Toys that will set a love of science in motion

Play with gravity, kinetics, and chain reactions.

kid playing with legos
STEM toys for kids.Kelly Sikkema

Even if you’ve never heard of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), you’ve probably seen artwork influenced by his inventions, which made simple tasks into delightfully complex processes. Inspire your kids to create machines of their own with these great toys that explore chain reactions. They may start with a marble rolling along a track, but before you know it, they’ll have an elaborate system set up across your living room designed to tip food into the dog’s bowl in just 20 steps—and a newfound interest in STEM.

ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Logic Game
Amazingly fun for ages eight and up.Amazon

Watch your child build their engineering skills without knowing it as they send a marble through a maze of colorful towers to a target. This game comes with 60 logic puzzles that range in difficulty from easy to expert, and challenges kids to harness gravity as they direct their marble to victory. At a time where so much stuff is done with the touch of a button, watching the effects of small decisions on each step of an analog process is a great parallel to the building blocks of coding.

Ravensburger Gravitrax Starter Set Marble Run
Gravity, magnetics, and kinetics, oh my!Amazon

If you could take all the coolest elements of a pinball machine and make it into a game for kids, this is what you’d get. Design your own tracks with the modular pieces and witness the effects of curves and free-falls on the motion of your marbles. This set comes with 122 pieces and instructions for nine designs to get them started. As kids gain confidence, you can add on loops, scoops, and cannon accessories for even more fun.

Klutz Lego Chain Reactions Science & Building Kit
What it might look like if Rube Goldberg played with Legos.Amazon

Parents should know that this toy is best for kids who already play with LEGOs, because you’ll need many more than the 33 included in the box. The 78-page book contains instructions to assemble ten machines that spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, and drop—but that’s just the beginning. The best part is using them to make wickedly convoluted chain reactions either from the book (like tossing a gum wrapper into the trash), or your child’s growing imagination.