We know, we know. We worry about too *much* technology sometimes with our kids, in a day and age where it seems like kids are born with screens in their hands and their eyeballs glued to whatever flashy lights catch their eyes. Especially these days as it seems the whole world is virtual and if you're not? You're missing out on basic connection.
But the reality is that STEAM fields are growing in the job sector at exponential rates, and they're only predicted to grow more quickly as our children grow up. In fact, it's projected that by 2020, there will be over one million unfilled STEM-related jobs in the United States. And, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, it's imperative that our children's generation not only recognize they're part of a global population, but learn how to effectively manage their daily lives as the dependence on technology increasingly grows. Why? Because When our children are savvy, they are better prepared to take care of their fellow humans and find solutions that our earth faces.
Related: From Preschoolers To Primary: The Best Gifts For 3 To 6 Year Olds
Engaging in STEAM activities and focuses is a giant platform for them doing so. And, much to the contrary belief that everything STEAM requires turning into a screen zombie, the fact is that screens are only a small part of many of the incredible critical thinking and problem-solving processes that STEAM activities incorporate. That's right-when it comes to true STEAM opportunities, screens are very small part of the larger innovative, creative and stimulating brain processes we offer our children.
How Did National STEAM Day Come To Be?
You may be familiar with the popular Netflix web series Project MC2. It's about a group of smart young women who use their brains and science to solve mysteries and problems as spies who are part of the super-secret spy organization NOV8. Think modern Nancy Drew meets a cleaned up and even smarter Jack Ryan.
MGA Entertainment created the series to inspire children to be innovative, and the STEAM Day project was created based on the web-series, hence NOV8 (pronounced 'innovate') as the name of the group. And because they strongly believe that creative innovation is imperative to a child's childhood. They introduced STEAM day in November of 2015, and it's only grown in popularity as the years have passed.
So, how can you and your family celebrate National STEAM Day? You can always check Project MC2 out and binge a little bit. We have to warn you, though, watching those girls use those STEAM skills is pretty addictive!
So much is online now, but that doesn't mean that we have to miss out on incredible brain-based activities and opportunities. In fact, they seem more numerable than ever.
And that's the thing to remember; National STEAM Day isn't just about creating little robots who like to play with robots. It's companies looking at how brains really work; what inspires children and what moves them to creativity, and how it takes both sides of the brain to do so.
And, because we believe that there's power and empowerment for our kids' when we have access to quality STEAM options (not just some battery-operated gadget that flashes lights but does nothing to build your child's brain or inspire creativity) we reached out to industry experts and found a SLEW of awesome, curiosity-invoking STEAM products that make great gifts any time of the year. We're not just talking about toys! We've found some neat teas, accessories and clothing items too, and they're great for reminding our kids that a STEAM brain really is a well-rounded, thoughtful brain.
Related: Study: Math Anxiety Keeps Girls Out of STEM Careers
We talked with Joshua M. Pearce, a Professor and Director of Michigan Tech's Open Sustainability Technology Lab. He and his colleagues just recently finished a study looking at the potential for low-cost 3D printers to be used to 3D print learning aids for kids -- the results showed you can make high-quality learning/teaching tools for less than the sales tax on commercial products.
Dr. Pearce said desktop 3-D printers have come down in cost to under $250 as the number of free designs you can manufacture with them has exploded into the millions. He also said that there are hundreds of free designs for 3D printed STEM products mothers can make with their children using such a 3D printer - everything from chemical (image attached) and DNA models to geometry, math (attached) and physics puzzles to engineering gear ratios with magnets on the fridge (picture attached) to dinosaur skeletons or human anatomy (picture attached).
MyMiniFactory is a free repository that breaks designs down by subject and grade level. The studies Dr. Pearch and his team conducted are agnostic on the 3D printer used - but they recommend open-source 3-D printers (e.g. Lulzbot, Creality, Prusa and RepRaps) because you can convert them into STEM tools themselves. For example, you can either 3-D print a microscope and use disposable use a pair of camera lenses to make a simple optical microscope or you can mount an inexpensive USB microscope to your 3D printer and make a 3D microscope.
