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Whether you’ve got a budding Einstein on your hands, a chemistry queen or a future architect, we can guarantee that there’s a STEM toy, game or kit out there that’s been designed to harness your child’s interest and deepen their learning.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or STEAM, which it’s sometimes referred to (the ‘A’ stands for art), is a hot topic on the Mumsnet forums, not least because of the overwhelming amount of robots, coding toys, science kits or STEM-branded toys in today’s marketplace.
It’s certainly a buzz word among parents, who would rather spend their hard-earned cash on toys their children are likely to engage with, learn from and enjoy, rather than one-minute-wonders that will be shoved in the toy cupboard after 24 hours.
Here are the best STEM toys for 2022, as recommended by parents.
1. Best overall STEM toy: Snap Circuits Junior Plus
Price: £29.99 | Buy now from Amazon
Ages: 8 to 108
“We got a Snap Circuits set for DS when he was about eight. He loved it and it still gets used regularly three years later.” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter TheOnlyWayIsUpBaby
Experimenting with real electric circuits to construct working radios, alarms and doorbells goes beyond child’s play, which is probably why the Snap Circuits Junior Plus holds such appeal for children aged eight and over - and has remained such a firm favourite among Mumsnet parents too.
Using colour-coded components that clip onto a board with press-stud-style fastenings, children can experiment with connections, signals and inputs to understand how electronic circuits work.
The instruction cards include images which clearly illustrate how to build over 100 projects, starting with an electric light bulb that can be switched on and off and building up to a delayed-action fan. Once your child has built up some confidence – and dealt with a few short circuits along the way - you may find that they begin creating their own weird and wonderful devices.
But if the idea of playing with electricity makes you nervous, rest assured that the circuits contain patented technology – known as Fuse Technology - to minimise risk and keep children safe.
The whole set is easy to pack away, and each part has its own space in a moulded tray, which adds another element of learning into the mix, as your child matches the part with the shape in the tray.
Components perfectly-sized for small hands
Holds focus as they progress to new challenges
Requires two AA batteries (not included)
Read next: Find out which tech giant came out on top in our round-up of the best tablet for kids.
2. Best budget STEM toy: K'Nex Imagine Beginner Fun Fast Vehicles Building Set
Price: £11.75 | Buy now from Amazon
“K’nex have great construction kits.” Recommended by Mumsnetter ilovepuggies
If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to LEGO for your budding builder, then K’Nex, the rod and connector building system, is bound to fire up their imagination.
This beginner’s kit contains 96 brightly coloured pieces to choose from and there’s a choice of 10 different models to build, including a racing car, motorbike and sailboat.
If your little one is into things that go, then this set is a great introduction to the wonderful world of K’nex. A number of other sets are available to help expand your collection.
Multiple builds in one box
Encourages creative thinking
Limited pieces means you cannot construct all builds at the same time
Younger children will need help as pieces are a bit small and fiddly
3. Best STEM science toy: National Geographic Crystal Growing Kit
Price £27.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“My DS loved the grow your own crystals set last year, it was fascinating to watch them grow.” Recommended by Mumsnet user FrankenCat
Curious chemists can learn to grow their own crystals in three amazing colours in this engaging kit. It comes with three real gemstone specimens, including a geode, green fluorite, and blue calcite, along with a detailed how-to guide explaining how crystals grow.
We love this set from National Geographic as it includes a fab multi-setting light-up display base to show off your crystal creations and make the fun last for longer. But if you are watching the pennies, alternative kits are available without the light display, with the prices a bit kinder on the pocket.
Easy to do
Comes with light-up display
Crystal powder can be messy
A bit pricey - a cheaper kit is available without the light display
4. Best STEM toy for 3-year-olds: GeoSafari Jr. My First Microscope
Price: £21.30 | Buy now from Amazon
Children are natural scientists and love to discover the world around them. This chunky microscope, which has been designed for little hands by a scientist and mother of two, is the perfect STEM toy for preschoolers.
They’ll be able to get up close to nature as they study leaves, blades of grass, insects and pebbles through this 8x magnification microscope.
It has an extra-large eyepiece so that little ones can see through the lenses without closing one eye and a large push-button light for up-close discovery. Focusing might need some adult help, as it requires twisting a large knob but, generally, a three-year-old will be capable of using this science tool independently.
