All kids love to play. In fact, it is their second nature! Curiosity comes next as they explore the things around them. As they explore, that’s where learning takes place. Toys are a good medium to entertain and to have fun while learning. Kids’ educational toys have evolved through the generations – from simple wooden toys to complicated programmable robots nowadays. This advancement of educational toys is called STEM toys.
What are STEM Learning Toys?
STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering Math. They are toys dedicated to promote an early understanding of Scientific theories, Computer Coding Programs, Engineering principles, and Math Theorems. Making the process of building a robot or understanding how gravity works an exciting experience for both kids and adults alike.
The Toy Association identified 14 Unifying Characteristics of STEM/STEAM toys as below:
“A” for Arts is added to STEM and becomes STEAM.
A STEM/STEAM toy has to incorporate most, if not all, of the unifying characteristics: Explores an aspect of STEM, Open-Ended, Allows for trial and error, Child-led, Includes Curriculum, Supports Parents, Encourages Creativity, Fun, Relates to the real world, Hands-on, Problem-Solving, Gender Neutral and Inclusive, Builds Confidence, Social and Emotional Skills.
This means STEAM/STEAM toys are created NOT JUST FOR FUN, they are geared towards enhancing kids’ learning and building lifelong skills.
The most common STEM toys are building blocks. They come in different sizes & shapes to suit a wide range of ages from infant to adult. Magnetic rods and balls are the newest variety of construction building toys.
The most recent STEM toys are categorized under Robotics, Science kits, Math Computing and Engineering kits.
Robotics: Programmable robots, cars, machines and even programmable animals for infants are available.
Science kits: Microscopes, mini-science laboratories, and kits, kits to create a volcano, to explain the effect of gravity are the common toys available, or just anything related to explaining the world of science.
Math Computing: Toy calculator, build your own computer kit.
Engineering kits: circuit lab, contraptions, creation your own robotic mechanical arm or an automobile.
Why STEM Learning Toys?
As parents, we are most concerned about their benefits to our child. Especially that it is a relatively new concept for us. I bet parents today did not have those advanced programmable robotic toys when they were little.
What are the benefits of STEM Toys?
Aside from minimizing the screen time, STEM toys help develop creativity, experimentation, critical thinking, teamwork, and problem-solving skills for kids, through new discoveries and exciting challenges. For babies & toddlers, they promote cognitive function, hand-eye coordination & other motor skills. These skills build an important foundation for their success later in life, from pre-kindergarten to high school and beyond.
As early as 2013, STEM toys have been increasingly becoming popular. US President Obama’s Administration fueled this momentum. According to the WhiteHouse archives, the Administration is working to expand STEM education and employment opportunities to all students. STEMtistics resources produced by Change the Equation through the Education Commission of the States published on December 6, 2017, revealed shocking statistics & findings for STEM Workforce, Jobs and Employment.
Here are the quick facts:
- Career and technical education in STEM lead to bright futures. The unemployment rate among new grads, between 2011-2014, with degrees in STEM is 4.6% compared to 7.0% for those with degrees outside of STEM. Unemployment Lower in Computer Science & Engineering
- Middle skill jobs that require technology grew 2.5 times faster between 2003 and 2013 than middle-skills jobs that don’t.
- Engineering pays off: 2016 median wage for Engineers is $77,900 compared to the median wage for all occupations of $37,040.
- In 2016, many engineers and workers in advanced manufacturing were 45 or older.
- Gender stereotypes take root early. According to a study in journal Child Development, girls’ and boys’ attitudes about math begin to diverge as early as second grade.
- From 2010 to 2016, women remain as scarce as ever in engineering (13%), computing (27% to 26%) and advanced manufacturing (10%-9%)
- Younger generations who use computers in complex ways on the job are most likely to say they are “extremely satisfied”.
In today’s fast-paced world, where INNOVATION is the name of the game for companies, STEM skills are essential building blocks to create successful leaders and innovators. With the increasing possibility of jobs being replaced by automation, it is crucial to stay relevant and employable. With increasing awareness about the capability of women as part of the workforce, STEM toys provide good ways to motivate girls to spark their interest in “used to be” boy’s interests. STEM toys are not categorized by gender, both boys and girls are sure to have a lot of fun playing while learning.
Governments all over the world have acknowledged the important role of STEM learning early in life that is why budgets have been set aside for schools to incorporate STEM/STEAM Toys in their curriculum. STEM Conferences and EXPOs are held annually to encourage field experts, engineers, toy manufacturers, students, and teachers to bring up their innovative ideas relevant to STEM Learning.
As parents of today’s kids, it is our major task to develop our children’s STEM skills to equip and enable them to battle the challenges ahead of them. We believe that parents need to make sure that their kids, especially girls, have access to these STEM learning toys in order to develop their interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.
What do you think of STEM toys? Are they worth your money?
Let me know what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 🙂