The Best STEM Toys for Kids to Enrich Creativity and Critical Thinking

The Osmo Genius Starter Kit unleashes your child's creativity and skill

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Verywell Family / Lecia Landis

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, four important and correlating areas of study. Over the years, educators have put more and more emphasis on STEM, and younger kids can get an early introduction to it through play. If your kiddo's favorite subjects revolve around math and science or they have dreams of becoming a video game creator one day, then sprinkling in a few STEM-related toys into their collection can help mold those interests.

Reviewed & Approved

The Osmo Genius Starter Kit for iPad includes five games in which kids use actual pieces to interact with their tablet screen, learning math, marine biology. For babies, we recommend Fat Brain Tobbles Neo Infant Stacking Toy.

According to Allison Tsomos, Vice President of Operations at Celebree School, “STEM objectives include teaching skills to solve problems, learning to gather information, and developing deductive reasoning through evaluating evidence to make decisions. STEM is most often introduced to students through guided investigations and hands-on learning opportunities." STEM toys will incorporate learning science, technology, engineering, and math concepts into age-appropriate play.

Creating fun ways for children to engage with STEM learning through play allows them to connect learned concepts to real-world applications. In addition to being educational, the best STEM toys are also just fun for kids to play with and can be quite entertaining and encourage problem-solving, teamwork, and critical thinking. After speaking with experts like Tsomos, we carefully considered toy safety, age recommendations, design, ease of use, and value when reviewing products.

Here are the best STEM toys for kids that tick all of the boxes. 

Osmo Genius Starter Kit for iPad

Osmo Genius Starter Kit for iPad

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Five games

  • Beginner- and expert-friendly

  • No Wi-Fi necessary for games

Cons
  • "Monster bundle" more costly

  • iPad required

  • Too complicated for some kiddos

The Osmo Genius Starter Kit ranks high on our list because this bundle includes five games in which kids use physical pieces to interact with their tablet screen, learning math, marine biology. The set comes with a mirror and stand which turn their iPad into a way to interact with included pieces and kids can move around on a tablet.

If five games aren’t enough for your child, there are options to increase to seven or opt for the “monster bundle” which includes more games and accessories. For younger kids, the Little Genius Starter Kit is designed for preschoolers and offers similar games and accessories. One important thing to note is that this kit comes with everything your child needs to play the games except for an iPad, which is required.

What Experts Say

“The expanded value of STEM toys comes from the curiosity of the child or a parent or teacher prompting fun questions or challenges," - Allison Tsomos, Vice President of Operations at Celebree School and a member of the Maryland Child Care Association as well as the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Fat Brain Tobbles Neo Infant Stacking Toy

Fat Brain stacking toy

Courtesy of Fat Brain

Pros
  • Bright colors

  • Can be used for a long time (6 months to 3 years)

  • Textured material

Cons
  • Pieces are heavy

  • Too big for some small hands

  • Pieces may crack if dropped on hard flooring

Made for babies between 6 months and 3 years old, this stacking toy comes with seven pieces (one base and six stackers) in different sizes and colors that can be arranged in a variety of ways—except for the traditional straight up and down. Each piece is made with a textured material for easy gripping and is weighted to add to the challenge. The toy is designed to help babies explore the world of physics and cause and effect. It’s a great option for curious budding engineers.

Melissa & Doug Counting Caterpillar

Melissa & Doug Counting Caterpillar

Source: Melissa & Doug

Pros
  • Easy to clean

  • Introduces counting/numbers

  • Made from high-quality wood

Cons
  • Numbers on lighter colors harder to see for some

  • Pieces may fall off easily

  • Paint can start chipping after extended use

This little caterpillar is a great way to introduce kids to numbers and counting, which falls perfectly into the math STEM category. It’s made for kids 2 years old and up and includes 10 removable and stackable blocks, each brightly colored with a different number and correlating dots. It’s made from high-quality wood and can be safely cleaned with a wet cloth.

Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit

Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit

Source: Kano

Pros
  • 70 coding challenges

  • Step-by-step instructions

  • Wand responds to movements

Cons
  • Tablet/computer required

  • May not work with every tablet/computer

  • Connection difficult at times

For big kids 6 years old and up who are into Harry Potter and want to learn more about coding, this little wand is perfect. It comes with more than 70 coding challenges, each of which has step-by-step instructions. Once kids complete a challenge, they can wave their wand at their tablet or computer to make magic, like grow pumpkins, make feathers fly, or create fire.

The set includes a wand and associating parts, a step-by-step guide book, stickers, a poster, and access to the Kano app which powers this toy. Kids will need to have access to a tablet or computer in order to play with this toy.

Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar Toy

Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar Toy

Amazon

You’re never too young to start learning STEM skills! This adorable caterpillar-inspired toy teaches children as young as three years old, as each segment of the bug is programmed to turn the critter in a different direction. Kids can rearrange the pieces to send the toy on unique paths, learning as they have a blast!

Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Activity Set

Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Activity Set

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • 22 pieces included

  • Beginner-friendly

  • Tools look real

Cons
  • May take lots of cleanup

  • Difficult for some children to do alone

  • Some ingredients not included

What better way to dive into science than with a science lab kit? This set is safe for kids as young as 3 years old and comes with 22 pieces, including a magnifying glass, a beaker, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, goggles, and three test tubes. The kit also comes with 10 beginner-level activity cards with step-by-step instructions for doing different science experiments like making a volcano, mixing colors, and shining pennies.

Sphero Sprk+ App-Enabled Robot

SPRK+

Sphero

 

Pros
  • Connects via Bluetooth

  • Programmable sensors

  • Designed for intermediate coding

Cons
  • Costly

  • App required

  • Connection may be spotty at times

Kids who are interested in all things technology and coding will have so much fun with this little programmable robot ball. It’s designed for intermediate coding, so it’s great for kids with just a little bit of experience who want to learn more. Kids will use either an app or JavaScript to code and control the robot, driving it through mazes, in the water, or whatever other terrain they can think up. This robot ball is best for kids between 8 and 14 years old.

What Our Editors Say

"My son was around 7 years old when he was gifted Sphero robot ball, and from the start, he was able to quickly understand the drag and drop block coding style. Watching the ball spin, display his name, roll around his made-up obstacle course, and more was so much fun for him (and me)!" - Latifah Miles, Verywell Family Commerce Editor

Pixicade Mobile Game Maker

Pixicade Mobile Game Maker

Amazon

Pros
  • Drawings turn into video games

  • Markers are washable

  • Can create at least 1,200 games

Cons
  • Tablet or phone required

  • Some children may need adult supervision/help

  • May not work on every tablet/phone

Pixiade encompasses all of the parts of engineering: using different materials, problem-solving, design, and creating things that work. With this game, kids use markers and paper to draw video game concepts which they can then turn into actual games to play on their tablet.

All they have to do is draw the picture, take a photo of it, and then animate it on a phone or tablet. It’s made for kids 6 years old and up and is especially great for beginners who are eager to learn more about game development. One important note, kids will need access to a tablet or phone in order to play this game.

Fat Brain Toys Horse Automata Kit

Fat Brain Toys Horse Automata Kit

Fat Brain Toys

Though this is a perfect gift for tweens and older kids, parents may be tempted to tinker around with this as well. The laser-cut pieces, cranks, and gears need to be assembled to form a galloping horse. This item teaches children about engineering and motor skills, and the final product is an absolute masterpiece anyone can be proud to display.

Hape Monster Math Scale

Hape Monster Math Scale

Source: Hape

Pros
  • Made with durable/nontoxic materials

  • Three difficult levels

  • Storage bag included

Cons
  • Toy cannot be washed (only damp cloth)

  • Cannot be stored in direct sunlight

How cute is this little scale? It’s made for kids 3 years old and up and includes a scale, nine large monster weights, and 11 small soft weights. Each weight is marked with a different number so kids can not only experiment with balance and weight but the toy also incorporates math when they’re ready. It’s made from safe, durable, and non-toxic materials and also comes with a cloth bag that all of the pieces can be stored away in when it’s not being played with.

Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Exploration Kit

4.6
stem toys

Snap Circuits

If you have an aspiring engineer in the family, the Snap Circuits Jr. Kit could be the perfect introduction. Your little engineer can learn technical terms about electrical currents while staying entertained for hours completing more than 100 electronics projects. This kit includes more than 30 pieces that snap together, creating real electrical circuits without any soldering or tools.

You may need to provide some initial instructions to introduce young ones to circuitry basics to get them up and running. Once your kids complete all of the 100-plus experiments in the supplied manual, they're free to use their creativity to make their own designs. If your child loves it, you can expand this set with one of the several upgrade kits.

Our tester loved how this toy was organized and took up minimal space. The packaging is sturdy and useful for keeping all the pieces together, making setup and cleanup a breeze. The tester also appreciated the educational value that far outweighs the reasonable price of this toy. However, this kit requires batteries (which aren't included) and comes with many small pieces, which may be hazardous.

What Our Testers Say

"Our kids tinkered away for an hour straight after we opened the box, then later requested even more playtime—and there was plenty to do! Because kids can create their own designs after they’ve gone through all of the experiments, there’s more to do beyond the pages of the manual, which adds a lot of value to this kit."—Sarah Wassner Flynn, Product Tester

4M Water Rocket Kit

Water Rocket

 4M

It's not rocket science, but it's close. This kit includes everything kids need to create their very own water rocket using a plastic soda bottle, and the final product can be launched up to 90 feet in the air for hours of fun for all kids. Learn basic astronomy concepts with the helpful included instruction manual.

Crayola Paper Butterfly Science Kit

Crayola Paper Butterfly Science Kit, STEAM Toy

Amazon

Whether a kid is interested in science or just loves nature, the Crayola Paper Butterfly Science Kit is sure to be a hit. Kids will get a hands-on learning experience in physics while they make one-of-a-kind creations.

The set includes 12 pre-cut butterfly wings and supplies, markers, and a display stand, so kids will have everything they need to get started. While they design each butterfly, they'll even learn about capillary action, making the set both fun and educational.

Magna Tiles Clear Colors 100 Piece Set

Magna Tiles

CLEAR Colors 

This highly-rated building set is designed for kids to use the magnetic pieces to build all sorts of amazing structures. This set comes with 100 pieces in different shapes, sizes, and colors, which encourage open-ended play while kids work on spatial and tactile skills.

There are endless opportunities for creativity and building, no matter the child's age or skill level, according to our tester. They noted how kids can get an introduction to engineering while having fun and remaining engaged.

What Our Testers Say

"The magnets snap together easily, making it effortless for younger kids who are still developing their motor skills."—Danielle Directo-Meston, Product Tester

ThinkFun Gravity Maze

Gravity Maze

Thinkfun

Gravity Maze is a super fun logic game that kids will want to play again and again. It comes with 60 challenges of increasing difficulty, where you have to build mazes for marbles to roll down. It’s won a number of awards, including Toy of the Year, and makes a great gift for grade school children.

Kinetic Sand Moldable Sensory Play Sand

Kinetic Sand

Kinetic Sand

 

This sand isn’t anything like the stuff you find at the beach. Kinetic Sand stimulates kids’ creative and sensory skills as it oozes and melts through your fingers yet holds its shape when pressed together. It will keep kids engaged for hours—and it’s fun for adults, too.

Ozobot Bit Coding Robot

Bit Coding Robot (White)

Courtesy of Amazon

This toy will have kids learning real coding skills with Bit, the coding robot. There are two different ways to play with this cool robot: Use markers to draw out commands for it or use the OzoBlockly programming editor, which lets kids write real code.

Beef up the gadget with the additional visual programming simply by downloading a free corresponding app called Ozoblocky. This allows the robot to grow with your child from a beginner coder to more advanced activities.

Scientific Explorer Crime Catchers Spy Science Kit

Scientific Explorer

 Scientific Explorer

For young scientists, this spy-themed kit will be the ultimate present. They’ll be able to solve two exciting mysteries by matching fingerprints, learning about DNA, testing powders, and decoding secret messages. The kit includes all the ingredients needed to complete eight activities.

