Games and activities that can teach and entertain at the same time are not easy to find in the aisles of a typical toy store. While some kids might balk at a toy deemed “educational,” these finds are so much fun that your children might not even realize that they’re actually learning something while they play.
Here are nine games, toys, and apps that strive to inspire a love of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — in kids as young as 3 years old, and might even teach parents a thing or two at the same time.
Star Walk Kids
Star Walk Kids packs an incredible amount of astronomy facts and fun into one app that won’t break the bank. Kids ages 6–8 who love to gaze up at the night sky will have the galaxy at their fingertips in this clean, intuitive app.
The app can use your location to show you what’s over your head at any moment. You can also navigate the night sky with just a swipe, and use the fast-forward clock to watch the movement of the stars during the next few hours. Clear narration highlighting astronomical facts, videos about notable celestial bodies, and the cartoony, kid-friendly designs of the constellations will keep kids enraptured.
Star Walk Kids is available in the iTunes store for $2.99.
Seattle dad and entrepreneur Dan Shapiro had a simple goal: To enjoy playing a game together with his 4-year-old twins without forcing himself to lose on purpose. He had also been tossing about an idea to teach programming fundamentals to them even before they could read or use a computer. When he combined the two concepts, the Robot Turtles board game began to take shape.
Robot Turtles is a board game for kids aged 3 to 8. The parent, or “Turtle Mover,” places the Robot Gem card on the board. The players, or “Turtles Masters,” then command the Mover to follow their directions to navigate the turtle to the gem. As the Turtle Masters choose the turtle’s next move and plan out the next series of steps to reach the gem, they’re on their way to learning the basics of programming.
Originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Robot Turtles is now available for sale on Amazon for $24.99.
Like Robot Turtles, GoldieBlox is a STEM toy that got its start through crowdfunding. Debbie Sterling, an engineer from Stanford University, wanted to inspire little girls to have an interest in the engineering field. Debbie created GoldieBlox with that goal in mind.
GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine is the latest toy in the series, and for the first time a companion app on the iTunes store helps you get even more out of the construction kit. Kids ages 6 and up can create their own zoetrope, an animation device, to put their engineering and problem solving skills to the test — all while having a blast making their own movies.
GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine is available at several local toy stores, and on Amazon.com for a price of $29.99.
Roominate toys also aim to encourage a love of engineering in girls, but their brightly hued pieces can appeal to boys and girls alike. The basic set is a one-room dollhouse building kit, and includes four pieces for the walls and floor, and 24 pieces for the room’s contents. Roominate toys then take building to another level with connectors, motors and switches.
After the young engineer (6 and up) creates a room completely out of his or her imagination, it’s time to add a light, elevator, fan, or whatever strikes their fancy. Roominate provides helpful video and photo tutorials to motivate and help kids get started.
Kids who like to tinker with simple circuits and motors can take their engineering skills one step further with littleBits. The magnetic circuit boards, or bits, are connected with a snap, and each has a specific function like a light, motor, or sound. No soldering or programming is required, so even the littlest engineers can experiment placing the modules together to invent an electronic machine or device. And if your kids are into Lego, there are even littleBits adapters that can add motion and light to their Lego brick constructions.
littleBits encourages exploration and play, and the company also shares project ideas contributed by the littleBits community — including some great, creative ideas from kids.
Preschoolers, kindergarteners and even older kids aren't able to keep their hands off the bright, geometric Magna-Tiles. The colorful magnetic tiles give kids the opportunity to build and explore geometric shapes and concepts.
The plastic tiles are durable for even the littlest of math explorers, who will love creating shape masterpieces in 2D and 3D. Forget plain old wooden blocks! Magna-Tiles get your kids learning engineering skills to build structures, science skills to understand magnetism and math skills to discover shapes and angles, all while allowing their creativity to flourish.
The Magna-Tiles starter set is available at Lakeshore Learning for $49.99.
Lego Space Needle
Bring home Seattle’s most famous landmark with the official Lego Space Needle architecture kit. Kids 10 and up can learn about the real Space Needle’s past and its architectural design before diving into constructing their own 8.7 inch scale model.
Lego legend and master builder Alice Finch recommends the architecture kits as a great start down the path of a Lego master builder. The Space Needle just might start your little Lego fanatics on their own journey to building something amazing.
Find the Space Needle and other architecture kits at the LEGO Store or online at Amazon.com.
Sick Science! Fast Physics Kit
Sick Science! kits show kids the exciting, “insanely cool” world of science with eye-popping experiments for ages 6-15. Billed as science “experiences,” the kits come with everything you need to see spectacular science in action.
The Fast Physics Kit uses colorful popsicle sticks, pendulums and beads to get hands-on with concepts like potential energy, kinetic energy, and inertia. Expect things to go flying across the room as your kids fling and swing with physics fun.
Sick Science! Fast Physics Kit is available on Amazon.com and other online retailers at a retail price of $21.99.
With only an iPad or Kindle Tablet, kids ages 5 and up can build almost anything their imagination can come up with, thanks to Toca Builders. Developer Toca Boca has been making ingenious kids’ apps for a long time, but none are as expansive and inventive as Toca Builders.
Players use the six unique builders in the game to place, move, and smash blocks and colors anywhere in the spaces they choose. Once kids get the hang of navigating the grid-like terrain with the builders, the world is their oyster — or castle, house, hamburger, you name it. With Toca Builders, players tap into their own creativity while experimenting with geometric, three-dimensional constructions.