The very best STEM toys for kids

Trick your kid into thinking more.

kid phone
STEM toys and kitsHal Gatewood via Unsplash

For decades, “educational” toys had a well-deserved bad reputation. The most popular choices included things like worryingly flimsy chemistry sets and boring wooden blocks from that “alternative” toy store at the mall your aunt liked. Now, however, learning through toys is an amazing technological landscape full of make-your-own computer kits and robots you can code. Plus, all that sneaky STEM-related fun will help your little one prepare for the tech-saturated job market of the future.

BOSEbuild Headphones

BOSEbuild Headphones
Wireless headphones are great for a young person who wants to throw them on and tune you out with the sweet sounds of Fortnite.Amazon

Bose’s build-your-own headphones kit comes with all the pieces a young person needs to assemble a set of over-the-ear headphones with 15 hours of battery life and adjustable fit. An iOS app guides a kid through the assembly process while imparting some knowledge about other scientific concepts like wireless technology and sound waves. The kit comes with 18 different designs that fit into the exterior of the ear cups to make them look custom.

Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit

Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit
Not every kid feels compelled to dive into the world of coding and engineering.Amazon

Sometimes it takes a thick layer of pop culture intellectual property to get their inquisitive mind ready to learn. Kano’s Harry Potter wand is designed to let kids over six navigate more than 70 challenges on a tablet or a computer (it won’t work with a Chromebook). It teaches concepts like gestures and introduces kids to actual coding languages like Javascript, which is like real magic, only it won’t allow them to accidentally turn anyone into a frog.

littleBits Electronic Music Inventor Kit

Little Bits Electronic Music Inventor Kit
Build an instrument and then play music with it.Amazon

This kit for kids over eight includes everything they need to build electronic instruments and then use them to embark on musical journeys that are so much fun, they’ll distract them from their typical musical choices of rappers with face tattoos and that Baby Shark song from YouTube. Projects include a DIY keytar as well as an air drum that lets the little creator make sounds without even touching the device.

Nintendo Labo

Nintendo Labo
Combines video games and engineering.Amazon

Each Nintendo Labo box comes with a Switch game that explains the build process and the pre-punched cardboard materials to start building. Once the projects are built, players can use them to navigate endlessly fun mini-games. They’re perfect for siblings because cardboard controllers are easier to replace than Joy-Cons if someone crushes one out of game-induced rage.

Tinker Crate

Kiwi Co. Tinker Crate
The Tinker Crate offers a new project every month.Kiwi Co.

In each box, find everything the recipient needs to get building, including materials, blueprints, and instructions. Previous boxes have included projects like a catapult and a hydraulic claw machine. It’s a lot more educational than the jelly-of-the-month club, even if it is less delicious.

Mattel Bloxels

Playing video games is fun, but making them can also provide lots of entertainment.Amazon

Bloxels uses a game board and a variety of colored cubes, as well as a companion app to code objects and stories into custom video games. There’s a learning curve for making it work, but that’s part of the learning process, which results in a fun gaming experience. A video game where the bad guys are flying pigs and angry hamburgers? Count us in.

Anki Cozmo

Anki Cozmo
This adorable little robot is fun right out of the box, but once you dig into his brain, you can accomplish all kinds of advanced tasks.Amazon

There are several levels of complexity, including a basic sandbox for beginners, some intermediate challenges once they get the hang of it, and a full-on integration with the Python coding language SDK if the little one wants to go hard and invent Skynet.

K’nex 52 Model Building Set

K’nex 52 Model Building Set
Legos are the obvious choice if you want to get your little one something to build with.Amazon

K’nex, however, open up different dimensions and concepts with a diverse set of rods and joints. There are instructions for 52 models in the box, but the real fun comes from going off the rails and building a half-dragon, half-spaceship that travels through time and space to bother smaller siblings.

Arduino Starter Kit

Arduino Starter Kit
You don’t always need fancy graphics and licensed characters to make technology seem exciting.Amazon

This Arduino Starter Kit has pieces like a DC motor, LEDs, and a tilt sensor for building a variety of fun devices. Since it’s built on the Arduino platform, it’s expandable with new pieces, so the recipient can keep on building until they, too, invent Skynet. Most of these end with Skynet. Sorry, it’s inevitable, but it sure is fun!