Mattel Bloxels Build Your Own Video Game

BLOXELS

 BLOXELS

For kids who love video games, why not give them the tools to make their very own game? With the Bloxels kit, kids can build real game settings using the game board and colored blocks, then play with their creations in the Bloxels Builder app. This kit is easy to set up and fosters hours of creativity while kids unknowingly practice STEM concepts.

Tactbit Cubes

TACTBIT DIY Tetris Night Light, 7 Colors Stackable Tangram Puzzle

 Courtesy of Amazon

These light-up blocks will unleash anyone’s creative spirit. The cubes are magnetic, so they snap together. It also contains LED lights that change color when the block is twisted. Even adults will want to play with these awesome toys.

Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. My First Microscope

Microscope Toy

Educational Insights 

Every budding scientist needs a microscope, and this one is designed especially for kids ages 3 and up. It magnifies items up to 8x and has a variety of kid-friendly features, such as a chunky focusing knob and extra-large eyepieces for inspecting flowers, bugs, or anything else you can find in your own backyard.

4M Crystal Growing Experimental Kit

Crystal Growing Kit

4M 

This fun science experiment yields dazzling results. With the crystal-growing kit, children can grow a variety of cool crystals, all while learning about science and geology. The kit even includes display domes so they can keep the resulting creations.

Learning Resources Sum Swamp Game

Swam Game

Learning Resources

Children can learn early math skills with the fun Sum Swamp Game. On each turn, kids have to roll two number dice and a special die covered in math symbols. Then they complete the equation to move around the game board. Throughout the game, they will meet hilarious new creatures in the swamp while practicing pivotal skills.

Hape Dynamo Kid's Wooden Domino Set

Kid's Dominio

HAPE

 

This set puts a fun twist on a classic childhood activity. The Hape Dynamo Kid’s Wooden Domino Set includes more than 100 pieces that kids can line up and knock down, creating a domino effect. There are even special features, such as a bridge, bell, and other various tricks.

Pathfinders Leonardo da Vinci Catapult Kit

catapult

Pathfinders 

Children can learn all about physics as they build a miniature replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s catapult. All the pieces are precut, and the instructions are easy to read, making this kit an ideal present for older kids interested in tinkering like the greatest scientists that have ever lived.

Fat Brain Toys Shape Factory

Fat Brain Toys Shape Factory

Fat Brain Toys

Your curious tot will have fun with this toy for hours on end. The puzzle comes with 10 shapes, and they have to fit the appropriate block into the right space. The pieces are large enough so small hands can easily grip them, and the toy encourages problem-solving and motor skills, making this a perfect gift for curious toddlers.

Educational Insights Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Pick-It-Up Truck

Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Recycling Truck

Courtesy of Amazon

Giving your kids tools can be scary, but a kid-safe tool, like the one in this Educational Insights toy, is safe and educational. Children can use the drill to operate the pickup truck's lift arm and other functions. If you're into sustainability, you'll be happy to know the packaging is actually a part of the play set, so you can teach eco-friendly tips while practicing STEM skills.

Final Verdict

The Osmo Genius Starter Kit ranked highest on our list because it offers games across more than one STEM category and has expansion and add-on options so kids can continue to learn and grow in these areas. For the littles, we recommend the Melissa & Doug Counting Caterpillar.

How We Selected the Best STEM Toys for Kids

We chose the best STEM toys for kids by researching reviews from customers and competitors, and studying the features of more than 50 products on the market. We considered age recommendations, design, size, features, ease of use, and value when deciding our picks. We also consulted with Allison Tsomos, Vice President of Operations at Celebree School, for any considerations or product recommendations while reviewing guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics on toy buying safety.

What to Look For When Buying STEM Toys

Type of STEM Toy

There is no shortage of great STEM toys that fall into multiple categories, which is great for kids with a general interest in all things science, technology, engineering, and math. However, some kids will have more individualized interests so it’s worth taking the time to ensure you’re getting the right toy for your child. “There are [...] toys that are crafted for a particular skill development, like coding,” says Allison Tsomos, Vice President of Operations at Celebree School, “so consider your child’s current interest or one you want to introduce [when buying a toy].” 

