Getting your kids to use their minds when they’re playing is becoming more important than ever. After all, we’re already seeing many of our jobs being eliminated and replaced with machines. Who do you think builds those machines? Well, other machines, but who do you think creates the machines that build the machines? Engineers.
That is, of course, just one extreme example of why learning toys have become so important in today’s world (and, admittedly, I’m using it for a more dramatic effect). Still, getting your kids learning early in their development is going to set them up for a more successful learning career later on. The good news is that it doesn’t mean that they will have to sacrifice their childhood fun, thanks to STEM toys, toys that are specifically designed to educate your kids while they’re having fun. STEM toys have come a long way in 2016, and we’re seeing tons of new coding toys, science toys, and mathematics being incorporated into their playtime.
So if you’re looking for some great STEM toys in 2017, we’ve got you covered with our list of the 20 best:
1. Bloxels Build Your Own Video Game
Bloxels by Mattel was one of the coolest new toys of last year, and we’re not just talking about the STEM toy category. It’s a pretty unique concept — kids will get to build their own basic video games by creating bloxels (think pixels) on a board, scanning it with their phone/tablet’s camera, and then seeing their ideas come to life in video game form. They’ll start with building their basic level design, then they’ll build a character, and then they’ll be able to play as that character using the companion app on their smartphone. It’s a truly incredible and fun toy to play with, and with it, they’ll learn the basics of coding.
Price: $38.49 (23 percent off MSRP)
2. Scientific Explorer Magic Science for Wizards Only Kit
There’s no denying that science has a sort of mystical, magical quality to it — at least at a young age. Remember being amazed at the colored crystals found in rocks? What about a cool chemical reaction that your teacher showed you at one point? The Scientific Explorer Magic Science for Wizards Only Kit takes that idea and runs with it, providing some cool experiments for a low price. These experiments will create cool reactions that will awe younger children (it’s best for ages 6-9 years).
Price: $11.00 (54 percent off MSRP)
Many of you frequent toy store-goers might recognize the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-pillar that has been predominately featured in stores like Toys R’ Us and Walmart for the past few months. It made huge waves at Toy Fair 2016 earlier this year, and it’s one of the hottest toys of the year. It tasks your kids with discovering basic if/then combinations that are great for STEM learning. Each segment on the code-a-pillar lights up and it has a motorized head that has lights, sounds, and blinking eyes. The idea is to challenge your kids to figure out the proper segment order to get to specific targets that you lay out on the floor, and when doing it, they’ll have a blast while learning a basic foundation of coding.
4. National Geographic Break Open 10 Premium Geodes Kit
Some of the coolest-looking things can be found right in our own soil, and that’s why National Geographic has put together this kit of 10 awesome geodes — naturally formed volcanic rocks that contain incredible crystal formations — for your kids to break open and study. It’ll teach them about geodes and minerals as it comes with a complete learning guide as well. Of course, because it’s the National Geographic brand name, parents can expect this STEM toy to be of the highest quality, and all of the National Geographic toys have a 100% satisfaction guarantee — meaning they care about their customers. So if your kids have showed the slightest interest in science or geology, specifically, check out the Break Open 10 Premium Geodes Kit.
5. K’Nex 100 Model Building Set Engineering Toy
You can’t go wrong with building toys when it comes to STEM learning, and one of the best building toys is from K’Nex, a company well-known for its construction toy sets. This great kit comes with 863 pieces that have a variety of colors and shapes. It also comes with an easy-to-follow instructional booklet that will show them how to make different objects like cars, buildings, helicopters, and more. K’Nex is unique in that it allows kids to create models that have moving parts. It also comes in a portable suitcase storage box for easy storage and to keep things all together.
Price: $45.70 (9 percent off MSRP)
6. Osmo Starter Kit (for iPad)
If you’re into augmented learning using technology, the Osmo Starter Kit (for use with iPad) is a great option. It’s an award-winning hands-on system that teaches problem solving and creative thinking. It comes with four games, including Words, Newton, Tangram, and Masterpiece, each of which teaches different concepts like puzzle form spelling, expanding visual thinking, and supercharging their drawing skills. It’s designed for kids ages 5 to 12, and there are add-ons that can be purchased separately that will enhance the product for the older age group. It can be found at Toys R’ Us and probably at Walmart if I had to guess, but you can also order it on Amazon right now to save 20 percent on its MSRP.
Price: $63.99 (20 percent off MSRP)
7. Learning Resources Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set
Learning Resources also has a great coding toy to check out: the Code & GO Robot Mouse Activity Set. It uses a cutesy mouse that will follow their created maze to find the cheese. Getting the mouse to the cheese is a great hands-on experiment that will challenge them to think critically, solve problems that arise in different situations, and it’ll help them acquire STEM-skills. They’ll create a code using cards, enter that code into the mouse and get it from point A to point B. If the mouse doesn’t make it, they can reset him and try programming it again.
Price: $31.49 (48 percent off MSRP)
8. Mega Gemstone Mine
The best-selling archaeology and paleontology kit is the National Geographic Mega Gemstone Mine. It tasks your kids with the role of being a treasure hunter, escavating rocks to dig up gemstones. The gemstones have a fascinating variety, with numerous colors and shimmers contained within. They’ll find amethyst, tiger’s eye, pyrite, rose quartz, and more within their rocks. What’s more, it comes with a full-color learning guide with interesting facts about the rocks they’re digging up. Fair warning: be prepared to find numerous holes in your backyard after they play with it as they try to dig up more gems.
