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When it comes time to choose a new toy for your child, the options can feel endless (check out our top picks for new toys in 2021 for some help). Some toys are simply a way for kids to pass the time when traveling or in a restaurant aka the most boring place in the world for little ones, while others are more focused on educating through play. These toys often have STEM or STEAM-based properties, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. While these types of toys may take a bit longer for kids to warm up to because of their added need for instructions, the benefits of engagement can be huge.
STEM or STEAM toys help to extend a child’s education beyond the classroom and offer hands-on learning that is appropriate for their age and skill level. By learning through play, kids find themselves excited to engage in a topic that they otherwise avoid. Math is fun? Yes, math is fun!
STEM and STEAM toys are constantly evolving, with parents and educators seeing firsthand the positive benefits of learning through play. Companies have responded to the demand and are continuing to release new and inventive toys that spark imagination, creativity, and play, all while teaching little ones about problem-solving, spatial awareness, reading and math skills, and more. Check out our top picks for the best new STEM toys for 2021 but be warned – you’re going to want to start playing with your kid’s toys.
1. National Geographic Magnetic Marble Run with Metal Board
The new National Geographic Magnetic Marble Run with Metal Board lets kids explore their love of building on any magnetic surface – anywhere! The Magnetic Marble Run comes with 100 pieces to help kids use their imagination and build a Rube Goldberg-style marble run onto any magnetic surface. The set, which is designed for kids ages 8 and up, includes magnetic connectors, track pieces, trick pieces, a magnetic board with suction cups, and of course – marbles! Focusing on science and engineering properties, the new set from National Geographic is fun on its own and compatible with other Makeway Marble Runs. No batteries and no screen? No problem.
2. Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Ultimate Learning Bot
BEST FOR BABIES
STEM toys aren’t just for older kids as evidenced by the Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Ultimate Learning Bot. The new STEM-based robot has plenty of fun ways for babies and toddlers to interact with the multi-staged toy, which separates into three toys and comes together to make one large robot. Little ones will have fun learning through music, phrases, numbers, and letter sounds, with plenty of hands-on features to help them explore the new toy. Babies will be encouraged to crawl and walk by the lights and movements of the Learning Bot, which has three stages parents can choose from to create a toy that is geared towards their little learners.
3. Learning Resources Coding Critters MagiCoders: Skye the Unicorn
BEST INTRO TO CODING
Limiting screen time is important for little ones, but that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on important technology lessons. Learning Resources has created a screen-free toy that acts as a child’s first introduction to coding in a toy that is age-appropriate. Coding Critters MagiCoders is for kids ages 5 and up and available in several kid-friendly critter forms, including Skye the Unicorn. Kids can use their ‘spell book’ and magic wand to instruct Skye on her movements, including dancing, turning on her lights, and following objects. Kids can even design their own codes and instructions, working through problem-solving and learning through play.
Learning Resources Coding Critters MagiCoders: Skye the Unicorn
4. Educational Insights Artie Max the Coding, Drawing Robot
CODING FOR OLDER KIDS
Educational Insights has recently introduced their latest coding-friendly toy with Artie Max, the Coding, Drawing Robot. Designed for kids ages 8 to 12 years old, Artie Max combines creativity and coding, with five built-in coding languages included for those who are new and seasoned in coding. Using built-in WiFi, kids use their own screen (smartphones, computers, or tablets work) to direct the robot on how it should use its three onboard markers, with young coders able to see their creations come to life. Artie Max doesn’t require the use of an app or the internet, which helps to remove issues with bugs that other coding toys can have.
5. Osmo – Little Genius Starter Kit for Fire Tablet
TEACHES STEM THROUGH GAME PLAY
Osmo has quickly become a leader in STEM-based play for little ones thanks to their user-friendly design that pairs easily with iPads and tablets. The Little Genius Starter Kit is designed for kids ages 3 to 5 and includes lessons on math, spelling, phonics, reading, number recognition, and more all through game-based play. Cardboard and silicone pieces are included in the set, as well as a stand for a Fire tablet, with the camera on the tablet recognizing the Osmo pieces and giving kids a hands-on learning experience. Kids learn STEM properties through games like Costume Party and Counting Town, all while using a tablet that doesn’t require WiFi for the Osmo app to work.
