With Christmas just around the corner, moms and dads are acutely aware that they need to get that Christmas shopping done, especially for those gifts from Santa. Toys and video games were all the rage back in my day. I did not like arts & crafts gifts, or really anything that involved hands-on. However, with parents playing Mozart to their unborn child and teaching them math at age 2, there is definitely a concern that children need to be learning, all the time.
Trying to get your children to enjoy learning has never been easy. Especially for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects. However, toy developers are not deterred. According to a 2013 research report from the toy industry “… sales of scientific toys and educational toys… grew…by 17% and 25%, respectively.” This is coming from an industry worth over $2 billion, so I’ll let you (or your child) do the math.
Nevertheless, how many of these toys are really “educational”? There is a thin line between “education” and “fun” of which toymakers have to be aware. Anything too educational can be perceived as “boring” while toys with lots of bells and whistles may miss the mark completely.
As Steven John, a writer for Business Insider, states, “I’m all for letting children play with programmable robots, DIY computers, electrical motors and circuit sets…There’s just one caveat I always assign: The toy also has to be genuinely fun.”
On the flip side, marketers cannot just slap a STEM sticker onto their latest toy and come up with some far-fetched reason why it has to anything to do with STEM. As quoted in a piece in Retail Dive “STEM has become a fabulous term for marketers to use because parents buy into it … For it to be effective, it needs to be used correctly.”
So how do we balance fun and learning, a tightrope trick that grade school teachers have been doing for years? Well, as Steven John suggests, find a toy that taps into your child’s innate interests. I have a nephew who likes trucks, so I look for toy trucks that involve a lot of intricate pieces that he can take apart and put together again. His brother loves video games (of course) so maybe some sort of computer game that lets him program his own?
When we used to think about toys we just aimed for something that looked like it would entertain the child for a while until she got bored with it. But if you believe that a child should be learning as well as playing (as opposed to just playing, which research says is beneficial for child development as well) make sure to really inspect the toy to see that it truly is educational. Parents will have to fish through a lot of hype this season if they are looking for the best STEM toy. Not to worry, Steven John created a list of best STEM toys. Why don’t you take a look?
By Amy Loriaux
December 14, 2018