Getting Smart’s Educational Gift Guide for 2017

Well, it’s that time of year again… time to rock the giving season with the gift of knowledge, that is!

Webster defines technology as “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems.” This means that experiences that ignite a love of STEM are not limited to computers, tablets and smartphones, but instead can be focused on creating, inventing and making.

This list is designed to be more than just your typical list of bots and batteries–this is a set of gifts for kids of all ages that help in the development of skills such as observation, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and persistence.

Ages 0 – 3

Budding Builders. The basic idea here is building sets for toddlers, which means they are designed for little hands and require limited coordination. A couple of options to check out:

Cute Little Counters. At this age, most “counting” is more memorization than a deep understanding of quantity, but kids are never too young to play with numbers, even if they are really just increasing awareness:

  • Munchkins Letter & Numbers: You have to do bath time, why not throw some letters in there? Not only does foam stick to the bathtub, it also floats. As kids get older, playing with letters and numbers can increase to identifying colors & building order. Extra bonus: While in the tub, throw some measuring cups in there so that they can play with volume and measurement.
  • Geometric Animal Shape Puzzles: Speaking of bath time. How about helping your little one learn geometric shapes while in the tub?
  • Learning Resources Jumbo Magnetic Numbers: Just like the foam building blocks, putting numbers on the refrigerator (and then taking them back off) is great for building fine motor skills.

Abstract Artists. You may not be able to tell what it is that they have created, but giving toddlers the space to make is important and fun. The key to picking your “first” art supplies is all about what they will be able to control and hang on to:

  • My First Crayola Crayons: The shape of these crayons make them perfect for little hands to hold and they doesn’t take much pressure to work which makes them just the right first crayon for your little one. Here’s a star shaped option as well.
  • ALEX Jr Finger Paint Party: The great thing about finger paint is that there is nothing for little hands to hold on to. Keys to remember: they WILL want to eat it the first couple of times so don’t forget to check for washable and non-toxic. You can also find bubble bath options for bath time.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These “oldies but goodies” are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing:”

Ages 3 – 5

Creative Construction. This age is where you may actually start to recognize the things your toddler is creating. From tools to blocks to art supplies, they will love transforming their ideas into reality–make sure they are set up with all the supplies they need to do so (and don’t forget to head to the recycle bin for lots of free inspiration):

  • Picasso Tiles: Take building to the next level by starting to construct 3D shapes through these magnetic tiles.
  • Educational Insights Design and Drill Activity Center: Power tool sets are great, and a blast for this age, but can sometimes be hard if they don’t actually get to build anything. This is a great option for kids to use tools to design and create.
  • Learning Resources: Gears Gears Gears: Take a different spin on building with these colorful gears that promote reasoning and problem solving while putting together moving objects and shapes.
  • Imaginarium Connect and Create Bucket: There are tons of possibilities with this bucket of shapes and connectors. Create a car and push it along on different surfaces (carpet, tile, hardwood), then have your kiddo describe why they think the car traveled different distances on each surface and how they feel different.

Optimistic Observers. For young explorers, the world is full of surprises. These toys are designed to help them take their observation skills to the next level:

Robots for Rugrats. Stu Pickles shouldn’t be the only inventor in your house. Even though robotics toys tend to be aimed at middle and high school, there are lots of great resources for the young robotic enthusiast that can help support building an innovation mindset:

Terrific Tablets. Sick of sticky finger smudges on your tablet? Here are a couple of options just for them (both under $100):

  • Amazon Fire Kids Edition: When it is time to get your first year of FreeTime Unlimited (a library of 10,000 vetted and kid-appropriate apps, ebooks and show) plus a protective case, a comprehensive 2-year warranty against accidents, and best-in-class parental controls.
  • LeapFrog Epic: Parent controls that allow you to manage what, when and how long each of your children are playing for (up to 3 profiles) and also includes the LeapFrog Just for Me Learning technology that personalizes the experience for each kid.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These oldies, but goodies are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing:”

Ages 6 – 8

Mini Makers. A quick search online will yield more maker kits than you can count. They vary in complexity and cost, but no matter what your budget there is definitely something for your mini maker:

  • Marbleocity Mini Coaster: Fat Brain Toys is a great starting spot for unique, maker type sets for kids of all ages. This is a great option for beginners as they follow illustrated instructions to piece together wooden parts to build the ultimate roller-coaster marble run experience.
  • littleBits STEAM Student Set: A toolbox containing LEGO-like electronic building blocks that connect via magnets to build basic functional technology. For more check out our recent review.
  • Makey Makey: A simple invention kit designed for beginners, experts and everyone in-between.
  • ZOOB BuilderZ S.T.E.M. Challenge: Design and build cool, wacky creations such as a catapult, zip line, trampoline and more.
  • Osmo Genius Kit: 5 games that incorporate an iPad to develop skills such as visual thinking, problem-solving and creative drawing.

