If you’re looking to get your kids excited about STEM (that stands for science, technology, engineering and math) through STEM toys, then we have some advice and suggestions from a true expert. Julie G. runs The Tiny Scientist, a Brooklyn school that teaches STEM to kids ages 2 to 11 (2 year olds!) and she believes kids are never too young to start STEM activities — in fact, it’s likely your little one is already doing experiments on their own.
Julie’s goal is to teach STEM subjects, which have become an important part of school curriculums, in a more innovative way than any school could. And she would know — she spent 10 years as a science teacher and worked as a real life scientist in a lab before founding The Tiny Scientist in 2014.
When you’re doing STEM activities at home, Julie has one important tip: “Have the attitude that you’re not going to have to interfere as much as you might if it were their homework,” she suggests. “To foster that fun with your kids, you should let them have space to make a mess and encourage them to ask questions, and you don’t have to worry if they are right — at least in the beginning.”
With all of Julie’s recommendations in mind, Scary Mommy has curated the best STEM gifts and toys for the little scientist in your life.
Dinosaur And Space Toys
Two topics Julie felt were missing at schools were dinosaurs and space because they’re subjects kids really gravitate to naturally. Julie recommends “starting with the interests of the child, what is the bottom level of learning and working from there.”
This 12-pack of dinosaurs is a must-have for kids who can’t get enough of the ancient creatures. Modeled after real dinos, like an Allosaurus or a Triceratops, each dinosaur in this kit comes with an identification card and a feature in the included book. Kids can read up on the history of each dinosaur that features interesting and cool facts.
So spacey! All kids seem to be fascinated by outer space and if you know a space cadet who is due for a gift from you, consider gifting this educational read, Little Kids First Big Book Of Space by Catherine Hughes. It’s a National Geographic Kids book, so you know it’s legit. They will learn planetary and space basics and might even be able to show off their acquired knowledge in the classroom one day.
Kids can dig up 12 different dino eggs with this STEM kit that encourages educational play and discovery. Once a dinosaur is dug up and revealed, there’s a set of information cards so little scientists can read up on related facts. This kit will totally foster a lasting love for paleontology.
This cool STEM kit teaches kids about the fascinating solar system through assembly (aka where do these planets go?!) and paint! Oh, and the included Kid Quiz questions inspire a few more fun learning opportunities, too. Once the solar system is assembled, kids can study it to memorize details about each planet.
Julie says science has to be part of kids’ every day life, and part of that means looking at the weather. She teaches her 2 year olds to use the word “meteorology” and to look at weather patterns.
Ms. Frizzle has arrived on the Magic School Bus to take curious kids on a weather-themed field trip. This award-winning kit (created by Harvard grads) includes spinning pinwheels, tools to make mini tornados, accessories to build a barometer, material to learn about the greenhouse effect, and so much more. One of the coolest aspects of this kit is the ability to build a bus-shaped weather station that includes a thermometer, rain gauge, wind meter, and compass. The hours of exploration won’t even feel educational. Shh!
Can you say, “meteorology,” too? This 4M Weather Science Kit is a blast to play with, but it teaches about important issues like climate change and global warming. While adult supervision is required (you can do this!), the experiment that teaches about lightning through static electricity is seriously incredible. Other stand-out science experiments include making clouds in the palm of your hand or building a desktop water cycle model.
This instrument helps aspiring meteorologists measure barometric pressure, relative humidity, and air temperature. Of course, the included guide will explain how to use each weather tool like a true pro. Looks like we’ve got a weatherman in the making!
“Using a pipette is an important fine motor skill,” Julie explains. “Using gradual measuring cups and measuring spoons all the time is really great for any age.”
“Anything involving chemical reactions — we spend a long time working on the measurement part of it — because kids like it, and it works on important skills.”
Yeah, it is possible to make chemistry cool and this is one of the ways to do it. This hands-on, 20-piece kit contains 11 activities and seven real chemicals: Red cabbage powder, citric acid, baking soda, three color tabs, crosslinked polyacrylate copolymer, vegetable oil, and corn syrup. Also included? Cotton swabs, testing essentials, and traditional lab-room tools like pipettes and test tubes. Sure, so maybe this STEM toy requires a smidge of supervision, but the learning opportunities the come hand-in-hand with this Scientific Explorer activity kit will be appreciated by any student and their supervisors!
