11 best STEM toys to keep kids occupied after school
Getty Images/iStockphoto

School-aged children have tons of energy and capacity for learning, and every parent knows how important it is stimulate their spongy little brains. STEM and STEAM toys are a great solution and provide an invaluable distraction from the TV and too much indoor time while expanding kids’ intellectual capacity through vital skill-building practices and games. Many companies have been plodding away for years developing the latest and greatest learning tools kids could want, including many of the options you’ll see here.

We spoke to some experts and enthusiasts and scoured reviews on the matter, and the following list provides some key examples of what you can bring into your home to engage your children and keep them intellectually and creatively growing even outside of school time. Each child has their own unique interests and talents, so we tried to cross boundaries concerning math, science, and art, as well as include a wide age range, to ensure your youngster’s preferred area of focus is covered.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Salt Water Fuel Cell Monster Truck

For kids fascinated by the idea of reverse engineering and seeing how things work beneath the hood, the Salt Water Fuel Cell Monster Truck is a transparently genius piece of machinery that allows their curious eyes to see the piston’s rhythm in vertical or horizontal position, and its green energy-powered salt water fueling mean children learn about saving the planet at the same time. Sustainable living blog Blessed Elements says of the toy, “What a wonderful way to get into the spirit of alternative fuel options by letting them experience something they can make...These are fascinating.”


K'NEX Education STEM EXPLORATIONS: Gears Building Set Building Kit

The Toy Association has been a not-for-profit group since their 1916 inception whose aim is to propel the “health and growth of the toy industry.” Understandably, they have plenty to say on the topic and provide a fantastic list of recommended STEM toys that includes an affordable and absorbing option with K’nex’s STEM Explorations Gears Building Set. Best when used by slightly more advanced children and even better in teams, the 140-piece kit can be used to three unique models: an egg beater, a car window, and a crank fan. If the Toy Association stamp of approval isn’t enough to persuade you, let more than 90% favorable reviews on Amazon do the talking.

K'NEX Education

Q-BA-MAZE 2.0: Starter Box

No one has more reason to be concerned for their child’s growth than the parents raising them, so we asked Shoma Arora, the creator of The Mommy Spice blog, to give a desert island pick on what she thinks is best for fresh young minds. “I love Mindware Toys for my song, specifically the Q-BA Maze 2.0,” she explained of her favorite, “I truly believe that playing with STEM toys from an early age, whether it’s science toys, engineering toys, math toys, or technology toys, can have a lasting impact on a child’s thought process and approach to problem-solving and creative thinking.” The starter box options come in gender neutral options of warm or cool colors and should the cube system catch your small builder’s fancy, larger options with more pieces are also available to grab down the line.


Koala Crate

They don’t call them the Terrible Twos for nothing, so STEM-focused toy makers KiwiCo (they show up more than once on this list) have the ideal bundle of toys geared toward 3 to 4 years olds called the Koala Crate that will, as they told us, “celebrate kids’ natural creativity and curiosity while saving time for parents.” Included in this life-saving kit are ocean games meant to encourage math and science learning, dinosaur dress-up games and a fossil-making kit to take your babies back to the Jurassic period and beyond, and a glow-in-the-dark Starry Night kit that you build in a bottle together to open their minds to the possibilities of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements.


Atlas Crate

KiwiCo’s options were too good to include only one, so we’ve thrown in a couple of their other crates to span a broader age range. The Atlas Crate (available in 3- and 5-pack options) is for those curious 6-11 year olds who are starting to become aware of a world outside their back yard and are hungry to know more. Described to us as “immersive, hands-on experiences that connect kids creativey and intellectually with unfamiliar lands and people,” the Atlas bundle traverses the globe from Russian, Kenya, and Canada all the way to Germany and Australia to build a fun, engaging point of view that will serve them well as they become maturing citizens of the world.


Elenco Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100

For those little engineers aged 8 and up, the Elenco Snap Circuits are a proven parent favorite that maximize just 30 individual parts that can create over 100 different electronic circuit projects including working models of a photo sensor, a flashing light, and an adjustable siren. One thorough and top-rated review claims, “It makes for a great hands-on activity to supplement school learning,” and notes the set is a great deal considering the very reasonable price.


Edison V2.0 Robot

When we reached out to find out the toys they are most beneficial, The STEM Store topped their list with this one. With benefits ranging from easy-to-understand instructions, a good range of sensors and outputs, and a hands-on approach to coding that connects with tactile and visual learners, the Edison robot lives up to its prestigious name by ensuring children grow up ready to take on a constantly evolving technological world.

Edison Education

PicassoTiles - Mini 60 Piece 3D Magnetic Building Blocks

Andrea Scalzo Yi, author of 100 Easy STEM Activities and creator behind Raising Dragons, is a busy mother to four boys, but she took some time to tell us what she and her crew are currently obsessed with: the Picasso mini magnetic tiles. “They are smaller than regular magnetic tiles,” she writes, “and perfect for building mazes as well as structures like buildings, shapes, and anything else your imagination can come up with!” She also included a handy video she created with her kids in which you can see them working through a circular maze structure–give it a watch with your own tykes to get your imagination flowing to the possibilities this set has to offer.

Picasso Tiles

Maker Crate

Teens are still kids, too, no matter how much they may protest to the contrary, so it’s important to consider their boredom-busting needs as well when purchasing fun things to do around the house on lockdown. They may have moved on from building blocks and toy trucks, but adolescent minds can thrive when presented with something to create and KiwiCo makes one last appearance here with their Maker’s Crate 3-Pack that provides just that. Polymer clay can be molded into unique terrazzo treasures, stencils for making bookmarks encourages creativity (and post-crafting reading), and a punch-needle pillow kit flexes their more developed motor skills so they can create a lasting prize that will bring back happy memories for years to come


Lincoln Logs 100th Anniversary Tin

You played with them, your parents probably played with them, and there’s a good chance several generations before you did the same. Lincoln Logs are the STEM toy grandaddy, a kit that taught us to think spatially before STEM was even a household acronym. You can also throw a bit of history in the mix when discussing their origin, as the original mold for the fun stackables was reportedly based on architecture designed by inventor John Lloyd Wright’s famous famous Frank, specifically designs used in Japan’s famed Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

Lincon Logs

AmScope 120X-1200X 52-pcs Kids Beginner Microscope STEM Kit with Metal Body Microscope, Plastic Slides, LED Light and Carrying Box

When you were a kid, surely there were times in science class when you wished you could bring home a microscope and look at everything in your house and yard through the ultra magnification of a lab-quality scope. Your own kids may feel the same way and you can make those dreams come true for under $40 with this AmScope beginner kit for the little scientists in your house. Up to 1200x magnification, plastic slides, and a handy carrying case make this the perfect travel toy for any beach trips you have planned wherein you might find some interesting seaweed to explore, but don’t neglect something so simple as a blade of grass or sliver of dry skin when engaging children’s interest with this educational tool.

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)