Twelve Top STEM Toys for Preschoolers
Preschoolers--Budding STEM Learners
Tags: STEM, toys
Posted: 2013-11-22 08:47:31 By: joanne Oppenheim


Examining a caterpillar move slowly on a leaf, floating a leaf in a puddle, mixing sand and water to make mud. These are some of the day to day experiments that arouse the curiosity of preschoolers. Often the events that sparks such moments are accidental. What else will float in that puddle? you might ask. Will the twig float? What about the pebbles? Why do you suppose they don't float...learning to make a hypothesis is a good way to extend the raise more thought provoking questions. 

With building blocks they learn about symmetry and spatial relationships. They learn how two triangles make a square or a rectangle; how adding one more or one less can make towers even. They learn that math is needed when they use measuring cups and spoons when you bake cookies that go into the over soft and come out crunchy when they cool. They need adults who encourage them to find out what makes that happen?

STEM skills and interests do not begin in middle school or high school.
By making math, science and technology a relevant part of their everyday experiences, we can plant strong roots for STEM learning from the start.

Here are some excellent choices:



2013 Awards
Magnetos Better Builders
(Guidecraft $49.95 Score: )

A 30-piece building set of rods and balls shapes that looks like an earlier construction set from Guidecraft, but turns out to be even better than the original award winner. The round pieces are updated in steel and give a stronger connection, allowing kids to make more complex structures. Colorful and chunky, the pieces are right for small hands and safe enough to allow young layers to investigate the power of magnets. It comes with a 24-page guide for parents that will help you expand the possibilities as you introduce kids to the magical science of magnets. The new set also includes a storage bin- a welcome addition for clean-up time. 2 & up

SNAP: With magnets safely out of reach, this is ideal for open-ended connections. You can also use it for building counting skill, color concepts or making simple patterns.

Age: . Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2011 Awards
Guidecraft Unit Blocks
(Guidecraft $40 & up Score: )

If there's one toy every child should have, blocks are it! Nothing is more basic to play than a set of wooden unit blocks. A set with 34 pieces is a place to start, although a 76-piece set ($90) would be even more versatile. Pictured here is a school size set that has 28 shapes($200+)Unit blocks come with built-in possibilities for discovery as they are scaled to each other; putting two squares together, kids discover the two equal one rectangular block; two of the triangles makes a square, etc. Blocks develop kids' spatial understanding, their eye hand skills, their problem solving abilities, imagination, and language. They are the raw materials for dramatic play that put kids in charge. They are great for using with wooden trains for making bridges and roadways for toy cars, barns for small animals. Be sure to add some scaled down vehicles, and animals and even some doll house or action figures to the mix. Give them a place where the blocks can stay up for a while so that they can make settings for their dramatic play.  Blocks can be used solo and in cooperative play. Beginners often will start off by building horizontially...but soon enough preschoolers will start building upwards. These are basic gear for kids with lasting play value because they are completely open-ended and can be used in multiple ways. They may be a farm one day and a bridge the next. One of a favorite lines of props for blocks are the Jungle and Farm Animal sets from Learning Resources($25.99).

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
University Games The Very Hungry Caterpillar Counting Floor Puzzle
(University Games $13 Score: )

There are all kinds of fruits and veggies to count on this colorful floor puzzle with 26 giant pieces. Put the numerals in order to make a 10 foot long finished puzzle. Good for counting skills as well as knowing and naming familiar foods. All the healthy things that Very Hungry Caterpillar loves to nibble on. 3 & up

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Awards
Janod Barnyard Dominoes
(Janod $24.99 Score: )

Cows, ducks, hens, tractors and farmer's hat and boots are easy to match on these wooden dominos. Turn them over and play a traditional match the dots domino game. Finished in smooth natural wood these are basic gear that will be used for naming and knowing as well as for matching, stacking, or collapsing games. 28 pieces. 

SNAP: Introduce the playing pieces by finding all the cows as a first game, finding all the sheep as another game...etc. Playing a traditional game of dominoes can wait. Knowing and naming and matching builds the readiness for the old-fashioined game. These are nice for stacking and lining up, too.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2013.




2013 Award
Tinker Toy Pink Building Set
(KNEX $49.99 Score: )

If you have a girl who's not interested in building, this all pink 150 piece set may do the trick. We know that building helps develop important math, visual discrimination,  and problem solving skills - so it's very important that girls have this type of play experience.  Today's Tinker Toys are somewhat different from what you may remember. These new sets from KNEX are all plastic. They have the same rods and spools like the old sets, but now they have really neat bendy rods and faces that make them even more fun.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Tinkertoy Super Building Set
(KNEX $44.99 Score: )

