Encourage hands-on learning through play with these awesome STEM gifts for kids! Read on for 20 great ideas for your little scientists, builders, and techies.
If you’re not familiar, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. In education and homeschool communities it’s commonly used to describe hands-on activities, projects, and challenges that fall into those categories and encourage learning through exploration.
STEM activities can really give kids a feeling that WOW there is so much to learn and explore. WOW that is so cool. WOW I didn’t think I could do it, but I can!
The downside of incorporating STEM activities – especially of the homemade variety – is that there’s often quite a bit of set-up needed and sometimes those projects kind of fall flat.
Is it okay for a science experiment not to work out? Totally! Your kids will learn what works and what doesn’t. But that part can be really frustrating for parents and teachers…
STEM Gifts for Kids
Luckily, you can find a ton of STEM kits and toys that can encourage hands-on experimentation without a lot of work from YOU.
I’m putting these items under STEM gifts for kids for two reasons: 1) it’s eh hem… getting to be that time of year when my kids are scouring catalogues and 2) the majority of these items are designed to be given to kids right out of the package.
So, after opening up the little plastic bags (don’t use your teeth!) your kids will be off and running independently. And we’re always on the lookout for ways to encourage independence, amirite?
Below you’ll find a list of our favorite STEM toys, games, and gifts. I hope you find something that will truly WOW your kids (or grandkids, hi to all the Mimis and Nanas) so they can have fun learning while they play!
At the very tip top of my list are Snap Circuits. We got these for my son when he was 5, and they were one of his favorite toys through age 8. These are such a clever toy with a super easy-to-follow guide.
And they last forever. Seriously, we break everything. These guys lasted through 3 years of heavy, heavy use and are still going strong for the next kid.
For parents who are just… done… with buying entire new Lego sets… you’re in good company.
It’s likely that you already have a big bin of Legos somewhere in the house. This Lego book has given our big bin of bricks new life. It really gives your kids a whole new way to put Legos together – beyond building a set once and walking away.
The LEGO Chain Reactions Building Kit has some really cool projects that any kid familiar with putting together a regular set of Legos can make. Your kid will be making awesome projects using a handful of new bricks and putting their old bricks to good use.
*Note: You need to add your own Legos to create the projects in this book. If you already own a few sets in the 6-8 year old range, you probably have plenty to create these projects.
If you want to get one gift that all of the kids will want to play with…
We got our first set of Magna-tiles as a gift, and all three of my kids LOVE them. My youngest was 2 at the time and could use them to make stacks and patterns – he would laugh at the sound of them snapping together. My daughter, now 6, makes patterns and little animals. And my oldest, now 8, makes all kinds of houses and structures. These are so fun for all of them to play with – apart and together.
I would be embarrassed to admit the number of nightlights we’ve been through. All different types – projected, timers, ones that move, ones that break way too easily…
And honestly, knowing he was in there observing his plants sprouting instead of staring at the Avengers on the ceiling just made me feel like the ultimate supermom. There it is. I said it.
My grandparents had this Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! set at their house. When we were living nearby, we would head over every Sunday to visit, and this was the first toy out for months.
It’s another toy that all of them could enjoy (3-7 at the time). One would build and another would watch. I could see my 3 year old go from struggling to fit the pieces together (to be fair it does say 4+) to making his own little “flower garden” that moved. Meanwhile my older two were building interlocking skyscrapers. It’s a really cool toy.
STEM Games Make Fun Gifts!
Games are such a great way to teach and learn. Your kids might learn new facts through trivia or practice math skills in a new and far-more-fun-than-a-worksheet way.
If you have a kid that gets excited about slime and other icky, sticky stuff, they are going to really love Totally Gross: The Game of Science. This is such a spectacular alternative to the other games that are out there – like the game where you see who can pull the longest booger out of the giant nose… just sayin.
This Crime Catchers Spy Kit is just one of many STEM kits from Scientific Explorer. When my son got this game he was so excited that he did it for about an hour and a half from beginning to end, and little sister was dying to get in on the action. Best. Afternoon. Ever.
The great thing about this game is that if your child is an independent reader, it can be done completely independently. If not, s/he is going to need help reading through it. But here’s the thing – it was really kind of cool to do as a grown up, too. You go through a series of activities to eliminate suspects – it’s not one that your child (or you) is just going to be able to open up and guess the answer.
This is the one we already tried, but I’m going to pick up a few as gifts for the holidays because this one was really cool. Other cool looking kits from Scientific Explorer include: Magic Science for Wizards Only and Sour Candy Factory. See all this kits here.
This is one we haven’t tried yet, but has great reviews so it’s on our wish list. My kids have been really into coding games on the computer, but Code Master Programming Logic Game brings it off the screen and into real life with a board game/puzzle that can be completed together or independently.
Honestly, I think the coding phenomenon is great. Coding has gotten my kids interested in how computers work and how programs are built from the inside. However, I am thrilled whenever I find something that can expand on this that is not just building another bridge or digging another hole on a computer game. Ya feel me? This game does that.
9. Mouse Trap
How about a throwback? Ever since I introduced my kids to The Never Ending Story, they are totally on board with stuff that I loved as a kid. Oh I used to play this when I was your age and it’s SO much fun.