9. littleBits Electronics Arduino Coding Kit
At first glance, the littleBits Electronics Arduino Coding Kit looks a bit daunting for kids…but it’s not! In fact, it’s super easy for them to use. It uses a snap module system that is easy to understand. It comes with 8 skteches for beginners, including a Mouse Control, how to buiild a basic Etch-a-Sketch, and more, and there are a thousand more instructions that can be found online in the Arduino community. The kit also works with other littleBits kits, so the more kits that they have, the more they’ll be able to build.
Price: $89.95 (10 percent off MSRP)
10. Scientific Explorer Crime Catchers Spy Science Kit
Looking to solve crimes? Well, if they’re interested in learning who really stole the cookies from the cookie jar, check out the Crime Catchers Spy Science Kit by Scientific Explorer. It’ll teach them the basics of forensics, including matching fingerprints, DNA, test powders and liquids, as well as how to decode secret messages. It’ll get them to act critically and think like a real forensic scientist would. It comes with some basic ingredients like baking soda, citric acid, flour, ph strips, filters, cups, markets, bags, a decoder and more to get them started on their way to solving crimes.
Price: $11.50 (48 percent off MSRP)
11. Scientific Explorer My First Mind Blowing Science Kit
Maybe they’re not into cool rocks or solving crimes — that’s certainly okay! But what about other science? This Mind Blowing Science Kit (also from Scientific Explorer) is a 20-piece kit that contains chemicals and supplies that will allow them to conduct numerous experiments focused around chemical reactions. It’s a great DIY kit, and they’re not especially messy (meaning cleanup is super easy). It comes with detailed instructions and a science guide that makes it possible for all (even scientifically-challenged adults) to understand what’s going on in the experiments. Super cool.
Price: $10.00 (58 percent off MSRP)
12. Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit
Now, Snap Circuits Jr. is the easiest electronics kit on the market. My son has one (he’s in the 7-8 range), and he absolutely loves it. In fact, he frequently shows me his creations in a proud manner. This kit will allow your kids to build working models of things like a flashing light, an adjustable volume siren, a photo sensor, and over 100 other exciting projects. The only thing they’ll need is the 30+ snap-together pieces that are included in the kit!
Price: $17.50 (50 percent off MSRP)
13. The Magic School Bus Chemistry Lab
The Magic School Bus hasn’t been super relevant in years, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t still learn from them. Check out this Magic School Bus Chemistry Lab that serves as a great hands-on learning kit for kids. It encourages creative learning (as Ms. Frizzle did), and they’ll learn how to make sticky ice, litmus paper, measure pH, perform chromatography, wake-up fungus, create slime, form a bouncy ball, produce a milk rainbow, and so many more great, easy experiments kids will find simply cool.
Price: $26.73 (33 percent off MSRP)
14. LEGO Duplo My First Number Train Building Set
Price: $15.99 (20 percent off MSRP)
The LEGO Duplo My First Number Train Building Set is one of the best stem toys for toddlers available this year. It features 10 numbered bricks, a dog, 3 wagon bases and other various bricks that will teach them counting while they’re having fun. The blocks can be reconfigured into a tunnel, a building, or a dog house as well. It’s great for ages 1 1/2 to 5 years. I’ll also note that we’ve frequently seen LEGO Duplo toys pop up in our daily toy deals, so you might want to pay attention to that to see if you can get it even cheaper than it is right now.
15. Meccano Meccasaur
One of the hottest toys last year was Meccano’s Meccanoid robot kit that created a programmable robot for your kids to interact with. This year, the company has returned with something along the same lines: the Meccano Meccasaur. It will teach them how to build the robotic dinosaur, and when they’re done, the Meccasaur will interact with them. He responds to petting, will answer yes/no questions, and he stomps around, roaring at his foes.
Price: $69.59 (30 percent off MSRP)
16. STEM Club Toy Subscription
17. Makey Makey (An Invention Kit for Everyone)
Feel like turning your bananas into game controllers? How about turning you stairs into musical steps? With Makey Makey, the possibilities are endless. This engineering toy allows you to connect the world around you to a computer, turning everyday objects into touchpads. Make a gamepad out of Play Doh, turn your apples into a xylophone, and more. There are literally 1000s of possibilities, and the creativity required for use is what makes it such a great option. There’s no software to install, and it works with mac and windows.
Price: $49.00 (30 percent off MSRP)
18. Wonder Workshop Dash Robot
The Dash Robot is a robot that is responsive to its surroundings, and it’s brought alive with free apps on iOS and Android. It also comes with hundreds of coding adventures, and your kids will use the smartphone/tablet app to code their robot to perform certain actions and then execute those actions. It can be used to play games, perform functions, and more. It won the 2015 National Parenting Gold Award, and it has been on many Most Wanted Christmas Toys lists of the past couple of years.
Our words don’t do it justice, so please check out the video above for an overview.
Price: $134.66 (10 percent off MSRP)
19. Cubelets SIX Robot Blocks
Want to inspire your kids to become better thinkers? Check out the Cubelets SIX Robot Blocks pack, which comes with six different cubes with six different functions, allowing them to create their own functioning robot of varying sorts. It’s intended for innovators of four and up. There are over 500 possibilities for robots, and there are over 16 different types of Cubelets that you can buy separately as well. But the six is enough to get them started.
Some blocks make your robot spin, make noise, have a flashlight, and more.
20. Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Power
Bringing hydraulic engines to playtime seems like something that couldn’t be possible, but the Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Power kit makes it happen. This small kit will allow your kids to make up to 15 different models that are powered by air and/or water pressure. Build an excavator and tank, construction vehicles, cars, and more!
Price: $36.40 (27 percent off MSRP)