12 Awesome Toys & Games That Build STEM Skills

Judy Dutton | Nov 20, 2014 Big Kid

boy playing with molecular models

Scratching your head over what would make a great gift for the kiddos for Christmas or an upcoming birthday? Look no further than this list of toys, which are designed to spark an interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). We've all heard how America needs more kids interested in STEM, since that's where the future's jobs are. Meanwhile, kids will have so much fun building robots, growing crystals, and engineering dollhouses, they won't even realize all that STEM is sinking in! For a gift that will keep your kids' brain cells firing and their job prospects rolling in down the road, consider getting some of these toys.

Best STEM toys for kids

Toy #3 sounds amazing for girls ... and toy #5 is a steal for $3!


Image © JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Corbis

  • LaQ's Basic 001


    For ages: 5+

    Examining puzzle pieces and figuring out which piece fits where builds visual processing skills -- which are important for all STEM subjects, says Tanya Mitchell, co-author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child. And the 3D puzzle pieces in LaQ's Basic 001 ($7.50, Magic Toy Box) triples the challenge -- and the cognitive rewards -- while your kids build planes, dinosaurs, or anything else they can dream up.

  • Math Dice Junior


    For ages: 6+

    Addition and subtraction are, sadly, a snoozefest on their own ... but not so with Math Dice Junior ($7.99, ThinkFun). To play, kids roll the 12-sided die to get their target number, then roll the five 6-sided dice. Then they add and/or subtract those dice to try to match their target, morphing your kids into human calculators in the process.

  • Roominate


    For ages: 6+

    How do you get girls interested in engineering? Give them a build-your-own-dollhouse set like Roominate ($29.99, Roominate)! Designed by two women engineers with degrees from Stanford, MIT, and Caltech, this set teaches kids concepts of design, structure, and electricity as they put together elevators, water slides, working windmills, and even a merry-go-round. Barbie's Dream House, eat your heart out.

  • Snap Circuits Jr.


    For ages: 8+

    Letting kids tinker with electrical circuits sounds like an electrocution waiting to happen ... that is, unless they're playing with Snap Circuits Jr. ($20.99, Amazon). This kit gives children hands-on experience designing electrical circuits, and since the parts snap together, no hammers or other tools are required.

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  • Lightbot Hour of Code


    For ages: 5+

    Yes, you can cultivate a budding Bill Gates starting at the wee age of 5 with Lightbot Hour of Code (available for iOS and Android for $2.99). This app teaches kids how to program computers by having them play a game where they guide a robot to light up tiles using commands rooted in computer languages and logic.

  • Gyrobot


    For ages: 6+

    Whether your kids know it or not, they love gyroscopes -- spinning motors found in smartphones, tablets, and video game comptrollers. Understanding how these babies work is a crash course in the laws of motion and mechanics, and there are few better ways to drive these lessons home that Gyrobot ($49.95, Thames and Kosmos), where kids use gyroscope to build seven models, including a robot who can walk a tightrope.

  • Squishy Human Body


    For ages: 8-16

    Kids love gross stuff, and it doesn't get grosser -- or more fascinating -- than what goes on inside our bodies. Short of shoving a cadaver under their nose, Squishy Human Body reveals the wonders of the human body in all its glory. As kids dissect these eerily life-like organs, an accompanying book reveals the inner workings of digestion, circulation, and more ($22.21, Amazon).

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  • Clumsy Thief


    For ages: 8+

    Isn't math and strategy more fun when it's in the form of counting up cash? That's what kids do with the Clumsy Thief card game ($13.79, Amazon), where they draw cards worth varying amounts of money, place then in stacks, and get to "steal" a stack once the top card creates a total of $100.

  • Balance Benders


    For ages: 9+

    Yup, even your bedtime reading ritual can get those STEM skills percolating! Each page of the Balance Benders puzzle book ($9.99, Magic Toy Box) presents a scale with objects on each side. Kids use logic and deductive reasoning to figure out how to "balance" the scale.

  • Cato's Hike


    For ages: 5+

    The Cato's Hike app (available for iOS for $4.99, Android for $2.99) teaches kids computer coding in a fun and easy way through a boy named Cato, who has stepped into an alternate world and must figure out the rules (AKA computer programming) that will allow him to play. Get your kid hooked, and you could have the next Mark Zuckerberg on your hands.

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  • Squishy Circuits Hardware Kit


    For ages: 5+

    With Squishy Circuits, kids learn about how electricity works by playing with two types of play dough -- one that conducts electricity, and one that doesn't. Together they can build an array of malleable gadgets that light up, spin, or do other cool things. And don't worry, your kids won't get electrocuted!

  • Grow You Own Crystal Nightlight


    For ages: 8+

    Why get your kid a Grow You Own Crystal Nightlight ($19.99, ThinkGeek)? One, all kids dig glittery crystals. Two, understanding how crystals work is key to nearly every branch of science, from chemistry to geology. Three, if your kid is afraid of the dark, problem solved!