6. POWERUP 4.0 The Next-Generation Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane Kit
BEST FOR TEENS
No matter how old we get, playing with paper airplanes is always fun. Help teens take their paper airplane to new heights with the POWERUP 4.0 The Next-Generation Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane Kit. Older kids and teens build their best paper airplane and use the Bluetooth-enabled kit to connect the plane to their smartphone, which turns into a controller for their high-flying toy. Learning about physics and engineering, the Powerup boasts 10-minutes of flying time up to 20 mph and 230 feet in distance. Teens can learn about the mechanics of flying in real-time, with lift and thrust all affecting the plane’s ability to soar. The rechargeable Powerup can be used repeatedly, with teens able to perfect their flying technique over time.
POWERUP 4.0 The Next-Generation Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane Kit
7. PaintOn Very Hungry Caterpillar Magna-Tiles Structure Set
BEST FOR YOUNG ARTISTS
Manga-Tiles have been a staple on just about every best-of list for STEM toys for years and for good reason. A screen-free, open-ended toy that is suitable for a wide variety of ages, the colorful tiles help to improve fine motor skills, teach engineering, math, physics, and problem-solving skills, and frankly, are just really fun to play with (parents know what we mean). Magna-Tiles is consistently coming out with fun new ways to engage with their sets and that includes their new PaintOn designs that allow kids to decorate their tiles before building their latest structure.
8. Educational Insights Circuit Explorer Deluxe Base Space Station Toy
BEST INTRO TO CIRCUIT BUILDING
Circuit-based toys have become a popular addition to the toy market thanks to an increased interest in STEM-based toys and that includes the new Educational Insights Circuit Explorer Deluxe Base Space Station Toy. Designed for builders aged 6 and up, the set is ideal for those new to circuit building. The Space Station comes with ready-to-use circuits that kids can connect by following the symbols and instructions, allowing them to build a space station with working lights and sounds. SPY received the Educational Insights Circuit Explorer Deluxe Base Space Station Toy and we were impressed by the multiple play options and user-friendly design that makes this a toy kids can and will have fun playing with for hours.
Educational Insights Circuit Explorer Deluxe Base Space Station Toy
9. Educational Insights Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Fire Truck Toy
BEST HANDS-ON TOY FOR TODDLERS
For little builders who want to practice their fine motor skills, the Educational Insights Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Fire Truck Toy is a great new option that features several STEM properties, including problem solving and engineering. Kids ages 3 and up will have fun using a drill that is the ideal size for their small hands, which will help them build and take apart their own firetruck. Small figures, including Bolt Buddy the firefighter and a dog, are included to ride in the firetruck, helping to complete a toy kids can proudly show off after building it themselves.
Educational Insights Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Fire Truck Toy
10. Creation Crate Bluetooth Speaker
BEST FOR MUSIC LOVERS
Creation Crate has several STEM sets that put older kids in charge of making their own household products and that includes their very own Bluetooth Speaker. The set comes with tools, circuits, and more, enabling and empowering kids to build their own speaker that they can connect via Bluetooth and use with their devices. Learn about sounds, circuits, engineering and continue to build on the same device with the expansion set that turns the speaker into a working Bluetooth FM radio.
11. Elenco Snap Circuits Jr.
GREAT CIRCUIT BUILDING TOY
Future engineers will love the Elenco Snap Circuits Jr. set, which comes with 30 electronic parts. Using the easy to follow and fully illustrated manual, kids can build over 100 different projects including a sound-activated switch, a musical doorbell, a flashing light and a siren with an adjustable volume knob. The electronic circuit kit encourages design and problem-solving skills and provides kids with a tangible finished product that they can proudly show off. Once kids master the Junior set shown here, their building can continue thanks to the several expansion kits available for more advanced electrical circuit building.
12. Adventure Academy
BEST VIRTUAL GAME
This might not be a toy in the traditional sense, but it’s exactly the kind of play modern kids are looking for today. Parents might be familiar with ABCmouse, an online learning platform for kids. Adventure Academy was created by the same team, and it’s a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) for kids and tweens. Adventure Academy is an entire virtual world centered around a Hogwarts-like academy where kids can take classes, play games, go on quests and meet interesting characters. There are tons of math and science-related activities within this world, and kids will have hours of fun exploring. Since kids love their screentime, the best STEM toys of 2020 aren’t necessarily physical. Get the most out of screentime with this educational video game. Right now, an annual subscription costs $60 per year.
13. The First Years StackUp Cup Toys
GREAT FOR BABIES
It’s never too early to help little ones explore the fascinating world around them. Although infants might not be ready for coding and circuit boards, they do love cups. These colorful and stackable cups from First Years are an excellent toy for babies, helping them understand early engineering concepts by fitting smaller cups into bigger cups. They also learn math skills by looking at the numbers printed on the bottom of the cups. Plus, one of the cups will inevitably be lost and therefore subtracted from the collection. Parents know that one cup always gets lost. We love that these BPA-free cups have small holes on the bottom, making them fun for water play in the bathtub. Their soft and lightweight design also makes them a great option for toys to use in the stroller or car seat.
