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Best toys for building STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) skills - love the range of ages covered here. This is just one of 10 gift guides and I tell all my friends about them - super detailed and suggested ages too!

MPMK Gift Guide: Top Learning Toys for Building STEM Skills

 

Welcome to the famous MPMK Gift Guides and congrats on finding the most comprehensive and easy-to-use kids’ gift guide on the internet! (If you’re not familiar with our famous lists, learn all about them here)…

With all the talk I’ve been doing on the blog about the importance of fostering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills, I felt I absolutely had to include a STEM themed gift guide.

I just keep hearing over and over how important cultivating innovation is in our kids’ future success.  So watching both my son and daughter excitedly engage with open-ended toys to construct, engineer, explore and experiment fills my heart with joy. I’m on a continued mission to find the absolute best toys to keep the innovations coming!

Don’t forget – you can check out all 10 of our 2016 Gift Guides here!

Also, I’m doing my best this year to keep our readers up-to-date on any sales I see on our gift guide items.  To be in the loop, be sure to

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Once again this year, I’m heading up each list with my favorites from all the picks – here, ARRANGED MOSTLY BY AGE (I snuck my favorite 3 up top), are my:

Top 18 Toys for Fostering S.T.E.M. Skills

*Something to note: these toys are among the very best sellers of all 350+ of the toys in our gift guides year after year!

#1 Magna-Tiles $120 (2 – 12 years)

I discovered magna-tiles a few years ago and they were the big present under the tree for the kids. They’re definitely more of an investment, but have been totally worth it! The kids have played with them multiple days a week for the last two years straight. Teachers absolutely rave about these blocks and the play possibilities are endless. Because they join together using magnets, kids can create elaborate structures (often taller than they are) without becoming frustrated by crashes. They’re also great for use with other toys. They can be used along with blocks and LEGOs to make elaborate structures, with marbles and cars to make tunnels, bridges, and marble runs, or even with dolls to create doll houses. (They’re lots of fun for creating 3D masterpieces on the fridge too!) We splurged for the 100 piece set and still get hours of rainy day fun with these. If you have the space/budget for a personal light table to use them, the translucent pieces will also look fantastic lit up from underneath.

#2 Snap Circuits Jr $20.55 (5+ years), Snap Circuits $45.07 (8 – 15 years), and the Snap Circuits Student Electronics Training Program, down this year from $199.99 to $138.36 (8 – 15 years, younger with parental help)

This clever kit is the all-time-best-seller on our gift guides and another multi-award-winner that takes advantage of kids’ natural interest in building toys (like LEGOs) to teach the principles of electricity.  The components aren’t intimidating, snap together simply, and can be used to create a bunch of cool projects. The standard set comes with 60+ pieces to create over 300 different electronic projects. The pieces include snap wires, slide switches, an alarm circuit, a music integrated circuit, and a speaker and are numbered and color-coded to make identifying them easy. These components combine to create working circuit boards just like the ones found inside televisions, radios, and other electronic devices. (Note: there is a conversion set that turns Snap Circuits Jr into this bigger set when your kids are ready to move up.) For bigger kids, you’ll definitely want to check out the reduced priced Snap Circuits Student Electronics Training Program as well as the Alternative Green Energy Kit and Snap Circuits Lights – just connect any MP3 player and be amazed as your music creates a mesmerizing light display. No two songs will ever produce the same light show. Includes prepunched patterns for motor, strobe light, and color-changing LED, lighted and glow-in-the-dark fans, strobe integrated circuit, color organ controlled by MP3 player, voice, or finger. Builds over 175 experiments.

#3 Qwirkle $19.21 (5+ years)

One of the best-sellers ever amongst all 350 toys on our gift guides. My son got this strategic domino and scrabble-like game for his 5th birthday and asks to play it during our one-on-one time or as a family several times a week.  Although we’ve altered the rules and points system a bit to adjust for his age, this Parents’ Choice Gold Award and Mensa National Competition winner is still fantastic for working on shape and color recognition as well as pattern perception and spatial and critical thinking skills. Recently my 4 year old daughter has been getting in on the fun and I can tell this is one that our family is sure to be playing for years to come.

#4 Tot Tube Playset – Toy Car and Ball Tunnel Ramp Race Track $18.95 (1 – 10 years)

This deceptively simple toy is so much more than it appears. Parents and teachers rave about how the hours and hours their kids spend shooting things through this heavy duty tunnel. This is a great toy to get kids hypothesizing about, “what will happen when I… (put something heaver in, tilt it higher, put more than one thing in it, etc…) When my friend first introduced me to the tot tube, I really liked the idea but wondered if it was worth the money (couldn’t we essentially do the same thing with a cardboard wrapping paper tube?). What I like about this, though, is that it’s a lot more durable than a cardboard tube, it’s wider shape accommodates bigger sized cars and balls, it can break apart for easy storage or you can attach more than one for a super long tunnel, and the kids can see through it- making it so much more engaging. Read the reviews on this one and I think you’ll be sold.

#5 Castle Logix $24.99 (3 – 8 years) and Camelot Jr. $24.99 (4 – 8 years)

The entire line of single player puzzle games from SmartGames gets such stellar reviews that it was hard not to recommend all of them!  The bold colors of these two 3-D wooden castle puzzles especially caught my eye. I bought it for my daughter a couple of years ago and it was an absolute winner. Assemble the wooden blocks and towers to match the challenges included in the booklet. With simple challenges for inexperienced builders to complex puzzles that will challenge skilled architects, these puzzles serve to develop logical thinking skills and spatial reasoning abilities.

#6 Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center $23.99 (3 – 8 years) 

I particularly like how this particular toy combines fine motor skills with pattern recognition AND adds a great dramatic play element. We got it for our son when he was 4 and he played with it quite a bit until his little old sister took it over. Now our 1 1/2 year old is starting to get in on the fun (mostly sorting and manipulating the pieces with his hands for now but I anticipate him picking up the drill pretty soon). The popularity of this toy has also led to some cool variations, including the Design & Drill Flower Power Station and, my favorite, the Design & Drill BrightWorks– which is like if the Design & Drill had a baby with the classic Lite Brite from my childhood (in other words, the pieces light up and it’s totally awesome).

#7 Hexbug Playsets start at $17.49 (3 – 14 years)

Hexbug Nanos are robotic creatures that behave like real bugs.  These simple little guys run on vibration alone and are a great introduction to the world of robotics.  Beyond that, the flexibility of the multiple tracks allow for unlimited building options that will flex your kids’ engineering muscles. Reviewers report that any kid who loves train tables, hot wheels, and the like will get hours and hours of fun out of this toy and I’d have to agree! My son got the highly rated Hexbug Hive Playset when he was 5 and still loves it – it’s also a toy that goes over particularly well during play dates. The Hexbug Nano 5 sets are a great addition to extend the fun to more players too!

