The world may continue to face a shortage of professionals in STEM-related careers, but at least toy manufacturers are doing their part.
This year, many of the world's most innovative tinkerers have released brainwave-inducing play products aimed at getting kids to explore their interest in science, technology, engineering and/or math. What's even more encouraging is that the CAGR for the global educational toy market is expected to grow by a healthy 10 percent annually between this year and 2021.
“From code-teaching caterpillars to colorful chemistry kits, manufacturers and retailers alike are eager to cash in on a growing toy sector, known by the buzzworthy term STEM, that promises to deliver on science, technology, engineering and math education,” reports Rina Raphael on technology news site Fastcompany.com. “Retailers are taking different approaches: Target, Best Buy, and Walmart are amping up their store aisles, while Toys “R” Us and National Geographic are producing their own line of STEM products.”
That’s a step forward in a world facing an undersupply of STEM specialists in the coming years. Depending on who you ask, the U.S. could need up to a million new college grads with STEM degrees in the next five years.
Thinking of strategically placing some intelligent toys for your children under the Christmas tree this year? While there are tons of options, you might check out the following (in order of age recommendations).
- Amazon STEM Club: The online retail giant will pick out new skill-inducing toys for kids in three different age groups from age 3, mailing them out monthly for $19.99/month.
- Kids First Automobile Engineer Kit (preschoolers, $44.90): Storybook-format guides lead kids through an engineering adventure using 70 colorful building pieces and ideas for 10 different models. Includes case.
- Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! Super Set (3 and older, $34.99): Kids can sort, group, count, design, construct and problem-solve using 66 colorful and interchangeable gears, two crank handles and myriad building materials.
- ThinkFun Robot Turtles board game (ages 4-15, $24.99): Family fun that teaches the principles of computer programming.
- Young Scientist Club: The Magic School Bus Engineering Lab (ages 5-12, $34.99): Kids solve problems related to chemical, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering. Build a solar oven, design a car, construct a bridge, create solar energy, design an electric game, make a simple machine or construct a submarine.
- GoldieBlox: This girl power–themed toymaker offers a range of intriguing building toys. One of the most inventive is a kit called “GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine” (6 and older, $29.99) that allows the user to build and use his or her own zoetrope, an old-fashioned animation device. Employs a free iOS app.
- Scientific Explorer Magic Science for Wizards Only (ages 6-10, $14.99): Kids partake in nine activities involving chemical reactions disguised as magic tricks.
- Roominate Amusement Park (ages 6-12, $33.89): This 282-piece building set aimed at girls encourages them to use a motor and light circuits to build a working Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, swinging pirate ship, cotton candy maker and concession stand.
- Cozmo (ages 8 and older, $179.99): This lifelike AI-powered robot with a personality incorporates machine learning to get increasingly smarter. Kids can program him, teach him, see the world through his eyes and challenge him to games. “He doesn’t just move; he gets curious and explores,” Amazon reports. “He doesn’t just learn; he plots and plans. He doesn’t just see you; he gets to know you.”
- Educational Insights Nancy B’s Science Club Microscope and Activity Journal (ages 8-11, $34): Real battery-operated 400x light and dissecting microscope with pre-loaded bacteria slides and 26 tools including specimen bottles and swabs.
- K’NEX Education DNA, Replication and Transcription Set (ages 8-12, $79.99): Kids learn more about DNA and RNA structure, replication, transcription, coding, transcription and mutation by creating their own strand replicas using this 525-piece set.
- Thames & Kosmos Physics Workshop (ages 8-12, around $38): Three hundred pieces of building material encourage kids to construct planes, wheels, axles, screws and levers using easy-to-grasp instructions. Model options include a windmill, two-speed crane, force scale, sail car, mars robot, hammer machine, centrifuge, pinball game or ship’s lantern.
- SmartLab Squishy Human Body (ages 8-16, $21.99): Nine squishy organs, 12 bones and muscles and a tweezers and forceps set allow aspiring biologists to tour the human body by dissembling and reassembling components.
- CircuitScribe Basic Kit (13 and older, $59.99): Older kids can work their way through 27 experiments to eventually create a touch-sensitive circuit using an NPN transistor. The innovative pens included conduct electric power without need of wiring — all the user does is draw. Light and sound can also be incorporated.
- Tedcotoys School Children Activity 50’ Solar Balloon (ages 14 and older, $17.95): Once this is filled with a gas, the sun reacts chemically to convert light energy into thermal energy so the balloon becomes lighter than air. Demonstrates buoyancy, thermodynamics and convection heat transfers.
- LEGO blocks (different sets appropriate for different ages): The iconic plastic blocks are so revered by STEM proponents that one Harvard Business School professor uses them to spur innovation among students.
One more word of advice: Toy industry specialists continually speculate on which kinds of toys should be considered STEM-related. The reality is that a broad range of fun and educational toys can help encourage STEM-related activity and creativity, whether they're labelled as such or not.
“If you break down the most basic concepts of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, you’re looking at things like sequencing, matching, building, planning and more,” says Marissa DiBartolo, senior editor of The Toy Insider, in the Fast Company article. “More toys than you think are educational, or at least have educational benefits.” Learn how Brewer Science is supporting STEM and how we are making a difference while doing it.