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STEM toys ideal for education and Christmas fun



Image by Carola68 Die Welt ist bunt...... from Pixabay

For most parents of school-aged children, the coronavirus and resulting quarantine were especially difficult.  That large percentage of the population not only had to worry about employment, finances, and health, they had to concern themselves with how to effectively educate their children at home without doing a disservice to their child’s academic or psychological growth in the long run.

Many parents took to social media early into the quarantine to voice their concerns about the quality of education their children were receiving at home, share ideas with other frustrated and nervous parents, and even to voice their new-found respect for teachers.

Some of the more popular Facebook and Twitter feeds were dedicated to people wanting to share their experiences and opinions of STEM toys, and with Christmas quickly approaching it is a good time to revisit some of the most popular.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and there are countless new products on the market aimed at promoting these subjects.  A STEM toy can be as simple as a set of building blocks or as complex as a programmable robot. But beyond their educational value, what sets STEM toys apart is their potential for open-ended, creative, child-driven play. Learning experts say that kids tend to engage with these kinds of toys longer and more independently than with one-trick toys offering only flashy lights or sounds.

A big box of building bits

It’s almost impossible to go wrong with Legos. Themed sets capitalize on kids’ existing interests, whether dinosaurs, cats, or a favorite movie, and provide the structure and scaffolding of step-by-step instructions. For preschoolers, you can’t go wrong with a big set of wooden building blocks or Magna-Tiles, flat magnetic play pieces that snap into 3D shapes, combining the snap-together magic of magnets with open-ended construction. Zoob sets offer jointed pieces that kids can connect to build curvy, moveable creations. Gears Gears Gears is a big box of colored gears that snap together with axles and extenders.

An electronics kit that buzzes and whirs

SmartLab Smart Circuits is an online favorite electronics kit because its instruction booklet is actually an activity-packed curriculum. Kids ages 8 and up learn the basics of electric currents, light waves, and more by building little contraptions that beep and flash. In the booklet are 50 different projects, all clearly laid out.

A sewing machine for budding designers

Some educators promote the concept of STEAM, which adds art and design to the STEM mix. Engineering and mathematics concepts go hand in hand with craft skills like sewing, which requires kids to count, measure, and combine different shapes to create a project. Preteens can likely learn to use an online favorite with some adult help or an online class (tutorials are readily available on YouTube and craft blogs).

According to comments on social media, these toys and kits are fun for adults as well.  And at this point in 2020, a little distraction and relaxation may be exactly what we all need.

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