What makes a great STEM toy?

STEM learning is taking the world by storm. STEM Learning uses STEM toys, manipulatives, digital apps, real-world environments and more to provide contextual, hands-on invisible learning in the four disciplines:

  • Science

  • Technology

  • Engineering

  • Mathematics

As a bonus, great STEM toys will enable STEAM with the Arts through creative writing, storytelling, drawing and more.

Incorporating Stem Into Play

Parents and teachers alike want their children to have the best, most complete products that hit on all four pillars of STEM and are FUN!!  Because the best, most effective learning is invisible -- children are so engaged they don’t know they are learning.

But, how do I choose the right product?  On what capabilities or features do I even evaluate all of these products?  What products are even available? In our analysis and discussions with teachers, parents, and children, three important themes kept coming to light.

- Price - 

Price is obviously a key consideration.  STEM Toys or Robotics Toys can be very expensive.  Many of these products are over $100 up to $300+.  If you are going to spend this much money, you want to make sure the product will grow with your child.

- Versatility -

Versatility with the product that you choose to incorporate into your student's life is somethign that you're going to focus on. It's a crucial part to a toy that's worth investing in, and we've broken downt he types of versatility that are sought after when browsing options.

Brick Block Compatibility

Repeatedly we heard parents and schools have invested in construction blocks (e.g. Lego, Mega Bloks and others).  A tremendous benefit is to have products that leverage their existing blocks and investment.  They are a platform for the building blocks you already have.  

STEM Capabilities

In addition, you don’t want to minimize the number of products you need to purchase for each of the STEM pillars.  Products that facilitate learning across these pillars are the best value.

- Ease-of-Use -

Many parents and teachers are uncomfortable with STEM or some technology solutions.  In many cases, our children are more adept and know more about these things then we do.  For teachers, it’s imperative that there is little setup time and that children can be active participants in figuring things out.  For parents, it’s key that the product is intuitive enough that you can participate in play together with your child.

- Age Appropriate -

It’s also important that the STEM toy is age-appropriate.  We want our children to start with STEM as early as possible – pre-K, K-2 – basically Early Education.  Unfortunately, we found that there were few STEM toys for this age group.  Basically, there were some simple very simple, push-button products, but only one that enabled children to Code their toy and gets exposure to real code and coding concepts.  

- Digital Apps -

The Digital App that you control the robot with is important.  Is it intuitive with a user interface that is easy to use?  Can I code in the app or are there separate apps for this?  Is it fun and engaging?  The most fun Apps are the ones that are again fun.  

- Education Resources -

Is there strong support for teachers and parents?  Classroom kits, materials, and guides?  Online resources for parents and teachers?  Children love the products that have projects or activities.  

- Technology -

  • Good STEM products will incorporate other sensors (e.g. lights, sounds, etc) that the child can manipulate in code or controls.
  • Battery life is key.  Some products only give you 30 minutes of drive time – others up to 3-4 hours.  Can I recharge it or use rechargeable batteries?
  • Speed, Controls & Precision.  Everyone loves speed – that makes it fun and engaging, but you also have to control it for different uses.  Some activities you would like a high-degree or driving precision and control, while other activities you would like speed and responsiveness.
  • Mats, Colors, Cards, Tape or other Drive Paths.  Some products require that you have these types of guided paths and purchase these additional materials.  More versatile products will work on any surface and allow you to create these types of tracks with paint tape or any material you already have or your imagination allows.
  • Games & Activities.  Are there add-on games or activities that are available/recommended for the STEM Toy?

- Fun Factor -

A key indicator of success is the Fun Factor.  Will the child play for hours or are they bored after a few minutes?  Is it easy to use and allow them to jump in and have fun right away?  Is the product versatile enough they can do all kinds of activities – races, mazes, demo derbies, simple machines, etc.  Does it allow for imagination and build things that are included in the initial product or materials?

 

- STEM Toy Comparison -

STEM Toy Comparison

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