Best STEAM toys for the holidays (and the rest of the year)

December 10, 2018

Looking for toys and activities this holiday season that will interest your child in STEM? Just ask teachers who have kids of their own! 

At Carlsbad’s Pacific Ridge School (grades 7-12), teachers use the acronym STEAM, which includes arts and design in STEM. A quick survey of science, math and STEAM teachers revealed some new favorites as well as “gold standard” classics and free activities.

New favorites:

  • Makey Makey – The director of our arts program introduced us to Makey Makey last year and we loved it! These electronic invention kits allow kids to connect everyday objects to computer programs, making fun, creative projects like a banana keypad or staircase piano. Cost: $50. Ages 5+
  • Snap Circuits – Your little engineer will light up when learning about electricity and electronics with these building kits. Snap Circuit Junior kits start at $25; advanced kits can cost $90 or more. Ages 5+
  • Kiwico Science and Art kits – Kiwico offers subscriptions for monthly kits that come to your door containing all kinds of STEAM-related projects like trebuchets and hydraulic claws. Cost: $17+/month. Science and tinkering kits, ages 5-8 and 9-16
  • Thames and Kosmos Air & Water Power Kit – Our underwater robotics teacher raves about these physics-oriented kits that create multiple types of vehicles powered by air and water pressure. Kids have fun building them, then racing against their friends. Cost: $45 . Ages 8+ 

The Gold Standard :

Our teachers recommend continually investing in these toys, as they provide years of learning, skill-building and entertainment.

  • LEGOS – Terrific at promoting fine motor skills, creativity, problem solving, persistence, planning skills, and more. Creative LEGO kits make great holiday gifts, but always keep an eye out for used LEGOS at yard sales or hand-me-downs from friends whose children have outgrown them. When do children outgrow LEGOS? According to our teachers: “Never!” Price: $15 and up. Ages 3+
  • Magnatiles, Magformers & other Magnetics– Like LEGOS, these colorful, connecting shapes enhance critical thinking, spatial awareness, lateral thinking and logic. Combine them with other toys for hours of creative play. Price: $35 and up. Ages 3+
  • Marble runs and tracks – Many versions exist of this popular toy, which promotes engineering thinking, collaboration and problem solving, with a bit of physics thrown in. Price: $20 and up. Ages vary by model.

Free and fun:

  • Home Depot Kids Builder Workshops – Time your next visit to Home Depot so your child can attend a builder workshop. Free, fun sessions mix skill-building and creativity, while teaching safety skills for future DIYers. Ages 5+
  • Well-stocked kitchen tool drawer – It’s easy to forget that we have many ingredients for fantastic maker projects right at home. One of our math teachers keeps a big drawer filled with kid-sized tools and supplies. After basic safety instruction, she lets her kids dig in and build to their hearts’ delight. Price: free or minimal to stock a drawer. Ages 5+, depending on materials used.

For information about Pacific Ridge School or to register for our Jan. 16 or Jan. 17 Information Sesson, visit