STEM toys are hot, no doubt about it. Lego announced revenues earlier this fall that made it the largest toy maker in the world for the first time ever. As Lego’s success shows, the “E” in STEM, engineering, is a natural fit for younger kids who can design, build, tweak and tinker for hours on end. Indeed, formal engineering instruction is entering more and more elementary schools, through innovative programs like Engineering is Elementary and others. And resources for informal engineering education are finding receptive audiences, as we’ve seen with the success of our own elementary-school book, “Dream, Invent, Create.”
Engineering the Holidays
But there’s lots more technical toy fun to be had than just with Legos. We found 11 great engineering-flavored toys, suitable for ages from 2 to, well, as far “up” as you like.
Magna-Tiles or Magformers. 2 and up. Coming in sets of colorful squares and triangles, these plastic tiles have magnets at the edges. They attach in any fashion imaginable, enabling the construction of houses, castles, rockets, ships, small towns and whatever else kids can imagine. One of the favorite activities in my kids’ preschool classroom, these tiles always attract a crowd after the first kid pulls them out. Some people report that Magformers have stronger magnets and are easier for small hands to maneuver.
Wedgits. 2 – 6 years. These are brightly colored building blocks of different shapes and sizes that stack, nest, balance, pile – and fall down if not arranged by sound structural principles. Full instructions are provided, but not really necessary. Kids will learn about angles, balance, weight and force, building objects of their own design or following the guidance of design cards that lead them through increasingly challenging projects. The starter kit is easy to expand upon, as kids grow and fine motor and building skills increase.