This story is part of Gift Guideour year-round collection of the best gift ideas.
Like many parents, we’re always looking for gifts that will engage kids, enhance creativity and… Shh, don’t tell them — make them learn something. STEM toys are a great way to get your kids coding, creating and learning more about the real world while having fun. Putting an educational twist on playtime doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Check out some of our favorite toy gift ideas that fall right into that STEM space—that’s science, technology, engineering, and math. From a cool robot factory to magnetic building blocks and even a chocolate pen for budding chefs, here are our picks for the best STEM toys to give your kids. These hands-on educational toys and activities will get toddlers building, mixing and exploring to ignite a spark within. We wouldn’t blame you for wanting to play with them yourself.
Kids who love candy (and who doesn’t?) will appreciate this Gummy Candy Lab set. Not only will they learn about various chemistry concepts, but they’ll also get to eat tasty treats in the process. The kit comes with everything you need to make candy, including a plastic mold, carrageenan (natural gelatin), cherry and lemon flavors, and storage bags. Maybe if you’re really nice, they’ll share.
This fun and challenging K’nex kit will keep budding engineers busy for hours. The best part? The end result is a massive 3-foot tall motorized Ferris wheel that will provide even more endless hours of fun. This set is recommended for ages 9 and up, but keep in mind that younger children will likely need adult supervision to help them with the more complex parts.
Artie can also sense colors and follow lines, be remote-controlled, and has a “rock sensor” to avoid falling off tables.
National Geographic kits are a great way to get kids excited about science. Even if your child isn’t totally into geology, they’ll be impressed with these sparkling geodes. Children open each geode to see the crystals inside. The set also comes with a tutorial so once you open the geodes you can learn about the different crystal variations. And who doesn’t like smashing things with a hammer?
Circuit Explorer is kind of like Lego, but this STEM skills toy teaches the very basics of how a circuit works in programming. Children learn that they need to connect the lines on the sides to complete a circuit and make things light up or move. Choose from three different kits with rocket ships, rovers and space stations, or mix and match parts to invent your own monstrous machine. They can even connect to Lego bricks.
There’s a whole world of educational Lego out there, and you won’t find it in the toy aisle. The Lego Learning System has sets filled with hundreds of bricks and instructions to guide students through several lessons – each set aimed at different ages of children. These learning sets are designed for the classroom, but anyone can purchase these educational toys directly from Lego for hands-on learning at home. (There are guides for teachers to help parents as well.)
Our favorite is the Spike Essential Learning Kit for grades 1-5, which includes several tech pieces like a light matrix, color sensor, and motor. Kids also use an app to program their creations. With 449 bricks and 40 lessons, the set teaches computational thinking, design, physics and math skills – all told through a story of cute Lego characters. If you want something cheaper without the technical and programming parts, but still want to keep the physics and maths lessons, check out BricQ Motion Essential Kit for $120.
Thames and Cosmos
Thames & Kosmos make some of the best DIY engineering toys and they are often hard to find. (We’re looking at you, Candy Claw Machine and Mega cyborg arm.) But here’s a fun gem we still see widely available: this goofy, waving, inflatable tube man with arms has a fan that lets kids conduct experiments with air pressure, airflow, and aerodynamics. Air basketball. Air cannon. A man with an air pipe. Good for ages 8 and up, and we’re emphasizing “up” because you obviously want this for your desk. (No judgment here.)
Thames and Cosmos
Creating your own robot requires no programming skills. This is the first children’s robot factory from Thames & Kosmos and is good for introducing children to basic engineering concepts. The guide is an illustrated storybook that guides youngsters in building eight different motorized, battery-powered bots. With this construction toy, kids can also make their own contraptions and as they go through the story, they learn why each robot moves in its own way.
Here’s a different twist on the DIY robot. Kids can build anything their young minds can imagine out of plastic with this 3D printing pen. The 3Doodler Start Plus is thin and light, making it easier for little hands to hold. With a 30-minute charge, this pen melts plastic sticks so kids can draw them into any shape, but the nozzle and molten plastic aren’t hot — so they won’t burn little hands. (I tested it too; you can put the tip on your skin and draw on your finger. I had no qualms about giving it to my kids.) Draw right on paper or a table and the plastic creation pops right out.
Comes with 72 skeins of yarn and an activity guide with 10 new projects. To increase learning, there is a $9 Edu Stem Accessory Kit with more activities.
Want something tastier? Paint it in the chocolate kitchen with Skyrocket’s Chocolate Pen. A warming pan keeps the chocolate sticky while your battery-powered pen sucks the sweet stuff into the cartridge. Draw, eat, repeat. This fun pen comes in a variety of colors and little hands will be able to easily fill in the shapes. You can also draw any shape you want on wax paper and it will cool in 10 minutes. Of course, this activity is more of a creative art—but there are chemistry lessons you can teach by cooling confections. And that makes desserts a science!
There are easy ways to get kids to be crafty, even if you’re not the crafty type. I subscribe to KiwiCo Crates, which are hands-on learning activities in a box. Packed with several science and engineering lessons, they come in the mail and cater to various age groups. I am a long time subscriber for my kids and love the quality of the items. But it’s not just for little ones; there are boxes for all ages — even engineering boxes for adults. Subscriptions start at $18.50 per month, but you can also shop at the KiwiCo Store or buy items individually.
If you’re struggling to find ideas for screen-free activities, well, just look to the old-school screen. Lite Brite is back. The machine has slimmed down a bit, but it still has the pegs you used to love driving into holes. All that creative thinking and pixel art might just inspire tomorrow’s game developer.
This cute robot for ages 6 and up teaches basic programming, has a variety of challenges, and is screen-free, no phone or tablet needed. Botley can detect and move around objects, follow loop commands, navigate obstacle courses and follow a black line designed by your child. And with a 77-piece activity set included, there’s plenty to keep kids busy.
Even the little ones in your life as young as 18 months can learn STEM with these magnetic foam builders. The soft blocks connect effortlessly and rotate so you can build creatures with heads, wings, elbows and other body parts. And don’t worry about the blocks getting dirty as they are dishwasher safe and bathroom friendly.
My 2 year old didn’t tire of them after a year, and my 5 year old is still playing with them to make up all kinds of vehicles and creatures too. It’s always a win to get a toy with a good shelf life and you can expand this stem training toy with multiple box sets.
I am a fan of this geometric brain training toy. There are many spins on the magnetic building block trend, but I personally loved the Magformers in the way it was designed and the options available for different types of box sets so that it can be easily expanded for different age groups. My tip: Get a starter kit with wheels so the kids can give their creations some speed. Some models can even be controlled remotely.
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