For mothers with older children - he suggests the upcoming book Create, Share, and Save Money Using Open-Source Projects, which shows how to make more complex free and open source STEM projects from your own water quality tester to a fully 3-D printable centrifuge that you can calibrate using free software and your cell phone (picture attached). The 3D printers can also be used to flex your children's creativity - such as having them design and print their own avatars for free board games (like this free game that teaches about environmental conservation).
Using technology to save the environment...we're in.
I know, I know...more screen time? That's what I keep thinking over and over but...the reality is that it really is about the quality of the screen time that makes the difference. I took advantage of a free trial lesson for my son with WhiteHat Jr. The ads kept popping up in my social media pages and my son loves to code, so I thought, "Why not? Can't hurt to try..."
And then I learned a bit more about WhiteHat Jr. Karan Bajaj is the CEO and Founder of WhiteHatJr. and he found it thinking about his daughters. A diction author, he wanted to make sure his daughters had opportunities to create and build their own futures. Knowing coding is a great way for kids to create with limitless imagination, he established WhiteHat Jr. to give 1-on-1 virtual coding classes for kids all over the world.
Sajid Shariff is the Head of WhiteHat Jr. North America and said that, "STEM education...has immense benefits for cognitive development...coding teaches students logic, problem-solving, communication and social skills. These skills give students tools to excel socially, academically and eventually in their careers...particularly as we continue to shift to a knowledge-based economy..."
What *I* particularly love is that all 6,000+ of the teachers are highly educated and skilled women. They're taking their careers in new directions reaching kids all over the world, and giving 1-on-1 attention that helps keep kids actively engaged and learning as they take some pretty high-tech coding courses. Super cool and my son loves it!
Check out some more of the 20+ awesome products and ideas you can enjoy on this National STEAM Day and every other day too!
We love these building toys. Let me repeat, love. They're super cool (and don't feel one bit bad on your feet if you step on them in the middle of the night, cough, cough LEGO) and innovative and they offer your kids free-form STEM creativity.
Created by well-known toy designer Assaf Eshet (CEO of Toyish Labs), they answer the problem of structured and limited play when it comes to children's building toys. No need for booklets to follow instructions and imaginations to be limited. Clixo lets kids use super flexible pieces to create and recreate and recreate some more--a mix of Origami and engineering meeting in the middle. The pieces snap together to make cleanup easier and oh, by the way, just through Clixo in the dishwasher to get them deep cleaned. Kids are in charge of their own creations and it's a great way to keep them busy in cars or restaurants screen-free!
Just Add Baking Soda by Griddly Games
Do you have a kid who loves to have things explode? Only me? Well, this STEAM kit is designed for them, or any kid that loves mixing art and science. They'll be able to make bath bombs, ornaments, the traditional volcano and more but they'll also be learning about chemical reactions, states of matter and alkalinity. Um, yeah. Not your old-school baking soda volcano experiment at all!
Hopscotch Girls Books Sticker Book or Think Brave Coloring Book
The world of Science is waiting to be discovered by curious little girls who dream big! Science! STEM Sticker Adventure is a must-have for girls who are into science . This sticker book introduces girls to 7 different disciplines, including Chemistry, in the Science and STEM areas.
We also love Think Brave: A Coloring & Drawing Adventure it's a coloring book to give curious girls the space to ask questions, discover what interests them and create moments of connection with the adults in their life. Great for every day of the year, really, and a great way to incorporate the 'A' of STEAM.
LINGO is a self-paced, STEM-based, home-learning, coding kit that enables learners, teens and older, to enhance their STEM skills in a fun and engaging way by building a back-up sensor for an autonomous car (think Tesla) and the code to make it work...among other things!