14. KiwiCo Toy and Project Delivery
BEST SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE
KiwiCo is an innovation and enrichment service that delivers fun projects, science and art toys to kids that they build themselves! Each age-appropriate crate comes with supplies and instructions for building something awesome that teaches kids about invention, tinkering, exploration and fun. Everything they produce and sell is designed by experts and tested on kids, and they have monthly options for all ages and interests. You can choose from categories of play like science & tinkering, geography & culture and even early learning for super youngsters. The crate is delivered to your door each month with all the supplies necessary for the project — you just get to watch your kids have fun. It’s a fantastic service for learning STEM skills from enriching content designed for kids.
15. Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set
BEST FOR GROWING WITH A CHILD
There aren’t many toys that can be used from infancy to childhood, but the Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set fits the bill. Made with natural wood and free from lead, plastic and all toxins, the Tegu blocks are an open-play toy that encourages building and design. Babies will enjoy holding (and chewing) the smooth blocks with soft edges and older kids will have fun creating buildings, vehicles and anything else they can think up. The Tegu blocks are great for traveling and use in restaurants thanks to their strong magnets. Parents will also likely have fun creating new shapes with the blocks, which double as a stress reliever for tired adults.
16. Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit
BEST FOR TODDLERS
Kids love imitating adults, so encourage their real-world play with the Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit, a much safer alternative to the real thing. Not only do kids get to practice their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination with the interactive toolbox, they learn spatial awareness and colors. They also learn how to match shapes by pairing the ‘nails’ and ‘drill bits’ with the correct tools and openings in the box. Designed for kids ages 3 to 5, the toolkit also has storage for all the pieces included, another bonus for adults who are tired of tripping over tiny toys.
17. Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope
BEST SCHOOL PREP
If you have a budding scientist that loves picking up plants, insects, rocks, and anything else you don’t want coming home from the park, try the Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope. A great indoor rainy-day option for little nature lovers, the interactive microscope comes with 60 images that budding biologists and botanists will love seeing magnified. Kids can set the GeoSafari Jr. to fact mode and hear Bindi Irwin describe what they see through the microscope, or choose quiz mode and test themselves on what they’ve just learned. The microscope has English, Spanish, French and German settings, teaching languages as well as science.
18. Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set
BEST CODING ROBOT
Toys that teach kids how to code are the latest craze and for a good reason. As more schools implement technology in the classroom, engaging kids in tech-based learning is necessary to ensure they don’t fall behind. On the downside, parents’ ongoing struggle to balance screen time becomes more difficult. That’s why we love the Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set, which teaches kids ages five and up how to code without the use of a smartphone or tablet. A remote programmer and coding cards teach kids how to code Botley and deliver commands that will have him racing around obstacles and moving small objects.
19. LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor Building Set
BEST FOR BUDDING INVENTORS
If your child has a knack for inventions, creativity and a wild imagination this brand new LEGO MINDSTORMS set is a perfect gift for them. Your child will gain STEM skills as they physically build, code and play with these remote-control robots that can shoot missiles, drive, play ball with them and more. This kit comes with 1,000 different LEGO pieces, an intelligent Hub, four different motors, a color sensor, distance sensor and everything else they need to build up to five different robots. The rechargeable battery is easy to install so your kids can get started right away, and the tallest robot stands at just over 14″ tall, an impressive robot companion to play with. Needless to say, this set is designed for older children, 10+ years in age.
20. Yellow Scope Foundation Chemistry Kit
BEST TOY GEARED TOWARDS GIRLS
We are typically not fans of gendering toys, but study after study has shown that girls are rarely encouraged to pursue STEM subjects, often dropping these courses in later years even if they show an aptitude and an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That’s why we like the Yellow Scope Foundation Chemistry Kit, which can be enjoyed by any child but is specifically targeted towards girls. The kit teaches important basic science concepts like chemical reactions and molecular motions and does so in a fun and engaging way. Realistic lab equipment like goggles and beakers are included, as is a detailed 32-page notebook that includes fun facts, quizzes, and room for important notes from future leading scientists.
