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What Are the Best STEM/STEAM Toys? A New Toy Association Report Provides Nuanced Data

By Henry Kronk
May 25, 2019

On May 21, the Toy Associationput out a new report titled “STEM/STEAM Formula For Success.” Toys might not seem like the most advanced edtech, but the report compiles survey data from over 2,000 parents, along with input from 100+ toy experts. Besides numerous data points, the document serves as a guide for both parents and toy designers when it comes to getting kids to engage in creative problem-solving behavior through play.

“The Toy Association’s latest report is the second phase of our multi-year initiative to bring more clarity to the topics of STEM and STEAM, and the central role of toys and play in advancing science- and math-based skills in children,” said Ken Seiter, executive vice president of marketing communications at The Toy Association, in a news release. “The Association is proud to be at the forefront of this important discussion with new research-based guidelines to help companies develop and market STEM/STEAM products that enhance kids’ learning and provide support to parents looking to foster these skills.”

Insights from the Report

To begin, the Toy Association discovered that a large majority of parents find STEM/STEAM education important for their children in some way. 91% recognized the value in these subjects, and 88% said they plan to or have already encouraged their kids to learn more about them. What’s more, 76% want their kids to get a job in a STEM field.

“Our research indicates that 67 percent of parents believe that STEM/STEAM-focused toys are the primary way to encourage science and math development in young children,” Seiter added. “We have now identified best practices toy companies can follow to create these toys and that parents can use as a guide when selecting them for their kids.”

But at the same time, parents often find themselves at a loss regarding how to go about encouraging their kids with STEM/STEAM learning.

Half of parents (50%) are concerned with the screen time that many STEAM products entail, and 72% reported limiting their kids’ screen time. 45% hold back due to a lack of available time, and 39% say there aren’t any “fun learning options.”

What’s more, a lot of parents confess that they’re behind the ball, and that, in many instances, their kids already know more about technology than they do. That makes suffusing their play and learning with STEM/STEAM toys fairly challenging.

Still, many parents want their children to gain skills that will entail technology that they don’t necessarily understand. These include oral and written communication and mathematics. A full 85% of parents report they have encouraged their kids to learn to code.

What Do STEM/STEAM Toy Experts Recommend?

Based on these complicated and often contradictory statements, the Toy Association produced 14 “unifying characteristics” of effective STEM/STEAM toys. Two are mandatory, while twelve are “strengthening.”

The first of the two mandatory characteristics states, “A product should lead a child into exploring an area of science, technology, engineering or math, or engage in the scientific method.”

The second: the toy needs to be fun to play with.

For the rest of the twelve strengthening characteristics and some prime examples of STEM/STEAM toys that fulfill them, check out the full report here.