TOP 10 STEM Gifts for Kids

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 Tis the season of giving, and what BETTER gift to give your little engineer than a toy that promotes innovation, creativity, and FUN?!  I’m counting down my Top 10 FAVORITE STEM toys for kids, fully tested and approved by my Kinders, first graders, second graders, and own five year old daughter.  Not only do these tools promote the STEM engineering process, they encourage critical thinking and collaboration with others while maximizing engagement. These aren’t the kinds of toys that kids play with once and then toss aside. Bring on the brain power, because the possibilities are endless!
Makey Makey is an invention kit that connects directly to your computer, turning everyday objects like playdough or bananas into interactive touchpads, As their website states, it “turns the whole world into a keyboard.” How cool is that?! This one is ideal for second graders and up and is sure to spark their imaginations in incredible ways.
LEGO is a hit among ALL kids, including my own at home, and this chain reactions kit by Klutz provides instructions and materials for building 10 movable, amazing machines that swing, pivot, lift, roll, and drop.  Your kids will need a small collection of basic LEGO bricks on hand to combine with the kit, but the kit itself is very affordable and is suitable for a wide range of ages. You’d better believe I have this one stashed away already to put under the tree!
These little guys are SO. MUCH. FUN.  Winner of “Best Robot” in both 2014 and 2015, Ozobots are controlled by patterns of colored codes on included cards OR by the marker designs that you create. When you draw a colored path on paper using the coding instructions, Ozobots will move along the path, speed up, or slow down based on the patterns. A free Ozobot app is also included for additional game options.
Snap Circuits are currently my daughter’s new favorite toy and her favorite thing to work on after her little brother goes to bed.  Simple, guided instructions allow kids to build circuit models of more than 100 projects, including a photo sensor, fan, flashing light, doorbell, and adjustable-volume siren. The circuit elements simply “snap” together on top of the clear grid and are just right for little hands.
Keva planks are fantastic for encouraging imaginative thinking and the engineering process.  The Brain Builders packs are easy to start with because they come in small, portable bags with a set of 40 challenge cards and construction ideas.  The “Junior” set is ideal for first grade and younger, while the regular Brain Builders are great for second grade and up.  My students always get excited when we have time to use these, and they’re a go-to favorite if we have any extra time.  Stop by their website to see all of their packages, including kits that encourage movable parts and contraptions.
 Osmo is hot on the scene from Christmas 2014, and has already won several tech toy awards during it’s short time on the market.  You’ll need an iPad on hand to utilize with this toy because the mirrored technology clips onto the top of the screen, corresponding with the Osmo apps.  What I love most about Osmo is that it encourages so many different intelligences: visual-spatial, kinesthetic, linguistic, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, you name it! FOUR different activities/materials are provided in the package: words, tangram, Newton, and all new CODING, and students use the mirrored camera to manipulate objects on the surface in front of the iPad.
 Robotics for young kiddos?! Why not?!  Bee Bots are HANDS DOWN my students’ very favorite learning tool to work with, and although they come with a steeper price tag, the learning possibilities are amazing.  Students experiment with sequences of commands to move the Bee Bot in different directions and program it to follow specific paths. (If you’re thinking of basic coding right now, that’s EXACTLY what they’re doing!)  The Pro Bot is the version most appropriate for upper elementary students, and includes a display screen and more advanced coding capabilities.  There is even an option to place a marker in the back of the Bot to trace coding paths onto paper!
 You know those toys that you actually don’t mind playing with your kids?  That’s exactly what MagFormers are for me!  Whether we use the geometric, magnetic shapes to build a creation from the idea book or create our own designs, my students’ imaginations and engagement always soar with these blocks.  During free choice time, these are always a favorite for elementary level students.  An added bonus to Magformers,…There are no “tiny” pieces and clean up is a snap!
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to my teacher friends and parents of young engineers!
Happy STEM shopping!