Educational toys don't have to feel like homework—but they are a smart gift idea. If you're buying for kids who like science and math, why not nurture that interest with toys that keep them thinking critically? If they need help in those subjects, the right educational toys can balance playtime and learning.
There's also a more practical reason: Jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) sector are amongst the highest paid in the world, and their share of the market just keeps growing. These toys might be the leg up your kids need in their applications for schools and jobs.
The product experts at Reviewed.com team talked to parents, kids, and even our own director of science and testing to learn about some of the coolest tech toys for kids. Here are our picks.
Magformers (Ages 3 & Up)
Magformers are great alternative to Legos. They're way less painful for parents to step on, and easy to share: I've watched over playdates where a three-year old, five-year old, and an eight-year old played with these together.
Magformers also stimulate STEM tendencies because they help kids balance rules and creativity. We often think of math and science as rigid and clinical, but they do require out-of-the-box thinking. Add a little structure to your Magformers playtime by giving out challenges, like who can build the strongest or tallest structure, then watch your children unleash their inner engineers.
GeoCentral Excavate-Fossilized Dino Poop Dig Kit (Ages 5-8)
Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. As things that roam the earth tend to do, they also went to the bathroom. Some of that waste fossilized into rocks, known as coprolite.
The GeoCentral fossil dig kit comes with two such pieces of the genuine article.
As if a real fossil weren't enough to get excited about, let's face it: A little potty humor goes a long way to getting young minds interested in certain subjects. I think the dig kit is a great example of having a more holistic view of learning. If you were ask your children how they'd go about figuring out what a dinosaur ate, they might think about teeth or where the dinosaur lived. Now, they can add coprolite to their vocabulary.
GoldieBlox Invention Mansion (Ages 6 & Up)
GoldieBlox is what you'd get if you let a mad scientist design a doll house. I like that the Goldieblox Invension Mansion comes with over 350 pieces, which turns modular engineering into infinite playtime. You can configure the house anyway you want, connecting secret passages and zip lines, and so forth.
The manual contains fun setups for various contraptions, some of which will require adult assistance. And if you're stumped about what to get your kid next year, Goldieblox has made additional modular sets that are all compatible, so your invention mansion can get its own addition.
Code Monkey Island (Ages 8 & Up)
Give your kids a leg up by playing Code Monkey Island with them. The board game takes about 30 minutes from setup to finish, and teaches children coding via cards they can play. For example, there's a card that teaches Boolean "if/then" statements: "If a monkey is on a rock and a tree, move ten spaces." Easy to learn, but difficult to master, Code Monkey Island balances strategic play and luck.
I like Code Monkey Island better than other learn-to-code toys because it makes kids play together, and doesn't just plop them in front of a screen. (They'll have enough time to do that when they end up working for Google.)
Root-Vue Farm (Ages 5 & Up)
I always enjoyed working outside and growing things. Growing up in New England, though, I had to stop during wintertime—all because my lame parents wouldn't buy me a $10,000 greenhouse.
If only I had a Root-Vue Farm. With Root-Vue, kids can watch plans grow through a clear acrylic window all year round. It's sort of like an ant farm for plants.
Each kit comes with three packets of seeds with common vegetables like leeks and tomatoes. Just 9 inches long and 16 wide, this mini farm can fit on a desk or windowsill. As a gateway into biology, Root-Vue is one of the easiest options to setup and maintain that actually involves living things.
4M Table Top Robot (Ages 8 & Up)
Our resident senior scientist started her career by making tabletop robots with her dad—a project that's become considerably more popular judging by the number of DIY robot kits on the market.
4M makes a variety of simple-to-build robots that your kids can assemble with little supervision. I like the table-top version because it requires no special tools or knowledge. All you need is an AAA battery and some time, and you'll have a robot that can walk like a crab and do a few flips.