Five Tips for Choosing Great STEAM Toys
Amanda has over 20 years experience working with children and families. Widely considered as THE go to expert on play, toys and child development, Amanda combines her theoretical knowledge with a refreshingly pragmatic approach to family life, that resonates both with parents and professionals.
Her book ‘Play’ was published in May 2105 and has already been translated into two different languages.
Amanda is regularly in the media, and continues to take an active role in research. She is often involved in government policy around children’s issues, rand is a member of two All Party Parliamentary Groups.
Amanda ran the research consultancy FUNdamentals for 10 years before combining that with the Good Toy Guide, and the Good App Guide to create Fundamentally Children, the UK’s leading source of expert, independent advice on child development and play, supporting children’s industries with research, insight and endorsement.
Choosing good educational toys can be tricky, but these tips can help you master the toy aisles:
- Do your research before buying STEAM toys to make sure they can offer your child age-appropriate learning opportunities, supported by fun materials and educational resources that can grow with your child.
- Choose toys that link up with your child’s interests, because an educational toy is no good if your child isn’t interested in playing with it! For example, use games if they’re competitive or make-believe play if they love using their imaginations, etc. Themes such as favorite characters or brands can help, but make sure the product is good on its own.
- Look out for the US Toy Association’s exclusive stamp of approval on product packaging, online and offline retailers, and in toy catalogs. Based on multiple years of research, the accreditation is awarded only to toys that have passed a thorough, independent product review to ensure they are a good, quality STEAM toy.
STEAM combines the subjects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math to give children key skills they will need for school and in the future. Many of these skills, such as logical thinking and problem solving, can be transferred across many different subjects and careers. A few, well-chosen STEAM toys can help your child learn these subjects in a fun and engaging way - here’s how to find them
Who can benefit from STEAM toys?
Although women make up half the workforce in the US, only around one in four STEM workers are female. Research shows that a third of adults believe that how they played during their childhood has impacted their career choice, suggesting that getting girls into STEAM from an early age may help reduce this gender gap.
STEAM toys can also be a wonderful way to support a child’s learning if they are struggling with their math skills. This is because STEAM encourages the applied use of math, giving children context around the numbers. For example, carrying out measurements in science or engineering, or coding in technology.
How to get the most for your money!
There are so many STEAM toys out there it can sometimes be overwhelming. You want to know that you’re getting your money’s worth but, while the box might look exciting, how do you know if it will really be any good?
Sometimes, it’s better to invest in a slightly more expensive kit that you are confident will work as promised, rather than throwing money away on something that’s just nicely packaged.
Here is a handy checklist of things to consider when choosing STEAM toys for your child.
1. Find toys that can be adapted to suit different ages and abilities.
This means that not only can younger siblings join in - which they’re bound to want to do! - but your child can also learn within their comfort zone, whatever that may be. By doing so, their knowledge can grow at a pace that suits them.
For example, children aged over seven will love learning about the insects in the Insect Lore Ant Mountain while they care for their ant colony, practicing their math skills by measuring out the food and water. Younger siblings may not be confident enough to do this themselves but will enjoy watching the ants and assisting where they can. For younger children, there’s also the Insect Lore Butterfly Garden Either way, both children will be engaged, which is a great start to encouraging a passion for STEAM subjects.
2. Look for sets that include educational booklets to help your child learn.
If you’re not very confident with the STEAM subjects yourself, educational booklets can help give you a little extra confidence. Extra resources such as activity books give you the materials to encourage interest in the toy and continue to extend your child’s learning as their knowledge grows. This means that rather than shoving the kit in the cupboard after one use, your child can keep going back to it, and you can get your money’s worth!
For instance, the Botley® 2.0 the Coding Robot Activity Set allows children to obstacle courses, either following the instructions or creating their own designs. They then use the skills they have learned to program the robot to complete the course.
3. Choose toys that a parent and child can play with together.
However good a toy is, there’s not much that excites a child more than an enthusiastic adult. Look for a STEAM toy that you would enjoy playing with yourself, so you can have fun with it together. And if your child decides they don’t like it, you can still play with it on your own - it’s great for de-stressing and you may learn some new skills of your own.
If you enjoy model kits, for example, you may enjoy the Arckit collection. Build the perfect home by the beach with the Coastal Living, or learn about sustainability and eco-friendly building materials with the GO Eco range.
4. Look for toys that put the Art in STEAM.
We tend to think of STEAM as very technical and logical. However, using the right, creative side of the brain is really important too. Where would inventors, designers, and scientists be if they couldn’t think outside the box? So, if you’re more of an artist than a mathematician, look for STEAM toys that are more geared towards art.
For instance, at first glance, the hand2mind Coding Charms looks like a bead craft kit. However, the clever 44-page activity book encourages children to learn and use coding skills to make their charms, by following algorithms to copy the patterns. They also have the freedom to make their own designs, allowing some creativity and self-expression.
5. Ignore the pink/blue box and focus on the type of play.
Often, toys targeted towards girls focus on nurturing and imaginative play, such as dolls. Meanwhile, classic “boy’s toys” include cars and building blocks that support more logical thinking. This is where a gender divide can begin, as children develop different skills depending on the toys they play with and can miss out on the other skills. Rather than steering your child towards or away from any particular toys, it can help to give them a range of play opportunities. Find out more about balancing your child’s playtime.
STEAM toys that encourage make-believe play can engage girls in STEAM learning while encouraging boys to play imaginatively, activating that creative right side of their brain. For example, the TOMY Build-A-Johnny Tractor features 16 pieces for toddlers to build and rebuild, using a battery-powered toy drill. This introduces them to using tools as well as the parts of a tractor, such as the tires and engine. Once built, toddlers can play with their free rolling tractor.