#8 Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late $8.51 (4 – 7 years)

When my son was in kindergarten, he really started getting into math and began asking for story problems at night before bed, so imagine my excitement when I saw this book, which contains just that! From the publisher, “Inside this book, families will find fun, mischief-making math problems to tackle—math that isn’t just kid-friendly, but actually kid-appealing. With over 100 math riddles on topics from jalapeños and submarines to roller coasters and flamingos, this book bursts with math that looks nothing like school. And with three different levels of challenge (wee ones, little kids, and big kids), there’s something for everyone.” This is a great way to change up story time at night and encourage math skills in kids that are excited about the subject as well as those who need some help getting excited. We’re now onto the second and third books in the series.

#9 Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set $19.83 (4+ years)

This kit of real science tools is perfectly sized for little hands. It comes with 10 double sided activity cards, beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, googles, large 6″ test tube and stand, and 2 small test tubes.  The authenticity of these items will have your little scientists dying to experiment and they’ll serve great double duty for dramatic play too.

#10 Robot Turtles Game $24.99 (4 – 8 years)

As one of the only products out there with the real ability to get preschoolers and kindergartners interested in programming, this was the new toy/game I was most excited about adding to the gift guide last year! The most backed board game in Kickstarter history, it sneakily teaches preschoolers the fundamentals of programming, from coding to functions, while making silly turtle noises. Takes seconds to learn, minutes to play and provides endless learning opportunities. This game has been featured by NPR, Bloomberg, Make: Magazine, Boing boing, TechCrunch, Reddit, Geekmom, Geekdad and essentially lets kids write programs with playing cards. One reviewer wrote, “There are no winners/losers. (You could make a competition out of it with several kids, seeing who can make the shortest program/have the fewest bugs/etc., but it’s not set up that way.) But it does teach kids the basics of how computers think… Once he got the hang of it, we just let our son go nuts with it. He makes up his own boards and then “writes” a program to solve it. Finally, something he can play by himself that doesn’t have a ton of annoying noises/beeps/music!”

#11 LEGO Master Builder Academy Kits starting at $32.00 (age varies by kit)

One of the things that impressed me most about The LEGO Movie was the emphasis on open-ended creativity through the “master builder” concept. So I was delighted to find that the “Master Builder Academy” series lives up to it’s name by offering kits that provide multiple builds but also amazing prompts to help kids create on their own. These extra special kits come with deluxe instruction manuals that teach technique as well as specific projects. I’m especially eyeing the LEGO Master Builder Academy Level 4 – Invention Designer kit (ages 9+) which, while expensive,includes three 84-page Designer Handbooks teaching 6 LEGO Master Builder techniques. One reviewer wrote, “Once I opened this kit I realized how special this set is. This kit comes with 3 very nicely printed books (on high quality stock paper) with detailed instructions and techniques for building different creations. I also learned that in addition to the 11 different items you can build, you can also unlock/download 22 ADDITIONAL instructions (from LegoMBA.com) to build even more items including vehicles and architectural structures! That was a huge, pleasant surprise for me! What other set can give you 33 different builds in a single box???” In addition to the special manuals, each of these kits also comes with an access code to members-only online LEGO Master Builder Academy content (mentioned above), featuring additional tips and building instructions, special videos and technique demonstrations, skill tests and fun activities, and a gallery for kids to show off their own custom creations.

#12 Euler’s Disk $26.99 (5 – 12 years)

It’s hard to even describe the “magic” draw of this toy. It’s definitely the thing you get a kid if you want to be known as the cool aunt/uncle/grandparent/parent/etc.! Check out this YouTube video to see it in action, but prepare to be mesmerized… After watching it together, I asked my husband what he thought. He said “It’s awesome… I want one.” Here’s what another reviewer wrote, “I had never heard of Euler’s Disk until I received it in the mail; a gift from my daughter. A simple twist of the heavy chrome-plated disk that you set on top of a concave mirror (furnished) starts it spinning at an increasing rate for at least two minutes. As it spins faster it generates a mysterious tone and changes appearance depending on which holographic magnetic designs you attach and depending on your lighting. You can Google Euler’s Disk and learn how it was developed and the science behind it. But unless the manufacturer does a better job of promoting this device you will never read this review because you won’t know to look for it. Sad.”

#13 No Stress Chess $14.99 (6+ years)

When my kindergartner came home from school one day asking me to teach him to play chess, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was excited because, despite spending a lot of our time together on sports-related activities, I have great memories of playing chess with my dad growing up. On the other hand, I was afraid he was a little young for it and might get frustrated and give up on the game all together. Enter “No Stress Chess”. This genius game uses cards to teach young kids how to play in stages. The cards tell you which piece to move, so even children (and adults) who have never played the game can jump right in. The moves for each piece are on the cards as well as on the game board and the first stage makes the game about chance, not skill – you simply draw a card and do what it says, perfect for learning how the pieces work. Once that is mastered, you can draw 3 cards at a time and decide which one you want to go with to introduce some strategy to the game. Finally, when you’re ready to play chess for real, just get rid of the cards and flip the board over to a traditional chess board.

#14 Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit $14.95 (7 – 15 years)

The first thing I thought when I saw this book was that it was a combo of two of my son’s favorite things: LEGOs and the game Mouse Trap. I talk a lot in this gift guide about the value of open-ended toys and I think this book could really get a kid’s mind spinning in regards to what new contraptions they can invent… From the manufacturer, “LEGO Chain Reactions is packed full of ideas, instructions, and inspiration for 10 LEGO machines that spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, and drop. Each machine alone is awesome, but put them together and you get incredible chain reactions. Then, combine the machines in any order you like to create your own chain reactions. Our team of experts worked with educators and 11-year-olds to invent the machines, then wrote a book that teaches the skills (and some of the physics behind the fun) kids need to create their own amazing chain reaction machines.” The kit comes with 78 page book, 33 LEGO elements, 6 LEGO balls, 6 feet of string, 8 paper ramps, 2 paper pop-up signs, 1 paper funnel ramp, 1 paper flag, 1 paper bucket, 1 platform and the makers assure that you don’t need to worry that you won’t have the right bricks as they made sure you’ll need only the most common bricks, and that there are plenty of substitutes… And while we’re on the topic of LEGO build books, The LEGO Ideas Book and LEGO Play Book are also well worth looking into.

