Are you looking for a toy that can keep a child away from a screen? I’m always on the lookout for products that can bring my kids back to the real world and keep them engaged – and dare I say it, teach them something. Below are some of my favorite gift ideas that fit perfectly into this STEM space – that is, science, technology, engineering, and math. Adding an educational touch to playtime doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Below are my suggestions for hands-on activities to get kids to build, mix, and explore, to help ignite a spark in them.
Circuit Explorer is a lot like Lego, but it teaches the very basics of how a circuit works in programming. Children learn that they must connect the lines on the side to complete a circuit and light or shake things up. Choose from three different sets with rockets, Martian rovers and space stations or mix and match pieces to invent your own monster machine. They can even connect with Lego bricks. Circuit Explorer is for kids ages 6 and up, but my 4 year old quickly picked it up.
Thames and Cosmos
Making your own robot doesn’t require programming skills. This is the Kids First Robot Factory by Thames & Kosmos, ideal for introducing children to basic engineering concepts. The manual is an illustrated story book that guides young people in building eight different battery-powered motorized robots. 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 is another version of a DIY robot. Kids can build anything they can imagine in plastic with this 3D printing pen. The 3Doodler Start melts plastic sticks so you can draw them in any shape, but the nozzle and molten plastic aren’t hot, so they won’t burn little hands. Draw on paper or even directly on tables because the plastic comes off right away. There is also a 3Doodler Start “Robosumo” pen kit which comes with vibrating mini robots to adapt to combat.
Want something tastier? Draw it in the kitchen with chocolate with Skyrocket’s Chocolate Pen. A heated tray keeps the chocolate gooey while your battery-powered pen sucks the sweets into the cartridge. Draw, eat, repeat. It is available in different colors and it will be easier for little hands to fill the molds. You can also draw any shape you want on waxed paper and it will cool in 10 minutes. Of course, this activity is more of a creative art, but there are chemistry lessons that you can teach with some refreshing candy. And that makes desserts the science!
There are easy ways to make kids cunning, even if you are not the cunning type. I subscribe to KiwiCo Crates, which are hands-on learning activities in a box. Filled with a few science and engineering lessons, they arrive in the mail and cater to different age groups. The box I receive is for the little ones, and I love the quality of the items. But older kids can tackle advanced tasks, and there are even engineered problem-solving boxes for adults.
If you’re stuck trying to come up with ideas for activities without a screen, well, just take a look at the old school screen. Lite Brite is back. The machine has slimmed down a bit, but it still has the pegs you liked to drill through the holes. All this pixel art could well inspire the game programmer of tomorrow.
This cute robot for ages 6 and up teaches basic programming, has various challenges, and is screen-less, phone-less, and tablet-free. Botley can detect and move around objects, follow commands in a loop, navigate obstacle courses, and follow a black line your child designs. And with a 77-piece activity set included, there’s plenty to keep the kids busy.
Even the little ones in your life as young as 18 months old can learn STEM with these magnetic foam builders. Soft blocks effortlessly connect 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 and bath safe.
The latest American Girl historical figure doll is an ’80s gamer named Courtney. Her storybook is about her love for Pac-Man and how she wants to one day design a video game with a hero girl. And this character has the coolest doll accessory ever: a working Pac-Man video arcade machine. (Sorry parents, it’s $ 150 more. Yes, we know it’s really for you.)
Of course, the doll won’t teach a child programming, but exposure to these concepts from an early age can help girls not see games or programming as a boyish thing and inspire change. within the culture.
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