The Ten Best STEM Toys to Give as Gifts in 2019

Stretch young learners’ minds with everything from card games to robotic spheres

Purdue University’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering works with pre-school, school-age, college undergrads, engineers and parents to test and rate science- and tech-themed products. (Purdue University)
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In today’s computer- and data-centric world, coding is king. Yet it is no longer the sole domain of programmers in office cubicles, converted warehouses or frowsy basements; stringing together computer commands that make it all work is truly for everyone, it seems.

At any rate, that’s the impression one gets while leafing through the 2019 edition of Purdue University’s Engineering Gift Guide. Produced by Purdue’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering, the guide is now in its sixth year, and editor-in-chief and project lead Elizabeth Gajdzik says coding-focused items are definitely a strong trend in STEM-oriented products across the board.

“People are thinking about it for younger ages, as well—baby books, preschool toys to introduce coding and programming concepts,” Gajdzik says. She adds that companies are also increasingly responding to parents’ desire for more screen-free, unplugged toys—card games, block- and tile-based puzzles, and building kits, for example.

With so many toys branded as “STEM,” how can parents discern what is truly educational, or just an attempt to cash in on the buzzy catchword?

“The good companies explain what STEM skills or concepts their products teach,” Gajdzik says. On the box, in the instructions, or somewhere on the product website, look for key phrases: logic, problem solving, spatial reasoning, working collaboratively and computational, critical or creative thinking.

“Parents also need to know that a STEM toy doesn’t have to be something totally complicated,” Gajdzik adds. “Traditional wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs—LEGOs, all those things are awesome. But there are companies that add a twist and additional context.”

These are Gajdzik’s recommendations for the ten best new STEM toys (and a few honorable mentions) across different age levels.

0-4 Years

Honorable Mention:

5-7 Years

Honorable Mention:

Ages 8+

SimpleRockets2

One of a handful of apps that show up on this year’s list, SimpleRockets is available for PC, Mac and Android as well as mobile devices. Budding engineers learn about rocketry components, and how to design a successful launch vehicle. Want your rocket to be traveling 750 meters per second by the time it reaches an altitude of 10 kilometers, but be no more than 2 degrees off vertical? SimpleRockets2 has you covered. (SimpleRockets.com, $4.99)

Honorable Mention:

Best Overall STEM Toy

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