Holiday Gift Guide: The best elementary STEM and coding toys of 2020 that kids and parents will both love
Education toys probably aren’t at the top of your child’s wish list that was sent off to the North Pole, but they should still end up under the tree on Christmas morning.
The unfortunate truth about Christmas wish lists is that they are often made up of the brands that children see advertised on television. For the months leading up to Christmas, children are bombarded with toy commercials (according to Nielsen, toy advertisers spend more than half of their advertising dollars in October, November and December). The toys being advertised through popular kids shows are usually “brain candy” toys — toys that are loud, bright and attractive to kids, but do not help with learning and development.
At KidzToPros, we are experts in finding ways to help children learn and have fun at the same time. We have compiled this holiday gift guide (which can also be bookmarked for birthdays and other celebrations!) with some of our favorite STEM toys. The items on this list range from board games to robotics kits to coding courses and have received rave reviews from children, parents and educators.
We have included a cost rating system, helpful reviews and buying options, current as of December 2020. Prices, ratings and availability are subject to change.
$: Under $50
$$: Under $100
$$$: Under $150
$$$$: Over $150
1. Dash, an adorable coding robot for kids
Dash is a cute blue robot that kids can control with voice commands and explore loops, events, conditions and sequences. Dash offers an open-ended learning platform that makes tech knowledge simple and accessible, helping kids grow into confident creative architects and coders.
Wonder Workshop’s Dash is also used in more than 20,000 schools across the country for Wonder League competitions. Even though many extracurricular programs like robotics clubs are put on hold due to COVID-19, you can still give your child a Dash of STEM fun this year.
Promising Review: Absolutely OUTSTANDING product. As both a creative lead and tech developer, my personal standards for these types of devices is quite high and this little thing has not only met every expectation and promise, but exceeded them. In a world flooded with mediocre (or outright horrible) iterations of educational scientific / tech / STEM toys, it is incredibly satisfying to land on a product so well designed and constructed in every aspect of its envelope. MAJOR props to the teams behind the Dash. I cannot recommend it enough, both my 5 year old and myself find the device challenging and fun to use; a very difficult thing to accomplish.
RECOMMENDED AGE: 6+
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Dash can be operated from a long list of compatible tablets and smartphones, including both Android and iOS devices.
HOW TO BUY: Available from Wonder Workshop and Amazon.
2. Gravity Maze, a marble run brain game
Gravity Maze is a falling marble logic game that challenges players to create towers out of special cubes that, when connected correctly, will carry a marble from the starting point to the finish. The game comes with 60 challenges that progress in difficulty. Gravity Maze is designed to improve logical reasoning, planning skills and spatial reasoning through fun gameplay.
Promising Review: I bought this for my 7 yr old son. He enjoys it still to this day (almost 3 years later). I think his Dad (me) enjoys it more! I solved all the puzzles, without peeking at the solutions, but that may not be realistic for younger kids. Some of the “expert” level puzzles can be challenging. However, my son still enjoys the challenge of completing the puzzles independently, and he can “grow into” the more advanced puzzles as he matures. If you like problem solving (I have a degree in math), you’ll love it. Great way to get your kids to develop analytical thinking skills and problem solving skills while, at the same time, getting the kids to unplug from their electronic devices. Great preparation for future scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers! Ingenuity and creativity required, but not included!
3. Think and Learn Code-A-Pillar, a caterpillar coding toy
Preschoolers and young elementary students will love sending their new caterpillar friend on a winding path through the house. The Code-A-Pillar Twist includes more than 1,000 possible coding combinations for kids to explore by twisting the dials on the caterpillars segments to create a sequence with moves like forward, turn right and turn left.
Promising Review: I’m an elementary technology teacher and this year preschool was added to my schedule. This has been perfect to teach them basic concepts of following directions and the definition of what an algorithm is. Also my one and two year old love playing with it at home just as a toy, and they are learning through discovery without even realizing it. Win win all around. Also I would like to know that this thing is very durable. My toddlers are like little mini WWE wrestlers, and so the Code-A-Pillar has taken quite a few falls and still works like a charm.
RECOMMENDED AGE: 36 months to 6 years
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 4 AA batteries
HOW TO BUY: Available from Amazon
4. KiwiCo Robots & Coding Crate, create a robot rabbit
KiwiCo, a subscription toy company, delivers kits filled with creative, hands-on projects that encourage critical thinking skills and problem-solving. They’ve made their most popular crates available for purchase without signing up for a membership, including the Robots and Coding kit. Kids will create a robot rabbit and then follow challenges, puzzles and games to move the rabbit along a track while learning problem-solving skills and the concepts behind programming.
Promising Review: I really love how hands-on, educational, unique, and entertaining they are. And they always have really great instructions for kids (and parents) to follow. Since we’re a family that has never had a lot of toys, the KiwiCo boxes have been a great fit for us. It’s really nice that they’re mostly consumable and don’t contribute to toy clutter around the house.
RECOMMENDED AGE: 36 months to 6 years
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 4 AA batteries
HOW TO BUY: Available from KiwiCo
5. Osmo Coding Starter Kit, a playful coding adventure
The Osmo Coding Starter Kit transforms your tablet into a hands-on coding adventure featuring Awbie, a playful character who loves strawberries. Kids use colorful physical blocks to create sequences that lead Awbie on various adventures. An included reflector is placed over the tablet’s camera so the app can see and react to the real-life movement.