Chunky, colourful, eye-catching design
Bright, clear image
Needs batteries (not included)
Read next: Looking for a homework-friendly tablet for your kids this summer? Check out our review of the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids and Kids Pro.
6. Best eco-friendly STEM toy: JUNKO Zoomer Toy Car Kit
Price: £35 | Buy now from Amazon
Sustainable toys might be niche but plastic-free choices are in demand. The JUNKO brand encourages your child from age six upwards to upcycle the likes of milk cartons and yoghurt pots - you name it - into toys.
The Zoomer Toy Car Kit includes an extendable four-wheel frame which fits around all shapes and sizes of junk. The car chassis can be anything from a shoe box to a plastic milk container and it’s held onto the frame with magnetic clips, which are strong and easy to use.
An elastic band mechanism powers the wheels and allows the car to zoom along the floor. In order to move again, it has to be re-threaded onto the wheels. There are some nice touches, like the glow-in-the-dark wheels, the hidden rare earth magnets and the comic, which is full of silly jokes with an underlying eco-message.
Good for the environment and teaches about upcycling
Neatly packaged in a cardboard tube
Fitting all the parts back into the tube after use may take time
7. Best magnetic STEM toy: Magna-Tiles Clear Colours
Price: £34.99 | Buy now from Smyths Toys
“A vote for clear-coloured Magna-Tiles here - great for all ages. My DS plays with them everyday after 1.5 years and they’re a hit with play dates!” wellingtonsandwaffles
If you’re looking for ideas to entertain budding young engineers, Magna-Tiles are hard to beat. The set includes 32 colourful pieces - two large squares, 14 small squares, eight equilateral triangles, four right-angle triangles, and four isosceles triangles. Each tile has a thin magnet along the edge that snaps together to make 2D and 3D objects.
Although this set is recommended for children aged three and over, there’s plenty of play value for younger children – and with the smallest tiles being three inches wide, they’re unlikely to be a choking hazard (although we would always recommend adult supervision).
Under-threes might not have the dexterity to build a six-story building or stables for their toy horses, but they will have plenty of fun making abstract shapes. It’s the ideal STEM toy to learn about creating stable structures – and how to support them if they’re unstable. It’s also great for getting the whole family involved.
For a slightly cheaper alternative, you'll find similar magnetic building block sets, like the Desire Deluxe Magnetic Tiles Set, on Amazon.
Fosters understanding of engineering basics
Ideal for solo and collaborative play
Made of food-grade ABS plastic that’s free of phthalates, latex and BPA
8. Best STEM toy for 8-year-olds: ThinkFun Gravity Maze
Price: £28.98 | Buy now from Amazon
ThinkFun is the world’s leader in addictively fun games that stretch and sharpen the mind. The Gravity Maze is no exception. If your child likes puzzles and brain teasers, this game of logic will provide hours of fun.
There are 60 challenges set out on activity cards, with varying levels of difficulty, where you build mazes for the marbles to run down. Making sure the marble reaches the Target Tower is the aim of the game – and this takes careful planning. But the catch is that the cards only give you the first two to three steps and leave out all the towers needed in between.
Eight-year-olds – or younger – can start out at the beginner levels, testing their problem-solving skills along the way and slowly progressing up through the challenges. The expert levels are quite challenging, so it’s also great for teens and even adults. But don’t be disappointed if you get stomped!
It’s a great game that involves a mix of STEM skills: building, engineering and critical thinking. Plus, it’s ideal for travelling because it’s small – the board is seven inches square - lightweight and is designed for single-player-use.
Great for problem-solving
Small marbles pose a choking hazard
9. Best fun STEM toy: Stomp Rocket The Original Ultra Rocket Launcher (Dueling Rockets)
Price: £24.90 | Buy now from Amazon
“A stomp rocket is a fab one. Still regularly enjoyed by the kids in my family ranging from 18 months to 15 years!!!” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter SNWannabe
Mumsnetters love the original Stomp Rocket, which provides hours of entertainment for kids both big and small. However the Original Stomp Rocket Duelling Rockets take things one step further by introducing a competitive edge to the game.