#15 The Everything Kids’ Science Experiments Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You! $6.99 (8+ years)

This is kind of like Mr. Wizard in a book. Written by a high school science and math teacher, this guide will help school-aged kids explore scientific topics with themed chapters broken down into accessible experiments of varying difficulty levels. Fun for them to do on their own or along with you – this one is a great value!

 

Read on for the full list of 40+ of my top Learning Toys for Fostering STEM Skills, broken down into:

  • Engineering
  • Robotics & Technology
  • Chemistry & Life Sciences
  • Single-Player Math & Logic Games
  • Multi-Player Math & Logic Games

Special Note: In an effort to help you out as much as possible this year, I’ve included both prices and age recommendations for each item.  Please take the age ranges as just that – recommendations – you know you’re child best after all!  

Also, this time of year prices can fluctuate quite dramatically.  So if you see something a little outside of your price range, it might not be a bad idea to click over and check  it out anyway – you may get lucky and catch a sale.

Ready for the big list? Here we go…

Gift guide: Top S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Picks for all ages - so many cool picks I'd never thought of and I love, LOVE the detailed descriptions and age recommendations. Such an amazing resource!

 

Engineering

This section was a little tough to narrow down. There are lots of different types of engineering; electrical, mechanical, etc. Furthermore, to me the best way to get kids interested in engineering down the road, is to encourage a lot of open-ended building early on.  

So I’ve included some of my favorite picks from the Best Blocks & Construction Toys Gift Guide as well (see that guide for our full list of favorite blocks and construction toys).

Magna-Tiles $120 (2 – 12 years)

I discovered magna-tiles a few years ago and they were the big present under the tree for the kids. They’re definitely more of an investment, but have been totally worth it! The kids have played with them multiple days a week for the last two years straight. Teachers absolutely rave about these blocks and the play possibilities are endless. Because they join together using magnets, kids can create elaborate structures (often taller than they are) without becoming frustrated by crashes. They’re also great for use with other toys. They can be used along with blocks and LEGOs to make elaborate structures, with marbles and cars to make tunnels, bridges, and marble runs, or even with dolls to create doll houses. (They’re lots of fun for creating 3D masterpieces on the fridge too!) We splurged for the 100 piece set and still get hours of rainy day fun with these. If you have the space/budget for a personal light table to use them, the translucent pieces will also look fantastic lit up from underneath.

Snap Circuits Jr $20.55 (5+ years), Snap Circuits $45.07 (8 – 15 years), and the Snap Circuits Student Electronics Training Program, down this year from $199.99 to $124.18 (8 – 15 years, younger with parental help)

This clever kit is the all-time-best-seller on our gift guides and another multi-award-winner that takes advantage of kids’ natural interest in building toys (like LEGOs) to teach the principles of electricity.  The components aren’t intimidating, snap together simply, and can be used to create a bunch of cool projects. The standard set comes with 60+ pieces to create over 300 different electronic projects. The pieces include snap wires, slide switches, an alarm circuit, a music integrated circuit, and a speaker and are numbered and color-coded to make identifying them easy. These components combine to create working circuit boards just like the ones found inside televisions, radios, and other electronic devices. (Note: there is a conversion set that turns Snap Circuits Jr into this bigger set when your kids are ready to move up.) For bigger kids, you’ll definitely want to check out the reduced priced Snap Circuits Student Electronics Training Program as well as the Alternative Green Energy Kit and Snap Circuits Lights – just connect any MP3 player and be amazed as your music creates a mesmerizing light display. No two songs will ever produce the same light show. Includes prepunched patterns for motor, strobe light, and color-changing LED, lighted and glow-in-the-dark fans, strobe integrated circuit, color organ controlled by MP3 player, voice, or finger. Builds over 175 experiments.

Sciencewiz Cool Circuits $18.17 (5 – 12 years)

This single player logic game is one of the coolest I’ve seen. Progressively difficult pattern cards are laid over the base and neon pieces are then placed on top of them to create a circuit. Once the circuit is complete, it lights up and plays music. Watch the video in the Amazon link and I’m pretty sure you’ll want one as much as I do.

Tot Tube Playset – Toy Car and Ball Tunnel Ramp Race Track $18.95 (1 – 10 years)

This deceptively simple toy is so much more than it appears. Parents and teachers rave about how the hours and hours their kids spend shooting things through this heavy duty tunnel. This is a great toy to get kids hypothesizing about, “what will happen when I… (put something heaver in, tilt it higher, put more than one thing in it, etc…) When my friend first introduced me to the tot tube, I really liked the idea but wondered if it was worth the money (couldn’t we essentially do the same thing with a cardboard wrapping paper tube?). What I like about this, though, is that it’s a lot more durable than a cardboard tube, it’s wider shape accommodates bigger sized cars and balls, it can break apart for easy storage or you can attach more than one for a super long tunnel, and the kids can see through it- making it so much more engaging. Read the reviews on this one and I think you’ll be sold.

Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit $14.95 (7 – 15 years)

The first thing I thought when I saw this book was that it was a combo of two of my son’s favorite things: LEGOs and the game Mouse Trap. I talk a lot in this gift guide about the value of open-ended toys and I think this book could really get a kid’s mind spinning in regards to what new contraptions they can invent… From the manufacturer, “LEGO Chain Reactions is packed full of ideas, instructions, and inspiration for 10 LEGO machines that spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, and drop. Each machine alone is awesome, but put them together and you get incredible chain reactions. Then, combine the machines in any order you like to create your own chain reactions. Our team of experts worked with educators and 11-year-olds to invent the machines, then wrote a book that teaches the skills (and some of the physics behind the fun) kids need to create their own amazing chain reaction machines.” The kit comes with 78 page book, 33 LEGO elements, 6 LEGO balls, 6 feet of string, 8 paper ramps, 2 paper pop-up signs, 1 paper funnel ramp, 1 paper flag, 1 paper bucket, 1 platform and the makers assure that you don’t need to worry that you won’t have the right bricks as they made sure you’ll need only the most common bricks, and that there are plenty of substitutes… And while we’re on the topic of LEGO build books, The LEGO Ideas Book and LEGO Play Book are also well worth looking into.

WEDGiTS Deluxe Set $29.50 (3 – 7 years)

I once talked to the owner of a local toy store about these for over 30 minutes. He couldn’t stop raving about what great, open-ended building toys they are and he totally sold me on them.  If you have younger kids around, get the Wee WEDGITS (1+ years) – they’re softer and don’t hurt when stepped on. For bigger kids, be sure to spring for the design cards to help extend the quiet time play even more!