We love this new, satisfying set of Tinkertoys with 150 pieces.  These plastic Tinkertoys are better than the old school versions because the set includes bendable pieces in addition to the more traditional spools and straight rods that allow for more interesting builds. There are suggested 15 builds, but the big appeal of Tinkertoys from our point of view is that they can be used as an open-ended building set. Our testing parents loved the sturdy box with lid that can be used for storage. The set also includes panels and faces for added fun. Tinkertoys are also available in pink - which we recommend if it's the only way the girls in your life will build.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Awards
LeapFrog Leap Pad Ultra
(LeapFrog $149.99 Score: )

How do you make a good thing better? We loved the original Leap Pad and now the Ultra takes it to a new level. It has a Hi-Res 7-inch light-touch screen, a built in 9- hour rechargeable battery, and is loaded with 11 Apps. It has a front and back camera and has 8 GB of Memory that can hold 40,000 photos or more than 100 Game apps. The Leap Pad Ultra has kid-safe Wi-Fi that will not take kids to the web locations they should not reach, but it gives them access to the Leap Frog library of more than 800 games, ebooks, videos and music that is child friendly and age appropriate. You can download learning games that are suited to you child's skill level. You'll find games to reinforce math, reading, art, science and social studies. This Leap Pad Ultra does it all and should it be accidentally dropped - not to worry. It can do that too and keep on playing. 4-9

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Awards
Plan Toys Fraction Fun
(Plan Toys $17.99 Score: )

Introduce preschoolers to fractions in a playful way with this handsome wooden puzzle. Whole, halves, thirds, and quarters are put together on this slightly curved two-sided puzzle board. One side features classic geometric shapes; the reverse invites exploration of how to use the shapes in new ways. 

SNAP: A good concrete way to reinforce fractions. To follow up: Declare a day as Halves Day... use sandwiches cut in halves, fruit cut in halves, etc. Declare another day as Quarters Day and serve foods cut to match.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Plan Toys Gears & Puzzles Deluxe
(Plan Toys $44.99 Score: )

Build the base with square puzzle pieces and then add the gears to connect them into a machine that can be activated by little hands. There are endless ways to make the pieces spin. This clever set comes with 24 pieces including one big gear that can activate the smaller gears. Call it preschool physics. Marked 2 & up. For 2's and younger 3's this will be a parent/child activity. Older preschoolers will like doing open-ended explorations to create unique 'machines' that they can play with and start all over again.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Awards
Talking Tubes
(Alex $27.99 Score: )

An update from the can and strings inventions you played with in school, this plastic set works really well to the delight of our testers young and old. It comes with 3.3 yards of yellow tubing with a red and blue telephone on either end. Go around a corner so that you can't see each other and whisper something. Your voice comes through loud and clear. An early science lesson about sound! 3 & up.

SNAP: For kids who are working on speech, this is a fun prop that will add playful fun to their efforts. Try a game of echo. Say what I say...start with one or two words and buld. Reverse roles and you say what your child says.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Lego Bricks and More Pink Brick Box
(Lego Systems, Inc. $14.99 Score: )

Designed to appeal to girls, this pink storage box filled with 224 pieces comes with building directions for building a house, vehicle, and outdoor area. While we still prefer the traditional tubs and buckets with primary color building bricks that are gender neutral and appropriate for boys and girls, we understand that some girls prefer these colors. Since building is such an important skill for developing spatial relationships and math skills, we would say pink building is better than no building. So, we avoid being absolutists on this subject. Unlike earlier pink block sets from other makers, the themes of most of the new girlie Lego collection doesn't center on malls and beauty shops. This set is marked 4+. We'd say these tiny pieces will be a challenge to many 4's and even 5's.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Awards
Learning Resources Science Plant and Grow Set
(Learning Resources $26 Score: )

For budding scientists, here is a 12-piece kit with see through rooting trays, pots, observation jar with vented lid, watering can, trowel, plant markers and best of all--10 on-the-mark activity cards that invite kids to grow a variety of plants. Use found materials, like the top of a pineapple, radishes, carrots, popping corn kernels, and a clove of garlic. For other experiments, bring home seeds for beans and chives. The round observation jar with a lid can become a small terrarium with plants found in the yard or park. The activity cards provide realistic gardening experiments that preschoolers can do with help from an adult or older sib. True, you could use many of the containers you own without the set, but this gives the process structure in a playful way. Hopefully you will do that, too. To enlarge the experiences, take photos as each experiment progresses to make a small personal log or simple personalized book of their growing experiments.  Our tester "loved planting the seeds and labeling the various pots. He lso loved wtering his plants. Finally, there is a clear rooting tray and an observation jar included with the set, so he loved observing his plants take root and grow within the soil. He had never seen how roots grow and develop before so it was a new experience for him."  They did report some things they thought were drawbacks: the set does not come with soil or seeds--so right from the start you need to buy things before you can start. The set also only comes with one observation jar even though there are five experiments that call for the observation jar. Our tester felt that the best part of the set were the in ten activity cards. They also gave Learning Resources high marks for having on line extension activities. 3 & up.

SNAP: This hands-on kit is an excellent set of activities that all children can enjoy on various levels. Involving children in the process is a very satisfying ongoing activity.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on


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