What Are STEM Toys?

Scope for this blog

Scope for this blog

In this article I want to uncover what it takes for a toy to be classed as a “STEM Toy”. Because of the increased demand for STEM toys today, there are a lot of toys being sold with the “STEM” title attached. As a result of the market demand, we find a huge supply of all sorts of toys. Many of these may not even qualify as a STEM toy.

I would like to layout what STEM toys are, in order to help and educate the reader into understanding a little more about this vast subject. I trust that after reading this, you will have gained confidence in your ability to select STEM Toys for your children, grandchildren, or students.

In this article I want to uncover what it takes for a toy to be classed as a “STEM Toy”. Because of the increased demand for STEM toys today, there are a lot of toys being sold with the “STEM” title attached. As a result of the market demand, we find a huge supply of all sorts of toys. Many of these may not even qualify as a STEM toy.

I would like to layout what STEM toys are, in order to help and educate the reader into understanding a little more about this vast subject. I trust that after reading this, you will have gained confidence in your ability to select STEM Toys for your children, grandchildren, or students.

What does STEM stand for?

Before we head specifically into STEM Toys, I need to share a very brief background and perspective of STEM and where it sits in our modern society. STEM is an acronym for Science, Tech, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM as a topic, is a general categorization of these four disciplines and includes preschool toys and children’s activities all the way through to college education and careers. STEM is discussed in kindergartens, schools, colleges and all through society. Believe it or not, STEM is also a topic of important discussion in official government agendas in many nations, especially in the USA. In fact, STEM has been a target for improvement in various presidencies throughout the last 60 years.

We can safely conclude that the world of STEM is something that has been around for a long time and will be around for ever. The consensus is, STEM is only going to increase, and the demand for STEM skills in the work force will only increase.

What Are STEM Toys?

Let’s break this down into four parts:

 

  1. How to identify real STEM Toys

  2. What results should I expect from STEM Toys

  3. Why STEM Toys are different from generic toys

  4. Classification subsets of STEM Toy

How to identify REAL STEM Toys

Firstly, a STEM toy needs to incorporate one of the four disciplines contained in STEM. When researching a certain toy, ask yourself: Does this toy invoke problem solving within science, technology, engineering or mathematics?

I have a related article which covers this subject in fine detail, here is an excerpt from this article:

“A STEM toy or activity is something which requires kids to practically solve scientific, technical, engineering, or mathematical problems through engaged play. There are also many ways to describe this type of play, the terms used vary from nation to nation. In the USA the terms "Educational Toys" and "STEM Toys" is prevalent whereas in Australia and New Zealand for instance, we find the terms: "Play-based Learning" to be more popular.

For a STEM toy to be clearly identified we need to assess its purpose. We should look for what the toy achieves when played with. Does the toy invoke logical reasoning? Does the game or activity encourage critical thinking? There needs to be literal learning or development experienced as a result of playing or partaking in the activity. This learning then translates into real life as a skill or understanding in one of the STEM disciplines whether it be elementary or complex.

The greater purpose of STEM toys and play-based learning is intrinsic development of the child's body and mind. This would then build a good foundation in their brains and how well they can solve problems for the rest of their lives. Whether it be motor skills in babies and toddlers or mental development in all kids. This is what make a STEM toy the real thing.”

To read the full article please click here

Let’s get into unpacking STEM Toy benefits!

Look for any (or all) of the following properties/benefits:

  • Problem solving challenges
  • Development of scientific understanding
  • Learning about numbers and math calculations
  • Motor skill development (babies/toddlers)
  • Cognitive development in STEM disciplines
  • Engaging in coding, technical reasoning
  • Parental guidance to provoke STEM based thought
  • Team work to solve challenges and equations
  • Experimentation within the STEM fields
  • Open ended play evoking endless imaginary play in tech.

There are many more points that could be added to this list, the possibilities are endless!

Some STEM Toys need to be checked for age appropriateness and suited to individual levels of understanding. Please also note, some toys require parental guidance, even if it is just for the first use, to ensure the child can experience the full potential of the toy/activity.