Promising Review: I got this for a 5 year old that is highly interested in tinkering/building big Lego sets, and generally quite interested in science. He does have a good attention span for a 5 year old, which I think always helps with this sort of toy. Now, as for the toy, as usual with Osmo the toy pieces intended for the kid to manipulate are very high quality, so the only issue is keeping one from getting lost. As for the games…I was an engineering major in college, and had no intro to coding before I “had” to take the course and learn it. I actually think it’s a great idea to expose kids who are into science early, and there aren’t too many ways to do it. The kid I bought this for had just had his STEM coding summer camp cancelled due to COVID. I really appreciate the goal of this product.
RECOMMENDED AGE: 5-10
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: The Osmo coding starter kit requires a compatible tablet with a functional camera.
HOW TO BUY: Available from Osmo for iPad and Fire tablets; and from Amazon for iPad or for Fire tablets
6. LEGO Gear Bots, pterodactyls, yetis & more!
Kids can create 8 different STEM-driven machines, including DJ Bubbles (an octopus spinning records), a pterodactyl, a yeti and more. The kinetic LEGO creations are mechanical engineering, which means when kids crank the handle on the side of their creations they will move via a system of axles, cams and cranks — like the piston of an engine. The set comes with paper accessories and a 64-page book with step-by-step instructions.
Promising Review: When you’re looking for a STEM activity kit, you want one that will keep your kids engaged with learning. The silly and hilarious characters kids create with this kit make learning fun, and when they’re finished, your child will want to show off their newly-built machines and explain engineering basics to you!
7. Brickyard Building Blocks, 163-piece STEM Building Set
With more than 4,000 5-star reviews on Amazon, this STEM engineering kit is one of the best on the market. The 163 pieces include blocks, wrenches, nuts and bolts, wheels and plates — and endless possibilities.
The Brickyard STEM construction kit is designed to develop STEM skills by engaging childrens’ imaginations for hours on end. Although the set comes with a guide with instructions for 42 designs, kids are encouraged to build anything they can dream up — from dinosaurs to race cars and helicopters. The blocks will help develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, logical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, creativity and imagination.
The kit is designed with enough parts so six kids can play at the same time without fighting over wrenches.
Promising Review: While we bought this STEM kit for our 3 and 5 year old grandsons, it only took a few minutes before the entire family was on the floor playing! With such a variety of sizes and shapes the possibilities were endless for creativity. The kit comes in a nice box for storage and the pieces are very well made. What we liked most is how captive this toy kept the kids. We thought it was just because it was a NEW toy, but turns out every chance they get this is the toy the kids want to play with most!
RECOMMENDED AGE: 3+
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Nothing!
HOW TO BUY: Available from Amazon
8. Robot Turtles, a coding board game
Robot Turtles teaches young children the fundamentals of programming in a fun and tactile game. The board game is inspired by the Logo programming language, but will give young minds an understanding of any language they want to learn in the future.
Players dictate the movement of their Robot Turtle on the game board by playing Code Cards (forward, left and right). If a player’s Robot Turtle reaches a jewel, they win. If they make a mistake and run into an obstacle, they can use a Bug Card to undo a move.
Robot Turtles has many levels so the game continues to be fun and challenging as children master the basic Code Cards.
Promising Review: I want to enthusiastically endorse this game for parents with young children. The child psychology is very well thought out in this game. I have rarely encountered this much deliberate thought in the development of children’s games. Watching your child laugh as you make silly sounds as a result of his reproducible actions is priceless. Also, as someone who does his fair share of programming and teaching programming, this game is a very good introductory programming simulator. I laughed out loud with delight when I read about the function frog. That is a stroke of pure genius and such a great way to quickly explain how functions work.
9. Disney Frozen 2 Coding Kit, make, share & play creations
🎵Let them code, let them code.🎵
Frozen fans can awaken the elements with a wave of their hand with this Frozen II Coding Kit by Kano.
The STEM challenges start from the second you open the box. The sensor comes deconstructed so kids can see how the sensors work and put it together themselves with the help of an instruction manual.
Promising Review: I’ve been a big supporter of Kano for a while and bought this product for my friend’s daughter, who loves Frozen. She’s been entranced by the kit and has been excitedly telling her Mom and I about all the things she has made (and the things she wants to make next). I love how accessible Kano makes programming! My friend’s daughter had never shown any interest in coding before, but it’s clearly opened up a new world for her! Her Mom is so excited that she’s getting positive screen time.
RECOMMENDED AGE: 6+
OTHER EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 2 AA batteries required (included); works on recent iPads, Macs, Windows 10 computers, Fire 10 tablets and other selected devices.
HOW TO BUY: Available from Kano and Amazon
10. Live Online Coding & Design Courses
Sometimes experiences are better than any material gift you can buy, and KidzToPros offers plenty of fun new experiences for kids in Grades K-8. KidzToPros online After-School Programs, Coding & Game Design Courses and Seasonal Camps offer opportunities for kids to learn new tech skills and have fun in a safe environment.
After-School STEM Programs provide 90 minutes of learning and fun each session. Courses are offered in Scratch, robotics, digital 3D modeling, esports and more. Real-time instructors provide guidance and feedback, teaching kids iterative development, perseverance and collaboration.
KidzToPros Coding & Game Design programs and Holiday Camps teach kids to create games, apps and robots while preparing them for high-demand careers. The coding series supports students who want to learn in-depth skills and become proficient in popular design and coding software including Minecraft, Roblox, Python, Java, HTML, CSS and more.
Promising Review: My son learned so much about coding in Minecraft Design & Coding and was engaged every minute. This class also helped him socialize with other students while stimulating his brain. Alexander was friendly, patient and engaged all the students. Thank you!!!
After-school Programs start at just over $100
Online Coding & Game Design programs start at $189.
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HOW TO BUY: Register at kidztopros.com
Have you found a STEM toy, project or experience that you absolutely love for you child that is not included on this list? Let us know in the comments below!