LINGO comes with step-by-step videos and community support. The kit also includes follow-on materials that complement the highly detailed instructional booklet and inspire continued exploration. LINGO community members also have access to STEM lessons via the LINGO learning portal.
The LINGO coding kit was created by a team of experienced engineers and veteran educators at the Educational Directorate of STEMBoard, a minority-owned engineering solutions company with a mission to inspire learning and careers in STEM amongst students from disadvantaged communities. LINGO's Founder and CEO is Aisha Bowe, an aerospace engineer and former NASA rocket scientist. #GoGirlPower
GeoMag Building Sets
We love the creativity these building toys inspire. PLUS we love that they're made with 100% recycled plastic! They use powerful magnetic rods and steel spheres for children to create unlimited structures, and for beginning STEMsters, they're awesome.
For your more advanced STEM builders, the 86-piece Magnetic Motion kit rocks. It inspires kids' natural inventiveness and hands-on approach to problem-soloving and it adds mechanical elements that cater STEM learning principles. These toys are great for fine motor skill-building as well, and they're another great way to build and think without screens--perfect again for car rides or restaurants.
SmartGames IQ Arrows
This is another great game to have with you anywhere, and it's fun for kids 7-110! You fill the arrows in on the game board to match the challenges, and you work on concentration, problem-solving and visual-spatial relationship skills at the same time. Comes in a compact, portable case with a lid to keep the pieces altogether, and a great independent activity for your STEMster!
What's better to inspire STEM investigations than an awesome pocket microscope? Not much, we know...which is why we dig this super-bridght LED pocket microscope. The light illuminates viewing for your kiddos for clearer and brighter analyzation and they can see it at 20x magnification or even zoom in to 40x for fine details.
This little programmable sphere gives kids endless opportunities for coding and gaming abilities. It has advanced sensors that track acceleration, direction and speed and drives the BOLT with its internal compass. It has infrared communication that will allow it to 'talk' to other BOLTs and we love that Sphero's goal and passion is to inspire the creators of tomorrow-our children-do to great and amazing things. They do so through piquing our kids' curiosity and the power of play.
VertiPlay STEM Marble Run
Talk about super fun play that is STEM-based! Your child can create a marble run on the wall (like is often seen at fun Children's Museums) and the VertiPlay Stem Marble Run is extendable so with your child's imagination, its possibilities are endless! It promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills but kids just think they're having a ball!
Toybox Labs 3D Printer
This 3D printer from Toybox may be the one that the whole family fights over! It's 3D printer and creativity platform that can be set up in fewer than five minutes, and you can immediately start printing-and we're talking about printing really easy-to-recognize and enjoy things.
But Toybox isn't about just creating toys for the sake of more toys. They care about their contents and all the 'printer food' is non-toxic and biodegradable. We spoke with Co-Founder and CEO Ben Baltes and he said that they want to give kids freedom to build and create in an earth-friendly way. And while this is quite the sophisticated STEAM product, it's super user-friendly and doesn't need to be tethered to a computer in order to create. The possibilities are truly endless!
Want your kiddos to build their own computer? Check out Boolean Boxes, then! It's a box designed by girls but it's for any and everybody who's STEAM minded. It's based on the nonprofit organization that was created to help girls feel comfortable about STEM interests-Boolean Girl Camps. The camps were such a hit the nonprofit created the company to sell these computers to everyone and they're awesome! Kids can build their computer and then code with Raspberry Pi. Trust us, your kids will know what that is!
Chess is an incredible board game that research finds to be tremendously beneficial when growing young brains. It helps children improve their critical thinking and reasoning skills, and with Story Time Chess, they can learn how to play with the game coming alive for them. The rules and strategy are part of the fun and engaging stories and kids will reach for this time and time again because the story book is so beautiful and the game so much fun!
