STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) toys have become a bit of a trend over recent years, as more and more of us parents see the value of cool toys that encourage a love of all things science and tech.
And gone are the days when all you could find was the odd home science kit (often still GREAT, by the way); now there are loads of toys that come under the STEM umbrella – and many of them are awesome to play with.
Here’s our pick of best STEM toys for girls and boys aged 3 and up…
GOLD winner, Best STEM Toy, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards
What is it: A 120-piece construction set from which you (on your own or with others) can quickly build super-cool-looking multi-level tracks, set multiple ‘gravity spheres’ rolling and racing along them – and experiment with different heights and angles to change the speed of the spheres. Includes tasks and blueprint tracks to follow. And there’s a (free) GraviTrax app where you can design more complicated tracks, and view the track from the ball’s perspective.
Why we love it: This is the old-fashioned marble run taken by the neck and given a fantastic 21st century, sciencey twist. A seriously cool, standout toy: our child testers all loved it – and all our grown up judges wanted to take it home.
What our child testers made of it:
- ‘Oliver says this is the coolest game ever and thinks all his friends should ask for it this Christmas. It’s great how you can take it apart and start again or build something small and add to it. He’s spent hours playing with it and, actually, we all really love it.’ Mary-Kate, mum to Oliver, 8
- ‘You can build some incredible tracks! It’s great how you trigger the balls to set off – and the end piece means you don’t lose them at the end either.’ Tom, 9
Available from: Amazon and Smyths Toys
SILVER winner, Best STEM Toy, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards
What it is: A 325-part kit from which you build your own model (5cm x 32cm x 19cm) of the iconic F1 Ferrari with working wheels and poseable steering. Comes with tools and instruction booklet. Construction time: a good 3 hours.
Why we love it: This is a proper nuts-and-bolts build that requires nimble fingers and lots of concentration – and ends up looking pretty darn impressive. Good, clear instructions.
What our judges had to say:
- ‘I did struggle to make this without a bit of help from my big brother but the bits I could do were fun and interesting. It took over 4 hours to build. When it was built, it was very cool and realistic, and I’m a big F1 fan.’ Ed, 14
- ‘Making this was a few hours of really good fun, brilliant using the real tools and seeing everything coming together.’ Jessica, mum to Gwilym, 13
Available from: Amazon and Smyths Toys
BRONZE winner, Best STEM Toy, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards
What it is: A snap-fit construction kit that includes everything you need to build a mini greenhouse (6cm x 69cm x 37cm) with an opening door and, thrillingly, a gear-controlled natural ventilation system in the roof. Comes with 12 plants pots and tray, a watering syringe and a booklet packed with plant facts, activities and challenges.
Why we love it: The gear-controlled roof mechanism is very impressive – and we really like how this toy combines construction with plant-growing, making it so much more than just a cool build.
What our child judges made of it:
- ‘This is expensive but it’s so much more than just a toy, making it excellent value. Assembling the greenhouse is really great – Poppy loved doing that – but then there are weeks of enjoyment, tending the seeds and watching them grow. The extra resources are really interesting too. We’re really excited to see how everything grows!’ Katie Rose, mum to Poppy, 8
Available from: Engino Toys
Age: 4 to 6 years
What is it: A Marvel superhero-themed circuit-building kit that allows you to build ‘electro-dough’ circuits that light up and make superhero sounds. Comes with 10 different sounds, 6 dough cutters and instructions.
Why we loved it: A neat, accessible way to absorb lessons about building series and parallel circuits, electrical polarity – and more.
Available from: John Lewis
What it is: A kit from which you can build 7 different robotic models, including a crawling inch worm, a smartphone holder, a suction tow truck and, of course, the Geckobot. Comes with a 24-page instruction book, and details about suction experiments you can conduct with each of your robots.
Why we love it: The building bit is challenging and the Geckobot actually walks up walls. Nuff said.
Available from: Bright Minds and Amazon
What is it: A 100-piece kit, designed to help children develop real-life engineering skills by building bridges, cranes, buildings – and more – and then adapting them to solve a challenge. Comes with building challenge cards and an activity guide.
Why we love it: The kit itself is great but, for our child testers, it’s the extra challenges that make this special. So, for example, that bridge you’ve built: how can you redesign it so a large boat can get under it? Properly stimulating construction fun that won this set Gold in our Best Construction Set category.
Available from: Learning Resources and Fun Learning
Suitable for: 3 years +
What is it? A 16-piece set of magnetic triangles, squares, and axel/wheels that can be combined in loads of ways to make all sorts of differently shaped vehicles. Comes with a booklet of ideas.
Why we love it: A lovely colourful, instantly rewarding construction set with scope for even a small child to go a bit ‘off piste’ and make a car to their own design, rather than just copying the models suggested.
Available from: Smyths Toys and Jarrold
What it is: A 30cm-high toy skeleton with true-to-scale bones, muscles and squishy organs you can remove with tweezers and forceps. Comes with a stand, a organ-iser poster (geddit?)and a 24-page ‘lab guide’.
Why we love it: A hilariously yucky way to learn more about the skeletal, muscular and vascular systems in the human body. All the biological info is clear and well presented – without being too po-faced and textbook-y.
Available from: Smyths and Amazon
Suitable for: 4 years and up.
What is it? A set of little plastic stickmen with suction hands and feet (for easy posing), plus a tripod for your phone and access to the (free) Stikbot app that will help you start shooting your very own stop-frame animation movies.
Why we love it: Such a creative and fun way to learn the basics of film-making (but so addictive, even for adults, you have to MAKE yourself let your child get a look in!). Even better if you shell out a wee bit more on some extra stickmen.
Available from: Mulberry Bush
Suitable for: 6 to 10 years
What is it? A set of bath toys with a cunning sciencey spin: they come with little cards explaining the sink-or-swim games you can play with each of them.
Why we love it: An achingly simple (and splashy) way to introduce a little bit of problem-solving into bathtime. Not to mention the concepts of gravity, buoyancy and density…
Available from: Fun Learning and Springboard Supplies
Suitable for: 4 years and up
What is it? It’s actually a board game (for 2 to 5 players) – no robotics or computerisation involved. But the idea is that playing the game helps preschoolers absorb the basic principles of coding. Comes with a board, game tiles, ‘code cards’ and instructions.
Why we love it: It’s a fun game – a race to get your Robot Turtle to reach a jewel, using the code cards to direct your moves – and you can add different levels of complexity as your child gets the hang of it. Oh, and everyone gets to make turtle noises, too…
Available from: Amazon
Suitable for: 7 to 12 years
What is it? An 847-piece (wow) set out of which you can build and code 5 good-sized (14cm to 27cm) multifunctional models, including Vernie the Robot (pictured, above), Frankie the Cat and Guitar 4000 (with pitch bend and sound effects). Then you download the LEGO Boost app to bring your creations to life. Comes with LEGO Move Hub, Interactive Motor, a Colour and Distance Sensor – and instructions.
Why we love it: Yes, it’s VERY pricey but you do get a lot of model-building fun for your money. We love the way you can make Frankie the Cat purr and Vernie the Robot talk – but watch out for that spring-loaded shooter of his!
Available from: Lego