Breaking Down STEM

According to the Boston Children’s Museum, each STEM category is broken down like this:

"Science is a way of thinking: Science is observing and experimenting, making predictions, sharing discoveries, asking questions, and wondering how things work."

"Technology is a way of doing: Technology is using tools, being inventive, identifying problems, and making things work."

"Engineering is a way of doing: Engineering is solving problems, using a variety of materials, designing and creating, and building things that work."

"Math is a way of measuring: Math is sequencing (1, 2, 3, 4…), patterning (1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2…), and exploring shapes (triangle, square, circle), volume (holds more or less), and size (bigger, less than)."

Age Appropriateness

As with any toy, it’s important to ensure the STEM toy you get for your child is appropriate for their age and skill set. “STEM toys are specifically designed for certain developmental milestones based on typically developing children,” Tsomos notes, “so be attentive to the target age range [when shopping].”

The easiest way to do this is by following the manufacturer’s recommended age range on a toy’s box, but you can also take a look at the toy/activity itself and assess whether or not your child has the skills needed to play with it successfully. Things to consider include whether or not your child can read, count, identify different colors and shapes, and/or has the necessary motor skill development (particularly fine motor skills). 

Entertainment Value

Of course, if you want your child to actually play with a STEM toy, it needs to be fun, otherwise, it will sit on a shelf collecting dust. First, as previously mentioned, make sure it falls into a STEM category that your child genuinely enjoys, and then consider the other types of toys they tend to be drawn toward and use that as a guide.

Tsomos notes that shoppers shouldn’t “get caught up in the marketing of STEM toys” because a lot of toys can fall into one of the categories, even if they are not labeled as such. Instead, she recommends “think[ing] about what your child will have fun with and what will positively challenge [them].” She also suggests considering toys that you can play with or engage in with them. She says, “The expanded value of STEM toys comes from the curiosity of the child or [from] a parent or teacher prompting fun questions or challenges” while they’re playing with the toy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is STEM important?

    Allison Tsomos, Vice President of Operations at Celebree School explains to Verywell Family that an emphasis has been placed on these subjects because research has shown a deficit in knowledge in these areas over the last 20 years, so educators are introducing concepts as early as preschool “with the hopes to spark secondary and collegiate studies in these subjects." According to Best College Reviews, some great careers that fall under the STEM umbrella include environmental engineer, statistician, software developer, actuary, computer and information research scientist, biochemist, medical engineer, geoscientist, accountant, and web developer. 

  • What is the difference between STEM and STEAM?

    Like STEM, STEAM is an acronym that includes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but with the addition of “A”, which represents Arts. “The addition of the Arts encourages learners to look at things with a more innovative and creative lens,” explains Tsomos. “There is more inquiry-based learning, opportunities for communication and collaboration are encouraged, and cultural influences enrich the STEAM-based curriculum.” Additionally, she says that by adding Arts to the mix, it allows students to use both sides of their brain when studying. “When STEAM is appropriately incorporated into a learning environment, all students will be engaged and cross hemisphere learning will result.”

Why Trust Verywell Family

This article was written by Ashley Ziegler, a full-time parenting writer, and a mom to a 2-year-old and 5-year-old. Over the years, she has researched and tested hundreds of children’s products for both her writing career as well as for personal use as a parent.

As her oldest daughter approaches kindergarten, Ashley has put a lot of emphasis in finding toys with an educational component, including both STEM and STEAM toys. When creating this list of recommendations, she considered her personal experience with STEM toys/games, the insights of an early childhood education expert, as well as products’ quality, longevity, age-appropriateness, and safety.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. How to buy safe toys. HealthyChildren.org.

  2. STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide. Boston Children's Museum

By Ashley Ziegler
​Ashley Ziegler is a lifestyle writer specializing in motherhood, family health, and consumer products. She has written for Romper, Moms.com, and more. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Purdue University and her Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University.