What are STEM Toys? And is STEM Good for Kids?

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What are STEM toys? While it might feel like we’re living in a year where time has ceased to function appropriately, our calendars don’t lie: the holidays have arrived. And even in a year as tiresome and encumbering as 2020, there’s no holding back Santa Clause.

This holiday season, you can put Santa to shame and give your kids something awesome. We’re talking the toy of all toys, standing at the zenith of Toy Mountain and purveying all below (hello, PS5s) like King Ozymandias himself. Too much? Maybe. But things get serious…

…when STEM toys are involved.

Types of STEM Toys

boy building a robot on desk with iPad

A quick refresher: STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. We’ve also talked STEAM and STREAM before; the first incorporates the Arts, while the latter tacks on Reading.

In August, iD Tech published a telling post about STEM education. Notably, STEM jobs are projected to grow 13% between 2017 and 2027, an entire 4% more than non-STEM jobs. Since 1990, STEM employment has grown 79%!

Now is the quintessential time to involve your kids in STEM. No pressure — just see if it’s something they’re interested in, because STEM’s ceiling is pretty much nonexistent. That’s a beautiful thing.

As their name suggests, STEM toys are ones that unlock opportunities for scientific discovery and critical thinking. If you think about STEM in terms of its unpacked acronym, these educational toys are meant to explore concepts. Mainly, concepts relating to science, technology, engineering, and math.

From toddlers to older kids, beginner to advanced, there are STEM toys for everyone.

Science

Chemistry sets are perhaps the first great STEM toy. They’ve been around since the early 20th century, and allow kids to complete individual experiments that won’t blow up the house (we think).

On the biology side of the scientific spectrum, things like microscopes and lab kits allow for kids to explore human, animal, and plant life. There’s also this cool tool called an aquascope, which is basically a microscope for underwater. If you live near a pond or lake (that isn’t in Florida and teeming with alligators), an aquascope is a purchase with long-term payoff.

Technology

If your kids have always been fans of traditional LEGOs, consider the next level up: robotics kits. The ones marketing themselves as STEM toys typically feature kid-friendly setups and usages, teaching kids all the components of designing a live bot.

Coding kits and other electronics are also worth browsing. Coding is quickly becoming the next real-life superpower. Learn to code, and you’re putting yourself in the upper echelon of “special skills.” While there’s a lot to unpack when thinking about why some of these STEM skills aren’t being taught in schools, coding toys bring the education right into your home.

Another option is animation kits. Remember how we said that STEM also goes by STEAM? That’s because “Arts” combines tech with artistry. If your kids are artists at heart but savvy with computers, animation kits will satisfy both skills.

Engineering

Engineering is creative problem solving at its finest. Circuit-based toys and gears are popular.  Any sort of building set also promises loads of fun and learning. When you “engineer,” you use math and/or science to create. Circuit toys and building sets stretch students’ creative thinking skills and ask them to rethink solutions and find alternative ways to solve a problem.

Mathematics

Chemistry sets might be a seasoned STEM toy, but the abacus is the granddaddy of all STEM tools. It’s been around for thousands of years (sorry chemistry kits). If you’re drawing a blank, that’s okay. Reacquaint yourself with the abacus here.

There’s also a healthy supply of board games — new and old — that teach math skills. For young children, check out any available counting toys. They’re often in the form of colorful wooden blocks or cubes, and will help your kids learn the basics of mathematics.

Why Should You Introduce STEM to Your Kids?

boy building robot with his mom and dad

Introducing STEM toys to your kids is the definition of a win-win. They’re fun and educational for kids of all ages. Maybe your young engineers find a new passion, maybe they don’t. Either way, you’re presenting them with options at an early age, knowing full well that in the mythical “real world,” STEM employment options are and will continue to be abundant.

Beyond your kids pursuing potential STEM career pathways, engaging with STEM toys at a young age will help them develop pertinent problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity skills. Simply put — STEM toys can put your kids ahead of the game.

They’re also versatile, offering kids opportunities to work as a team or venture solo. STEM is ripe for project-based collaboration, but it’s also something that one can work on independently. Think about a building set alone. Besides what’s “supposed” to be built, a savvy critical thinker has limitless options. It’s a blank canvas. Ready, set, go.

Why is STEM Learning so Important?

You’ve probably heard it from a teaching friend — our education system is under attack. It’s been under attack for a long time. The culprit? Standardized tests.

STEM is a powerful ally in the fight against A, B, C, and D. It shuts the door on multiple choice questions, and asks students to exhibit and develop higher-level thinking skills. It can, hopefully, push back a longstanding narrative: that students are graduating high school and entering higher education completely unprepared for the level of rigor.

A lot of these boils down to obstacles that come with test-based learning. Instead, STEM stands for a new age approach to learning. It welcomes a diverse portfolio of learning styles and fosters productive collaboration among peers and their teacher(s).

In essence, STEM represents change; a vast, sweeping wave of educational rethinking that, if successful, can drastically alter the way we approach education and be of substantial benefit to our next generation of students.

Learn with Thimble

boy building STEM project with his mom at a table

We’re pretty big proponents of STEM toys at Thimble, and offer our own products to spark students’ curiosity and help them learn the ins-and-outs of STEM. If you’re looking for a fun way to get your students started with STEM learning this holiday season, check out a few of our STEM subscription kits, guaranteed to help your young engineers think outside of the box and grow their creative minds.

1. Basic Circuits & Code

LCD display lighting up next to an Arduino board

Learn from square one about basic sensors, indicators, and actuators, ultimately discovering how to code with Arduino.

2. WiFi-Controlled Robot

WiFi robot and hand typing on computer

This takes programming to the next level, with students learning how to build a WiFi-controlled robot from scratch!

3. Augmented Reality Target Range

IMU game kit parts

AR/VR technology is huge (that’s why you keep seeing commercials for the Quest 2). With this kit, students learn how to put together an IMU (inertial measurement unit) Game Kit. The end product will display virtual targets for them to shoot and practice playing in an AR space.

All of our subscription kits include on-demand, self-paced lessons that provide plenty of instructions so that students feel confident in their work. We also hold live virtual classes every week, taught by accredited STEM teachers. Join in on the fun today! Subscribe today! 

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