Many people are vaguely familiar with STEM toys, as the concept of incorporating several key subjects into single projects or toys has been around for nearly two decades.
However, STEAM and STREAM concepts are relatively new and haven’t caught on quite as quickly.
What’s the difference between STEM, STEAM, and STREAM kits? STEM kits are specialized toys designed to teach science, technology, engineering, and math through play. STEAM kits include the same elements but incorporate various arts too. STREAM builds upon STEAM by integrating reading and communication skills as well.
STEM and related concepts shatter the notion that subjects should be strictly taught individually as separate entities.
While slightly different, they all focus on merging various aspects of key subjects through play to teach, engage, stimulate, and challenge students.
Once you understand how STEM, STEAM, and STREAM differ, you’ll be able to decide which one will be best for your child’s development.
STEM is an acronym formed from the words science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Educational toys designed to aid students (and adults) in developing key skills within these core disciplines are categorized as STEM toys or kits.
STEM Kits for Young Children
Early childhood STEM kits are often hard to distinguish from “regular” toys as they are designed to teach through play in an engaging, fun way .
Young children using STEM kits will be encouraged to improve in areas such as:
- Fine motor skills.
- Critical thinking.
- Problem solving
- Spatial skills.
- Construction (engineering).
Since the toys are often brightly colored, captivating, and geared toward fun, little ones don’t even realize how much they’re learning as they play.
Popular STEM toys for this age group include:
- Marble runs.
- Easy science experiments.
- 3D building sets.
(I list my top recommendations of STEM kits for preschoolers in this article.)
STEM Kits for Older Children
STEM kits are not limited to simple toys. More advanced kits are available to teach older children all kinds of principles.
Since older children are further along in their education, topics are typically much more complex and may involve:
- Solar energy.
- Chemistry and physics.
Recommended STEM Kits
Brickyard Building Blocks Engineering Kit
With 163 colorful pieces, five wrenches, a screwdriver, and multiple movable wheels, young children will be entertained for hours as they bolt together the various shapes to create their envisioned design.
A large, full-color guide walks children through 42 different designs, but many children will enjoy creating freestyle even more.
This kit is recommended for ages 3 and up.
Snap Circuits Light – Electronics Exploration Kit
Although the basics of electricity elude many of us, today’s children will be at a disadvantage if they do not have a firm grasp of how electricity works.
This kit features snap-together, color-coded circuit components that make mastery of electronics simple and fun.
The instruction manual teaches 175 projects involving working circuit boards in ascending order of complexity, so skills are continually built upon as children progress.
Projects range from a simple LED light and switch to an infrared detector to strobe-integrated circuits to changing color shows in coordination to songs playing on an iPod.
This kit is recommended for children 8 years and older.
12-in-1 Solar Robot
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Children will be thrilled to build their own solar-powered robot that can actually roll across the floor, walk around, or paddle through water.
When kids finish building and testing one robot, they can disassemble it and create a totally different robot from one of the 12 design choices.
If you have a robot fan in your home, this STEM toy is ideal.
This kit is recommended for children 8 years old and up.
STEAM kits are quite similar to STEM kits, except for the inclusions of arts, such as music, painting, drawing, and dance.
STEAM kits, like STEM, are a comprehensive approach to learning, just with an extra twist.
The thinking here is that it’s beneficial to incorporate creative expressions into STEM projects to enhance the child’s learning experience and nurture all aspects of their thought process.
Keep in mind that “the arts” is a broad term, so STEAM kits can vary widely.
Some may integrate music, while others include culinary art aspects. Some may work sculpture into the project, and some might focus on theater.
Since there is so much wiggle room, the possibilities are practically limitless.
Recommended STEAM Kits
With a little creativity on your part, practically any product labeled for STEM can be transformed into a STEAM kit.
There are, however, many kits designed specifically with STEAM in mind. The following is just a small sampling.
STEAM Powered Kids Kitchen Science Kit
This kitchen science kit includes most of what is needed (some common household items are necessary too) to conduct more than 30 interesting experiments.
Projects range from a mini water cycle model to generating electricity with citrus fruits to a tabletop volcano and many more.
The full color, detailed instruction book not only gives clear directions for each experiment but also explains the scientific principles involved in an easy-to-understand way.
This kit is recommended for children over 8 years old.
Sparkle N’ Grow Butterfly Terrarium
Creativity for Kids combines the science behind seed sprouting with artistic design elements to create a cute mini terrarium that kids find magical.
This kit includes a plastic jar, lid, potting mix, chia seeds, wheatgrass seeds, a mister, and accessories for decoration.
Enough seeds are included for two separate plantings.
Once the seeds are planted and the terrarium decorated to the child’s liking, all that’s left is to place it near a sunny window and keep it nice and damp.
Children can tackle this project any time of the year – no need to wait until spring – and will love watching what they planted sprout and grow.
This kit is recommended for children 6 years old and up.
Your child may also enjoy similar kits by Creativity for Kids, including Grow N’ Glow Terrarium, Grow N’ Glow Dinosaur Habitat, and Wee Enchanted Fairy Garden.
STEAM Powered Kids Crystal Science
With this kit, kids can grow a total of 10 crystals, including a glow-in-the-dark crystal and two crystal geodes.
The crystals will be in assorted colors and textures, will reach completion in under 10 days, and will last indefinitely.
Young and old alike will enjoy learning about the beauty and complexity of crystal growth and displaying the colorful results.
Detailed instructions and display domes are provided.
This kit is recommended for children 10 years and older.
When you take the science-focused aspects of STEM, integrate art concepts, and toss reading (and communication) into the mix, you get STREAM.
Great concept, right? The problem is finding STREAM kits that actually incorporate reading, writing, or communication skills.
True STREAM kits are pretty hard to find.
You may come across one labeled STREAM, but upon closer inspection you find that no reading or writing skills are fostered at all.
The good news is that you can incorporate various communication skills into any STEM or STEAM kit yourself.
Simply have your child explain to you what he or she learned from a particular project, or have him read and implement the instructions all by himself.
A short period of research on the internet before the toy is opened would do the trick too.
See? It’s easy.
Another approach to STREAM DIY would be to have your child read a book (or read one together) and base a project on one of the book’s themes.
For instance, read The Secret Garden together (little ones may enjoy Amelia Bedelia Helps Out instead) and then head outside to start a garden together.
Children can learn:
Science – Sprouting and photosynthesis.
Technology – Tractors, smart plant monitors, etc.
Reading/communication – Garden journaling, discussing plans, sharing progress with family members.
Engineering – Build a garden walkway or bench.
Arts – Experiment to see if music affects growth, draw flowers, or create a fairy garden.
Math – Count seeds, measure row and plant spacing, and track plant growth.
Voilà! You completed a DIY STREAM project and you have a new garden to enjoy.
Last update on 2023-05-31 at 16:39 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API