Some toys can become STEM enhanced through the guidance of the parent. For instance, Wood Eats toys are pretend wooden food toys, which invoke tremendous imaginary play. While they do not directly incorporate science, tech, engineering, or math, when a parent or older sibling gets involved, the child can be challenged with fractions and basic math using the toys together.

Examples from Wood Eats

Examples from Wood Eats

ON our right is a example collage from the Wood Eats range of toys from Imagination Generation. These toys can transcend from purely imaginary play to become STEM enhanced through the input of parents challenging the child with questions regarding fractions, adding and subtracting. If you would like to look further into these types of toys, please click here.

ON our right is a example collage from the Wood Eats range of toys from Imagination Generation. These toys can transcend from purely imaginary play to become STEM enhanced through the input of parents challenging the child with questions regarding fractions, adding and subtracting. If you would like to look further into these types of toys, please click here.

What benefits should I expect from STEM Toys?

STEM Toys are perfect for the development of the cognitive mind in children and will establish a life-long foundation for great problem-solving ability and aptitude.  

Children who are exposed to a balance of STEM toys and activities in their early years will have a definitive advantage in many areas of their life, because their brains are given the opportunity to form positive neural pathways. These neural pathways also create an avenue for positive and joyful association with STEM type learning and activities.

The beauty of play-based learning is that fun becomes directly attached to learning. If a child has enough exposure to enjoyment while learning something relatively challenging, they will experience inherent abilities to excel in their years of rigorous study and education.

Patience and core character are also positively developed early during STEM based problem solving at a young age. During the initial growth stages of the brain, from the age of 0-7, children are literally like a sponge, the experiences they encounter in this stage of life will shape their way of thinking. They will contract life-long qualities which will enable them to succeed in many more areas of life.

Benefits of STEM Toys:

  • Enhanced cognitive processing ability
  • Problem solving ability
  • Lateral thinking
  • Imagination development
  • Creativity
  • Positive association with STEM careers
  • Relationship building with parents/teachers/peers
  • Ability to absorb and learn challenging content
  • Patience and endurance
  • Attention span increases

Why STEM Toys are different from generic toys

In most cases, STEM Toys can be easily separated from conventional toys, or those for sports or entertainment alone. What really brings definition between the two groups of toys is the fact that STEM Toys have the educational ‘edge’, which teach and give practical experience in Science, Technical, Engineering and Math.

As basic, and repetitive as it sounds, this is pretty much the deciding factor. While there are also plenty of toys which are not so easy to tell. If you are having a hard time deciding whether the toy is STEM or not, I would simply give the toy a go, and see what potential learning opens up as you go. However, as a parent/teacher, we need to use discretion on what content we expose our children to.

Without overthinking the world of STEM Toys, the toys we call standard or conventional can also be highly educational in their own rite, and in their own educational field.

What we want to minimize or avoid are toys and games which are completely passive. These are toys which require little or no intellectual input, and do not develop the mind. In fact, they can be detrimental to the brain’s development when used in excess. Being a different subject, I will leave this here and may embark upon these subjects in future blogs.

 

In my final point I would like to share the three main categories of STEM Toys.

STEM Toys have been classified into three main subsets:

  • Cognitive Thinking
  • Motor Skills / Educational
  • Academic

Cognitive Thinking

Cognitive Thinking

This sub-set spans the entire age range from baby to teenage. In cognitive toys and games there is development of the thought processes in the mind through problem solving. Where the child experiences the laws of physics, discovering how blocks come together with geometry and engineering, seeing how centrifugal forces hold objects to walls when spun around and much more. An example of an activity in the early childhood range that challenges this type of thinking could be – discovering which shape fits into the right hole. Middle school kids are challenged in cognitive thinking to stimulate their memories through puzzles like the Rubik's Cubes.

