As many of you know, I am the very proud mom of 5 and 6 year old girls. My husband and I have never followed the traditional gender rules for our toy purchases – providing our daughters with trucks, trains, and building materials along with magic wands, dolls, and fairy wings.
Still my daughters have natural inclinations to all things related to princesses and fairies. While we support their passion for these topics we also try to balance it with non-fairy tale experiential learning opportunities. Examples include doing a dinosaur fossil dig in northern Canada, visiting the local observatory to view the planets, watching the launch of a weather balloon, snorkeling in Mexico to see coral reefs or attending the ‘Girls & Science’ day at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. We jokingly say that these adventures are helping us with the STEM brainwashing of our daughters!
These brainwashing efforts extend into our gift buying as we look to find items that will get and keep their interest while helping them to learn about the world around them. So with the holiday season upon us, I thought I would share six STEM-related gifts that have my daughters’ ‘stamp of approval’ – meaning they actually seek out the gift beyond its initial opening and then play with it for extended periods of time! While these may not be the popular toys that you see advertised in media they are perfect examples of items that facilitate experiential learning with play. (note that links to buy the gifts are at the end of the blog post)
- Gardening Kit – my daughters were completely self-directed in using these gardening tools to plant the seeds. They chose a spot with no sun and dug super shallow holes leading to the seeds being more covered with our mulch then being buried properly in the dirt. I thought to myself – ‘these seeds are never going to grow’. The girls would check on the seeds daily and sometimes water them. Low and behold, the seeds grew. The kids were so excited to see the sprouts then the leaves then the FLOWERS! They even dug up one plant and repotted into a mason jar. That jar sits on our windowsill and continues to amaze the girls with its buds and flowers. What a great way to introduce them to horticulture science!
- Graph Paper & Tools – a confession in that I didn’t buy this gift but stumbled upon the idea. One long summer day I was desperate to find something to busy my little angels. I grabbed my old drafting supplies from my mechanical engineering college days. The lot included a compass, protractor, triangles, French curves, and graph paper. After a few minutes of showing the girls how the items worked, they were off and running. They drew inventions and ideas – my favorite one being a robot that would do their chores for them complete with sponges on its feet! A wonderful start to building some engineering skills!
- Hour of Code Coupon – this is a great one for those on a low budget as it is FREE! Code Studio provides a host of free tools to learn coding – the tools appeal to a wide range of ages and interest areas. I did the Frozen-themed activity with my daughters last year during Computer Science Week (which by the way is happening now) and they were hooked – often begging me to do it again. So this year for Christmas I am going to make them coupons for ‘hour of code time with mommy’. It is a fun way to introduce kids of all ages to coding and life as a technologist.
- Roominate – this building toy has different appeal to each of my daughters. My 5-year-old daughter likes the building and creation aspects of making something such as a house or castle. On the other hand, my 6-year-old daughter is enthralled with the electrical components – circuits, lights, etc. It has ignited such an interest in how electricity works that we are buying her a Snap Circuits Electronics Discovery kit this year. I’ll let you know if it too gets a stamp of approval from my daughters!
- Tool Set - my youngest daughter begged for a tool set last year. Many of the sets I found were made of cheap plastic and offered limited interaction. I finally found a solidly made set of actual tools that are sized appropriately for kids! I paired it with safety goggles and wood-working pieces and then crossed my fingers that the girls wouldn't accidentally saw off a finger or hammer a nail into their thumb. The tools have provided hours of enjoyment and experimentation. Several of our role models have cited that shop classes or building practice would have been useful preparation for their careers - a tool set is a way to give your child a jump start on developing such skills.
- Couragion App – bias alert here – I am suggesting my own app. While we have designed it for older kids (5th grade to college), my daughters like it and use it. They often peak over my shoulder as I review new role model videos or ask me to read the questions to them so that they can swipe, tap, or click on their own answers. I love that it sparks their interest and that they are learning, from a very early age, about potential career options beyond the one that I have or that their dad has chosen. And because our role models are diverse I especially like that it is countering the media stereotypes about what a scientist or engineer might look like!
There you have it – a kid approved list of cool STEM gifts. Hopefully it is helpful for those of you that have kids and teens on your holiday shopping list! And if you have your own ideas – please share. I am currently struggling with finding gift ideas that will become new favorites and not end up in the donation pile shortly after opening!
Links to Buy
Graph Paper & Tools
Hour of Code Coupon
Snap Circuits Electronics Discovery Kit