By now, most adults have realized the power and importance of STEM fields. America especially needs more doctors, engineers, and mathematicians moving forward. But to fill those vacancies, we need people to choose those careers.
How can we get our kids to be more interested in STEM subjects in school? What can we do now to help our children become critical thinkers and to have a growth mindset? More parents are looking to developmental toys as a potential answer. While many adults played with Legos growing up, they probably weren’t thinking about the benefit it’d have on their futures. They just wanted to play with toys.
Construction toys help kids
Now, people think that construction toys like Legos might actually be beneficial to increase kids’ interest in STEM at an early age. As our schools fall farther behind the rest of the world, it’s tempting to believe that toys can make a difference.
We take a look at whether or not construction toys actually make kids more likely to want to learn more about subjects in science, math, engineering, and technology.
Great construction toys
Although companies like Legos have been around for decades, the interest in construction toys for cognitive development is pretty new.
It really vaulted into the popular conversation when GoldieBlox launched its viral marketing campaign back in 2013, which featured a video with girls designing a Rube Goldberg machine. It was the perfect combination at just the right time. Not only was GoldieBlox a STEM-focused toy, but it was aimed at young girls. We need more people in STEM in general, but women are significantly underrepresented.
After GoldieBlox, even more companies jumped on the bandwagon. Roominate, which aims to teach kids about mechanical engineering and circuits through building an ‘amusement park,’ also named young girls as its target market.
Leapfrog, a long-established company, got on board with a laptop that’s meant to teach toddlers computer literacy.
Companies are getting on board, and parents aren’t far behind. Lots of new parents want to find toys that will both keep their kids entertained and be educational, instead of just plopping them down in front of a screen. (They’ll do that enough when they’re teenagers! Now is the time to captivate them with toys…. help them to be curious and to imagine… to be active in their play, not passively watching a screen.)
It seems like the STEM toy movement is here to stay. So is it really as beneficial as people say?
How do construction toys help children?
Good news for both parents and kids — it looks like all that time playing with Legos was actually good for us.
Scientists are still learning, but right now, it looks like the toy companies are right. Research shows that structured play with construction toys can increase spatial skills in kids.
Let’s say you put together three Lego bricks on the kitchen table in a certain shape. Then you bring in your three-year-old, sit them down, and ask them to make the same shape with some random Lego bricks on the table. Odds are, they won’t be able to do it. Their brains just aren’t that far along yet.
But — and here’s the important part — practice makes perfect in this case. Another three-year-old with more experience playing with toys similar to Lego might have better spatial skills and would be able to make the exact same shape.
The more they play, they better they get
The more kids play with engineering toys like Legos, GoldieBlox, or Roominate, the better their skills get.
The most important part of the research is that the play has to be structured for the benefits to kick in. The structure creates a puzzle that kids have to figure out. It’s that added challenge that helps to promote the most learning.
Find the best option for your child
The toys mentioned above aren’t the only options if you’re looking for a good construction toy to help your child start learning. The recent boom of STEM-inspired toys means there are a lot of different options to choose from.
Three Little Piggies, which is great for kids over three, uses the story of the three little pigs to help kids build both logic and spatial skills. Kids have to figure out how to save the piggies and lock out the Big Bad Wolf. Pretty great motivation.
Don’t worry — if you have a child who’s easily scared, there are puzzles that can be solved without the threat of the wolf.
There’s also Wonder Workshop, a robotics toy great for any kid older than six that even responds to the world around it. It comes with hundreds of challenges and puzzles that will keep kids’ brains active.
Our Zoob sets have been fabulous toys in our household. The only downside is that it really helps to have more than one set, much like Lego bricks. The more Zoob pieces the kids have, the more they can construct, build and create. They’re made of plastic but very sturdy. We’ve owned four sets, and all through the years, only one Zoob broke. Kids can follow the instruction book or make up their own designs. These are the sets we own and my kids still play with, even though our oldest is 11. The Zoob STEM sets are excellent.
Puzzlets is a game for ages six and up that focuses on the technology aspect of STEM. It helps kids build their coding skills early. While kids of yesterday learned how to type, Puzzlets has games that will help kids learn the basics of coding.
Something for the family
Educational games and toys, including construction toys have been proven to have a great effect on the development of kids. But what if you want to have some fun as a family?
If you’d like something that will keep both kids and adults entertained, the Giant Space Rail roller coaster is your best bet. The bigger the coaster, the longer it takes to assemble — and the more fun it is to figure out the challenge of putting it together.
As players build the coaster, they gradually build their own spatial and logic skills at the same time. It has a variety of designs, so the game will never get old. This is a great toy as your children “age out” of toys. Even teenagers will enjoy putting together an advanced SpaceRail system. For parents who want to promote STEM to their children while also enjoying some quality time as a family, this is a great option.
Engage your child’s curiosity with construction toys. These manipulatives are some of the best educational toys. They inspire creativity, build fine motor skills, stimulate the imagination and give kids confidence in building and creating.
Learn more about the best science toys for kids, no matter what their age.