5 STEM Powered Toys for Little Programmers and Engineers
Written by Kelly Knox
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 five finds are so much fun that your children might not even realize that they’re actually learning something while they play.
Here are five 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.
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.
Robot Turtles is only available for sale during its fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, which ends September 27 — so don’t delay! Backers who contribute $29 are promised a copy of the game before the end of the year.
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 Spinning Machine pairs a tool set and book that shares the adventures of the young inventor Goldie. As girls ages 6–9 read along with the story, they follow the instructions to use the axels, wheels, blocks, and crank to create a simple belt drive, and hone their problem-solving and spatial skills along the way.
GoldieBlox and the Spinning 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.
littleBits encourages exploration and play, and the company also shares project ideas contributed by the littleBits community — including some great, creative ideas from kids.
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.
Kelly Knox is a freelance writer and content editor at GeekMom.com.