children working on STEM projects in the classroom

STEM Kits for elementary: How to get kids into STEM (as a Teacher) and best STEM Kits for elementary

Rebecca Gray Education

STEM kits are all the rage. (Trust us – We’re completely unbiased experts).  But these STEM kits are not one size fits all, as many parents and teachers find out the hard way.  Sometimes those who purchase STEM kits for elementary students receive them only to find out they really should’ve been marketed to older students.

As a teacher, I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted a project in your class that was a complete flop, or a unit that no matter how you spun it was completely over your student’s heads – but if you have, you surely remember the frustration and disappointment.  Wasted class-time, and inaccurate assessment values.  Sometimes you just need to scrap it as a failure, and a learning experience for yourself.

As a parent, I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed an 8-year-old melt-down when her Poopsie Surprise Unicorn doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, but it’s not pretty.  Nothing like a toy that brings frustration instead of joy.

How do you really know if these STEM kits for kids are actually going to be way above their pay grade?  Well, all STEM kits should have an age recommendation from the manufacturer.  You’re going to want to check that before you buy.  But even those are sometimes skewed. Those age recommendations can be vetted with reviews on Amazon, the manufacturer’s website, or social media.  Real teachers.  Real parents.  Telling it like it is.  Learn from their mistakes.

Elementary age students gather on a carpet, some with hands raised as their teacher sits in front of them all.
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

What Are They?  STEM Kits Explained

If you’re a noob, you may have never opened a STEM kit in your life.  (Noob is a really fun word I learned from Elementary students.  Throw it around once in a while. It will make you feel young again.)  So what are STEM kits?  Well first let’s start by diving very shallowly (bad pool joke) into what STEM is.  STEM is a widely accepted interdisciplinary approach to science, technology, engineering, and math.

Related: What does STEM stand for?

A STEM kit is not quite the same as a STEM toy.  Though a STEM toy might be educational, it’s not an immersive STEM experience in the same way a hands-on kit will be.  Kits should include all the components necessary to carry out some STEM activity, be it chemistry, robotics, engineering, or coding based.  It will include instructions, or log-in information to an online learning module.

Some STEM kits often come as part of a subscription service or a tiered series that build upon each other – bestowing increasing levels of understanding in a particular STEM topic.  Some STEM kits don’t necessarily build upon each other, but instead, give students small tastes of many different STEM topics. It’s still beneficial to expose them to several areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.  There are hundreds of available STEM kits.

As a teacher, if you are interested in STEM kits for elementary school learners, those kits should probably be at a beginner or near-beginner level.  Frustrating the students in your class with a STEM kit that’s way above their ability level can turn them off to STEM.  Be sure the kits you introduce are specifically marketed as STEM kits for elementary students.

STEM Kits and Why Do They Matter?

STEM kits are a fun and different approach to problem-solving – a vastly different learning experience than textbooks and lectures.  STEM kits for kids are specifically designed to feel like a play experience. Data shows us that when kids play and learn, that that knowledge sticks.  It’s why so much of human learning occurs during childhood, through curiosity and play.

Critical thinking is a skill that is developed over time.  It’s essential in almost every innovation of technology.  Approaching a real-world problem with logical thinking and solving it through trial, error, and hands-on experimentation are driving factors in the push for project-based learning in the classroom.  STEM kits for kids are very conducive to project-based learning.

Related: How to Plan Project Based Learning Lesson Plans

Think about it this way:  A third-grader would much rather spend their class time learning how to build and code an electronic device, or experimenting with (safe) chemical reactions, than listening to their teacher call on classmates to read chapter 3 of their science books.  These kits can create memories, and a love of learning that elementary students will carry with them into junior high, high school, and beyond.  STEM kits for kids set them up for success, building their STEM confidence.

STEM Kits as Educational Tool:  How to Utilize Them in Your Curriculum and How to Get Children into STEM in the First Place

Utilizing STEM Kits for elementary school students is much easier than you think, as most are already designed to align with state standards and Next Generation Science Standards.  They fit seamlessly into different units of the STEM (or STEAM) curriculum you are already planning to cover.  Science projects and hands-on learning are some of the most memorable parts of STEM learning.  Think about how clearly you remember creating a vinegar volcano, completing exciting labs, or working with electronics when you were in school.  These experiences stick with us in a way that traditional textbook and lecture-style teaching does not. STEM kits bring these pre-prepared learning experiences to your elementary school classroom, ready to go.

Having an elementary teacher guide students through carefully designed STEM kits for elementary students significantly cuts down on prep time.   The curriculum, instructions, and STEM supplies are already right there in the STEM kit.  This extra time for teachers can be used to encourage students in their journey through the STEM curriculum by asking open-ended or critical thinking questions as students develop the building blocks of the scientific method and the engineering process.

About ten elementary students are gathered around the 3-D printer in their classroom, observing it in action.
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Designing a STEM classroom and curriculum that supports the use of kits is an effective way to pivot your role in the classroom. It allows the teacher to adjust to the role of facilitating and questioning, pushing students to investigate further or attack from a different angle. It’s these out-of-the-box STEM teaching tools that also change the role of your students. Young learners become active participants instead of passive recipients of their own knowledge.  They have some control, and a direct part to play in their learning.  Creating an exciting and engaging STEM classroom can give students the inspiration they can carry forward to pursue a STEM career in the future.

