I recently went shopping at Barnes and Noble to buy a birthday present, and I noticed that there was an overwhelming number of STEM toys being sold. The STEM toy industry, aka the EdTech industry, is booming and it feels like there's a new toy invented every day.
As a software developer, mother of 2, and now an educator, I've spent an embarrassing amount of time and money tinkering with many of these toys. Here's a guide to help you decide which gadget you want to try next.
- Piper ($$$$, Ages 8+, Teacher-led instruction recommended) Piper is a well-constructed kit that allows children to build a computer all by themselves. It's great for those tinkering kids that like working with their hands and endorsed by Mark Zuckerburg and Apple co-creator Steve Wozniak. The biggest downside of Piper is the cost, but I talk about why it's worth the cost here.
- Osmo ($$$, Ages 4-12, Teacher-led instruction recommended) Osmo is a very cool game system that involves physical manipulation of blocks/pieces placed in front of the iPad. The STEAM-related games are Numbers, Newton, Tangram, Masterpiece, Coding Awbie and Coding Jam. My favorites are Masterpiece, Coding Awbie, and Coding Jam, and Pizza Co.
- Cubetto ($$$$, Ages 3-6, Teacher-led instruction recommended) Cubetto is the first Montessori-approved robot where children learn coding concepts and computational thinking by placing plastic blocks into a wooden console. I love the fact that there is no screen involved.
- Robot Turtles ($, Ages 4+) Robot Turtles is a board game inspired by the LOGO programming language. It's easy for any parent to learn and play with their child. We play this game with on the weekends when we want a break from our nightly reading routine.
- Code Master Programming Logic Game ($, Ages 8+). Code Master is a simple board game to teach logical thinking to a child. Your child may require assistance.
- Amusement Park Engineer ($$, Ages 3+) I love this Lego set, and it is great for the little kids that don't have the fine motor skills for big kid Legos. I really like the fact that it comes with its own container to put the pieces back in.
- Scratch ($, Ages 6+) & Scratch Jr ($, Ages 4+) Scratch and Scratch Jr were developed by MIT and are tools to teach coding by dragging and dropping blocks on the screen. Most children will require guidance from an instructor or capable parent.
- Move the Turtle ($, Ages 5+) Move the Turtle is an app you can buy. It's also based on the LOGO programming language. Students learn basic coding concepts by giving commands to the turtle. Your child may require assistance.
- Minecraft ($, Ages 7+) Minecraft is a game where you build things out of blocks. The game fosters critical thinking, logic, and creativity. The main drawback of Minecraft is its addictive quality. You may find yourself needing to limit screen time if your child gets hooked.
- Lego Boost ($$$$, Ages 7+,Requires Teacher-led instruction) . Lego Boost is a fun way to build and program a robot. My daughter really enjoys playing with this, but I often catch her just watching the videos and not really engaging in anything else.
- Little Bits ($$$$, Ages 8+, Requires Teacher-led instruction) Students can invent their own gadgets using Little Bits. They also released a Coding Kit this year that I still need to test drive. Warning: my daughter built this really annoying doorbell and wanted to tape it to the wall in the hallway (requiring us to ring the doorbell before we entered her room).
- Code Monkey Island ($, Ages 5). This game was too complicated for my 6-year-old. There were several different rules of this game which makes it difficult for players to understand how this game relates to code.
- Goldiblox ($, Ages 4+). Goldieblox is a STEAM toy marketed to girls. I really wanted to like this, but I found that the paper pieces were very flimsy and found it frustrating to work with.
- Ozobot ($$, Ages 6+,Requires Teacher-led instruction) . My daughter attended an Ozobot workshop and after an hour or less, her battery started to die and Ozobot stopped working correctly. My daughter and I became very frustrated.
Note: Age ranges should be determined by the discretion of the parent or instructor. Feel free to add your own comments on other products that I haven't reviewed (ex: Dash and Dot, Lego Mindstorms, etc).
I'm excited to see all these STEAM toys popping up and I look forward to seeing what the next generation of engineers and coders will invent. Please re-share!