STEAM Gift Ideas for Curious Kids
Erica Zwilling, STEAM facilitator at Holy Child Academy gives us her picks for gifts that will help kids explore and develop their STEAM thinking.
STEAM is more than an acronym for a grouping of five disciplines (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). It is a way of exploring the world. It is linked to the 21st Century skills – perseverance, problem-solving, communicating, critical thinking, time management – which educators and researchers agree will position students for success in the ever-changing future.
But how do parents encourage and develop these skills in their children? How do we teach our kids to approach the world and its challenges through the STEAM lens? It is not as simple as teaching them coding and the engineering design process. However, it is attainable and should start at home.
Kids need time to explore their world, to try new things and to be unstructured. Pay attention to what they are doing as your attention will signal to them that what they are doing is valuable; but do not direct their activities. Allow them to try on their own. If something does not work the way they want it to, do not fix it for them. Take the time to talk them through problem-solving strategies, facilitating their ability to come to a solution on their own.
So what should be on the holiday shopping list of parents who want to give their children things to explore and develop their STEAM thinking? Many parents are eager to buy the newest technological gifts for their kids each year. But not even the best-made gifts are perfect for every child. Some kids like to play alone; some kids like to be active; some kids like to be creative; some kids like to build. Luckily, the market is full of great STEAM gifts for all types of kids.
Start with what your child loves. When you build upon what they love, they will be more engaged. They will be more likely to try new and challenging activities. Activities which are new and challenging will require 21st Century skills. Kano, a company that creates tech and coding kits, has capitalized on this idea by partnering with Disney and other properties to create Star Wars, Frozen II, and Harry Potter coding kits.
Parents should also give their children the opportunity to explore new interests. Unfortunately, many STEAM gifts (even for kids) are very expensive. Parents should not feel tempted to sink hundreds of dollars into something until they know their child will like it. A great beginning robot is the Bit Coding Robot by Ozobot. This small robot can be controlled through color code drawn on paper and read by its sensors or through an online programming editor called Ozoblockly.
And not all gifts have to be technology-driven. Classics like Jenga and Blokus are great for developing spatial processing and problem-solving. Perplexus is great for perseverance and critical thinking. Marble run maze activities, such as ThinkFun’s Gravity Maze Game and any of the marble run kits compatible with LEGO Duplo, combine all these skills.
Combine activities as well to expand your child’s ability to develop STEAM skills. For those children who love to create, try combining a Makedo Cardboard Construction Kit with a Makey-Makey Invention Kit to build a musical instrument they can code or a custom game controller that works.
Lastly, books are also a great way to introduce your child to STEAM. If the characters in the book can do it, so can they! But don’t just read the book to them. Discuss it with them. Ask them what they think. Is there a toy they think they could improve like Charlotte in Doll-E 1.0 by Shandra McCloskey? Is there something they could make to help someone like Izzy in Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones? Then help them design a plan, gather materials, and use the modeled skills from these books. Other books to inspire include: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Albie Newton by Josh Funk, and The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.
Most importantly, allow your kids to explore in unstructured ways. LEGO kits should not be assembled and then placed on shelves to be admired but never touched. Any building kit instructions should be a starting point. Encourage children to take models apart, redesign them, combine kits and make their own creations. Allow children to create new rules to board games. Take an idea from this game, a piece from that game, a board from another, and create their own game. It just might become a family favorite.
Neither Holy Child Academy nor any of its employees received compensation or incentives for the mention of any products in this article. Holy Child Academy supports the Main Line Parent Community.