21. Magna Tiles
BEST FOR BUILDERS
Magna Tiles have been a staple on ‘best of’ lists for toys and STEM products for years and for good reason. The 3D magnetic building set comes with BPA-free plastic pieces designed in a variety of colors and shapes that kids can use to build, well, just about anything. A quick Pinterest search will reveal hundreds of images of creations young builders have constructed using Magna Tiles. Magna Tiles are safe for users ages 3 and up and encourage development in engineering and mathematics, as well as spatial and tactile skills. The company has been copied by several competitors over the years, but no one has been able to match the quality and durability of the original building toy.
22. Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set
BEST FOR BATH TIME
Fat Brain has an impressive lineup of tactile toys for all ages that promote fine motor skills, color recognition, engineering, building and sorting. Even adults find their toys undeniably soothing to play with (we recommend the Dimpl for stressful days). With the Squigz, little learners can continue their education from the playmat to the bathtub. The water-friendly toys suction to each other as well as other surfaces, making it fun for kids to build structures in the bathtub, sort the Squigz by color, get an early understanding of addition and subtraction and improve muscle strength in their hands. And yes, the Squigz are also fun for adults to play with. Who says bath time toys are just for kids?
23. Coogam Wooden Blocks Puzzle
For a toy that promotes creativity, problem-solving, engineering and design, we like the Coogam Wooden Blocks Puzzle. Designed for toddlers and older kids, the wood puzzle is finished with brightly colored, non-toxic paint that makes it a great introduction to sorting for young users. As kids get older, they can practice their fine motor skills and problem-solving by completing the Tetris-like game. Coogam also includes instructions on how to create various figures and kids can explore their own creativity by using the pieces to design their own masterpiece.
24. JOYIN Play-Act Counting Sorting Bears Toy Set
BEST FOR EARLY MATH LESSONS
By 18 months, many babies can distinguish between different colors. By age 3, many toddlers can name one or more colors and have begun to show an interest in sorting, counting, and identifying shapes. JOYIN Play-Act Counting Sorting Bears Toy Set touches on several important milestones for toddlers, with the set of dice encouraging kids to sort the bears by numbers, colors and the shapes displayed on the honey jars. A set of plastic tweezers included in the kit also help children develop their fine motor skills and hand strength, which is imperative to developing the muscles necessary for holding crayons, markers and eventually pencils. As toddlers get older, parents can also use the kit to help develop an understanding of basic math, including addition and subtraction.
25. Viahart Brain Flakes 500 Piece Interlocking Plastic Disc Set
BEST FOR ENGINEERS
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s just about anything kids can dream up. Using the Viahart Brain Flakes 500 Piece Interlocking Plastic Disc Set, kids can design and build countless shapes and real-world items. The brightly colored discs are BPA-, lead-, heavy metal-, and phthalate-free, making them safe for little ones, and their strong snap and go design make them tough enough to handle large-scale builds by older kids. Viahart includes an instruction booklet with the discs as well as several additional instructions online to help get kids started on their path towards falling in love with engineering.
Viahart Brain Flakes 500 Piece Interlocking Plastic Disc Set
26. Creativity for Kids Grow ‘N Glow Terrarium Kit
BEST FOR NATURE LOVERS
If you have a budding nature lover but not enough space to allow your little one to start their own greenhouse, we suggest the Creativity for Kids Grow ‘N Glow Terrarium Kit. The kit comes with everything kids will need to grow their own tiny ecosystem and learn about photosynthesis. A mason jar becomes an interactive terrarium that comes with soil, seeds and glow-in-the-dark figurines, which make this an indoor science project that is fun during the day and night. Plus, it means that little ones don’t have to wait for the weather to turn warm in order to flex their green thumb.
27. Catan The Board Game
BEST BOARD GAME
You may remember The Settlers of Catan board game from your own childhood. Well, it’s still around, it’s still hugely popular, and now it’s going simply by the name Catan. The fan-favorite board game was first released in 1995 and continues to be a great way for kids to learn about problem-solving and teamwork. Players need to utilize their resources to the best of their ability to build their settlements and demonstrate strategy in order to win the game. With several add-ons available, Catan is a great option for both young and older kids and can be played with multiple players.
28. 4M Deluxe Crystal Growing Combo Steam Science Kit
BEST SCIENCE EXPERIMENT
STEM toys are a great way for parents to provide the hands-on learning kids typically get at school without having to have a teaching degree. This crystal growing kit from 4M makes it easy for parents to help kids learn about the basics of science experiments, including measuring, observing, and understanding how different materials and ingredients interact with each other. Not only that but at the end of the experiment, kids will have colorful and cool looking crystals that they can proudly show off to friends and family.