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10 of the best STEM toys

Looking for toys that teach cool stuff about science, engineering, tech and maths? We've selected – and tested – some brilliant ones for children of all ages

best stem toys

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.

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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 the best STEM toys for children aged 3 and up, as tested by kids and rated by parents…

1. GraviTrax Starter Set, £54.99

Age: 8+

What it is: 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 – and a magnetic cannon – to change the speed of the spheres. Includes instructions, tasks and blueprint tracks to follow, plus access to a (free) GraviTrax app, where you can design more complicated tracks, and view the track from the ball’s perspective. No batteries required.

Why we love it: This is the old-fashioned marble run taken by the neck and given a fantastic 21st century, science-y twist. A seriously cool, standout construction toy that combines fun with all sorts of learning about magnetism, gravity and kinetic energy. Our child testers all loved it, with 8-year-old Oliver saying, “This is the coolest game ever!” and 9-year-old Tom saying, “You can build some incredible tracks!”

Available at:  Amazon and Smyths Toys

2. Meccano Formula 1 Ferrari, £39.99 

Age: 10+

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, too. Our child tester Ed, 12, said: “I did struggle to make all of this on my own – I had a bit of help from my big brother – but it was fun to build and interesting. When it was built, it was very cool and realistic, and I’m a big F1 fan.”

Available at: Amazon and Smyths Toys

3. 5-in-1 Measure Mate, £32
5-in-1 Measure Mate

Age: 4+

What it is: It’s a 5-in-1 device featuring a vertical measure, callipers (to measure internal and external dimensions of an object), a trundle wheel (to measure distances), spirit level and a measuring stick. Comes with stickers, a storage bag and an activity guide.

Why we love it: It’s colourful and nicely robust – and ideal for little minds that constantly ask how far, how much and how long. Our child testers, who had a whale of a time measuring everything from their gardens and houses to their parents’ feet – loved how the the trundle wheel leaves behind a trail of little bird footprints. And we like the click-click-click as it goes round and round.

Available at: Learning Resources and Amazon

4. Science in Wonderland, £24.99 

Age: 3+

What it is: A kit for 5 experiments, including making a kaleidoscope in a tree stump, making a ladybird’s wings flap with solar energy, making a fairy dance, making flowers bloom in seconds and making a colour-changing butterfly.

Why we love it: It’s a lovely little science-investigation set with a colourful, magical vibe that’s nicely pitched for children of preschool age. The experiments are simple (and don’t need any extra ‘ingredients’, other than water) but do require adult explanation/supervision. Sarah, mum to our child tester Hope, 4, said, “This toy is amazing! Hope plays with the fairy for hours, watching it dance up and down the water. She finds new things in it every time she plays.”

Available at: Argos and Amazon

5. Engino STEM Heroes Greenhouse, £79.99
beststemtoysgreenhousers

Age: 8+

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. It’s pretty pricey but, as Katie Rose, mum to our child tester Poppy, 8, said, “there’s weeks of enjoyment, tending the seeds and watching them grow, so I’d say it’s excellent value. Assembling the greenhouse is really great – Poppy loved doing that. The extra resources are really interesting, too. We’re really excited to see how everything grows!”

Available at: Smyths Toys

6. City Engineering & Design Set, £25

Age: 5+

What it is: 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 was the extra challenges that make this special. So, as one parent explained, one challenge might be to look at the bridge you’ve built, and think how can you redesign it so that a large boat can get under it. Properly stimulating construction fun.

Available at: Learning Resources and Amazon

7. Magformers Wow set, £35 

Age: 3+

What it is: A 16-piece set of magnetic triangles, squares, and axels/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: It’slovely 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. We wish it had a few more pieces, given its price, but it’s great quality, our child testers were unanimous in their approval – and we do like the worksheets that come with it.

Available at: Jarrold and Amazon

8. Smart Lab Squishy Human Body, £19.99 

Age: 8+

What it is: A 30cm-high toy skeleton with true-to-scale bones, muscles and squishy organs that you can remove with tweezers and forceps. Comes with a stand, an organ-iser (groan) poster and a 24-page ‘lab guide’.

Why we love it: It’s 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. It’s worth pointing out that it’s not 100% anatomically correct (connecting organs don’t actually connect with each other, for example) but everything’s in pretty much the right place – and, for our child testers, the sticky thrill of wielding the forceps over some squidgy intestines was just awesome.

Available at: Smyths and Amazon

9. Sink or Float Activity Set, £19.99 

Age: 6+

What it is: A 32-piece set of bath toys with a cunning science-y spin: it comes with 10 activity cards explaining the sink-or-swim games you can play with each of them.

Why we love it: A simple (and splashy) way to introduce a little bit of problem-solving into bathtime. Not to mention the concepts of gravity, buoyancy and density. Our child testers really liked the colourful toys – and enjoyed working through the balancing, floating and sinking activities. We wish it came with a storage bag, though.

Available at: Springboard Supplies and Amazon

10. Lego Boost Creative Toolbox, £149.99 


Age: 7+

What it is: An 847-piece 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 (look for offers on Amazon) but you do get a lot of model-building fun for your money. Our child testers loved the way you can make Frankie the Cat purr. And we like how Vernie the Robot talks – although you do need to watch out for that spring-loaded shooter of his!

Available at: Lego and Amazon

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