- Public education doesn’t require STEM educational toys or activities with their curriculum. There are vast differences between the two, check out my easy comparison table.
- There are specific criteria that make a STEM educational toy, just that. Besides having an authentic badge, it must reinforce multiple areas of STEM; science, math, engineering, and/or technology.
- STEM educational toys provide all of the tools necessary for cognitive development and emotional intelligence all while having fun! Research shows children are less likely to be affected by bullying, have confidence, and be more successful in their personal and professional lives.
The most common question I’ve been asked by thousands of parents is, “What are STEM educational toys?”
This is such a great question and will help us parents navigate through toy shopping so much more easily as we’ll know how to pick them out using specific criteria.
Stem educational toys are different compared to the activities and toys used for the curriculum in our schools.
STEM toys provide hands-on learning, both independent and team learning experiences, and so much more that can’t be found anywhere else. They help build the innate STEM abilities, that we end up losing if we’re not introduced starting at a young age and practice as we age.
According to research, we tend to lose this ability over time and this effects schooling and self-confidence as it’s harder to complete top achievements through college and in our careers.
These types of toys are very versatile in that they can be incorporated in the classroom and at home. By using STEM educational toys at home, your child will be able to practice these skills and grow a passion for STEM-based education, creating a successful future in their personal and professional life.
1. STEM Educational Toys vs Public Education Curriculum
I bet you’re a little surprised that our educational system (here in the USA) doesn’t require STEM-based education which means no toys like it, I was too!
STEM educational toys should be incorporated into our schools. Unfortunately, this isn’t a requirement and it’s at the teachers’ discretion to include these with his or her lesson plans.
If you’re not sure whether your child’s teacher already does this, just ask. Depending on the subject, this may already be naturally incorporated, like in middle or high school science lab class. However, this article is focusing on preschoolers-5th grade.
Toys and activities that are completed in school use a different, standard approach.
Whereas, STEM toys used in STEM education streamline approaches so that children have the opportunity to learn complex information and develop critical skills that aid in a more successful future.T
They blend their learning environment and show students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life, making them a well-rounded and mature individual who will be apart of the growth and success of our future.
So, here are a couple of vast differences between both:
There are 3 primary types of STEM education: STEM specialty school, STEM program within a larger school, and residential STEM programs where kids live on a campus of a STEM school. Children learn through hands-on and practical application, with a touch of creativity.
Here are a few ways STEM-based education is different.
- Students act like a scientist and have project-based education. This is perfect to prepare for their future career. They apply their lessons to real-world applications.
- Interdisciplinary and applied approach. It’s a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications. So, there could be a “History of Science” or “Environmental History”.
- Using technology appropriately. They enter data on spreadsheets, create graphs to show results, and teachers may have web pages so students can review lessons or get ahead.
- Smaller class size of 10-12 with one to one student/computer ratio. Fewer children per teacher ensure your child gets the attention needed to succeed.
- It’s okay to fail and doesn’t ruin a child’s self-esteem. Failure is regarded as a natural part of the design process, and an essential step toward creating an improved or successful solution.
Public School Curriculum
Public schools have a standard curriculum that is based on memorization and short-term recall. The learning stemmed from scouring chapters of a textbook, defining terms in the glossary, and highlighting pertinent sections. There’s an occasional demonstration or class discussion, and then it’s test time. Maybe this worked for previous generations, but the students of today don’t learn best with this format.
- Nearly 30% of all high school graduates are placed into remedial courses in college. Meaning, they didn’t retain or learn enough in Math and Science, making them unprepared for college. This costs more money and takes more time for them to graduate.
- Teaches four disciplines separately. This has its pros and cons. Pro’s – more in-depth learning per subject. Con – so much in-depth learning, they’re taught to memorize only and don’t retain enough of it.
- Teachers do not receive proper, ongoing training. Of course, unless a change has been implemented, like the fast implementation of common core.
- Memorization and testing – It’s easy to memorize the parts of an atom but knowing how they interact with the space around them is where the true learning lies. Did you know the US is ranked as one of the worst for science and math?
- No standard mentor programs between teachers and students. A professional mentorship is crucial for a child’s development, even for us in our careers. They will avoid making many mistakes, determine how to get ahead, and
An interesting quote from a researcher, “These approaches to learning are important because “[s]tudents who use deep approaches to learning tend to perform better as well as retain, integrate, and transfer information at higher rates than students using surface approaches to student learning” (Nelson Laird, Shoup, Kuh, and Schwarz 2008, 470).
