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Need gift ideas for a child who loves coding, gears and anything STEM-related? My nine-year-old son has the same interests, so I’m always on the lookout for toys, activities and books that will appeal to him.
Here are several options that are perfect for STEM-loving kids.
Toys that fly
Not sure if your child is ready for a traditional drone? I bought a Hover Star motion-control UFO for $15 at Costco recently and my son loves it! Like many kids, he gets bored with toys quickly, but he still plays with this one every chance he gets.
I don’t see it on Amazon, but this UFO flying ball (pictured left) looks very similar. Based on its high reviews, I’m sure you’ll be happy with it, too.
Parent tip: If your child has long hair, please pull it back in a pony tail; even with one that has a cage-type of cover. The air sucks in toward the center at least part of the time, and my seven-year-old daughter almost learned the hard way why I’m stressing this to you! Lol
This Flying Man RC drone U48-B by Tomzon (left below) and Eachine E019 RC drone quadcopter (right below) are super cool, as well.
Both products have high ratings, and the quadcopter features a 2-in-1 flight mode that transforms from stunt to paraglider. Watch the manufacturer and customer videos to see them in action.
For a more advanced drone, consider the A15 foldable FPV WiFi drone by Snaptain, which has a wide-angle camera, voice control, app control and more. It has solid reviews and is well-priced for the features it offers.
My son got Cozmo last year for Christmas and still enjoys playing with him 10 months later. Not only does this robot nurture his interests in technology and coding, Cozmo has a sweet little voice and adorable mannerisms. My son is bright, but emotionally, still very innocent for his age, so Cozmo’s childlike personality makes him even more appealing to my son.
Another great option is Wonder Workshop Dash. More than 20,000 schools are using it and, as you’ll see when you watch the demo video on Amazon, he’s a fun little companion. (Except the part about tossing objects into Mom’s coffee!)
Add-ons, such as a Sketch Kit and Launcher, will extend its capabilities even further.
Have you heard about Turing Tumble yet? It’s a screen-free, marble-powered coding toy that has been winning a lot of awards. Earlier this year, the inventor could barely produce them fast enough to keep up with demand (without compromising quality, that is). Thankfully, the he refused to do that.
I think that situation is ironed out now, but just in case it isn’t, don’t delay if you know you want one for Christmas.
The Playz V8 Combustion-Engine Model Building Kit is a small working replica of a classic, four-cycle, eight-cylinder, internal-combustion, gasoline car engine. My aspiring engineer doesn’t have it yet, but after reading the description and seeing the high reviews, he will by Christmas!
It’s perfect for a child who loves to build, and learn how anything and everything works.
There are cranks, pulleys, belts and exhaust valves, as well as pistons and interactive cables, to make this gadget come to life. Simply plug the cables into the battery-pack distributor to watch the engine fans turn and hear real engine sounds.
The Electric Motors Catalyst, Robotics Stem Kit by Tinkering Labs is a great choice for aspiring engineers & tinkerers! With this intro-to-engineering kit, your child can: build doodling robots, power electric model cars, add motors to LEGOs, and more.
The DIY kit comes with 50+ real parts and 10 robot challenge cards.
Some gear-inspired toys are poor quality, which is frustrating for kids and parents alike. However, the Crankity Brainteaser by Fat Brain Toys works as designed, and is loads of fun for young gearheads. It includes 40 challenge cards and has four levels of difficulty: easy, medium, hard and extra hard.
My son has loved Snap Circuits for years. He started out with the Junior set, and soon wanted bigger and more complex sets, as well as their still-popular R/C Snap Rover.
The Snap Circuits Motion Electronics Exploration Kit (pictured right) is next on our list.
When you watch the video, I think you’ll understand why.
There’s a huge range in physical size, price range and technical capabilities when it comes to 3D printers.
The QIDI Tech 3D printer is a great machine for home users because of its strong, yet flexible construction, quiet operation, dust-containing enclosure and physical footprint. Other notable features include its removable plate, easy-to-use touch screen, and extra cooling fan.
If your child is more interested in the artistic possibilities of 3D printing than the technology aspect of it, a 3D pen may be the best option.
The BeTIM 3D Pen has a lot of great features, including: one-button control, a finger protector to prevent burns, and the ability to melt two types of filament (the material you use to make your creations).
If you get a 3D pen, be sure to buy a silicone design mat too, so you have a safe surface to create on.
Regardless of what type of 3D printing device you prefer, when it comes to filament, ABS plastic filament irritates some creators’ eyes and noses, and also makes some 3D pen users feel sick. PLA filament is made from natural materials that don’t produce harmful fumes. It’s also safer because 3D pens don’t need to get as hot to melt it. The primary downsides of PLA filament is that it costs a bit more and takes a little longer to cool down.
Activity books and other publications
The summer between second and third grade, my son went through a phase in which he didn’t seem to enjoy reading. So one day, I took him to the library and told the librarian about his interests. We left the library that day with well over 20 non-fiction books, including a kids’ science encyclopedia, which he dove into the moment we got in the car. I heard all sorts of facts and statistics during the drive home.
That was a much older encyclopedia; however, this one, called Science! is even better. It uses amazing 3-D images to explain spectacular aspects of the scientific world, such as nanoparticles, elemental forces and intergalactic wonders.
It also includes quirky facts that will appeal to both curious kids and interested adults. I mean seriously. What’s not to love?
The Way Things Work Now, which has an engineering slant, is a fantastic encyclopedia, too. In it, author David Macaulay details the inner workings of everything from windmills to Wi-Fi and touchscreens to 3D printers. It also explains what some seemingly unrelated inventions, like electric guitars and egg beaters, have in common!
In my experience, everything Smithsonian makes for kids is unique, well thought out, and well executed.
Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects is no exception. Each step-by-step activity is ranked for difficulty level and has an estimated timeframe for completion. Projects include how to make a: lemon battery, sturdy bridge, DNA model, density tower and more.
In addition to learning the “why” and “how” of each experiment, real-world examples provide context and help kids grasp a deeper understanding of the scientific principles they’re applying.
For example, through the Baked Alaska project, kids discover why the ice cream doesn’t melt when you put it in the oven, and how insulation works similarly with igloos. There also are tips on how to take the experiments further.
Maker Lab: Outdoors: 25 Super Cool Projects is great, as well. Activities focus on Earth and the environment, plants and animals, weather, water and physics. Young scientists can build a wormery (and learn about compost), crack rocks with water (and learn about freezing and thawing), build and launch a water rocket (to see Newton’s laws in action), and more.
Tip: A fun way to give books like these as gifts is to assemble them with all the materials needed to immediately try an experiment or two. You can even get creative with the wrapping.
For example, for the periscope experiment, include the two small mirrors, ruler, three types of tape, and other supplies. You can even wrap it in a box that’s big enough to use for the cardboard that’s needed for the project. (How’s that for repurposing?)
The choices are amazing these days, when it comes to toys and activities, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Think about what most excites your little STEM lover and use that knowledge to guide you as you consider gift options.