Our Recommended STEM Kits for your School:  Best 9 STEM kits for Elementary

Thimble has taken the time to vet out some appropriate STEM kits for Elementary schools.  While we’d love to list our kits in all 9 spots, we know that Thimble creates kits that are a bit too advanced.  We only have one kit appropriate for upper elementary, and we’ll include it in our number 9 spot. So without further adieu, the best STEM kits for elementary students roll call: (drumroll, please!)

This is a photo of STEM kits for elementary students all packaged in clearly labeled STEM bins.  The contents of the kits are spread out in front of the bins, including brick building blocks, magnetic tangrams, base ten blocks and cubes.

  1. Hand2Mind Elementary Comprehensive STEM Bins

These bins make the list for several reasons.  The first is the level of comprehensive planning that comes along with this bin.  It comes with a teacher guide, writing prompts, discovery questions, and blackline masters – all the components, down to accessories and storage are included in this kit.  The fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination these activities offer to preschoolers make it an excellent addition to any pre-K classroom.  The writing prompts and critical thinking necessary for some of the tasks also makes it the perfect STEM kit for elementary students in 1st-4th grade.

Bonus:  This kit can be DIY reproduced if you’re willing to come up with your own activities.  Most supplies can be purchased at a dollar store or craft supply store.

  1. Ravensberger’s Gravitrax Starter Set + Expansion Packs

This STEM kit for elementary students is disguised as a game!  It isn’t necessarily useful for an entire project-based learning unit, but is a great supplement to a physics and natural sciences lesson about gravity.  It is a great way to get students having fun with STEM concepts while opening up conversations about physics, gravity, and how height affects speed and energy.  Students use plastic pieces to build towers and tracks for marbles to run through.  This STEM kit includes tracks, stackers to change the height, free falls, intersections, and even a cannon! This would make an excellent individual or group project.

Bonus: There are expansion packs available to make this set as large or as complicated as desired.

  1. Brickyard Building Blocks Wheels and Axles Set

Brickyard Building Blocks are perfect for preschool and lower elementary.  They offer that “Lego” experience for a fraction of the price (who doesn’t love savings?) and are compatible with the Lego collection you already have in your classroom.  This STEM kit for elementary students is perfect for small group challenges in the classroom when exploring wheels as simple machines.  Brickyard Blocks and Lego may seem like just a toy to the naked eye, but they allow children to explore the world around them, experiment with new ideas, and develop pre-engineering skills.

Bonus:  Brickyard Building Blocks also offers free shipping for all orders within the United States that exceed $15.00.

This shows all of the items included in this Botany-focused STEM kit for elementary students, including fertilized potting soil, STEM stories, diorama materials and labeled diagrams of plant parts.
  1. Bluestudios’ That’s Life!  Botany STEM kit for Elementary School Students

This is an amazing, interdisciplinary STEM kit for Elementary students who are learning about plants, plant parts, photosynthesis, etc…  The kit comes complete with an engaging story,  a companion workbook, and a curiosity journal (love it!) – allowing it to really tie into ELA lessons.  It includes all materials for kids to plant, grow, and illustrate their own mystery seeds.  They are tasked with identifying what is growing, based on educational materials included in the kit.  It requires patience, observation, and anecdotal data recording on the part of elementary students.  It’s a perfect STEM kit for kids ages 5-10.

Bonus:  A diorama project (with materials) is also included with this kit.  Art anyone?  This is a true STEAM project.

A completed robotics project from this junior robotics STEM kit for elementary students sits in front of the full-color labeled storage bin that the kit comes in from the manufacturer.  The kit has several robotics project images on the label.
  1. Engino’s Junior Robotics STEM kit for kids ages 5-10

We know that STEM kits for elementary school students, when used properly can make a teacher’s job easier, but this one takes the cake for an all-inclusive Makerspace solution.  This is the perfect STEM kit for kids who want to learn about robotics, and for teachers unsure of how to pull that off!  This STEM kit is recommended for children ages 5-8 but is even engaging for kids as old as 10. This comprehensive learning system comes with 8 story-based lesson plans, a full-color teacher guidebook, student worksheets, and all the components to create 8 bluetooth enabled robotics projects.  This kit gives students a background in the history and real-life application of robotics, followed by a hands-on experience that can spark a love for engineering and robotics that lasts a lifetime.

Bonus:  This kit is manufactured by a company in the UK, but is available on Amazon (and Prime eligible!) in USD.

  1. Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Powered Jet Car STEM kit for kids

This STEM kit for upper elementary kids is a great exploration into alternate power sources for mechanical contraptions.  There are no batteries or electronic components, but your car is actively moving!  Elementary STEM students will learn about hydropower as well as the mechanics and differences between gears and sprockets.  There are math components as the manual explains how to determine velocity ratio based on an equation involving the number of teeth in the gears.  This would make a great group activity that could end in competition for “fastest hydro-powered vehicle”.

