Not too long ago, we were awed with the first image ever captured of a black hole. The computer scientist credited with the ground-breaking algorithm that produced this image is Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old MIT grad and one of only 40 women on the 200-person team.
This huge accomplishment has highlighted the need for more diversity in STEM/STEAM fields, as well as the large need for more students to enter STEM/STEAM fields as our world becomes increasingly more technology-driven. So as a parent, how can you help expose your child to science, technology, engineering, and math (a.k.a. STEM) without it feeling like more school?
It’s simple — let them play.
Toy makers across the globe have been focusing on making products that reinforce learning through play in order to foster an interest in STEM/STEAM from a young age. Anna Yudina, director of marketing initiatives at The Toy Association, said, “Toys can motivate kids to get excited about science- and math-related subjects, allow them to experiment and make mistakes without fear, and help facilitate collaboration among peers. By showing kids that science and math can be fun and interesting, while instilling confidence at the same time, toys can ultimately help cultivate a new generation of students interested in pursuing STEAM-related careers.”
But STEM isn’t all about coding and robotics. The “A”, art, was added to STEM to make it STEAM, to reinforce the role that creativity plays in problem-solving—a critical skill for anyone looking to pursue this type of career in the future.
Netta Rabin talked about the interplay between art, creativity, and STEM learning during the “What Makes a Toy a STEM/STEAM Toy?” panel at this year’s Toy Fair in New York. Rabin, vice president of product development for Klutz, a publisher of STEAM activity books and kits owned by Scholastic, said that creative problem-solving is a crucial element in all Klutz products. Another must-have? Combining the familiar with the unfamiliar to give kids the confidence they need to start problem solving.
“Using familiar materials, like arts and crafts materials like felt or clay, along with things like circuits and electronics, allows kids into [the STEM/STEAM] space feeling really confident,” she said.
Inspired to dive in to the world of STEAM toys? Here are few great ones to explore with your kids to get started.
Make, experiment, and play! This activity kit will have your child building 11 machines, including a gravity powered car and a wacky boxing robot. The fun doesn't stop once you've completed all of the projects in the book — open-ended prompts will inspire you to continue experimenting with your own designs and modifications! (Here’s a full review of this gadget kit.)
Spark your child’s interest in circuitry! Get ready to be amazed with this electrifying combination of five circuit games to build from scratch. Your budding engineer will use actual electronic components to construct a DIY operation game, compete with friends in a Space Loop race, assemble a quiz show board, and more. A step-by-step book of instructions teaches kids how to be makers by adding wires, LEDs, and buzzers for super-charged fun.
Ready, aim, blast! Using the fun and clear instruction book, kids construct a moveable, air-powered cannon and fire away at the included targets. Makers will explore the physics of projectiles, the mechanics of pneumatics, and how they work in everyday machines — like bicycle pumps!
No jammed signals here! Your child can engineer a real, working FM radio by connecting electronic components, including a magnetic speaker, to a receiver module with a working antenna and buttons for tuning and volume. They can also put their finished radio and music knowledge to the test with the games in the book! Aspiring audio heads will learn about the electromagnetic spectrum, wireless communications, and how radio waves become music to their ears. (See a full review of this boombox!)
LEGO Chain Reactions is packed full of ideas, instructions, and inspiration for 10 LEGO machines that spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, and drop. Each machine alone is awesome, but put them together and you get incredible chain reactions! The result is a chain reaction of fun, as one thing leads to another, and another, and another.
Lights . . . camera . . . action! Bring LEGO minifigures to life with this beginner-friendly guide to stop-motion animation. Ten "Mini Movies" walk kids through using a phone, tablet, or computer to make short, funny clips with step-by-step instructions. Set the stage with any of the six included background settings and thirty-six LEGO elements including a pizza, banana, baseball cap, six minifigure heads, and more! Plus, kids will learn the tricks of the trade as they dive into more advanced skills, such as lighting, sound effects, and camera angles. With these tips and tricks, every movie your child makes is guaranteed to be a successful smash hit.
Kids can grow their own magical mini worlds while exploring the science of minerals and crystal formation! Each kit includes materials needed to create 3 different dazzling projects: a dragon's cave, a unicorn's forest, and a seahorse's coral reef. They’ll enchant their family and friends with their rainbow creations!
Brittany Leddy is Marketing and Publicity Manager at Klutz and a serious fan of makers, crafters, and artists everywhere.