The Ten Best STEM Toys to Give as Gifts in 2020

“People are thinking about it for younger ages, as well — baby books, preschool toys to introduce coding and programming concepts,” Gajdzik says. She adds that companies are also increasingly responding to parents’ desire for more screen-free, unplugged toys — card games, block- and tile-based puzzles, and building kits, for example.

The Ten Best STEM Toys to Give as Gifts in 2020

Stretch young learners’ minds with everything from card games to robotic spheres

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At any rate, that’s the impression one gets while leafing through the 2020 edition of Purdue University’s Engineering Gift Guide. Produced by Purdue’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering, the guide is now in its sixth year, and editor-in-chief and project lead Elizabeth Gajdzik says coding-focused items are definitely a strong trend in STEM toys across the board.

“People are thinking about it for younger ages, as well — baby books, preschool toys to introduce coding and programming concepts,” Gajdzik says. She adds that companies are also increasingly responding to parents’ desire for more screen-free, unplugged toys — card games, block- and tile-based puzzles, and building kits, for example.

With so many toys branded as “STEM,” how can parents discern what is truly educational, or just an attempt to cash in on the buzzy catchword?

“The good companies explain what STEM skills or concepts their products teach,” Gajdzik says. On the box, in the instructions, or somewhere on the product website, look for key phrases: logic, problem solving, spatial reasoning, working collaboratively and computational, critical or creative thinking.

“Parents also need to know that a STEM toy doesn’t have to be something totally complicated,” Gajdzik adds. “Traditional wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs — LEGOs, all those things are awesome. But there are companies that add a twist and additional context.”

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