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I am totally that person who has their Christmas shopping done before Halloween (lies). I also love, love, love shopping for toys (more lies), and get so much pleasure out of meticulously wrapping and decorating each package with a color coded theme that changes each year (okay, that part is true).
I’m not writing this piece to give you holiday anxiety, but my kids’ birthdays are both coming up, so gift buying is on my mind. I have one born in October, one in November and then Christmas in December, so we refer to this as the three months of endless celebration and card swiping. I will brag on myself a bit though, I’m really good at finding interesting presents that are both educational and fun. We really don’t have anything in our house that doesn’t get played with and most of what we have incorporates some aspect of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) approach to learning and playing. The idea is to find toys that allow kids to have a new experience every time they pick them up. So, whether you’re getting a head start on Christmas shopping or you need an idea for that next birthday party you’ve been invited to, here are a few of my favorite toys that will get those kids thinking at every age. I will provide a link to the particular ones we have (or will be purchasing), but a simple Amazon search will bring up other options that may be a better fit depending on your child’s age.
Magnetic Gears: From the time my kids could sit up, they loved playing with magnets at the fridge while I cooked or worked in the kitchen. We had letters, animals, and these awesome gears.
Nuts and Bolts Play Set: These come with design ideas for the kiddos or they can innovate and make their own creations. Following directions – good. Following your imagination – even better.
Balance Scale: My kids have spent hours weighing everything they can get their hands on. I actually bought this after my son’s teacher said he had stayed in the Math area all morning doing exactly that. I never would have thought to pick one up, but I’m glad I did!
Fort Construction Kit: These are basically giant Tinker Toys (also a great STEAM toy). You will seriously have as much fun with these as the kids do. There is no limit to the possible combinations, and after putting the pieces together you can drape a sheet over it for a private, multi-room fort.
Snap Circuits: Okay, this is some serious brain fun, and it sparks really interesting discussions about electricity, cause and effect, sound and movement. My son enjoyed following the directions with me and then innovating to create his own circuits.
MATH and TECHNOLOGY
Letter Construction or Alpha Build: These are kits that allow kids to experiment with letters in a tactile way. Letter Construction is a snap together set, while Alpha Build is a magnetic kit. Both have pieces to build capital or lower case letters (or other fun shapes and designs). It’s a great way to work on letters before kiddos have the fine motor skills required to write them.
LITERACY and ENGINEERING
Geode Kits: My kids are obsessed with rocks. We have collected them from all over the world and have built up quite an interesting collection. Geode kits are a great introduction into the world of rocks. With this kit, you can break open the rocks to reveal fun surprises like fossils, crystals or small toys.
Spirograph: I had one of these kits when I was young and remember having hours of fun with it. It does require well developed fine motor skills, so it’s better for older kids. While kids create interesting designs, they are also learning about the impact that small changes can have in shape.
MATH and ART
Animation Studios: These are so much fun for young and older kids. You create scenes with 3D inanimate objects such as Legos or clay or 2D drawings, then using an included camera or smartphone app, make the scene come to life. Kids can make movies by adding music and voice overs. Wouldn’t this make for a fun date night at home too!
TECHNOLOGY and ART
Space Explorer Kit: This box has 6 space exploration activities inside. Kids can create a constellation mobile, a star kaleidoscope, and more.
SCIENCE and ART
I hope these give you some fun ideas for your next gift. It is by no means a complete list, so hop on Pinterest or Amazon to do a search for STEAM or STEM toys to find the perfect brain building activities for your kiddos. I like to do a themed gift set by adding a corresponding book.
If you have a great STEAM toy that I have not included but that you just love, please tell us about it!
You can probably relate when I say that I’m in the car A LOT. We live in North Kansas City, and we have weekly occupational therapy appointments downtown, twice a week play therapy, dance, drums, swim lessons, and I go into school several times a week to write in peace. As if the traffic, cost of gas, and endless sitting isn’t bad enough, it used to seem that my kids became somewhat possessed as soon as they got in the car. But I recently discovered a cure, and it didn’t require an exorcist. Let me explain.
I’m not a big music person, and I really can’t handle that much news, so for several years, I’ve been listening to audio books. I use the Overdrive app so I can check out books through my library account for free. I download the book to my phone and then listen to it over Bluetooth in the car or through my Echo while doing dishes and just about everywhere else.
A couple weeks ago I realized just how much my kids were listening and absorbing the material when they started asking questions about the plot line of a historical fiction novel I had checked out. I was actually pretty impressed that they were able to multi-task tormenting each other while listening to a fairly complicated story. The material was totally fine for them to hear, but I thought, if they were really engaged in material that was more relatable could we bring about a sort of peace? This began my obsession with Podcasts. I had been aware of Podcasts, and one of my mommy friends had played them for my kids several times during our vacations together. I just had never really explored them myself. Enter Pinterest. There were so many articles that I got simultaneously excited and overwhelmed. I started putting together a list after exploring at least 20 articles. It took me a while, but here’s the list and a short descriptions of each Podcast so you don’t have to spend the time searching!
Podcasts for Kids
Aside from providing peacekeeping entertainment, there is a lot of educational value in listening to Podcasts. The content is the first obvious source of enrichment, whether you’ve chosen a science rich episode or a classic fairytale, your kids are absorbing thought provoking material. In addition, the simple act of listening expands attention spans and the ability to focus. The added bonus is that you’ll probably enjoy them too and more than likely will learn something new.
How to listen to podcasts: Download a podcast player app on your smartphone. Stitcher, Podcast Player, or iTunes all work. Open the player and search for the Podcast you want to hear. In the car you can connect to Bluetooth to listen wirelessly. You can also use your Amazon Echo or Google home. Just say, “Hey Siri, Play Houston We Have a Podcast,” and you’re off and listening!