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11 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

11 of the 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. Planet Junko Zoomer! Kit, £36.99

– Great for creative eco fun

amazon-zoomer-2

Age suitability: 6+ | Best for age: 7+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Editor's Choice, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A tube of 76 recycled, reusable plastic parts and elastic bands with which you can transform old juice cartons and food tubs into pull-back-and-let-go vehicles. Comes with a Planet Panic! comic with an eco theme.

Why we love it: We really like this toy's versatility, eco-friendliness and endless re-usability – and our child testers were immediately all abuzz, building and adjusting their plastic frame to fit different shaped cartons and boxes. Luka, 8, said, "I liked going into the recycling box and getting ideas for vehicles and trying to make them. It is one of the best toys I have ever had!" His mum Laura added, "It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s been out every day and my son keeps jumping up with a different idea for something we could make and create. It really, really captured his imagination.”

Available at: Fenwick and Planet Junko

2. GraviTrax Starter Set, £80

– Great for 3D construction

beststemtoygravitraxrs

Age suitability: 8+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Gold, MadeforMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 140-piece construction set from which you can quickly build super-cool-looking multi-level tracks for magnetic balls to run along and do stunt tricks. Comes with bridges, a magnetic cannon, a spiral, a zipline and 2 trampolines. 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.

Why we love it: It’s pricey but it’s super cool – and there are so many tracks to build and stunts to devise. It's definitely a step up in stunt fun from the original GraviTrax starter set. Amelie, 8, one of our child testers, said: "This toy was really exciting to play with. I enjoyed building the obstacles and it kept me and my brother and sister busy for hours." Her mum Hollie added, "I like how this toy encourages them to really concentrate and use their brains: they have to pick the right pieces and use their minds to really imagine the layout first. I really think this toy will get a lot of use."

Available at: Amazon, Jarrold and Smyths Toys

3. Clementoni Science Museum Mechanics Junior Moving Animals, £25

– Great for developing mechanical understanding

Clementoni Science Museum Mechanics Junior Moving Animals

Age suitability: 6+ | Batteries: 3 x AAA (not included)
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 120-piece kit, including a motor unit, that can be assembled into 5 different animals (gorilla, lion, seal, shark, insect), all of which move and walk. Comes with a manual and a QR code for accessing 3D video instructions.

Why we love it: The build for each animal is a good challenge: long enough to keep a child absorbed but not so long they’d get frustrated, and the video instructions are good. The real excitement, though comes when the build is finished and you can make your animal move. "Wow! It's flapping its wings as it moves!" said our child tester – and insect-maker – Summaya, 8, who added, "I really love the bright colours. I definitely want to make a different one now!" Our only gripe? The animals are a bit trickier to disassemble than assemble – your child may need a bit of help.

Available from: Currys and The Entertainer

4. Massive Erupting Volcano, £25

– Great for giant construction

Massive Erupting Volcano

Age suitability: 8+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 32-piece kit that builds into huge (30cm-high) volcano. First you make the frame, then you cover it with plaster-covered fabric strips, then you paint it – and then you use the (non-hazardous) chemical powders to fill it with bubbling, erupting lava. Comes with boulders, prehistoric trees and dinosaur figures, and big poster with volcano facts and illustrated instructions.

Why we love it: There are quite a few volcano-eruption kits around but we haven't seen any where the volcano is as big as this – and where constructing the volcano is a little project all by itself. We also like that there are 2 different shapes of volcano to choose from – and that it comes with accessories for pre and post-eruption play. Our child tester Imogen, 11, was impressed. "It was fun to make and it was really big when it was finished. "The eruption is so cool, I really want to try making it erupt with different colours as that would look amazing. I liked the little dinosaur figures too, so I can also play with it afterwards as part of a bigger game. The information about volcanoes was really interesting to read – I'm going to put the poster up on my wall."

Available at: Thames & Kosmos and Bright Minds

5. Learning Resources Robots in Motion Building Set, £36

– Great for understanding cogs and treads

Learning Resources Robots in Motion

Age suitability: 5+ | Best for age: 5+| Batteries: None

What it is: A 116-piece set full of gears, wheels, axles, treads, arms and eyes that build into 3 different robots that twist, turn and transform. The pieces are compatible with Learning Resources Gears! Building sets, so you can also devise open-ended builds of your own. Comes with an activity guide/instruction booklet.

Why we love it: The robots are chunky, bright and fun and we loved that they move without battery power. Loira, mum of our child tester Albert, 6, was impressed by how well made and put together the set is. "Albert really enjoyed building the robots," she said, "and he loved the one with spinning eyes! He really enjoyed seeing how the cogs worked together – he found that very interesting and so the learning aspect of it was really good. The instructions were clear, although we did find some of the smaller pieces a bit fiddly – an older child might be fine but he definitely needed a little help from an adult."

Available at: Learning Resources and Amazon

6. 5-in-1 Measure Mate, £32

– Great for understanding measurements

5-in-1 Measure Mate

Age suitability: 4+ | Best for age: 4+ | Batteries: None

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

7. Science in Wonderland, £24.99

– Great for magical experiments

Science in Wonderland

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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: Amazon

8. City Engineering & Design Set, £25

– Great for mini engineering challenges

City Engineering & Design Set

Age suitability: 5+ | Best for age: 5+ | Batteries: None

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

9. Build Your Own Microscope, £16.99

– Great for scientific discoveries

build your own microscope kit

Age suitability: 8+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None (you use the torch on your phone as the light)

What it is: A working 30x magnification microscope you build yourself by slotting together 54 pre-cut, press-out sustainable-cardboard parts. Once assembled, it has a focusing dial, a built-in periscope and a removable magnifier, if you fancy some outdoor exploring. Comes with 3 specimen trays and detailed instructions (including a QR code for a how-to-build video).

Why we love it: We're so impressed by how sturdy the cardboard microscope is, once built, and we like how you use of your phone torch through the periscope as a light source. Our 10-year-old tester Ben was really impressed: "When I looked at my finger, I could see every line of my fingerprint really clearly." With his sister, he also studied a leaf, a lolly stick and "one of Daddy's moustache hairs". The build itself is good – as are the instructions – but some of the fiddlier pieces that you need to bend are a little brittle, so your child will probably need some adult help. Bonus points for how environmentally friendly this great-value toy is!

Available at: Bright Minds and Amazon

10. Magformers Wow set, £34.99

– Great for creative construction

Magformers Wow set

Age suitability: 3+ | Age suitability: 3+ | Batteries: None

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's 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. 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

11. Sink or Float Activity Set, £21.59

– Great for problem solving

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Age suitability: 6+ | Best for age: 8+ | Batteries: None

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

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About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she's also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

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