One of the best things in the world is quietly watching your little one totally absorbed in the kind of play that uses their whole imagination. They create worlds, design scenarios, and reach conclusions that are truly astonishing. Little minds are powerful things!
That’s why one of our favorite trends at the moment is toys that build STEM skills for a younger audience. There have always been tons of options for big kids to engage with science, technology, engineering, and math. But that assumes a base of knowledge they need to have acquired in school or through self-directed learning. The idea there is to learn something, apply it, and use that experience to solidify your understanding. But what if we switch up the order of things? What if we prioritize doing, then using those experiences as a jumping-off point for expanding knowledge?
Everyone learns a little differently, and it’s important to know your child and what works best for them. Little kids especially struggle with abstract concepts, and starting from a tangible play experience is a fun and effective way to build excitement around STEM. Little kids’ brains are so awesome – their energy, curiosity, and flexibility are just astounding. These kids are SMART. And we want to encourage that!
When it comes to preschool and kindergarten age kids, the idea is not necessarily to teach specific STEM lessons. Rather, we want to harness their natural enthusiasm and curiosity to get them thinking in with STEM mindset. We want to reinforce the inquisitiveness, problem-solving, and search for meaning that drive scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and those who create the technology that will change the world!
In short, scientists have a lot in common with preschoolers. So let’s seek to preserve that youthful sense of wonder and thirst for knowledge through play! There are tons of amazing toys out there that build and support STEM skills for kids of all ages, but we have a few favorites for the 5 and under crowd.
Science: Insect Lore Butterfly Garden
What better way to become entirely enthralled by the scientific process than raising and observing your own beautiful butterflies? The butterfly life cycle presents the perfect opportunity to introduce the scientific method: kids will make observations, form a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, reach a conclusion, and explain whether or not their hypothesis was correct.
Incorporating the scientific method into playtime is simple and fun; it’s exactly how a child’s natural curiosity would drive their play. Of course they’re going to watch closely as each caterpillar feeds and grows strong enough to build a chrysalis! And of course they’ll speculate what happens next! Their hypothesis will be confirmed or disproven after a few days of checking in on their amazing living science experiment. The butterfly garden is a favorite simple but fascinating way to introduce scientific concepts to a younger audience.
Technology: Code and Go Robot Mouse
Today’s kids are raised on technology. Infants and toddlers can navigate tablets and smartphones with ease. Tech is simply a part of life for them, and it will only become more so as they grow up. Nurturing an interest in technology is not just about preparing kids with future job skills, it’s giving them the tools they need to engage the world around them in a meaningful way. Our children and technology will grow up together – it only makes sense to give them every opportunity to be informed and excited about their future world.
Learning Resources’ Code & Go Robot mouse reinforces the idea that technology is fun, logical, and gets stuff done. Coding isn’t just typing a bunch of characters into a computer and having it spit out a process, it’s giving a tool instructions on how to do the job you need it to. The Code & Go Robot mouse demonstrates this concept in three dimensions, allowing little minds to grasp what might otherwise be an extremely abstract idea. Set up a maze, give your mouse instructions, and watch him navigate. Tech is just a tool that does what you tell it to, and the Code & Go Robot Mouse does an excellent job at getting kids comfortable with this simple yet powerful concept.
Magna-Tiles have been a staple of educational play since 1992. They’re sturdy, simple, colorful, and so darn fun to play with! They’re one of those toys that’s so perfectly engineered that it’s easy to miss how brilliant they are. Every aspect of their design is incredibly well thought-out. Magna-Tiles are just the right size for little hands, represent basic shapes and colors, and their strong magnets stick from any angle (every side attracts instead of repelling other pieces).
Simple shapes allow kids to build using nothing but their imaginations and inherent problem-solving skills. Almost any shape or structure you can think to build can be broken down into squares and rectangles (circles aren’t included, but that’s just another challenge to work through creatively). Build spacial skills, fine motor skills, pattern recognition, 3-dimensional logic, sorting, stacking,understanding of symmetry and magnetism – the learning experience is endless. And so are the creative projects your kids will dream up!
Mathematics: Pretend and Play Cash Register
Kids encounter math every day. And I don’t just mean those flash cards and Sesame Street segments. One of the most exciting parts of the day is running errands with parents – getting out of the house, meeting new people, helping pick out groceries, and watching the cashier ring everything up. Each item has a value, those values add up, and you get a total. Either mom or dad swipes a card and the whole thing is over, or something way more exciting happens: we count out cash to equal or exceed the transaction total. Sometimes there’s even change!
This seemingly mundane part of our jaded grown-up lives can be really exciting to curious little minds. Not only is this ritual a fool-proof way to bring home food, toys, and other goodies; this is a real-world math application! We absolutely love when kids check out in our stores: estimating their totals, counting out payment, and calculating change. But this is some advanced elementary school stuff. Little ones need a bit of practice in a low pressure, strictly playtime environment before graduating to managing their own transactions in a busy store full of strangers. The Pretend & Play Cash Register is a fun and familiar way to bring math into the playroom. There’s even a built-in calculator and a satisfying “cha-ching!” when the drawer pops open.
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Do you feel inspired to pass on your love of learning to your little ones? Start them early, and watch their little eyes light up with joy when they figure something out. Or when they do something particularly silly. The best part of playing with STEM toys is that they can do both!
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