The Best STEM Toys for Kids This Holiday Season

6 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

The Maker Movement, which is all about hacking together DIY gadgets and gizmos, started here in Silicon Valley, but has since spread across the world. Originally focused on technology projects, Makers now tackle all kinds of products, from beekeeping to quilting. To celebrate the Maker Movement, annual events called Maker Faires have sprung up in cities everywhere. Among the Maker Faires’ goals is to get kids interested in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.

I recently had a chat with Dale Dougherty, the founder of the Maker Faires. He brought up the point that STEM toys would make excellent holiday gifts for kids this year. Dougherty’s drive to get gets kids interested in STEM is infectious. As a grandfather, I’ve made sure to get at least one STEM-type gift for my granddaughters for the past few years, and now they look forward to these presents every year.

I asked Dougherty for some STEM toy suggestions. Here’s the list he sent, along with the companies’ descriptions:

  • mBot: “An all-in-one solution for kids and beginners to get hands-on experience with robotics, programming, and electronics.”
  • MaKey MaKey: “An Arduino-based device that lets you turn nearly anything into a computer key.”
  • Bare Conducive Paint: “Bare Paint provides a dramatically different method of interacting with electronics as it can be applied to almost any surface, including cardboard, paper, wood, wallpaper, walls, textiles, and some plastics.”
  • Handheld 3D Printing Pen: “Use the 3Doodler to create all types of ‘doodles,’ from flat forms that can be peeled off a piece of paper, to freestyle 3D objects, to separate parts that can be joined together.”
  • And on Maker Media’s site, these are the Best-sellers for young makers:

  • PrintrBot Play 3D Printer
  • mBot Kit
  • Micro Drone 2.0 – Make: Speed Edition w/ HD Camera
  • Proto-Z Micro Drone
  • Ultimate Robot Kit – 10+ Robotic Projects
  • Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has written that the gift of an Apple III when she was young helped take her down a path of math and science. For this holiday season, she suggests gifts that help kids learn as well as play, including:

  • littleBits Gizmos and Gadgets: “Make a remote-control race car, a mischief machine, or create your own one-of-a-kind electronics projects.”
  • Stem Box: “A subscription service that delivers mostly experiments for young scientists with an emphasis on getting girls interested in STEM.”
  • Wonder Workshop Dash robot: “The most fun way to foster coding skills through robotics.”
  • 10. BB-8 Droid

    Another Star Wars toy that’s destined to be a hit this year. This app-enabled droid from Colorado-based Sphero responds to voice commands and creates holographic recordings, all while rolling across your living room floor. It has an adaptive personality that changes as a user interacts with it.

    9. Hello Barbie

    Fischer Price

    The new talking, wi-fi connected Barbie can have a two-way conversation with a child. Hello Barbie asks questions and remembers the answers, learning more about your child and developing your child’s conversation topics in response.

    8. MC2 Dolls

    They may look more like Bratz dolls than famed female scientists, but these science-and-math loving figures come with their own experiment kits and will star in an upcoming Netflix series.

    7. Playmation


    Building on the Skylanders sensation, Playmation merges physical and digital play. But unlike most video games, it pulls kids away from the screen and out into their yards. Children can arm themselves with Iron Man’s armor from The Avengers (or in coming years, Elsa’s crown from Frozen or a Star Wars lightsaber) as they run and jump to complete missions issued by the battery-run props.

    6. Doc McStuffins Take Care of Me Lambie


    The young doctor who nurses her stuffed animals back to health continues to be the most popular character among preschoolers. The newest Lambie addition to the Disney toy collection will help children figure out what’s ailing the creature.

    5. Happy Dance Snoopy

    For families with kids too young to see Star Wars, this dancing Snoopy with flapping ears will be the perfect present for the child begging to watch The Peanuts Movie over and over again.

    4. Star Wars Bladebuilders

    Wannabe Jedis can use Bladebuilders to construct their very own lightsaber, just like Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy.

    3. ImagineX Ultra T-Rex


    Building on the popularity of dinosaurs at the movie this year—Jurassic Park, The Good Dinosaur—this T-Rex can walk, chomp, and even fire projectiles.

    2. Girl Scout Cookie Oven

    The new spin on the Easy Bake Oven will make your girl scout favorites like ThinMints in just 15 minutes instead of 30.

    1. Ruby Rails Skydive Action Figure

    Goldie Blox

    The latest installment in the GoldieBlox series—toys designed to encourage girls’ interest in engineering—is action figure Ruby Rails. Dispatching with the damsel in distress trope, Ruby (named after the programming language) uses engineering basics to build her own parachute.

    Personally, I’ve gotten plenty of gifts for my granddaughters from Goldieblox. Its focus is getting young girls interested in STEM projects. This year, I’m getting them something from Blink Blink. These projects are part of an emerging toy category called STEAM (the A is for art). The company makes DIY kits that integrate art, fashion, simple circuits and e-textiles. Since both of my granddaughters are getting into fashion as they get older, these kits will be ideal for them.

    I grew up during the age of Sputnik and the space program. As a kid, I was given Erector Sets, Tinker Toys and other toys that had me build projects with the hopes I would become interested in making things. For this generation, it’s STEM toys and maker projects that Dougherty, Gates and others hope will spur kids to become makers, engineers and scientists. A single gift along these lines could get kids interested in these important life disciplines.

    Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

    Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the company that makes Dash robots. It is Wonder Workshop.

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