LEGO Ultimate Building Set $24.59 (4+ years)

Around age 3 or 4 is a good time to transition from Mega Bloks or Duplos to standard size LEGOs. This 405 piece set contains everything your little ones will need to start creating, including a building plate, minifigure, windows, doors, and wheels.  It also has a storage container and building instructions for 5 models as well as photo inspiration for 25 more.

HearthSong Domino Race Set, 255 Pieces in Bright Colors and Fun Patterns $49.98 (4+ years)

I wasn’t sure whether to include this here in the construction & building gift guide or our in S.T.E.M. gift guide, so I put it in both! These brightly colored wood dominos are a retro toy that are as good for building creativity and critical thinking skills today as they’ve ever been. This set includes brightly colored and patterned pieces along with a few extras like ending and starting gates, pyramid steps, a bridge set, and a carrying case. Would-be engineers of all ages will spend hours setting up chain reactions all over the house.

Euler’s Disk $26.99 (5 – 12 years)

It’s hard to even describe the “magic” draw of this toy. It’s definitely the thing you get a kid if you want to be known as the cool aunt/uncle/grandparent/parent/etc.! Check out this YouTube video to see it in action, but prepare to be mesmerized… After watching it together, I asked my husband what he thought. He said “It’s awesome… I want one.” Here’s what another reviewer wrote, “I had never heard of Euler’s Disk until I received it in the mail; a gift from my daughter. A simple twist of the heavy chrome-plated disk that you set on top of a concave mirror (furnished) starts it spinning at an increasing rate for at least two minutes. As it spins faster it generates a mysterious tone and changes appearance depending on which holographic magnetic designs you attach and depending on your lighting. You can Google Euler’s Disk and learn how it was developed and the science behind it. But unless the manufacturer does a better job of promoting this device you will never read this revue because you won’t know to look for it. Sad.”

Hot Wheels DIY Track Creator Kit (18 months with parents help – 12 years)

This is a very unique item on these gift guides in that I’m recommending you buy a couple of simple sets (listed below) and package them together to make one really awesome gift. I totally get that some of the Hot Wheels sets out there are super fun for kids (our favorites are still featured below).

However, one of the things I really love about hot wheels is the idea of the kids going crazy with them, building all kinds of unique and interesting tracks down the stairs, under the table, and etc. So if you’re considering a big Hot Wheels gift for your kiddo, I really encourage you to think about putting together this suggested DIY gift instead of buying one expensive track setup.

I promise, it will buy you so many more hours of engagement than a bells-and-whistles set that really only does one thing. This kit is going to be my son’s big present for his 7th birthday in a few weeks, minus the cars as we have plenty of those (shhh, don’t tell). Of course, you can add or subtract from it to make the perfect sized gift for your space too.

Here’s what I’d put in mine if starting from scratch:

A decent set of small hot wheels are a must for us. They’re great for playing with the toy garage also listed here or for using with blocks, up-cycled paper towel rolls, and even painter’s tape tracks in all kinds of innovative open-ended play. Of course, when playing with these with young toddlers, be on the lookout for any loose parts that may be a choking hazard. We’ve never had a problem but it’s worth noting.

Allows to design, create and customize their very own track challenge using a variety of stunts, track layout options and key track essentials that all work together. Plus, with this system, they get to build and re-build the fun in every direction—horizontally or even vertically! Set includes essential track packs with 10 feet of track, curves, launchers, and stunts plus a Hot Wheels car. One reviewer wrote, “We both marveled that there were 3 different ways to connect the track to furniture, etc. We both only had a c clamps in the good old days and now there are 3 types of connectors, a smaller one that swivels to position your track easier and one that connects to a door knob or clothes line, etc. You have curve track, launcher and rockets that go off when your car passes. Your imagination is your limit on setting up your tracks. Also we liked the new connectors for each track piece, we both remember having a harder time pushing in the original connectors on the track pieces, this is an improvement.”

To really expand the possibilities, I would also highly recommend throwing in one or two of these straight track sets. 18 track connectors, including an assortment of 9-inch tracks, 12-inch tracks and track connectors to make up to 15 feet of straight track.

You could certainly stop with just the two track sets above and still have a great track building kit. But this will take it up another level- and could send your kiddo over the edge if he’s a true Hot Wheels fanatic. This highly rated set is a car factory on steroids that can be built multiple ways (love that!) and lets kids build horizontally, vertically, or in various spiral forms… From the manufacturer, “Simply set up the track in a spiral like a real factory and place a car at every gate. Launch one car from the top and release any other car that has what it takes to “pass” inspection-but watch out! Cars that are “rejected” will be thrown off the track!”

Mindware KEVA Contraptions $45.38 (6 with help and up)

Mindware, along with ThinkFun, is one of my favorite brands (they’re the makers of Qwirkle, one of the top toys on our list every year) and contraptions lives up to the high standards I’ve come to expect from them. Designed to help foster an understanding of proportion and balance while teaching the basic principles of physics and engineering, this seemingly simple package of 200 identical wooden planks can be used to create ramps, funnels, chutes and crazy contraptions like the “Black Hole” and the “Bounce Plate”. Two specially designed lightweight balls and an 18-page project book are also included. According to one reviewer, “Because no glue or connectors are used, it *is* challenging to build the contraptions but that is also what makes it an extremely open-ended toy.”

Gears! Gears! Gears! $39.94 (3- 9 years)

This is another great set for those kids who love to tinker and figure out how things work. This one has won numerous toy awards and it’s not hard to see why. Kids can put their mechanical engineering skills to the test to build a myriad of spinning 3D structures. Note: Although the motorized version looks fancy, we found the motor to be kinda “meh” and actually prefer the highly-rated original set.

Playskool Busy Gears $29.34 (1 – 3 years) (We have the less expensive Monkey Version $14.68)

At first I was put off by the look of this toy when my son received it for his first birthday- it seemed like a lot of plastic and lights and not a lot to actually do. But it is now one of his favorites, allowing him lots of opportunities to stack, push buttons, learn about cause and effect and even get a very basic introduction to mechanics. (I like that he can play with it with the lights and music on or offtoo). One similarly pleased reviewer wrote, “My son received this toy for his first birthday! I will be purchasing it as gifts for all my friends!! He LOVES pushing the button and listening the the music. I was wondering if he would be able to figure out the gears, but he has caught on very quickly and loves to take the gears off and put them back on. He also enjoys stacking the gears up and watching them go around! I like that it has a handle so he can carry it around with him. It keeps him involved for up to 20 minutes at a time!

