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Bring STEM Home for the Holidays

Forget computer games, superheroes or sci-fi action figures. The hot toys for kids this holiday season are educational.
These aren’t the boring, stodgy educational toys of yesteryear. These are specifically STEM toys – that is, educational presents with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
A national push is underway to encourage more students – especially underrepresented minorities and girls – to engage in STEM studies and careers. Toy manufacturers are seizing on the opportunity to inspire interest in math and science with an array of toys, games and kits for children of all ages. Most of these toys are available online, and few exceed $50.
Chemistry sets have long been the stereotypical science toy of choice, but gone are the days of hazardous materials and product liabilities. Sets like the Big Bag of Science from Be Amazing! Toys provide safe and non-toxic materials that allow students to explore chemistry, biology, geology and physics with basic laboratory tools.

For the budding microbiologist, a simple Nancy B's Science Club Microscope and Activity Journal from Educational Insights provides an introduction to the smaller world around us every day. From human cells and crystal patterns to the microbial universe inside a drop of pond water, the backyard or a nearby park can becomes a cheap and accessible laboratory.
If your child’s interest in building has outgrown her basic Lego® collection, try the Thames & Kosmos Physics Workshop. With the parts and tools to construct 36 different devices like pulleys and pendulums, students can be introduced to the fundamentals of mechanical physics without a textbook or equations.
For your amateur geologist, National Geographic offers a line of earth science toys such as the Rock Tumbler Starter Science Kit. With this simple setup, kids can learn how to polish and prepare mineral samples or make their own jewelry as they are introduced to the principles of geology and mineralogy.
As technology prices have fallen, manufacturers find it easier to incorporate more advanced electronics and programmable logic into products designed for kids. Robots, especially, are in high demand, such as the Ozobot Smart Programmable Robot from Toys & Child. This miniature robot is color-programmable, provides an introduction to software logic, and includes STEM-specific activities and lessons.
Building off the personalized success of Birchbox for women’s beauty and grooming accessories, the new service StemBox offers a monthly subscription service, specifically geared toward girls, that contains all the necessary components to complete a STEM experiment. Experiments in each shipment include simple items for chemistry, electrical engineering, computer programming, spatial awareness, and biology, as well as access to an online video library featuring professional female role models.
Similar products to any of these are plentiful from online retailers – Amazon.com has even built a dedicated STEM products and resources section. And while children enjoy some time off from school for the holidays, don’t ignore the interactive programs at your local museum such as the Discovery Days and in-house Sleepovers at Dallas’ Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Though these STEM toys and activities are just in time for the holiday season, they’re here to stay and be enjoyed year-round. So this holiday season, give the gift that keeps on giving – the gift of education.