This explosive (literally) lab kit includes 25 experiments, over 27 tools and ingredients, and over 30 pages of activities and a lab guide. This STEM toy will keep your kiddo on her toes, with DIY rockets, helium balloons, fizzy bombs, color explosions, and limitless chemical reactions.
This quirky kitchen science kit will bring some excitement to the table. Kids can roll up their sleeves to generate electricity using a fork and a lemon, or launch a rocket fueled by baking soda and vinegar. The experiment that teaches kids how to write invisible messages is one we want to learn how to use for ourselves. Can you spell, “science fair inspiration”? You’re welcome.
“Challenge your kids to build things,” Julie suggests, “‘Can you make a tall tower?, ‘Can you build something that stands on its own?’” There are more complex games that offer similar building challenges for older kids. Julie especially recommends Tree Blocks, because they help teach “teach [kids] trees have birthdays too and have them count the rings.” Parents can give building challenges or buy figurines of small creatures and have children build a habitat for them, inspired by a video you watch about beavers, for example.
…Julie is spot on: The barked blocks in this 36-piece set are cut into 2cm, 4cm, 6cm, 8cm, and 10cm pieces. The specific measurements can also turn playtime into an opportunity to improve math skills and master the metric system. And yeah, being able to count the rings is pretty freaking sweet.
Plant And Dirt Games
Planting things and watching them grow is really exciting and stimulating for kids, but also a great learning opportunity: “you can talk about growth rates, and lifecycles,” says Julie. Any toys that grow something edible, like alfalfa seeds, also adds another source of stimulation and excitement.
Julie recommends games that involve “paying close attention to trees and bugs — kids love it.”
This terrarium DIY kit is like no other, it glows at night! With a built-in LED light on the oxygenated lid, it will double as a nightlight aka nighttime soother. This terrarium kit includes dreamy blue sand, nourishing soil, chia seeds, wheatgrass seeds, and whimsical mini figurines. Each day a child will get a kick out of discovering new growth. Time to nurture that green thumb!
This super unique grow kit will teach any kid a thing or two about root veggies and farming. Plant carrots, onions, and radishes and then watch them grow through the acrylic glass. Everything (except water and sunlight) included!
Kids are so fascinated by ant farms, they don’t even realize how much they learn by running one! This kit by Educational Insights makes it possible for kids to easily set up and maintain their own ant farm habitats. The sand, ants, and a 24-page guide book is included.
“You want to figure out that a circuit is a circle, so all the energy has to be traveling in a pathway, that the energy can’t travel without a pathway when the path is open — the electrons can travel. It’s also a great troubleshooting activity, because if something is wrong [kids] have to test four or five different things — they have to figure out which part is broken.” It’s also great for fine-motor skills.
This circuit kit contains enough parts (over 30!) to build literally over 100 electronic projects. All parts just snap in, so there are no other tools required to achieve cool results like flashing lights or sounding alarms. Your kiddo is the creator!
If you know a kid who is really getting into the whole snap circuit thing, spring for this upgraded version that contains over 55 parts and creates over 175 different projects. The neon lights and accessories included seem to be made for a big kid, but anyone around the age of eight and older can tackle it and have a blast.
“In school, we use geology as a means to discuss properties, which is big in second grade, so we do tests on rocks, we talk about size, shape, luster, color.”
Smash open 10 geodes to discover what beautiful crystals are hiding behind the stoney surface. With this kit, safety goggles are included, and so is a National Geographic Geode Learning Guide so your favorite kid can walk away with some new fun facts to rattle off once all of the geodes have been cracked.
This dig kit provides such a fun way to dig up crystals and gems and learn all about each one in the process. Included in the kit? There are 15 beautiful gems to uncover, excavation (and examination!) tools, and of course, the National Geographic Mega Gemstone Learning Guide.
This classic crystal growing kit by 4M has been a longstanding favorite amongst crystal kits for years! Kids can conduct seven different crystal growing experiments. The best part about this kit is that the crystals can be easily displayed via the included display stands once the experimentation is over. Something about this project feels way better than splattered paint!