Marble Run – 103 pieces $34.95 (3 – 10 years)

This one is a classic for a reason. Kids have always loved (and will always love) building cool structures and watching marbles spin and drop down them. This is a perfect game to play alone or with others so it can be used for quiet time or play dates plus it’s great developmentally for fine motor skills, critical thinking skills, spatial awareness and more. My only caution is to be careful of small marbles that can be a choking hazard to young kids who still like to put things in their mouths, including younger siblings who may be nearby.

Erector Super Construction Set $44.99 (6 – 14 years)

The age range on this set is actually 8 – 14 years but our son got his first Erector set at age 4 and loves building these creations with his dad. This highly-rated and comprehensive set comes with a 6V battery-operated motor as well as 640+ parts and a handy carrying case.  It can be used tocreate 25 different models.

GoldieBlox & the Spinning Machine $29.99 (6 – 9 years) 

I remember a friend of mine sending me a link to this toy when it first appeared on KickStarter.  It’s been great to see the massive success this engineering toy built with girls in mind has enjoyed since then. GoldieBlox is a series of interactive books and construction toys starring Goldie, a curious girl with a love of engineering. Goldie’s stories leverage girls’ advanced verbal skills to help develop and build self-confidence in their spatial skills – so smart!

LEGO Creator 3-in-1 Kits starting at $11.24, (age varies by kit)

This is another series of kits, much like the LEGO City collection with the difference being that each kit can be used to create 3 totally different things.  My son thinks this is especially awesome and I did a lot of research to find the perfect set for his 6th birthday. We settled on the LEGO Creator 31011 Aviation Adventure and we were not disappointed! The photos don’t do justice to the sheer size of this thing! That and the number of pieces involved in the build truly make this the next level in LEGO builds. Plus it actually has moving parts (pull back the landing gear to make the propellers move, slide the cockpit windshield back and up to insert and remove the two pilots, etc.). My son has been playing with it non-stop for weeks and he still hasn’t even gotten to the boat and helicopter he can build with this set. This toy has already given us hours and hours of fun and promises to give lots more – a great investment in my eyes.

LEGO City Motorized Cargo Train $157.63 (6 – 12 years) and DUPLO motorized train 

My son has been absolutely BEGGING for this set for his birthday for months. A lover of all things LEGO and remote-controlled, it’s not hard to see why. (Side note: he first became captivated with the idea of a motorized LEGO train after playing with this DUPLO version for slightly younger kids at a friend’s house.) This set gets lots of rave reviews for all the working parts and all the large size of the set and tracks. From the manufacturer: This awesome motorized train with 8-channel, 7-speed infrared remote control can transport almost anything. So it’s your job to make sure the cargo is in the right place at the right time to keep the city running smoothly. Attach the cattle wagon and 2 cargo wagons together and pull them around the circular rail track with the locomotive. Operate the forklift to move the pallets safely between the wagons and truck. Keep track of all the cargo leaving and arriving in the office at the impressive cargo train station. There you can use the sliding overhead crane with hook to move heavy cargo between vehicles or onto the ground. With so many play functions and cool features, this really is the ultimate set for train enthusiasts! Includes 4 minifigures: forklift driver, train driver, farmer and a truck driver.

LEGO Master Builder Academy Kits starting at $32.00 (age varies by kit)

One of the things that impressed me most about The LEGO Movie was the emphasis on open-ended creativity through the “master builder” concept. So I was delighted to find that the “Master Builder Academy” series lives up to it’s name by offering kits that provide multiple builds but also amazing prompts to help kids create on their own. These extra special kits come with deluxe instruction manuals that teach technique as well as specific projects. I’m especially eyeing the LEGO Master Builder Academy Level 4 – Invention Designer kit (ages 9+) which, while expensive,includes three 84-page Designer Handbooks teaching 6 LEGO Master Builder techniques. One reviewer wrote, “Once I opened this kit I realized how special this set is. This kit comes with 3 very nicely printed books (on high quality stock paper) with detailed instructions and techniques for building different creations. I also learned that in addition to the 11 different items you can build, you can also unlock/download 22 ADDITIONAL instructions (from LegoMBA.com) to build even more items including vehicles and architectural structures! That was a huge, pleasant surprise for me! What other set can give you 33 different builds in a single box???” In addition to the special manuals, each of these kits also comes with an access code to members-only online LEGO Master Builder Academy content (mentioned above), featuring additional tips and building instructions, special videos and technique demonstrations, skill tests and fun activities, and a gallery for kids to show off their own custom creations.

LEGO Architecture Studio $179.99 (12+ years)

More architecture than engineering, I still had to include this fabulously open-ended LEGO set. Described by some as “not really a toy, more a beautiful design set”, reviewers rave about the 270 page “Create your own architecture”  book that accompanies the 1200+ LEGO pieces. A well laid out introduction to architecture, as well as a guide for getting starting with building things with the LEGOs. It includes lots of pictures and lots of drawings as well as a number techniques, features, and intuitive hands-on exercises endorsed by leading architects.  Tips include things like getting different effects using some of the special pieces in the set, i.e. making windows look inset into a wall. Much like the LEGO Master Builder kits above, what it is NOT is an instruction manual for constructing specific buildings – instead the point of this entire kit is to teach about architecture and then inspire users to take apply what they’ve learned to make their own creations.  I love the endless possibilities for innovation grounded in solid architectural principals here.

 

Gift guide: Top S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Picks for all ages - so many cool picks I'd never thought of and I love, LOVE the detailed descriptions and age recommendations. Such an amazing resource!

Robotics & Technology

Robot Turtles Game $24.99 (4 – 8 years)

As one of the only products out there with the real ability to get preschoolers and kindergartners interested in programming, this was the new toy/game I was most excited about adding to the gift guide last year! The most backed board game in Kickstarter history, it sneakily teaches preschoolers the fundamentals of programming, from coding to functions, while making silly turtle noises. Takes seconds to learn, minutes to play and provides endless learning opportunities. This game has been featured by NPR, Bloomberg, Make: Magazine, Boing boing, TechCrunch, Reddit, Geekmom, Geekdad and essentially lets kids write programs with playing cards. One reviewer wrote, “There are no winners/losers. (You could make a competition out of it with several kids, seeing who can make the shortest program/have the fewest bugs/etc., but it’s not set up that way.) But it does teach kids the basics of how computers think… Once he got the hang of it, we just let our son go nuts with it. He makes up his own boards and then “writes” a program to solve it. Finally, something he can play by himself that doesn’t have a ton of annoying noises/beeps/music!”

