The types of toys featured in this guide are often called STEM toys because they can help develop skills that would be useful in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But we prefer the term “learning toys,” because, as the educators we spoke to told us, these toys and games promote creativity, logic, problem solving, collaboration, experimentation and other aptitudes that are relevant in all types of learning.
These toys are open-ended, adaptive, flexible, provocative, and, most importantly, fun.
We didn’t focus exclusively on toys that are labeled “educational toys” for this guide, since that terminology on its own is largely meaningless. Rather, we turned to educators and parents for leads to toys that have played well in the classroom and at home.
We’re not saying these toys will make kids into future inventors, programmers, or poets. Mostly we like these toys—and think the kids in your life will like them too—because they are open-ended, adaptive, flexible, provocative, and, most importantly, fun.
In fact, some research in child development has shown that kids have more fun with toys that help them learn. In a New York Times article,1 developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik described how kids learn through play: “New studies of ‘active learning’ show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works.”