Like we said, not all STEAM products are screen-related, and we love these open-ended wooden building toys invented by a female engineer, Shannon Varcoe. Shannon decided that there needed to be products that focused on the process of playing and creating and not just the end product, and these gender-inclusive wooden pieces allow the whole family to collaborate. They're made with maple hardwood and fit together in a really unique way that lets the structures expand in the X, Y and Z coordinate axes (get it? ZYX). They're plastic-free, totally STEAM and totally fun!
STEAM Teas From The TeaBook
Oh, how we love those who love their mamas! The TeaBook founder Noah Bleich lost his mother to ovarian cancer, but NOT before she took one of his dreams (a better way to organize tea in his pantry) and put it to life with the TeaBook. Noah now makes delicious organic teas but they're not just any teas--they're teas like Nikola TEAsla and Albert EinsTEAn's RelativiTEA and Marie Curie Tea. They're part of his ScienTEAist series and we love, love, love the concept and love his mission toward EqualiTEA for all!
Meccano Erector Introduction To Robotics Kit
Robots are all the rage for STEAM-minded kids and we love this popular set from Meccano. It's great for kids who are 10+, although some younger kids may be able to work with a parent's or sibling's help. Young engineers can use the Maker tool to turn their own materials into parts for their own creations and kids can use the included blueprints or their own imaginations. It works with all of Meccano's Innovation sets so possibilities for creating are endless!
Electric Motors Catalyst by Tinkering Labs
The Electric Motors Catalyst Robotics Stem Kit by Tinkering Labs is the perfect kit for kids between the ages of 6-8+. We love the open-ended tinkering that it encourages, and kids can build doodling robots, electric motor cars and more. It's compatible with LEGOs and other similar bricks and it really is a toolbox of endless possibilities. We think the Tinkering Labs project challenges are super fun too because then kids get to be part of and inspired by a community of like-minded encouragers.
Kano: Star Wars The Force Coding Kit
Hand2Mind Stem At Play Slime Kit
Another screen-free STEAM experience for young chemists and experts in slimy things. The 'lab' includes pictures and information behind polymer chemistry, so yes-there is merit to your kiddos making slime! It's perfect for future scientists to see how household items combined with kit materials can create and give hands-on experience with scientific tools and materials while learning about the science of polymers.
We love Gravitrax for the spatial reasoning and motor-planning skills it strengthens and kids just love it because it's fun to create and make new paths. They learn about gravity, kinetics and magnetism too, all while they're mesmerized by the balls rolling over their created paths. It's also got lots of fun expansion kits that make it a marble run that's run solely on kids' imaginations and problem-solving skills.
Elenco's TEACH TECH Air Screamer and Solar RoverElenco's TEACH TECH line includes STEAM robotic kits that expose kids to renewable energy and coding with their Learn By Doing® philosophy. With these kits, kids will be able to employ critical thinking skills, tinker, build, code and program all with a focus on alternative energy like solar, wind or hydraulic power. It's important our kids are able to move into a world where we look for greener energy and these products don't require batteries because they're driven by the sun, wind or water!
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HABA Brain Builder Ben and HABA Brain Builder Cat and Mouse
These non-toxic and well-crafted wooden blocks are the best for little brains to build their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, while they also develop fine-motor coordination too. They're precursors to coding as littles will use a deck of cards with different pictures to match their creations. There are three levels of the cards and children are of course able to create as they choose too. The Cat and Mouse are adorable and will keep little ones engaged in a screen-free STEAM activity that helps teach cause and effect and builds their cognition.
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We will never, ever, ever tire of sharing how books are STEAM related. They're the foundation of every learning opportunity and they teach us something new every day. Some of our favorite STEAM-related books come from a favorite company, Barefoot Books. Barefoot Books Solar System teaches kids in an easy-to-understand and beautifully illustrated way. My Friend Robot introduces kids to a fun STEAM friend and we love that kids are reminded how important books are in all learning processes!
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