Robot Claw $9.99 (3+ years) 

I picked this up on impulse while birthday shopping for my son a few years ago.  So glad I did – it was a HUGE hit. I’m not sure why I included it on this list exactly, except that the kids love it and it seems like a natural gateway toy to wanting to explore robotics.

Hexbug Playsets starts at $17.49 (3 – 14 years)

Hexbug Nanos are robotic creatures that behave like real bugs.  These simple little guys run on vibration alone and are a great introduction to the world of robotics.  Beyond that, the flexibility of the multiple tracks allow for unlimited building options that will flex your kids’ engineering muscles. Reviewers report that any kid who loves train tables, hot wheels, and the like will get hours and hours of fun out of this toy and I’d have to agree! My son got the highly rated Hexbug Hive Playset when he was 5 and still loves it – it’s also a toy that goes over particularly well during play dates. The Hexbug Nano 5 sets are a great addition to extend the fun to more players too!

Makey Makey $49.95 (9+ years/ younger with help)

Invented by a couple of MIT students, the Makey Makey can turn virtually anything into a remote/game controller for your computer. Again, the video explains it best but think using your entire staircase to play a piano program or playing a videogame with a controller you made of paper and play dough. Just use the alligator clips and the Makey Makey to connect whatever you can think of to your computer and go!

3D printer $499.00 (10+ years)

Ever since hearing Wired editor and bestselling author, Chris Anderson, speak on the new industrial revolution that’s under way and what it’s going to take to raise the next generation of innovators, I’ve had the idea of buying my kids a 3D printer percolating in the back of my head.  Although definitely an investment, Anderson quite convincingly argued that buying our children a 3D printer is tantamount to our own parents buying us our first computer. Why? Because with this one device anything our kids can imagine, they can literally create. Anderson effectively convinced me that this thing could open up a whole new world of innovation and possibilities for my children.

3D Pen $89.98 (8+ years)

If you’re not quite ready to make the investment for a 3D printer, this 3D pen is a nice introductory option. If you’re unfamiliar with these, a quick web or youtube search will bring you up to speed. From the manufacturer, “3D printing pen replaces ink with plastic to create 3D objects. It can be used to draw in the air as well as tracing objects on paper.”

OWI Robotic Arm Edge $38.00 (10+ years, younger with adult supervision)

For the kid who is starting to get serious about robotics, this is a great staple kit and a really good price. It’s also a great project for kids and parents to do together.

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 $349.95 (10+ years)

This set is beyond my kids ages right now but it won an Oppenheim Platinum Toy Award and I found their review compelling so I’m going to quote it here, “LEGO is rolling out a completely revamped version of the robotics kit for a new generation of kids. Knowing how essential smart phones have become, the new design enables them to operate their robots via their phones. The set comes with 17 suggested builds with three different levels of programming. Comes with a hefty price tag – but if you think of this as an after-school program in robotics, it seems more approachable.”  If your school doesn’t have a robotics program and your have interested kids in robotics and programming, I like the idea of getting together with a few like-minded parents and buying this as a joint gift for your child and a few of their friends to share.

LittleBits Electronics Cloud Starter Bundle $99 (12+ years/ younger with help)

New to our list last year, the LittleBits bundle is kind of revolutionary. I highly recommend you watch the video here to get the full idea, but basically this starter kit will let your child operate any real world thing using the internet (one of my favorite examples was a balloon with the word “ego” that inflated a little more every time an instagram account was liked).  This is an amazingly open-ended tech toy and the possibilities for older kids are quite literally endless.

Gift guide: Top S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Picks for all ages - so many cool picks I'd never thought of and I love, LOVE the detailed descriptions and age recommendations. Such an amazing resource!

 

Chemistry & Life Sciences

Experimenting with the kids at home is a great way to sneak a little learning into your bonding time and kids absolutely love it. This section is packed with books and lists to get you on your way.

Mind-Blowing Science Kit $14.41 (4+ years w/ adult supervision)

Performing some basic science experiments at home is a great way to inject a little learning into your quality time with the kids.  This set gets good reviews from parents and comes with step-by-step instructions for each experiment. There’s also a detailed science guide that provides adults with “mind blowing science secrets” that help to answer questions about what’s happening in each experiment.

The Everything Kids’ Science Experiments Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You! $6.99 (8+ years)

This is kind of like Mr. Wizard in a book. Written by a high school science and math teacher, this guide will help school-aged kids explore scientific topics with themed chapters broken down into accessible experiments of varying difficulty levels. Fun for them to do on their own or along with you – this one is a great value!

The Curious Kid’s Science Book: 100+ Creative Hands-On Activities for Ages 4-8 $17.16 (4 – 8 years) 

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this ridiculously fun book of concoctions by popular kid activity blogger, Asia Citro. It’s a gorgeous read, full of experiments that are always highly colorful and super engaging (that’s sort of her trademark). As a former classroom science teacher with a Master’s in Science Education and a current mom of two young kids, Asia is a highly qualified expert on how to get our kiddos engaged in science early-on and it shows. My 5-year-old and I are currently delighting in working our way through the simple set up activities and I highly suggest getting the book so you can do the same!

Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set $19.83 (4+ years)

This kit of real science tools is perfectly sized for little hands. It comes with 10 double sided activity cards, beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, googles, large 6″ test tube and stand, and 2 small test tubes.  The authenticity of these items will have your little scientists dying to experiment and they’ll serve great double duty for dramatic play too.

Learning Resources Primary Science Mix and Measure Set $24.99 (18 months – 6 years)

This set includes a scale, bowl, 3 self standing spoons and 6 unique cup designs to help children visualize quantities as well as activity cards to guide children in making mystery goo, puffy paint, slime and more. Because it allows those not quite ready to experiment to get in on the fun too, it’s a great toy for siblings of different ages as older kids can partake in real concocting while their younger counterparts pour to their heart’s contentment.  This is a fabulous toy perfect for playing with at the sink, in the tub, or at the water table.

Learning Resources Primary Science Plant and Grow Set $28.47 (3 – 8 years)

Can you tell I’m a fan of the Learning Resources kits? This is a 12-piece kit with see through rooting trays, pots, observation jar with vented lid, watering can, trowel, plant markers and a series of 10 activity cards that invite kids to grow a variety of plants. Perfect for burgeoning botanist, the activities encourage kids to use found materials like pineapple tops as well as traditional seeds in their miniature garden. The round observation jar with a lid can even become a small terrarium. Check out this company’s primary science magnetic kit as well.

