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Science, technology, engineering, and math (collectively known as STEM) have been the focal point of a strong academic push in the last few years. Getting children interested in these core sciences has become increasingly important as future careers and everyday life revolve more and more around technology. So getting them started early, and keeping their interest going, has become a priority for many parents.
Toy manufacturers are taking note, producing games and playthings that go beyond the basics of early development. These toys introduce kids as young as 3 to physics, logic, and even a bit of circuitry work.
A combination logic game and STEM toy, the Gravity Maze challenges kids to build small marble runs using colorful magnetic bricks. With these simple pieces, they can construct nearly endless maze run variations, each one relying on their spatial reasoning and basic engineering skills. The game comes with flashcards featuring set challenges, but there is also ample room for kids to just pick up and build their own. Due to the small pieces, it’s not recommended for kids under 8.
Although it may sound like a twisted breakfast cereal, the Viahart Brain Flakes are actually a unique spin on the construction toy. Containing 500 interconnected, multicolored discs, the Brain Flakes push children to think about basic engineering techniques as they manipulate the round bricks to build everything from vehicles to unicorns. Completely child safe for children as young as three (the plastic pieces are BPA free), it’s one of the simplest and best toys because it requires literally no set-up. Just dump out the pieces and have at it. A little more versatile and creative than early LEGO bricks, the Brain Flakes exercise both the logical and imaginative sides of the brain. They also won’t murder your feet if your kid leaves them all over the living room floor.
A great way to get kids into electrical engineering and coding, the Snap Circuit Jr. encourages them to build functional electronics like a flashing light, siren (mercifully, it’s volume-adjustable), photosensor, and up to 30 other devices. The box comes with a clear motherboard, colorful circuits, and an instruction manual. The best part is that the system can grow in complexity—there are add-on pieces available—as your kids get older, giving you years of educational play.
Circuit boards and gravity mazes are great, but let’s not forget Mother Earth in our science education. This garden in a jar is a great way to get kids thinking about the environment and biology. The set comes with everything you need to get going immediately: A 4 x 6-inch light-up jar, a micro-USB charging cable, vermiculite soil, sand, river rocks, wooden sticks, and wheatgrass and chia seeds. There are also bunny and mushroom miniatures and removable stickers to add a playful element to the whole thing.