If the words “We’re bored!” makes you instantly cringe (not to be outdone by “What’s for dinner?”), stay calm and read on. In anticipation of the next case of cabin fever, we’ve got *smart* suggestions to keep kids busy while they’re home.
Whether it’s the weekend, school vacation, or a glum rainy day, it doesn’t take long for the complaining to begin. What’s worse is when you’ve got a to-do list to power through, a nearly impossible feat when the kiddos are whining at your heels. Sure, you can park them in front of Disney Plus (no judgment, we’ve all done it), but at some point, you’ll probably want the TV off. So if you’re trying to limit screen time and keep your cool, what’s the best way to keep everyone entertained so you can actually get sh*t done?
Solution: Stock up on toys, games, and kits that are entertaining and also educational … without them knowing it. Impossible, you say? Not necessarily.
Enter STEM activities, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which are designed to pique the interest of young minds and help develop real-world skills. In other words, they’re the best of both worlds when it comes to learning and having fun. From creativity-sparking art tiles to build-your-own robots, we’ve rounded up some of the best STEM products for different ages.
Now, go forth and be productive.
Best For Toddlers & Little Kids (Ages 3-5+)
Part flower pot, part fairy house, the My Fairy Garden Magical Cottage by PlayMonster is a dream come true for budding gardeners. It comes with soil and seeds so they can grow their very own mini garden and learn about horticulture and how to care for plants. With its included accessories, youngsters can also create a magical world where fairies frolic in the flowers and trickling water from the mushroom at the top of the pot. (Collect a few more My Fairy Garden planters, and you’ll have a whole village.)
Reviewers say that the fast-growing seeds sprout within a matter of days and their kids enjoy tending to their garden and watching it grow. “It started sprouting about three days after planting, and after two weeks, the sprouts are about three inches tall and almost starting to bloom,” one buyer said.“It’s teaching my daughter responsibility to water it daily.” If your outdoor enthusiast is feeling cooped up on a rainy day, this is a great way to bring a little piece of nature indoors.
The BRIO Builder Creative Set is the ideal introductory set for beginner builders as young as 3. Containing 271 wood and plastic pieces including blocks, screws, tools, and more, your little guy or gal can construct creations with movable parts. This activity not only sparks the imagination, it builds logic and motor skills with each new invention. And, you can rest assured: BRIO products are also rigorously tested for safety (just remember they can pose a choking hazard for very young children).
Parents who bought this set for their toddlers claim that their older children also enjoy playing with it — and so do they. “We got this for our 3-year-old who is into building stuff and he absolutely adores it,” reported one reviewer. “His older siblings also like it if they can sneak a play while the 3-year-old isn’t looking.”
Suitable for older kids and adults, this brain puzzle game comes with progressive challenges. The player uses neon-colored towers full of twists and turns to build vertical runs that navigate the marble from point A to point B. The goal may be simple, but completing the task a lot harder than it sounds!
This STEM toy is a best-seller on Amazon and has hundreds of 5-star reviews, many claiming that they were pleasantly surprised with the entertainment factor. “This is a great toy for an only child whose parents can’t entertain the child every minute,” one buyer said. Wrote another, “We often find different solutions for the puzzle than the solution provided, which also adds to the fun factor!” A third also swore that both “fourth graders and engineers love this toy.”
With these highly-reviewed PicassoTiles, the possibilities are endless! Perfect for artists, architects, and everyone in between, players can unleash their imaginations creating 2-D patterns or 3-D models with these large magnetic tiles. In fact, they’re so colorful and buildable, you’ll be tempted to sit down and start playing yourself (go ahead, we don’t blame you). And they’re educational, too: While they tinker, younger kids will learn about shapes and colors, while older ones can practice the more logical elements of design.
Many reviewers said these tiles are comparable to competitor brands and some pointed out that they prefer the tile quality, size, and value of PicassoTiles. “It is the ONLY set that comes with eight large 6-inch tiles,” one buyer explained. Another pointed out that structures stay intact when trinkets are stashed inside, saying, “My kids have great fun putting animals, cars, ponies inside whatever they have built.”