National Geographic First Big Books $10.76 (4 – 12 years) and Smithsonian: The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth (3rd – 7th grade) $17.99

I’m a big fan of leaving books all over the house for the kids to discover pretty much from birth. My pre-readers and emerging-reader will spend up to an hour perusing engaging picture books trying to glean information from them on their own or making up their own narratives.  I love these beautiful books for school-aged children as well as toddlers and preschoolers.

DK First Reference Series starting at $14.43 (4 – 12 years)

This is an amazing series of books full of interesting facts and close up pictures that kids will find fascinating. There’s one for virtually any topic your child is interested; animals, atlases, space and more. Get the First Human Body Encyclopedia to use all on its own or as a companion to the squishy human body kit above.

Backyard Safari Field Scope/Insecto-Scope $9.99 (4 – 12 years) 

This scope’s large, easy-to-handle design is perfect for little hands. Kids can trap whatever they want under it, then use the light and knob for 6x magnification. It’s just the thing for encouraging scientific observation as well as getting outside to play.

AntWorks $14.32 (4 – 8 years)

And speaking of insects, how cool is this space-age version of the ant farm?! I love that it’s based on a 2003 NASA Space Shuttle experiment to test how ants build tunnels in microgravity and that the nutritional gel makes it easy to see the ants at work. In fact, kids can see the ants build intricate tunnel systems within the gel with no other source of nourishment. The kit also includes a magnifying glass, stick and an instruction booklet

Magic School Bus DVD Collection $44 (4+ years)

An 8-DVD set containing all 52 episodes (22 hours) of the classic Emmy Award-winning animated science-adventure series. It’s a great value (my 5 and 7 year old love it!) and also comes with a 24 page kids activity guide as well as a Parents’ Guide that will help you orchestrate lessons with your kids to go along with the episodes. And for some hands-on science fun, your kids love of the show will quickly translate to a love of the Magic School Bus Labs science kits.

Crystal Mining Kit $7.94 (6 – 8 years)

wonderful option for introducing your child to geology is this fun excavating kit. My daughter has been so into crystals and “discovering treasure” for the past year that I could see her truly loving this. From the manufacturer, “Excavate 8 natural crystals embedded in a plaster block. Carefully dig them out just like a real excavation and add them to your rock collection. Kit includes plaster block with crystals, a specially designed digging tool, brush, magnifying glass, display case with cover and base card, pouch bag, detailed instructions and fun facts.

Discover with Dr. Cool Kits starting at $9.99 (6 – 12 years) 

If geology, paleontology, and archeology are really your child’s thing, then also check out these award-winning kits. The hands-on sets come complete with real geodes, gemstones, etc. as well activity books that invite kids to partake in hours of exploratory play.  I especially like the Dinosaur Dig Kit and the Real Bug Digging Kit.

Thames & Kosmos Crystal Growing Kit $29.71 (10+ years/younger with parent help)

The crystals your kids can grow from this kit are absolutely gorgeous and I know more than one little girl (and boy) who would be totally captivated by the experience of making them. From the manufacturer, “Grow dozens of dazzling crystals and conduct 15 illuminating experiments using the full-color, 32-page experiment manual guides. Mold fun plaster shapes, including stars, lightning bolts, dolphins, and pyramids, and grow layers of crystals on them. Use dyes to form colored crystals, and mix the dyes to grow a rainbow of custom colored crystals. Display your crystal creations in a clear treasure chest with a locking lid. Mold your own geode a hollow rock with crystals growing inside and create a beautiful crystal cavern inside.” P.S. I would recommend also purchasing the book, National Geographic Kids Everything Rocks and Minerals: Dazzling gems of photos and info that will rock your world.

Squishy Human Body $23.22 (8 – 12 years, younger with adult supervision)

This 3D, interactive model of the body comes with all sorts of squishy organs for kids to take out and examine. It’s a great toy for kids to see how the human body works and the slightly gross factor will make them all the more enthralled.

Gift guide: Top S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Picks for all ages - so many cool picks I'd never thought of and I love, LOVE the detailed descriptions and age recommendations. Such an amazing resource!

 

Single Player Math & Logic Games

I stole all of the picks in this section from parts of our Best Learning Toys for Quiet Time and our Best Picks for Family Game Night guides – check both of them out for even more options.

Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center $23.99 (3 – 8 years) 

I particularly like how this particular toy combines fine motor skills with pattern recognition AND adds a great dramatic play element. We got it for our son when he was 4 and he played with it quite a bit until his little old sister took it over. Now our 1 1/2 year old is starting to get in on the fun (mostly sorting and manipulating the pieces with his hands for now but I anticipate him picking up the drill pretty soon). The popularity of this toy has also led to some cool variations, including the Design & Drill Flower Power Station and, my favorite, the Design & Drill BrightWorks– which is like if the Design & Drill had a baby with the classic Lite Brite from my childhood (in other words, the pieces light up and it’s totally awesome).

Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late $8.51 (3 – 7 years)

My kindergarten son started really getting into math this year and began asking for story problems at night before bed, so imagine my excitement when I saw this book, which contains just that! From the publisher, “Inside this book, families will find fun, mischief-making math problems to tackle—math that isn’t just kid-friendly, but actually kid-appealing. With over 100 math riddles on topics from jalapeños and submarines to roller coasters and flamingos, this book bursts with math that looks nothing like school. And with three different levels of challenge (wee ones, little kids, and big kids), there’s something for everyone.” This is a great way to change up story time at night and encourage math skills in kids that are excited about the subject as well as those who need some help getting excited. We’re now onto the second and third books in the series.

Castle Logix $24.99 (3 – 8 years) and Camelot Jr. $24.99 (4 – 8 years)

The entire line of single player puzzle games from SmartGames gets such stellar reviews that it was hard not to recommend all of them!  The bold colors of these two 3-D wooden castle puzzles especially caught my eye. I bought it for my daughter a couple of years ago and it was an absolute winner. Assemble the wooden blocks and towers to match the challenges included in the booklet. With simple challenges for inexperienced builders to complex puzzles that will challenge skilled architects, these puzzles serve to develop logical thinking skills and spatial reasoning abilities.

Marble Run – 103 pieces $34.95 (3 – 10 years)

This one is a classic for a reason. Kids have always loved (and will always love) building cool structures and watching marbles spin and drop down them. This is a perfect game to play alone or with others so it can be used for quiet time or playdates plus it’s great developmentally for fine motor skills, critical thinking skills, spatial awareness and more. My only caution is to be careful of small marbles that can be a choking hazard to young kids who still like to put things in their mouths, including younger siblings who may be nearby.

