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STEAM Skills Gift Guide

Developing young children’s STEAM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) has become a primary focus in early childhood education. Many equate the acronym with teaching kids how to use technology, but STEAM actually connects a wide range of subjects, bringing arts and science together. A STEAM foundation starts with helping children achieve a solid, tangible understanding of math and science that will support their process of inquiry. Repeated experiences with discovery, inquiry and the creative process help children cultivate flexible thinking, innovation, planning, problem solving, creativity — we could go on! At home, you can further encourage STEAM learning by limiting screen time in favor of open-ended play. It’s a simple, effective choice reportedly employed by tech moguls Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  The “T” may stand for “technology”, but that doesn’t only mean helping kiddo become savvy with an iPad. Check out our top toy picks for supporting STEAM skills outside the classroom.

Eco Floating Blocks

Floating Blocks, $40

 

You’re never too young to start developing STEAM foundations! Stimulate baby’s sensory development with these floating blocks made from 100% plant-based rubber. Have you ever wondered why shapes are one of the first things we teach little ones? It’s because shapes make up our world. Use these floating blocks to help your baby explore shapes and give them a cognitive context. Bath time is one of our favorite opportunities for purposeful play, especially because water is such an exciting sensory element for little ones.

Though very young children don’t have the language skills to name shapes, through play they learn how to organize and understand visual information in their world and develop a tactile memory for the structure of a triangle or the feel of a circle which solidifies the shape. The experiences of touching and manipulating their floating blocks helps babies exercise cognitive and fine motor development together. As babies get older, they turn into scientists in the tub! Whether they’re holding a block under water and watching it pop up or stacking a triangle on top of a square to test its balance, young children explore physics principles like cause and effect, buoyancy, volume, and depth. Splish-splash!

Rainbow Building Tray

Building Tray, $85

One of the most powerful play experiences for developing STEAM skills is open-ended building. When they’re young, children’s block play simply involves exploring each block’s properties. These early skills are basic but essential. With the planks in this rainbow set, children will stack, count, and line them up to explore mathematical concepts such as height, length, and quantity. Once little learners master these basics, around age four and five they will take these principles further by building—now starts the fun of constructing homes, towers, and more creative structures. As children build, and as their structures become more complex, they hone their mathematical knowledge by understanding patterning, balance, and scale. Here are some of our favorite play tips for the Rainbow Building Tray.

  • Use the blocks to teach your child part-to-whole relationships, an important early math concept. 

  • Help cultivate engineering skills with open-ended “challenges” that naturally encourage math and science. Try these:

“How can you build a structure that has two floors?”

“What happens if it snows? How will the people or animals inside your (house, zoo, airport, etc.) stay dry?”

“How can you use these blocks to make a really tall structure that doesn’t fall down?”

  • Build a bridge! A classic classroom challenge, this activity encourages children to exercise problem-solving and planning to build their structure. Help them try out different bridge designs to explore which can hold the most weight.

Provence Shape Blocks

Block Set, $99

Another colorful set crafted from heirloom-quality wood, the Provence Block Set helps young children master spatial awareness, spatial vocabulary, and make sense of differences. Encourage these STEAM skills and more as your child plays by talking in depth about the block’s attributes. Describe each block’s shape, size, color, texture, placement or location in relation to the other blocks. As always, use open-ended statements and questions to encourage young learning such as:

  • “I notice you placed the blue cube next to the green cylinder.”
  • “How do you know this is a ____ (square, circle, triangle)?”
  • “How can you use these blocks to make a pattern?”
  • “How is a triangle similar to a circle, how is it different?” 
  • Areaware Blockitecture

    Blockitecture Sets, $25-75

    A favorite toy for older children that, Blockitecture lets your little city planner create endless environments and explore mathematical, engineering, and design concepts. These hexagonal blocks stack and nest to create towers, cities and dwellings. Each block is painted with graphic, open-ended shapes that keep kiddo’s imagination stimulated. Older children can practice their planning and reasoning skills, as well as innovation and creativity. 

    Tegu Magnetic Magbot

    Magbot, $30

    Magbot isn’t just any robot, but an open-ended robot that transforms with a toddler’s imagination. Magbot breaks down into nine uniquely shaped pieces to introduce new shapes and movement to kiddo’s vocabulary. Unlike other magnetic blocks which have magnets on all side, Tegu blocks only have magnets on alternating sides. This encourages children to experiment with manipulating the pieces until they stick. As they explore cause and effect, they learn to value the discovery process and cultivate perseverance. When they build and rebuild Magbot, children practice an array of STEAM skills, such as engineering, planning, and design.

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