Learning science, technology, engineering and math has never been so fun.
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Science toys have long been popular — Erector Sets and Tinker Toys are 110 years old, after all — but wow have educational toys come a long way in this century. When it comes to science, technology, engineering and math — the four areas of study known collectively as STEM — kids can go far beyond assembly (though building is still great!) and get their hands on toys that teach coding, number sense, physics and more.
When Good Housekeeping conducts its annual toy tests, STEM toys are always on the list of hot new toys and gifts for kids. They're available for all ages, from toddlers to teens. To find out which ones make the smartest purchases (a.k.a. the greatest gift ideas!), the Good Housekeeping Institute Parenting Lab puts its own scientists and engineers on the case, evaluating STEM toys for quality, ease of use and whether kids engage with the concepts behind them. Then, the most important testers — kids themselves — make sure our picks are fun, since no one's learning anything from a toy that sits in a closet.
You might also see toys marketed as STEAM toys — the extra "A" in there stands for art. There is an art element to much of science! For instance, one of our top picks for the best toys of 2023 has kids drawing out a video game and then having it come to life on a smartphone or tablet — you'll find it below listed as our STEM pick for 10-year-olds. We know it will have kids thinking artistically, too.
Looking for more great toys for kids? Check out these Good Housekeeping guides:
The Best Educational Toys for Kids | The Best Sensory Toys for Kids | The Best Outdoor Toys for Kids
Kids can dream up their own creations with these magnetic tiles that make construction (and deconstruction) a breeze. They're a great introduction to educational topics including shapes, principles of magnets, symmetry and spacial reasoning.
If you're ready to teach your kid what makes an equilateral, right or isosceles triangle, here's your chance! (Feel free to Google it.) We love that this STEM toy is equally appropriate for a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old and for older kids. We've also named these our favorite magnetic toys. Ages 3+
Kids will have to flex their building, spatial reasoning and critical thinking muscles to solve the 60 challenges that come with this now classic marble run, which gets more than 25,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. Or, they can just free play and build cool tracks for the three included marbles. Ages 8+
No phone or tablet is required to practice coding with Botley! In our testing, kids took to this coding robot immediately, without even realizing they were learning to code. Kids can program Botley to do a sequence of up to 80 steps to complete coding challenges, having him follow paths and avoid or reach obstacles. Ages 5+
Tweens get hands-on experience with electricity and circuitry using this kit, which lets them build machines without a soldering iron (the pieces just snap together). This kit includes directions for more than 100 projects, including a a photo sensor and an adjustable-volume siren, but Good Housekeeping Institute testers loved the UFO project the most by far. Ages 8+
Kids will have so much fun controlling their new friend’s movements with easy-to-press buttons that they’ll have no idea they’re practicing colors, letters and early math. There's even a "secret code" mode for older kids. The coding is very basic, but that's part of what we love about it. Ages 3 to 6
This game transforms kids into roller coaster engineers. Players design a 3D adventure ride with real loops and drops based on the challenge card they draw. Then, they send the car speeding down and hope for success. It comes with 40 challenge cards ranging from beginner to expert, and while it's meant to be a single player game, it can also be fun to work in teams to solve the challenges. Ages 6+
It takes some effort to master these kits, but once kids do, they can use plastic tiles threaded with LED wires to make fabulous light-up creations. There are lots of kits to choose from, and each kit makes multiple projects. When they're done, kids can display them in their room as light-up decor. Ages 6+
Budding elementary-age scientists will thrill to the 83 hands-on experiments included here, which are led by the scientists from the Good Housekeeping Institute. The book goes from room to room through a home and explains the scientific concepts behind the phenomena you might find there, like why bathroom mirrors get foggy or what makes sweaty sneakers stink. Then, the experiments let kids dive deeper into the concepts. If they like it, they can move on to Good Housekeeping 1,001 Amazing Science Facts (for ages 8+), or younger ones ages 4+ can start off with Good Housekeeping The Little Lab: Fantastic Science for Kids. Ages 7+
Related: Best Gifts for 7-Year-Olds
