I was pleased recently to take part in the launch of a new toy award aimed at praising toy manufacturers that excel at triggering the curiosity in STEM in children.
The Science Toy Award is organized by a team of scientists and engineers who are concerned about the lack of diversity in STEM. Not all children are exposed to science at an early age, and this limits their opportunities and affects diversity in STEM-related professions. The award aims to introduce STEM toys in non-scientific environments to help develop STEM skills among children from diverse backgrounds – and increase the desire to play with STEM toys among children who are told that science is not for them.
As part of a panel, I got to play with some of the funnest new science toys from both leading toy manufacturers and startup organisations. For those that are out shopping soon for small child’s birthday, I thought I’d give you an insight into some of the toys that came out top.
This was like a Mr Potato Head for engineers. Find a random piece of recycling (box, bottle, etc) and then attach the gears and levers in a variety of combinations, to create a variety of vehicles or tools. The packaging was admirably gender-neutral and aesthetically pleasing. I loved the little booklet of engineering tips – it gives enough information to get your imagination flowing, but isn’t prescriptive.
I was initially sceptical on the fun factor, but when I started playing, I really wanted to win. The concept is simple. It’s a deck of cards that represents a number either as a figure, a series of dots, a product (eg 2×3) or a sum (eg 2+2+2). We played it as snap, but there are a number of different ways in which you can play the game. It’s a lot of fun; it’s competitive, and it’s all about mental maths – a great combination.
This is essentially a logic game, where kids have to figure the best route to get their avatar to the portal, picking up crystals along the way. The beauty is that they will really be developing their sequential reasoning and programming skills as they do it. Targeted at the Minecraft generation, the simple layout and scaffolded approach, with progressively difficult tasks, will really help kids develop, while having fun.
A beautiful raincloud, which operates by putting your finger over a hole, had us all cooing. Simple, gentle and fun, it could be used to start a conversation about gravity and air pressure. Kudos for being completely cleanable.
A sensory game involving pairs of wooden pots, which you couldn’t see inside, but you could feel the different surfaces inside. There were a few different memory-based games you could play. We really liked these for the inclusive and tactile nature– great for either a very young children, or for a group that includes children with a range of different needs.
These toys will now go on to the ultimate judges: primary-school children. They will be tried and tested in the next few months with the winner being announced in September. Who will it be?
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