Best For Big Kids (Ages 7-8+)
If you’re hesitant to spend $150 on a toy, simply ask yourself what price you’d pay to keep the kids occupied for more than 10 minutes. Kidding aside, the VEX Robotics Build Blitz is so much more than a means of entertainment. Constructing bots requires skills and lots of logical thinking, so you can stop worrying about what your kid may be missing while being out of school. (Plus, robots are just plain cool.)
Suitable for ages 8 and older, this set contains over 800 pieces so your kiddo can build seven different remote-control robots — no tools required. Once complete, their creations are brought to life via the VEX Pilot App, which acts as a remote control.
Tech-savvy kids can stay occupied for hours and feel a sense of accomplishment with each successful build. And who knows? You may discover that you have a future engineer on your hands. (Note: You’ll need six AA batteries to get the bots up and running.)
Having earned a spot as a 2019 “Toy of the Year” finalist, you know this marble run has got to be good. The Gravitrax Starter Set includes 122 pieces so your junior genius can build — and re-build — tracks to send the metal marbles zooming. Using gravity, height, magnetism, physics, and more, youngsters can manipulate the paths and speeds of the balls, whether following one of the nine included track plans or designing their own.
With nearly 3,000 reviews averaging 4.7 stars on Amazon, buyers are thrilled at the set’s quality, versatility, and easy-start instructions. “I love how the Gravitrax is helping my son learn through trial and error,” said one customer. “The instructions are well written and easy to understand, even for an 8-9 year old,” said another.
If your kid can’t get enough marble-run fun, you’re in luck: Ravensburger sells Gravitrax expansion packs for even more course options.
Whether your child loves dinosaurs, history, nature, or all three, the MINDBLOW Excavation Kit may inspire a career in paleontology. Let them dig into plaster with a wooden hammer, chisel, and brush, where they’ll discover the “fossilized” remains of a T-Rex and a Velociraptor (15 and 10 pieces, respectively). After the bones have been exhumed, the next step is to piece together each skeleton, a fun challenge for puzzle-lovers.
Depending on your kid’s attention span, some patience may be required, but that also means that excavators can stay busy for awhile. That said, many reviewers rave that this kit is a blast, with several saying they plan on purchasing it again.
Have a young gemologist at home? Check out the brand’s Gemstone Excavation Kit, containing six semiprecious minerals and stones.
This is an awesome outdoor activity that — let’s face it — can also serve as a stress reliever! The kit contains a unique collection of 10 real, natural geodes of various sizes which can be cracked open to reveal sparkling crystal interiors. After discovering their hidden treasures, geologists-in-training can study the Geode Learning Guide to identify their findings then show off their favorites on the included display stands. (Kids should definitely be supervised while breaking the rocks, but they can study their findings independently.)
Safety goggles are included, but keep in mind that you must have a hammer and chisel at home. Also, be sure to read the directions before your kids start smashing; some reviewers said that the rocks were difficult to break (and required grown-up help), while others noted that certain varieties are actually quite fragile.
For architects and engineers in the making, the MindWare KEVA Brain Builders Deluxe set teaches players how to follow drawings to build 3-D creations. It comes with 75 KEVA planks and 40 challenges of varying levels, which are essentially blueprints that depict designs from different angles. This is another activity that sounds easier than it actually is, and young builders will learn problem-solving and spacial skills as they stack the wooden planks.
This highly-rated set is recommended for kids age 7 and older, but several reviewers put their slightly younger kids or classroom students up to the challenge. As one kindergarten teacher summed it up in an Amazon review: “They allow for creative thinking and planning, provide varying levels of difficulty, are challenging enough to hold interest without being impossible, and encourage children to keep trying even if it doesn’t work the first time – something that can be really difficult for my students’ age group.”
Think these STEM picks are genius? Be sure to browse hundreds of other Mom-approved toys!