Have you been to Target lately?
It's hard to miss entire aisles dedicated to toys that are specifically designed to encourage computational and critical thinking in kids and get them interested in science, technology, engineering, and maths. Research indicates that computational thinking is a formative skill on par with reading and writing. In other words, we are in no way the only team out there wise to the idea that kids could (and should) be introduced to these concepts early on. And because kids have plenty of time to become addicted to their devices phones as adults, we particularly love projects that keep it analog.
In researching STEM for kids we've come across a couple of awesome toys that don't require a screen, and these are a few of our absolute favorites:
A fellow Kickstarter project, Robot Turtles is a simple board game that teaches the fundamentals of programming. The aim of the game is to reach the center of the board, and in order to do so, kids play the cards in their hand, essentially building a simple program to circumvent obstacles and get to the finish line before your opponents. I've played this game extensively with my niece and nephew and quickly learned that they far are better coders than me. For ages 3-8.
Kickstarter seems to be the launchpad for all things kids + coding. A few years back, Primo Toys crowdfunded a bunch of money to build Cubetto, an amazing toy that takes programming for kids to the next level but is still entirely screenless. Cubetto is basically a small wooden robot that moves according to your instructions. Kids place coding blocks on a control board that direct the actions of the robot - right, left, forward, back etc. and can even build a 4-step function sequence that runs each time the function block is played. The robot is accompanied by adventure packs, books, and mats, such as the Deep Space Adventure pack, to encourage further exploration. For ages 3-6.
Everybody loves a good Lego, but Circuit Cubes from Tenka Labs are a series of kits that allow you to take your legos to the next level. From Smart Art to Wacky Wheels, these electronic building blocks have kids exploring light, sound, motion, and sensors through building their own toys – from cars to flashlights – and interactive play. And if your imagination stretches beyond the provided materials, add these modular components to pretty much anything in your toy box! For ages 8-12.
Have a little budding inventor on your hands? Tinkering Labs has created the Electric Motors Catalyst kit, which introduces your child to science and engineering as they design and build their own robotic creations. The kit comes complete with electric and wooden components and hardware, like a motor, battery pack, metal springs, a wooden chassis, and wheels. Kids are then inspired to come up with their own solutions to the included challenges like "build a machine that can scramble an egg" or "make a ride for one of your toys," using both the included materials and any nuts and bolts they can find around the house. For ages 8-13.
While KiwiCo crates are not an individual toy, we wanted to include them on this list because we think what they are doing is so cool! Like Birchbox for STEM toys, new creative art and science projects are delivered to your kid each month. Crates are tailored to age groups, and while it varies from infants to teenagers, the kits generally include the materials you need to build your project, step-by-step instructions, a magazine with age-appropriate and relevant content, and if you need more help - an online video tutorial to help you along the way! With new crates arriving each month, it's easy to keep your little innovator engaged. For ages 0-16.
Do your kids have any favorite STEM toys that encourage and inspire computational thinking? Feel free to share in comments!