Three Things to Look for in STEM Activities for Kids

It’s all connected, man.

Girl holding globe at a science museum.
Open up their world with these awe-inspiring activities.Getty Images

The acronym STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics—but STEM is really more than the sum of its parts. Proponents of STEM-based education want to move away from teaching isolated content areas. Instead, they see the technology and critical thinking skills that make up STEM as an opportunity to connect all the subject areas together and also link them with the world outside the classroom. Remember how you used to wonder when you would ever use a particular lesson or skill in real life? The STEM mindset basically centers those questions. Here’s what to look for when selecting kids’ activities that support STEM.

ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game and STEM Toy for Boys and Girls Age 8 and Up – Toy of the Year Award Winner

Scaffolded Approach

This logic puzzle includes 60 leveled challenges so kids can build deductive reasoning skills.Think Fun

The bread and butter of STEM is brain enrichment. Logic puzzles are games that rely on deductive reasoning—basically just the way you play with math. Look for activities that combine logic and spatial reasoning with a hands-on component. Ideally, the kit should include leveled challenges so that students frontload a boost of confidence with the beginner problems and then build on previous knowledge to stretch their skills.

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Multifunctional Design

This activity includes vermiculite soil for quick sprouting plus an illumination system so it can double as a comforting table lamp.Dan&Darci

Since STEM is all about connecting learning with the real world, the best STEM activities are multifunctional. For example, a good terrarium kit will include all the components to build and maintain an ecosystem in a jar——but a great kit will also extend the function of that terrarium (like including LED lighting so you can transform it into a nightlight) so that the learner connects ecology with engineering and real-world practicality.

Sillbird STEM 12-in-1 Education Solar Robot Toys -190 Pieces DIY Building Science Experiment Kit for Kids Aged 8-10 and Older,Solar Powered by The Sun

Reusable Supplies

Your aspiring engineer can assemble a dozen unique droids and harness renewable energy to make them walk, run and swim.Sillbird

Great STEM activities are reusable and teach the value of renewability. Look for kits that encourage your budding engineer not just to build but also to take apart and reorganize components to make new and more complex functions. For powered projects, be sure to check out options that include solar panels. This gives kids a solid foundation in how renewable energy works (and minimizes how many batteries you have to buy).