Mouse Trap has been around since the 60s. It’s a childhood mainstay and might have been your first foray into engineering. This one has staying power, and with the increased interest in STEM education, building your own mouse trap is more popular than ever. Okay okay, this one might be STEM adjacent, but you will have fun building, taking turns, and testing your trap. An old favorite, for sure.
This is a fun game for kids who are already fluent readers to learn all about all sorts of real, and some really wacky, inventions. BrainBox’s Inventions Game is a trivia game, but your kids don’t need to know all the answers. This game is played by reading the answers first, then seeing who can remember the most facts. This is such a smart twist on traditional trivia games that might stump and frustrate kids.
Want more math for your game library! Find games for learning all about money here.
STEM Gifts for Girls
Not to exclude the boys here, but uh, as I’ve been shopping for my very science-y daughter I noticed that a lot of the STEM gifts for kids skew a little bit toward the masculine side of things.
Therefore, I’ve dedicated this little section to some of my daughter’s favorites – and a couple that are on her December wish list. I am thrilled to be able to get her some really fun and educational STEM activities that speak to her fluffy-pink-unicorn heart.
And yes, these are completely appropriate for little boys with an affinity for fluffy unicorns, too. And yes, all the other things on this list are completely awesome for girls.
The Yellow Scope Foundation Chemistry Set is one of the few chemistry sets dedicated to our future female scientists that doesn’t focus on the science of making lip gloss, ya know what I mean? Real experiments and real lab equipment for girls 8-12. Also check out the Acids and Bases Kit and Paper Chromatography Kit!
Have a younger chemist on your hands?
Check out the Barbie Fundamental Chemistry Set. Yep, Barbie does science, too. This is so cute for our younger Barbie Girls turned budding scientists. Make slime, crystals, and fizzy reactions with this kit that comes with its own science lab trunk and stickers.
Okay not even kidding ,the Unicornbot Coding Kit is about the coolest STEM gift made for girls that I’ve seen. Right now learning to code is hugely popular. This robot takes it to the next level.
New to coding? Think of it like this – it’s like building a remote control robot, but your girl gets to build the robot AND the remote control. She decides what it does with which buttons, gives it directions where to go and what sounds to make, and this one even has a color sensor built in.
If your girl isn’t into unicorns and rainbows, check out this next one – you might have seen it on Shark Tank.
14. SmartGirlz Dolls
SmartGirlz Dolls are such an amazing way to incorporate playing with your favorite doll, reading, and coding. Really, really cool. These dolls come with the app to code the controls and they have books to go along with the dolls so you can read about their adventures! Several styles to choose from!
But I saved my (well, her) favorite for last…
We love K’NEX at our house. I inherited a few and we’ve been adding to our collection in the past year. My kids go back and forth between Legos and K’NEX, so I’m always stepping on something painful. #momlife
Ferris wheel projects are pretty common in the STEM world, but this Mighty Makers Fun on the Ferris Wheel Set is targeted toward girls, and just couldn’t be any cuter. The best part is, when she’s ready to take it down, it will fit with all of the rest in your big bin. Also available: Inventor’s Clubhouse and Home Designer and about 10 others to choose from!
Robotics & Electronics STEM Gifts
We love 4M KidzLabz kits. They are so convenient with a huge range of memorable activities available that are affordable and easy to figure out. I got our first kit about five years ago and have bought them several times since, and I’ve never been disappointed.
This Robotic Hand Kit was my son’s first experience with building a robot. It’s a great starter project for kids who are into robots because it doesn’t run on batteries or with electricity. You control it with little cords. It will give your kid a peek into what’s going on inside robots more than some other kits that have you start out by snapping pieces together and turning it on.
If you have a kid that’s really into building robots, this Discovery Kids 12-in-1 Solar Robot is a fantastic kit that will last a long time. It comes with instructions to build 12 different types of robots, so this is an activity that can be used over and over. Great for kids who love the process of building but usually discard the toy once it’s built (yep, I’ve got one of those).
Note: This is one that younger kids will not be able to complete independently. I would venture a guess that a kid aged about 10-12 years old with a bit of experience following directions independently would be able to build it by her/himself.
18. Root Robot
This is one that my son saw at a friend’s house and was AMAZED. He was over there for three hours, and I think it’s the only thing they played with.
Upon further investigation, I’m pretty amazed myself. The Root Robot can be programmed on your iPad or iPhone to move, draw, and respond to your touch, sounds, and light. Your child decides what it does by programming all of the code.
Okay, so this is a kit to assemble your own computer. I just don’t think it gets any cooler than that. I kind of love that this is even an option. Like, my kids don’t have to buy a computer. They can take my old tiny TV and build one for themselves. Amazing.
The Kano Computer Kit is a snap-together computer that your child can build themselves (or with a little help if they’re not reading yet). And it’s not just a simple word processor when we’re done – it’s a real computer with keyboard and mouse trackpad. They will be able to access apps for coding, Minecraft, and educational games and learn how programming works from the inside out. After your kid builds it, you can adjust the parental controls, too 😉
Last but not least, I have to add the one that my husband wants to play with most – oh and the kids can help too…
There’s something to be said about building your own toy before you play with it. That’s exactly what you can do with this DIY Drone. The drone comes completely disassembled, and your child can build it (might need a little help with instructions) before they take it out to fly.
That, and flying drones is just plain awesome.