners learn for pleasure and are open minded to new concepts and information that comes along. They don't need to cling tightly to old ways of thinking - they are free to adapt and change to their ever changing circumstances. It's no surprise that this mindset can lead to more happiness and fulfillment as we get older.
Some of our favourite Science toys:
There are lots of great choices in our STEM/Science section. Here are a few faves:
STEM building kits
This elegant catapult building kit by Pathfinders have been a top ten seller at our store since we opened in 2010. Everyone raves about them!
Created by a science teacher, these kits are a foolproof way to teach scientific concepts in a way kids understand, enjoy and love to do. I mean, build your own catapult? Yes please!
Clementoni Mechanics Library kits
Delve into the world of S.T.E.M. learning with these mechanics sets from Clementoni. These kits allow kids to use STEM concepts to build working models of cranes, planes and electric motor powered cars and more. Illustrated manuals will help guide your child through various designs as they develop the skills and confidence to create their own.
Thinkfun specializes in games that are designed to sharpen kids' minds. Give your child an early learning advantage with these games, brainteasers, and puzzles that make learning fun! Thinkfun is a leader in creating S.T.E.M. games that will shape 21st century thinkers. These games are proven to help stimulate crucial brain development in logic, visual and spatial reasoning, math, and more. Many Thinkfun games are recipients of multiple awards.
A few favourites for younger kiddos are:
Roller Coaster Challenge Challenge your engineering skills with a game that involves logical thinking but also allows for creative free-form building. At the end of each challenge, you get to watch a real roller coaster car glide down your track, complete with dips, curves, and loops!
Balance Beans Designed to build on logic and math skills, kids balance the beans on a see saw to keep the whole balanced. The more they play, the more kids use reasoning to balance over trial and error. Several challenge cards.
Math Dice Jr A perfect game for introducing or reinforcing early math skills.
Rush Hour Jr Solve the puzzle by manoeuvring a red car out of the traffic jam. Comes with 40 challenge cards).
A few favourites for older kiddos are:
Laser Maze How does a Mensa approved game sound for building a smart brain? Laser Maze is a fun and challenging game that requires you to use beam splitters, mirrors, and a little brainpower to direct the lasers through a series of mazes and hit your target. Designed for solo play - awesome for kiddos who may not always have a same aged playmate at the ready.
Code on the Brink Designed to build the mental skills needed to understand computer coding. This is a unique screen-free, unplugged experience for programming. Each challenge contains a map of coloured squares. Each colour is associated with pre-programmed moves for your robot to perform. Using logic and your problem solving skills, determine which moves will successfully get your robot from start to finish.
Codemaster Learn the basics of programming with no need for a computer. In this educational game, your Avatar travels to a new world in search of crystals. Along the way you will learn and use programming logic to help you navigate the map. A fantastic game not just for learning the principles of programming, but also sequential reasoning, planning, and problem solving.
Another perennial best seller for us, Snap Circuit kits are extremely well rated. They are simple to use (snap the circuits together - no tools needed), the projects are interesting (build a flying saucer!) and they've won a bunch of awards for making a science toy that actually works for more than five seconds out of the package.
Kraul Science Kits
Ok, these kits by Kraul look heavy duty. Made in Germany with mostly German packaging, they take a minute to warm up to. But these are super well made science exploration kits and have great English instructions inside. Whether you want to explore magnets, mirrors or colours (or set up the most delightful cable car), Kraul does it well without any gimmicks in sight. Well made, well thought out kits for successful experiments.
These trivia card games are fantastic for building scientific knowledge in a fun way. With two levels of questions (easy and hard), your child will learn more and more about their world every time they play. We have a big selection of these cards - insects, dinos, wildlife, ocean, space and more.
Hands down, one of the best and most well rounded educational toys out there. They enhance problem solving skills (how can I make my castle look like the picture in my head? Why did that tower fall over? How can I stabilize it?).
They promote creativity. Build a fairy castle today, a bridge for toy trucks tomorrow. From enclosures for farm animals to beautiful mosaics, the possibilities are endless.
They promote patience and grit. It takes time to build a bridge or forest dwelling for your toy foxes out of blocks. This practice of try, try and try again is key for developing grit and perseverance ( a major predictor of success in school, work and life in general).
Read more about patience and grit or more about why kids should play with blocks.
Professor Puzzle makes fantastic STEM puzzles and brainteasers. We love these for making science look as cool as it is and building brains while kids have fun. Plus, they do it without a bunch of gimmicky electronic bells and whistles that tend to break the second a child starts to play with it.
No one does non fiction like Usborne! From delightful lift the flap books on the human body, science and so on to colourfully illustrated scientific encyclopedias, Usborne designs books kids love to read. They have books for littles (my son has loved his Look Inside Your Body book since he was 2 years old) and books for school aged kids like this See inside Space.
See our full Science and STEM section here!