By Jill Hodge
As STEM-based (science, technology, math, and science) products continue to saturate the toy market, parents may be unsure about which toys are best for enriching their kid’s creativity and learning in the sciences. Whether your son or daughter likes science, math, design, or technology, the STEM products that follow will give them hours of fun learning while sparking their imaginations. These products let them solve problems in ways that prepare them to tackle the science-based problems and innovations of the future.
For younger kids (4-7 years old), it’s all about the touch, texture, and interactive nature of toys that keeps them coming back for more. For kids aged 5 and over who enjoy paleontology, how about a model homo Neanderthal to inhabit their prehistoric world? The Edu Science line of products from Toys”R”Us includes a Jurassic Action Scale Model Homo Neanderthalensis. The kit includes 11 bone pieces, assembly instructions, and a color poster. Kids can recreate the replica of a Neanderthal that stands 8.3 inches high. Get it at: http://www.toysrus.com.
For kids 6 and older who like their skeletons in present-day human form, there’s the Eyewitness Kit: HumanWorks. Kids get to cast, finish, and assemble an entire skeleton, learning to recognize and name the major bones of the body. The completed skeleton is 18” tall and comes with magnets so you can display it on your refrigerator. To get this kit and other Eyewitness Kits, go to: http://www.skullduggery.com.
Want to entice your youngest children with science? Think placements. There are a wealth of science-based placemats to choose from that let the whole family get in on the discussion over the dinner table. Painless Learning has all kinds of placemats, but two designs for STEM lovers include their Weather Placemat and their Rocks-Minerals Placemat. One side of the 12×17.5” placemat has colorful designs, facts, and figures while the other side has extended learning exercises and a write-on/wipe-off laminate surface for solitary play. See all 64 designs at http://www.painlesslearning.com.
For kids 8 and older, the list of STEM products is staggering not to mention dependent on your child’s interest level. While there are wonderful learning toys in all areas of science: biology, chemistry, and physics, quality toys stand out because of their ability to adapt to a child’s needs – enriching their learning by growing with them as they develop problem solving skills. Quality is also highly dependent on the product materials themselves.
This is apparent in electronics toys such as the Snap Circuit from Elenco. The Snap Circuit SC-100 has durable, well-designed components, and the product grows with your child, helping them to understand the circuitry behind creating over 100 projects including an alarm clock, a flying saucer, and a doorbell. What’s more, the circuit boards have snap-on plastic modules that let your child move forward with their project without the use of tools. This reduces frustration and puts the focus on the circuitry process itself. What’s more, Snap Circuits are supported by an informational website by Elenco that offers manuals in multiple languages and companion study guides for students. Go to: http://www.elenco.com or local retailers to purchase products in the Snap Circuit line.
For kids interested in biology, especially the workings of the human body, the best model I’ve found is the ever-fun Squishy Human Body from SmartLab Toys. This hands-on kit includes a 12” plastic human body model with stand, 12 plastic bones and muscles, and 9 removable squishy vital organs. Best of all, the Body parts Organ-izer (a colorful poster) and a 32-page color book guide kids through the exploration. Tweezers and forceps are included to ensure your child feels like a scientist while learning the skeletal, vascular, and muscular systems. Find it here: http://www.smartlabtoys.com/.
For kids who need an introduction to the properties of matter and the wonders of chemistry, nothing is better than starting them out with Theodore Gray’s beautiful Elements collection. Gray, the author of Popular Science magazine’s “Gray Matter” column, created the visually stunning book, The Elements: a Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. Each two-page spread explores an element and brilliantly illustrates its many forms and functions through color photographs. For example, Gray describes the element, Beryllium as “a debonair, James Bond-style metal able to launch rockets one minute and charm the ladies the next.” Gray also offers posters, placemats, and an interactive website for added fun for kids and resources for teachers and parents. Check out the Elements at: http://periodictable.com/theelements/.
Have fun engaging the next generation of scientists with these educational toys!