Bonus:  This kit is already aligned with NGSS Standards that they’ve posted on their website for every product they sell!  You can even download the entire manual before purchase to see if this kit is even right for your elementary STEM classroom.

This is a color illustration of the force distribution of a double pulley system.
Image by Muhammet Ali ÇETİN from Pixabay
  1. Stemfinity’s Simple Machine STEM kit for kids in Lower Elementary

This is a simple, but wonderful STEM kit for elementary students in Kindergarten, First, or Second Grade.  It proves that STEM kits don’t always have to be overly fancy to deliver quality STEM learning to little hands.  This kit focuses on the simplicity and effectiveness of the 6 simple machines.  After all, simple machines are at the heart of most engineering feats in our world today.  Even the ancient pyramids were likely built with the use of simple machines to make the work easier.  The simple machine projects in this kit have 10 activity cards that challenge kids to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.

Bonus:  The activity cards make this kit a great option for STEM stations in a lower elementary classroom!

Related:  Simple Machine Projects for Kids

Dark water from some type of tributary runs into clearer blue water of a larger body of water.  Boats dot the tributary, as this is an image taken from high overhead.
Photo credit: Pok Rie from Pexels
  1. Stemfinity’s Modeling and Investigating Watersheds STEM Kit for Elementary Schools

This project is an appropriate STEM kit for elementary students in 4th-6th grade.  It explores the impact of rainfall and pollution on watersheds with topographical models.  This kit has such a relatable and real-world application that students truly understand the impact of their everyday choices and the choices of the community around them.  It’s one of the most effective STEM kits for elementary classrooms to really investigate environmental sustainability in a way that is understandable to that age group.  This is a very comprehensive classroom kit that includes enough materials to split the classroom into 6 small groups and includes a teacher’s manual, transparencies, and student worksheets.

Bonus:  This STEM kit can tie right into lessons on United States geography and map reading, as it includes maps of all major rivers in the US and the Mississippi watershed sub-basins.

This is an image of all of the components inside Thimble's mini-starter STEM kit for elementary age students.  A red Arduino board is connected to a USB cable, with smaller components on the table around it.
  1. Thimble’s Mini STEM Starter Kit for Beginners

This is our best kit for elementary learners.  Though our Creator’s Set is likely appropriate for 5th-6th grade, the Mini STEM Starter Kit is a great introduction to the world of digital electronics and microcontrollers.  The kit comes with access to Thimble’s online learning platform that (for this particular STEM kit) will teach students about LEDs, voltage, current, and polarity.  It helps them gauge their own interest in digital electronics and STEM subjects, and even serves as an introduction to Arduino, an elementary friendly coding tool.  This is the perfect STEM kit for elementary students ready to move on to bigger and better things, like Thimble’s more advanced kits.

Bonus:  This kit comes with a discount code that can be applied to new subscriptions.  Check out our curriculum when your students are ready to up their STEM education game and move on to the Creator Set, the next tier in Thimble’s STEM learning path.

This is a group of students seated at their tables in their elementary classroom. STEM kits are placed throughout the room in matching numbered bins.
Image by Holly Dornak from Pixabay

DIY STEM Kits:  How To Make STEM Kits For Your Classroom

Let’s face it – purchasing comprehensive kits for your classroom is not always within the budget.  And though they are great STEM teaching tools to your curriculum, STEM kits for elementary kids can get expensive when there are 28 pairs of hands in your class.  To offset the cost of pre-packaged kits, consider stocking your STEM classroom with DIY STEM kits that you’ve created yourself.

Little Bins Little Hands lays out a great guide to creating a DIY STEM kit with inexpensive STEM supplies that can be gathered into themed bins for elementary students to explore engineering concepts and work on fine motor skills.  Most of these supplies can be purchased at the dollar store or in the clearance bins at your local craft store.

Consider having a STEM supply drive with classroom parents before purchasing your own supplies.  You’ll be surprised how supportive the community around you can be.  Develop a list of desired supplies and a preferred drop-off or collection method, and send that home with students as an informative flyer.

Creating kits that are reusable each year can save you from restocking every school year.  Make sure you have adequate storage that is clearly and properly labeled. And remember, STEM kits should be engaging and fun!

STEM Kits for Kids in Elementary School – Make or Break Their STEM Attitude

Let me say it louder for the folks in the back: STEM kits should be engaging and fun!!  If a majority of the students are unenthused and unengaged with your kits, you’re doing something wrong.  These kits should be the part of their STEM learning that they look forward to, and beg you to bring out again.  If they’re awful and boring, and you slap the word STEM on them, you’ve just told all of those students that STEM is awful and boring.

The point of STEM kits for elementary students is to create positive feelings, good memories, a basic understanding of concepts, and a love of learning that they will continue to carry with them throughout their journey into their middle and high school years – and beyond.  Consider introducing STEM kits into your curriculum.  Encourage parents to keep their child’s STEM learning moving forward after students have left your classroom – and consider pointing them in Thimble’s direction!