Choosing the right toy that fosters STEM skills
Dear Reader, if you are on our site, it likely means you are looking for a high-tech toy for a young person, perhaps your own child or, if you are an educator, your students.
And what a choice you have to make. There are so many toys nowadays with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) label, that it is hard to differentiate between them and reason which toy would be best-suited to your needs.
We recently came across a thoughtful article by Marina Umaschi Bers, PhD, who developed the KIBO robot kit for preschoolers, based on her research into new technologies for young children at Tufts University. We had a chance to work with her when she conducted teacher training in Singapore for the PlayMaker programme.
In her article, Marina coined the metaphor "playgrounds, not playpens" as a guiding principle for what tech toys to get: https://theconversation.com/looking-for-a-high-tech-gift-for-a-young-child-think-playgrounds-not-playpens-108325. The article is slightly academic, but focusing on the open-ended nature of playgrounds in our childhood and trying to map it to a particular toy is a practical exercise to try for each toy that you are evaluating.
We should also not have the thinking that passing our child a well-considered STEM toy is the end of our work. We can greatly enrich our children's experience by being actively involved in playing with the toy with them. Even if we are not comfortable with STEM concepts ourselves, we believe that by positively modelling that we are also continually learning in front of our children, we nurture their instinct for lifelong learning.