Sciencewiz Cool Circuits $18.17 (5 – 12 years)

This single player logic game is one of the coolest I’ve seen. Progressively difficult pattern cards are laid over the base and neon pieces are then placed on top of them to create a circuit. Once the circuit is complete, it lights up and plays music. Watch the video in the Amazon link and I’m pretty sure you’ll want one as much as I do.

IQ Twist $9.99 (6+ years)

This compact, award-winning multi-level logic game contains 100 challenges suitable for all ages. It would be ideal for car rides and perfect to slip in someone’s stocking this year.

Perplexus Rookie $17.70 (6 – 8 years) for younger kids, Perplexus Maze Game $18.00 (6 – 12 years), and Perplexus Epic $23.81 (6-12 years) for experienced players

Perplexus looks like one of those games that you just can’t help but pick up and play when it’s sitting on a table in front of you and, judging by the massive amounts of positive reviews, it is.  This one is great for developing fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Plus I love that it’s battery-free and completely self-contained within the sphere so there aren’t any pieces to get lost.

Thinkfun Gravity Maze $29.95 (7+ years)

Kids absolutely love marble runs (see above), which is why it is so smart that the goal of this single player logic game is to create a working 3D marble run. Thinkfun is going to be sending this one to us this year and I know my 6 year old son, who is unusually drawn to spatial planning activities, is going to be thrilled to receive it. UPDATE: He does love it! From the manufacturer, “This gravity powered logic maze is sure to put your visual perception and reasoning skills to the test. The colorful, translucent towers can be arranged in a plethora of visually stimulating structures but, for each challenge, you’ll have to think carefully to build a path that will successfully carry your marble to its target. 60 challenges, ranging in difficulty, will give you plenty of creative building time while you maneuver the maze in your mind!”

Chocolate Fix $17.19 (7+ years)

Similar to Soduku but made much for fun with the addition of yummy looking chocolate pieces, this single player logic game challenges players (or teams of players) to figure out where to place all of the chocolates on the board according to visual cues. The game gets amazingly high reviews and I love that the chocolate pieces are extremely enticing to both boys and girls. It was one of the first single-player logic games, other than Castle Logix, to really grab the attention of my daughter and keep it.

Solitaire Chess $19.99 (8 – 12 years)

This single player game goes beautifully with No Stress Chess (a two person game that’s fabulous at teaching kids Chess in stages) and takes it to the next level by using chess moves to solve single-player logic puzzles. It’s the perfect thing for practicing emerging chess skills when there’s no one available to play with, as one reviewer wrote, “WOW! What a fantastic way to learn the rules of chess! Early challenges help new players get used to the various moves each chess token can make, and there’s a handy reference provided just in case… Great brain exercise in strategy and planning… I would recommend this game to any game lover, whether a chess newbie or someone who has been playing for years – it is a blast, and the packaging design allows it to pack all together and travel easily.”

Laser Maze Logic Game $28.95 (8 – 15 years)

This one uses a real life laser. Players will build sequential reasoning and planning skills while working on reflecting and splitting the laser beam using mirrors and targets on a puzzle grid to reach their goal. Your kids (and your husband) will think it’s pretty rad.

Multi-Player Math & Logic Games

Qwirkle $19.21 (5+ years)

One of the best-sellers ever amongst all 350 toys on our gift guides. My son got this strategic domino and scrabble-like game for his 5th birthday and asks to play it during our one-on-one time or as a family several times a week.  Although we’ve altered the rules and points system a bit to adjust for his age, this Parents’ Choice Gold Award and Mensa National Competition winner is still fantastic for working on shape and color recognition as well as pattern perception and spatial and critical thinking skills. Recently my 4 year old daughter has been getting in on the fun and I can tell this is one that our family is sure to be playing for years to come.

No Stress Chess $14.99 (6+ years)

When my kindergartner came home from school one day asking me to teach him to play chess, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was excited because, despite spending a lot of our time together on sports-related activities, I have great memories of playing chess with my dad growing up. On the other hand, I was afraid he was a little young for it and might get frustrated and give up on the game all together. Enter “No Stress Chess”. This genius game uses cards to teach young kids how to play in stages. The cards tell you which piece to move, so even children (and adults) who have never played the game can jump right in. The moves for each piece are on the cards as well as on the game board and the first stage makes the game about chance, not skill – you simply draw a card and do what it says, perfect for learning how the pieces work. Once that is mastered, you can draw 3 cards at a time and decide which one you want to go with to introduce some strategy to the game. Finally, when you’re ready to play chess for real, just get rid of the cards and flip the board over to a traditional chess board.

Blokus (and Blokus Jr.) $15.00 (5+ years)

Similar to Qwirkle, this is another strategy board game that challenges spatial thinking. Kind of like 3D tetris, but not exactly, this game moves quickly and doesn’t require any score keeping. It’s also a multi-award winner and gets rave reviews.

Swish Junior Card Game $11.43 (5 – 15 years)

The unique layering action of the transparent cards in this game make it stand out. A “swish” is made when two cards (or more) are stacked on top of each other so that the solid shapes fill in the matching shape and color outlines. In order to make a Swish, the cards may be rotated and flipped, but must lay on top of each other in the same direction so that the blue borders on the cards line up. This is another game that develops visual and spatial thinking skills, but in a whole new way.

MindWare Q-bitz $19.27 (8 – 15 years) 

In this challenging game players race against each other using cubes to create patternsRound two adds luck to the equation, as players roll their cubes to match the pattern and round three really tests brain power, as players must re-create the pattern from memory. This is a game that doesn’t take too long to play and, as one reviewer put it, “take a minute to learn and forever to master”.

Best gifts for building S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering,, math) skills - such a great list!!! Bought from it last year and everything was a hit with my kids!

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If you like these recommendations, I encourage you to pin or bookmark them for later when you’re ready to start shopping.  I would also love it if you forwarded the list on to your parenting friends or shared it on facebook – trust me, your friends will thank you for the help and you get to be the cool mom (or dad) with all the best resources. It’s a win-win.

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One last thing, while shopping, please consider adding an item from Hope on the Hill Guild’s

Gift Wish List for Seattle Children’s Hospital

The list benefits the Autism Center & Opera​tion Family Care and contains items that are in high demand within that program. You can have the items shipped to the provided address and they will be delivered to the Autism Center or hospital directly. There are many items as low as $2 – $5 and every gift helps a child in need!

 

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