Examples:

  • Puzzles
  • Practical Activity Sets
  • Building Blocks
  • Construction Sets
  • Rubik's Cubes

This sub-set spans the entire age range from baby to teenage. In cognitive toys and games there is development of the thought processes in the mind through problem solving. Where the child experiences the laws of physics, discovering how blocks come together with geometry and engineering, seeing how centrifugal forces hold objects to walls when spun around and much more. An example of an activity in the early childhood range that challenges this type of thinking could be – discovering which shape fits into the right hole. Middle school kids are challenged in cognitive thinking to stimulate their memories through puzzles like the Rubik's Cubes.

Examples:

  • Puzzles
  • Practical Activity Sets
  • Building Blocks
  • Construction Sets
  • Rubik's Cubes

Motor Skills & Educational

Motor Skills & Educational

Heading

In this subset we have a compound category. In this we combine physical and mental development in infants and toddlers. We have educational toys and activities which promote physical development and at the same time, provide learning. This subset is particularly targeted to early childhood with an age range of 0-4 years. It is in the age target where we draw a differentiation from the following subset: Academic. The reason being that the educational content in this range is very basic and more connected to motor skill development in its basic purpose as a toy.

Examples:

  • Workbench or Kitchen Play-sets
  • Shape Stackers
  • Bead Mazes
  • Electric Sound Toys
  • Hanging Play-sets
Heading

In this subset we have a compound category. In this we combine physical and mental development in infants and toddlers. We have educational toys and activities which promote physical development and at the same time, provide learning. This subset is particularly targeted to early childhood with an age range of 0-4 years. It is in the age target where we draw a differentiation from the following subset: Academic. The reason being that the educational content in this range is very basic and more connected to motor skill development in its basic purpose as a toy.

Examples:

  • Workbench or Kitchen Play-sets
  • Shape Stackers
  • Bead Mazes
  • Electric Sound Toys
  • Hanging Play-sets

Academic Toys

Heading

These toys are purely designed and made to educate minds and develop their knowledge of science and mathematics through a hands-on approach. There is also the theoretic side of technical and engineering, but at this stage the theory of engineering and tech is generally too advanced for children. However, math and science have a very good coverage to offer. There is a huge call for educational toys which teach children new languages. While language does not have a place-holding in STEM, it can play a direct role in the world of STEM. Language certainly helps in the development of the brain. Linguistics also opens the door for more efficient learning and ultimately the opportunity for a more diverse career placement later in life.

Academic activities and games are mainly suited to preteens and above. yet, like all things, there are exceptions and cross-overs. As we just mentioned, language learning devices for early childhood are developed to teach young children in their early years. They use practical activities and sound generators to connect the real world with the spoken languages of the world. The best time for children to learn the basics of a language is before the age of 7.

Examples:

  • Language Learning
  • Math Games & Challenges
  • Science Experiment Kits
Heading

These toys are purely designed and made to educate minds and develop their knowledge of science and mathematics through a hands-on approach. There is also the theoretic side of technical and engineering, but at this stage the theory of engineering and tech is generally too advanced for children. However, math and science have a very good coverage to offer. There is a huge call for educational toys which teach children new languages. While language does not have a place-holding in STEM, it can play a direct role in the world of STEM. Language certainly helps in the development of the brain. Linguistics also opens the door for more efficient learning and ultimately the opportunity for a more diverse career placement later in life.

Academic activities and games are mainly suited to preteens and above. yet, like all things, there are exceptions and cross-overs. As we just mentioned, language learning devices for early childhood are developed to teach young children in their early years. They use practical activities and sound generators to connect the real world with the spoken languages of the world. The best time for children to learn the basics of a language is before the age of 7.

Examples:

  • Language Learning
  • Math Games & Challenges
  • Science Experiment Kits

Thank You

We spend numerous hours working through STEM Toys of all types, searching the world for great toys that will add real value to your family and bring fruit to your parenting. If you would like to know more about what we do, please feel free to subscribe for more blogs and content like this

If you are looking to buy great STEM Toys and Games for your family or friends, please feel free to visit us here, we will look after your interests and ensure you are setup with the finest quality and most effective toys for your children. We only do this once, let’s do it right. It can, does, and will make a difference. Let the change start with your home.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time

Andrew Clifford


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