Implying STEM education prepares children to retain what they’ve learned as compared to standard education.
Now that we know the difference between STEM education and general public education. It shows how STEM educational toys are mostly used in STEM-based settings.
You’ll find many toys at your local daycare that fits STEM criteria, but as they get older, it’s less likely to be involved in the public curriculum as often.
2. Criteria of STEM Educational Toys
Research shows that children are natural born scientists. They have an innate ability to analyze, critically think, hypothesize, and test.
Meaning, the earlier they’re introduced to STEM educational toys and activities, the more likely they’ll gain STEM fluency and carry this passion in high school and through adulthood.
Most children avoid science and math by age 14 if they have not learned STEM skills well. That’s why I can’t stress enough how vital introducing STEM educational toys as early as possible.
If a toy teaches your child how to critically think, problem-solve, develop emotional intelligence, and provide hands-on learning, it fits the criteria of a STEM educational toy.
For example, building blocks with no intended image to create. Free play stacking blocks allow a child to creatively think, build, and solve problems.
Let’s say your child wants to make a spaceship but it’s so heavy on one side it keeps falling over. This is teaching spatial awareness, shape recognition, engineering, and they’re learning how to solve a problem. They’re doing it allllllll by themselves too!
A structured example is the Stack by Numbers puzzle. If your little one is trying to re-create the picture, this is a guided type of free play. If they just want to use the baseboard and create their own picture, it’s free play.
They’re learning how to measure, count, match, strengthen small motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and so much more.
Lastly, a classic STEM educational toy is something that teaches math and engineering. For example, constructing towers, building robots, learning to program, or looking through the microscope and answering open-ended questions to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
If you see an authenticated badge (as seen above) that means it has been reviewed by a well-known company whose sole purpose is to provide researched-backed STEM information and accreditation for schools, organizations, and toy companies.
BrickMates has their badge on the front of their packaging or in the corner of pictures for easy recognition.
STEM.org is the longest continually-operating, privately-held STEM organization in America —serving schools, districts, organizations and the world’s top toys in many countries. Out of all of the toys out there, only 947 have been approved.
BrickMates is one of the lucky ones!
When a product has this, it means it will:
- Integrate seamlessly into STEM program and classrooms Credentialing
- Align to Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Math standards
- Support the development of students 21st Century Skills
- Engage students through hands-on learning and collaboration
- Ensure an unbiased, third-party review and evaluation process
3.Why STEM Educational Toys?
I try my best to provide all the tools necessary for my child to not only survive this world but thrive in it! There are so many tough decisions we make every day that it gets exhausting.
BUT, one thing I never lose sleep over, is giving my child STEM educational toys instead of filling their toy room with fad toys or “no use” toys, and games with a lot of screen time.
Too much screen time is detrimental to my daughter’s physical and mental health. It also promotes bad habits. So we make sure to balance it in our home.
My list of “no use” toys is stuff that doesn’t help my daughters learn something every time they play. I don’t bash any toy companies or anything, so I won’t give specifics, but if you’re second guessing an activity or toy, it has probably made the “no use” list.
One thing that makes me such a proud mom is that my daughters love STEM fields now, reducing the gender gap that STEM careers are facing now.
STEM toys are trying to reach a broader audience; females and underrepresented populations. This is because females are less likely to pursue a STEM career when they’re older because they’re not introduced to enough STEM toys and education when they were younger.
Another great development is that they end up teaching their friends how to do fun activities or take the lead without being bossy.
It’s a delicate balance that they’ve learned by playing with STEM educational toys since they were babies.
In turn, their friends become interested and they start to learn how to better communicate, how to teach, and when to listen, all by playing with each other.
STEM toys provide skill building like nothing else out there.
One of the best skills developed through STEM educational toys is emotional intelligence (EQ).
Emotional intelligence is very hard to develop especially if we’re not the best at it. Kids learn from what they see and often, many of us lack enough coping skills, patience, and empathy.
This can spill into our children’s through learned behavior. A great way to combat this is by having them shape their EQ themselves through these STEM toys.
Also, STEM toys are so important for our kids because they help keep children interested in STEM-related fields. That will make up over a million of jobs in the near future.
Science, math, engineering, and technology are taught through hands-on play that is age appropriate. It helps kids see from such a young age why these subjects are something to be proud to like and how fun they are too.
STEM educational toys are child and mom approved!
I’d love to hear what you think is important for your child at their current stage of development.
Comment below, let’s get this conversation started!