STEM gifts for all ages
As a mom of two high school engineering students, I’m often asked what I did to foster their love of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). I’ve always encouraged curiosity, challenged them to think differently about the world, supported their ideas, and filled our home with toys that provide meaningful learning.STEM skills are essential for success in today’s evolving global economy. The U.S. Department of Education says “in an ever-changing, increasingly complex world, it’s more important than ever that our nation’s youth are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information, and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions. These are the kinds of skills that students develop in science, technology, engineering, and math—disciplines collectively known as STEM.”But fostering a love of STEM when you’re not completely comfortable with science, technology, engineering, and math can feel challenging. Fortunately there’s no shortage of STEM gifts that provide engaging hands-on experiences that make learning fun for kids in age-appropriate ways.Here are my favorite gifts for preschoolers (3-5 year olds), early elementary ages (ages 5-7), tweens (8-12 year olds), and teens (13+) that foster a love of STEM.Best STEM Gifts for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Robot Turtles ($18.49)Before your child turns to the computer, this fun board game teaches coding in a hands-on way. Inspired by the computer programming language, Logo, Robot Turtles provides a foundation for thinking about computer programming to make virtual experiences like Scratch easier to understand through this family friendly game designed for 2-5 players.Spin ‘N’ Sort Spout Pro ($34.95)Go beyond the cups in the bath and get Spin ‘N Sort Spout Pro, an automatic spout that attaches to the tub that allows kids to play and experiment with water. It features three interchangeable bath cups that each have different spouting action and a spinning gear for added fun. It supports STEM by introducing young children to sorting, constructing, and putting physics into play with spinning gear movement. Ara the Star Engineer ($15.95)Ara the Star Engineer shatters every stereotype we might pass along to our kids about who engineers are, what they look like, and the kinds of things they do. This darling picture book was written by an engineer mom after her daughter said, “Engineers are boys.” Through her book, Google engineering program manager, Komal Singh, inspires kids – especially girls and children of color – to explore STEM as it follows a 6-year old girl, Ara, on a quest to build an algorithm to solve a big problem.During her adventure, Ara is helped by a diverse set of real-life women engineering leaders of color — a Tenacious Troubleshooter, Code Commander, Prolific Problem Solver, Intrepid Innovator. The book aims to teach basic problem solving & computer science concepts in a whimsical manner but also includes an attached mini-booklet that provides a deeper dive into tech thanks to online activity sheets with hands-on tech activities. Best STEM Gifts for Early Elementary AgesMakey Makey ($49.95)Perfect for 21st century learners, Makey Makey turns everyday objects into touchpads for your computer. Named Forbes as a must have gadget for every cutting-edge school, Makey Makey is an open-sourced tool great for anyone interested in music, art, or tech projects for experts and beginners alike.National Geographic Mega Crystal Growing Lab ($29.99)
There’s no better way to learn about crystals than to grow them yourself. Budding geologists will love this deluxe kit that features the ability to grow crystals in 8 different colors in silicone growing chambers that make them easy to remove and display. It also includes 5 real crystal specimens (quartz, rose quartz, fluorite, calcite, amethyst), light up crystal display stand, stir stick, magnifying glass, STEM learning guide, and instructions. littleBits ($99)littleBits pieces and sets are the perfect gift for curious elementary ages because they provide endless possibilities for creations through magnetically connected wired building blocks and circuit board pieces. The Base Kit ($99) promotes scientific discovery through circuitry and electronics and includes everything you need to start designing. Best STEM Gifts for TweensThe Boolean Box ($199)
Boolean Girl Project’s The Boolean Box is a build-it-yourself computer and electronics kit is designed for kids ages 8+ to code, build, invent, and animate. This technology and engineering discovery kit includes a Raspberry Pi III, keyboard and mouse, an ebook, and online access to the unique and specialized Boolean Girl curriculum and projects designed to introduce young girls (and boys) to computer programming. The box contains everything a girl (or boy) needs to code in Scratch or Python and complete simple circuitry tasks, such as the game controller project. Meteor Rocket Kit ($24.99)Launching a rocket 100 feet in the air while learning about the chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar isn’t something most tweens would say no to! This gift explores how carbon dioxide can be made with two common kitchen ingredients! This kit includes bottles, balsa wood, template, tubing, nose cone, weather stripping, film, silver duralar, fueling module, fin holder, and instructions. Just be sure to gift extra vinegar and baking soda since tweens will want to do multiple launches that can also help them explore the power of the chemical reaction as they tweak ingredients.Gravitrax ($59.99)
Gravitrax allows tweens to use their phone as a tool to build their own marble runs or with the help of the free GraviTrax app for iOS and Android devices. While kids can certainly build through unplugged and experimental play using the starter set, the app allows them to test their run, use blueprints to build the actual system, and experience the race with different balls, various camera perspectives, including the marble’s point of vice using the Virtual Reality feature (VR headset not included). Builders can also add expansion packs (starting at $9.99) on to their set to create more epic tracks! Best STEM Gifts for TeensSphero BOLT ($149.99)Sphero BOLT is Sphero’s most advanced coding robotic ball to date. It provides even more ways to express inventive ideas and experience the power of programming. Packed with plenty of programmable sensors and a colorful LED light matrix, Sphero BOLT is paving the way for the next generation of coders. It can display custom graphics and real-time data with BOLT’s 8×8 programmable LED matrix. Robot sensors can be programmed to learn more about robotics. Teens can also play educational games, create your own and learn how to code through hands-on play and STEAM activities.CreationCrate Subscription ($29.99/month)If you’re looking for a subscription box that combines hands-on learning in electronics with online courses for your teen, Creation Crate is for you! Each month you’ll get an electronics kit with a C++ project to teach a new lesson in electronics and coding plus access to an online classroom. The online classroom is where teens will learn how to put everything together and write code for the month’s project. The first four months of projects start with a mood lamp, memory game, distance detector, and LED dice game. Projects become increasingly challenging as teens learn new commands and components and are a great way to get hands-on experience with C++ and components learned in real tech careers. Avengers Hero Inventor Kit ($149.95)
Code your own superpowers? Yes, please! Marvel-loving teens will be inspired to learn about through the Little Bits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit that includes everything they need to build and customize an interactive electronic Super hero gauntlet. Electronic building blocks, LED Matrix, authentic Marvel sound effects bit, plastic pieces, stickers, and battery provides pieces for hours of TEAM learning thanks to 18 activities for kids to build, play, and code. Add authentic Avengers sound effects or record your own hero battle cry as you bring interactive super hero gear to life with this fun kit. Avengers Hero Inventor Kit is an easy introduction to coding that can lead to more advanced programming like loops and logic.