15 of the best STEM toys

If you're looking for fun toys that focus on cool science and tech stuff, we've got some great ideas here….

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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. And don’t miss our award-winning picks within the list, as voted for after hours of toy testing by the MFM team, toy experts, Toy Awards judges and our all-important home testers.

Here’s our pick of the best STEM toys for girls and boys aged 3 and up…

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1. AugmentifyIt Augmented Reality OCEAN Animal Cards, £12.99 – best for virtual reality fans

Age: 3+
Awards: GOLD winner, Best STEM Toy, 2019 MadeForMums Toy Awards

What it is: The first augmented reality (AR) cards for kids, that make a game which can be played with the AR technology. The 24-card pack, featuring ocean animals and over 180 facts, works with a downloadable app. There are over 265 quiz questions to test a players’ knowledge, learned from the cards.

Why we love it: Anything that makes learning fun and memorable gets a thumbs up from up, but this set has the added bonus of being magical, with the 3D AR aspect, and environmentally aware by opening up conversations about the importance of recycling and the health of our planet.

Oana, mum to Andy, 4, says, “These cards are very interactive. It’s a brilliant introduction to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) vocabulary. Adults love it too! Andy especially loved the real-life animations, and I am sure we will still play this game as he grows up.” These cards are unique on our list, for the relatively good price point and the use of modern AR technology.

Available from: Amazon

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2. GraviTrax Starter Set, £49.99 – best for hours of entertainment

Age: 8+

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, science-y twist. A seriously cool, standout toy: our child testers all loved this 2018 gold winner – and all our grown up judges wanted to take it home.

Mary-Kate, mum to Oliver, 8, says, “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.”

Tester Tom, 9, says, “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.” Don’t miss the City Engineering & Design Set, too, which is further down our list – a 100-piece city build set: fewer pieces makes it a little cheaper.

Available from:  Amazon and Smyths Toys

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3. Meccano Formula 1 Ferrari, £39.99 – best for car lovers

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: Another multi-piece set, this 2018 silver winner 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.

Jessica, mum to Gwilym, 13, says, “‘Making this was a few hours of really good fun, brilliant using the real tools and seeing everything coming together.”

Tester Ed, 14, says, “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.”

Have a look at the Gekobot, too, which is further down our list – you can build multiple items from that one kit.

Available from: Amazon and Smyths Toys

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4. 5-in-1 Measure Mate, £32 – best for investigators

Age: 4+
Awards: SILVER winner, Best STEM Toy, 2019 MadeForMums Toy Awards

What it is: In a nutshell, it’s a stick to measure stuff. More succinctly, 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), and a measuring stick.

Why we love it: It is ideal for little minds that constantly ask how far, how much and how long. Send them off with their trundling measuring stick and let them work out their own answers. The trundle wheel leaves behind little bird print feet – how cute?

MFM content editor and mum of 1, Tara, says, “We’re always looking for things to measure in our house. This is amazing – reminds me of an old trundle wheel.”

This is unlike anything else on our list, and relies on good old fashioned inquisitiveness, rather than zippy modern technology – which is quite refreshing.

Available from: Learning Resources, Amazon

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5. Science in Wonderland, £24.99 – best for fairy finders

Age: 3+
Awards: Bronze winner, Best STEM Toy, 2019 MadeForMums Toy Awards

What it is: A kit complete with everything needed to make a kaleidoscope in a tree stump, make a ladybird’s wings flap with solar energy, make a fairy dance, make flowers bloom in seconds and create magic colourful butterfly wings. Yes, really!

Why we love it: The activities help teach early STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) principles under the guise of making your very own magic fairy garden play set – neat. Sarah, mum to Hope, 6, says, “This toy is amazing for anyone who loves science or fairies. 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.”

Hope says, “’I would say it’s the best toy, it’s so fun. You get to see fairies though the little house and the ladybird gets to dance.”

Available from: Argos, Smyths and Amazon

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6. Engino STEM Heroes Greenhouse, £79.99 – best for eco warriors

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.

Katie Rose, mum to Poppy, 8, says. “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!”

It’s a bit more expensive than most toys on our list, but not top dollar. And if you want to teach your children about taking responsibility for the environment, and do have the budget, this is a great choice.

Available from: Teach Tech

Electro Hero Kit

7. Electro Hero Kit, £24.99 – best for rocking out

Age: 4+

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, six 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. It teaches kids about electrical circuit building, creativity through play and tactile technology.

Anything that keeps little hands busy in a productive way (i.e. not drawing on our walls) sounds good to us!

This toy is one of the more science-based on our list, but don’t miss the Science Wonderland toy, too, further up the list, which is another great option for creating scientific reactions.

Available from: Tech Will Save Us and Amazon

Thames & Kosmos Geckobot

8. Thames & Kosmos Geckobot, £45 – best for imaginative play

Age: 8+

What it is: A kit from which you can build seven 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. It’s the toy that keeps on giving. We like the variety and the possibilities – all to spark that ever present imagination.

Available from: Bright Minds and Amazon

Learning Resources City Engineering & Design Building Set

9. City Engineering & Design Set, £25 – best for future engineers

Age: 5+
Awards: GOLD winner, Best Collectible Toy, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

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. Check out the Magformers set below, too, which is another example of a design challenge toy.

Available from: Learning Resources, Fun Learning and Amazon

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10. Magformers Wow set, £35 – best for wannabe construction workers

Age: 3+

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.

Like most toys on our list, it is hands-on and involved, but this one also requires plenty of imagination. Check out the Geckobot, further up the list, too, which scores highly on imaginative play.

Available from: Smyths ToysJarrold and Amazon

SmartLab Squishy Human Body

11. Smart Lab Squishy Human Body, £19.99 – best for little biologists

Age: 8+

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

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12. Stikbot Studio, £13.99 – best for budding filmmakers

Age: 4+

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 might 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. LOVE it.

Available from: Mulberry Bush, Smyths Toys and Amazon

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13. Sink or Float Activity Set, £17.99 – best for bathtime

Age: 6+

What is it? A set of bath toys with a cunning science-y spin: they come with little 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 bath time. Not to mention the concepts of gravity, buoyancy and density. The only bath toy on our list, making it a must-have for any water babes.

Available from: Springboard Supplies and Amazon

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14. ThinkFun Robot Turtles, £24.99 – best for preschoolers

Age: 4+

What is it? It’s actually a board game (for 2-5 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! A reasonably-priced coding toy to start your little one off.

Available from: Amazon and Bright Minds

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15. Lego Boost Creative Toolbox, £149.99 – best for ‘blow the budget’ coding toys 

Age: 7-12 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 (look for offers on Amazon) 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! Check out the Robot Turtles toy, above, if you are after a more entry level coding toy.

Available from: Lego and Amazon

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