Creepy Crawlers. You may not love bugs, but chances are your kids do. If that is the case, here are a couple options that let your kids explore and observe, but keep the bugs well contained:

  • BugWatch Boxed Set: This set includes a Double Viewer cone and scope, three collecting jars with magnifying lids and two pairs of tweezers. Great for collecting and viewing insects and other small creatures.
  • Celestron 3D Bug Specimen Kit: These are real bugs encased in crystal clear resin for easy viewing. You can choose from 3 different kits, each containing a different set of insects.

Dare to Design. No matter what the age, there is a series of tools that help young people design, build and create. Find one that’s perfect and unique so that they love the experience:

Captivating Coding. Our kids will need to learn to code, but it is for more reasons than you might think. As Grant Hosford puts it, “Computer science is the perfect gateway to 21st-century skills. The logical problem solving and algorithmic thinking at the core of computer science force kids to think about thinking–a process referred to as meta-cognition that has proven benefits related to self-monitoring and independent learning:”

  • CodeSpark: This app teaches the ABC’s of computer science while igniting curiosity and allowing kids to learn at their own pace. The curriculum follows the Common Core Standards for Mathematics and the Computer Science Teachers Association’s Computer Science Standards.
  • Move the Turtle: This app teaches the general idea of coding by completing step by step tasks that move the turtle around on the screen. Successful completion means that newer and more complicated tasks are introduced (think next-gen frogger).
  • Daisy the Dinosaur: This is a free app that uses a drag and drop interface to make Daisy the dinosaur come to life while teaching the basics of objects, sequencing, loops and events.
  • PloBot: Get in early by supporting this Kickstarter campaign. Plobot is a robot companion that teaches programming logic through storytelling and play–with cards instead of screens.
  • Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit: Electrical parts provide students with hands-on experience designing and building models of working electrical circuits.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These oldies, but goodies are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing:”

Ages 9 – 11

Ask About AI. There is no doubt about it that Artificial Intelligence will have a major impact on the lives and livelihood of our kids. Here are a couple of examples of how AI is already working its way into our kids’ toyboxes:

  • The Wild Robot: This wonderful book (see our review) tells the story of “Roz”–a robot who washed up onto the beach to find remote island wilderness after the cargo ship transporting her, and dozens like her, sank.
  • Anki Overdrive: This is the next generation of racing cars. Not only can you use a smartphone to control it, but you can choose whether you want to race against friends or AI controlled cars.

Maker Mindsets. We are big believers that allowing students to create, construct and value their unique passions is a great way to get them to think critically about the world around them. Makers make the world a better place and these gifts encourage the mindsets needed to do just that:

  • Monthly Maker Kit Subscriptions: Make tinkering and creating a regular family event with a subscription from Creation Crate or Tinker Crate. Each month you will be mailed everything you need for the perfect at home maker experience.
  • KNEX Intro to Structures: Bridges: KNEX has a ton of great sets, but this one is particularly cool as you are setup to build 13 fully-functioning replicas of real-life bridges. Builders learn about infrastructure by demonstrating key bridge types, such as truss, arch, cantilever, beam, suspension, movable/bascule and cable-stayed.
  • Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit: Get your kids to build moving machines that solve real problems. This kit comes with 80 pages of instructions, 33 LEGO pieces, instructions for 10 modules, 6 plastic balls, string, paper ramps and other components.

Smart Scientists. Science class can be really fun, especially when you actually get your hands dirty. These gifts bring the science lab home and allow you to dive into and explore deeply scientific principles:

  • SmartLab Ultimate Secret Formula Lab: This formula lab comes with 40 experiments that teach kids about scientific principles such as air pressure, fluid dynamics, acids and bases by exploring chemical reactions with different substances from around the house.
  • Edible Chemistry Kit: Enough said.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These oldies, but goodies are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing.”

Do you have big kids in the house too? Innovation doesn’t have to stop when you leave school. Think about a maker kit a month or a Polygon Teaspoon set for your adult STEM lovers.

What’s your favorite STEM gift for kids? Share in the comments section below!

For more at-home STEM resources check out:

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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