The premise is simple: just jump or stomp on the powerful air-launch pad to send these durable foam rockets up to a whopping 200 feet into the air.
This kit comes with two launch pads, meaning two kids can play at the same time to see who can send their rocket the furthest.
It’s dead easy to assemble, with no batteries required. But as you would expect, a large open space is needed - this is not a game for small back gardens (or the living room…).
Easy to play
Easy to assemble
Needs a large outdoor space
Rockets don’t work so well in windy weather
10. Best engineering STEM toy: LEGO Technic McLaren Senna GTR Racing Car
Price: £34.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“My 14 year old has never stopped liking lego. He loves the cars with gearing etc and sets that are interesting to build and that look good.” Recommended by Mumsnetter OakleyStreetisnotinChelsea
No list of the best STEM toys is complete without a set from the mighty LEGO.
Based on the classic McLaren Senna race car, this kit features a detailed V8 engine with moving pistons and dihedral doors that open up and out in the unmistakable style of the real McLaren.
All LEGO Technic model car building kits feature realistic movement and mechanisms, making it the perfect way to introduce your child or teen to engineering. And LEGO Technic fans can further indulge their passions with a range of other collectable kits including the Ford Mustang Shelby and off-roader truck.
And with 830 pieces in the McLaren Senna kit, it’s bound to buy you a bit of peace and quiet to boot.
Great introduction to LEGO Technic range
An excellent gift for young petrolheads
Introduces kids to engineering
Requires time and patience
Really only good for car fanatics
What is a STEM toy?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths and STEM toys aim to ignite children’s interest in these subjects. STEM toys are educational and introduce children to STEM concepts including logic, experimentation and problem-solving through play.
How to choose the best STEM toy
Follow their interests: If your child shows an interest in stacking items – whether that’s stones on the beach, nesting cups or wooden blocks - think about a toy, game or activity that could take this interest further, for example, Jenga, marble run or even stacking up the humble toilet roll until it topples. Through repetition – and many crashes – they will learn about the basics of construction and engineering.
Fun factor: Ask yourself, will my child enjoy this toy? Will it provide fun and excitement, as well as learning opportunities? Will it help inspire confidence in their own ideas and imagination?
Open-ended: The best STEM toys are usually multi-faceted. They have more than one intended purpose in that they allow your child to use their creativity to adapt the toy to meet their interests. For example, they may start out using a LEGO construction kit for its intended purpose (as a car), but they might later use more LEGO to adapt it into a campervan or a spaceship.
Age range: Check the recommended age range and ensure that your child has adult supervision if there is any doubt about safety (i.e. small parts that could be choking hazards or substances like glue).
Longevity: A toy or game that has different modes of difficulty - like the ThinkFun Gravity Maze - will grow with your child and can often be used for multiple children playing together.
Durability: Check reviews carefully for items that are hardwearing and don’t easily break.
Where can you buy the best STEM toys?
STEM toys are quite common and can be bought from all major retailers, such as Amazon, Argos and Smyths Toys, as well as independent toy stores.
What is the best STEM toy for kids?
Snap Circuits Junior Plus is the best STEM toy for kids because it gets them working on real models of everyday items we use - such as radios, alarms, and doorbells - and there are over 100 projects to choose from, which makes it a toy with long-lasting appeal.
How we chose our recommendations
Mumsnet has been helping parents make their lives easier since 2000 and, in those years, we’ve seen, tried and reviewed thousands of products. Transparency is really important to us and that's why we're always upfront about where we find our recommendations.
We write about products that we feel offer the best value to most parents – the ones that our users would recommend to their own friends and family.
Recommendations from real parents
Before we recommend new products, we always ask our trusted Mumsnet users, of which there are more than 7 million each month. That’s a lot of honest, impartial advice.
We always ensure our information represents the latest recommendations from experts so you can rely on it, and we research each product thoroughly to ensure it follows the latest expert advice and stands up to scrutiny.
We also scour the internet, leaving no stone unturned to check out real reviews from customers who have bought the products themselves and given both positive and negative feedback.
Celebrated best products
Finally, we cross-referenced all of the above information to find the best STEM toys that had won the most accolades and recommendations across the board to bring you a selection of the best ones at various price points. We think there’s something here for everyone.
Why you should trust us
We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.