Also named one of our best gifts for 10-year-olds, this set gives kids the pieces to make eight different sculptures from bricks and paper. Along the way, they'll learn about engineering ideas including axles, cranks, pistons and simple machines. They can make an octopus that DJs, a menacing yeti, a pterodactyl and more. Ages 8 to 12
They'll learn about gravity, physics, magnetism and other scientific concepts while putting marbles through their paces in an elaborate build-your-own marble run. Expansion sets are available that let marbles do other cool tricks, like go on a zipline or get fired through a magnetic cannon. Ages 8+
Our kid testers were amazed to see their drawings turn into app-enabled video games. Kids draw out levels using colored markers to stand in for goals (like coins), obstacles and hazards. Then they scan the design into a tablet and play! Guides walk them through the elements of a great game. We like this for kids ages 10 and up who are persistent; younger kids might get frustrated by the inevitable need to troubleshoot when a game element doesn't work and needs to be tweaked. Ages 10+
Budding engineers use magnetic pieces to build a one-of-a-kind exploring vehicle with this set, mastering engineering concepts as they learn the construction of each moving vehicle. It comes with how-tos for four designs, but kids in our testing preferred dreaming up their own creations. Ages 5+
The "M" in STEM often gets overlooked, but this activity kit brings math into the spotlight, and will delight any fan of Netflix's Numberblocks. Kids can use the linking counting cubes to recreate their favorite characters, and wipe-clean cards give them ideas for math-based puzzles and activities. Parent testers were amazed by how much math their kids absorbed while using this toy. If your kid is a fan of the series, we also recently gave a toy award to this Number Five Plush. Ages 3+
These flexible, multi-textured blocks can be used for building like regular blocks, but they also have holes so they can be threaded or held on a child's fingers, great for sensory-seekers and any kid working on motor coordination.
The beads also come with cards of different patterns that kids are challenged to replicate, which works their logic muscles and preps early coding skills. When we tested this winner for our annual Best Toy Awards testers said their preschoolers loved the colors and materials and kept coming back. Ages 3+
Featuring the voice of Bindi Irwin, this talking microscope comes with preloaded slides — so kids can't magnify a leaf that they find or anything. What they can do is slip in any of the 60 colorful preloaded slides to learn more than 100 facts about animals, plants and humans. It lets them feel like a scientist while they learn encyclopedia facts! There's a quiz mode, too. The microscope works in English, Spanish, French or German. Ages 4+
RELATED: The Best Educational Toys, According to Experts, Parents, and Real Kids
Introduce kids to the world of coding with this mini toy that packs a lot of fun. Available in lots of colors, kids use the Sphero app to learn how to program games. When they aren't coding, it can be driven around using the app-based remote control, implementing fun technology like facial recognition. Ages 8+
A set that's half-art, half-science, the Paper Butterfly Kit uses the power of capillary action to make 12 wicking-paper butterflies. Kids can also combine colors to make different designs. There's a separate kit that works the same with paper flowers. It's a great rainy day activity and also priced to be a nice birthday gift. Ages 7+
Young scientists don VR goggles for experiments in virtual and augmented reality. Each kit comes with step-by-step videos — starring STEM legend Bill Nye — along with IRL lab equipment such as beakers and brushes. It's the perfect mix of high-tech and hands-on. Ages 8 to 13
The Technic line, from LEGO, is full of models with movement, appropriate for tweens and teens interested in mechanics. Your kid builds this set out of more than 1000 pieces, then sends the rover rolling. It's even better when used with the LEGO AR app (iOS, Android) which teaches more about the NASA mission to Mars. 10+
Introduce little ones to anatomy with this magnetic playset. Great for sparking interest in science (and raising a future doctor?!), it lets kids mix and match the 24 included pieces to learn about different systems in the body. Ages 3+
Jessica (she/her) is a freelance writer with several decades of experience writing lifestyle content and evaluating home and parenting products. A mom of two teens and two cats, her previous work can be seen in American Baby and Parents.
Marisa (she/her) has covered all things parenting, from the postpartum period through the empty nest, for Good Housekeeping since 2018; she previously wrote about parents and families at Parents and Working Mother. She lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, where she can be found dominating the audio round at her local bar trivia night or tweeting about movies.
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