An encouraging trend appears to have taken hold in the toy industry - toys that promote STEM skills. If you're not familiar with this acronym, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Math.
Getting kids interested in STEM topics is a wonderful thing, but beware of "the wolf in sheeps clothing". There are many great toys that are STEM focused at their very essence, but recently we've seen an onslaught of superficial toys that claim to have STEM benefits. With all these imposters, we'd like the real STEM toys to please stand up!
I have a little adage that I live by in business: Be skeptical of anyone who claims to be an expert. Why? An expert doesn't need to claim anything, he's just that good. Same thing applies to toys. A real STEM toy doesn't need to claim anything, it simply oozes science, technology, engineering and math.
When you play with a real STEM toy, you may not be learning any specific skill, rather you're learning the fundamentals of critical thinking, problem solving, visualization, and perseverence.
One of the big misnomers is that STEM is all about electronics and computers. Many of the giant toy companies are marching out a variety of electronic toys and claiming they have STEM benefits. A perfect example of this is the latest introduction in the Furby line called Furbling Friends. Because you can interact with Furby via an app, it's now a STEM toy. REALLY? SERIOUSLY?!
Electronics and computers are both important skills in any STEM toolbox, but they are simply the manifestation of a solid understanding of good old fashioned science and math skills. You don't need a calculator to be good at math, and a kid certainly doesn't need electronics to develop STEM skills.
A good example might be architecture or engineering. In this day and age, every structure is ultimately designed on sophisticated 3D CAD software, right? So it might be assumed that every student of architecture or engineering simply begins with computer aided design. On the contrary, architecture students spend much of their first semesters building models by hand, hand drawing, studying calculus, physics and art history.
Bottom line, even in today's technology-centric world, every future architect, engineer, technologist, or scientist must have a solid foundation built from the basics. And ask any current engineer or scientist and I'm guessing they will name some of these same toys as inspirations for their own careers.
We'd like to ask the following toys to please stand up and be recognized for their contribution to STEM related pursuits!
These are some of my favorites, but I welcome your feedback. What toys and games inspired you to pursue a career in a STEM field? What toys and games do you think best promote STEM skills? Please post your answers via Facebook below.