X
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

16 STEM Toys Your Smarty-Pants Kids Will Love

Want a fun, engaging gift for kids? These toys are great and they’ll help kids flex their math, science, tech and engineering skills.

Bridget Carey Principal Video Producer
Bridget Carey is an award-winning reporter who helps you level-up your life -- while having a good time geeking out. Her exclusive CNET videos get you behind the scenes as she covers new trends, experiences and quirky gadgets. Her weekly video show, "One More Thing," explores what's new in the world of Apple and what's to come. She started as a reporter at The Miami Herald with syndicated newspaper columns for product reviews and social media advice. Now she's a mom who also stays on top of toy industry trends and robots. (Kids love robots.)
Expertise Consumer technology | Apple | Google | Samsung | Microsoft | Amazon | Meta | Social media | Mobile | Robots | Future tech | Immersive technology | Toys | Culture Credentials
  • Bridget has spent over 18 years as a consumer tech reporter, hosting daily tech news shows and writing syndicated newspaper columns. She's often a guest on national radio and television stations, including ABC, CBS, CNBC and NBC.
Desiree DeNunzio Editor
Desiree DeNunzio is the gift guide editor for CNET's Commerce team. When she's not writing and editing, she's either hiking through the redwoods or curled up with a good book and a lazy dog.
Expertise Desiree has been a writer and editor for the past two decades, covering everything from top-selling Amazon deals to apparel, pets and home goods. Credentials
  • Desiree's previous work has appeared in various print and online publications including Search Engine Land, PCWorld, Wired magazine and PBS MediaShift.
Bridget Carey
Desiree DeNunzio
7 min read
$73 at Target
pyxel
Pyxel
Coding for kiddos
$30 at Amazon
national-geographic-mega-slime-putty-lab.png
National Geographic Slime Kit
Make your own slime
$49 at Amazon
knex thrill rides amusement park building set
K'nex Thrill Rides Amusement Park Building Set
Get the thrill of building
$21 at Amazon
gummy candy lab
Gummy Candy Lab
Sweet science
$69 at Amazon
Artie Max
Artie Max
Creative coding
$26 at Amazon
circuit-explorer
Circuit Explorer
Blast off into circuits
$320 at Lego
spike-essential-lifestyle-2
Lego Education Spike Essential Kit
Hands-on Lego learning
$19 at Amazon
aerodancer-3dbox
Incredible Inflatable Aero Dancer
Make your own wacky tube man
$30 at Amazon
Robot Factory
Kids First Robot Factory
Early engineering
$50 at Target
start-16
3Doodler Start Plus
Easy-to-use 3D creativity
$30 at Walmart
chocolatepen
Chocolate Pen by Skyrocket
A junior chef's delight (Out of Stock at Walmart)
See at KiwiCo
kiwico-crate
KiwiCo Crates
Hands-on projects galore
$18 at Walmart
litebrite-1
Lite-Brite
Light it up
$62 at Amazon
botley
Botley 2.0
Screen-free programming
$35 at Amazon
blockaroo-2.png
Blockaroo
Building fun for little hands
$40 at Amazon
Magformers
Magformers
A need for speed

When it comes to parenting, we all want to keep little ones busy, entertained and engaged. One of the best ways to do all three is with a top-notch toy that'll provide hours of engagement. Finding such an item isn't the easiest feat, but it's possible. Providing your kiddo with loads of fun while teaching them a thing or two feels like a win-win for all moms and dads. 

As far as gadgets and toys go, our experts at CNET are always looking for the latest and greatest items on the market that don't just bring kids joy but help engage their minds as well. We're talking about STEM toys (science, tech, engineering and math), and there are a variety of wonderful options to look at. These toys both fascinate young minds and help facilitate all sorts of creative tasks that can teach your kid to code, build and provide a better understanding of how the natural world works. These toys sound like they could be complicated, but engaging your child's mind while they work to complete a project can be quite fun and super rewarding. To that end, we've rounded up some of the best STEM toys that your smart youngsters will enjoy.

Watch this: Coolest Toys With a Tech Twist

Below are some of our favorite STEM toy gift ideas. From a cool slime kit to a robot factory and even a chocolate pen for your little kitchen helper, there are our recommendations for the best STEM toys to give your children. These hands-on activities and educational toys will get your little ones exploring, building creating to help inspire and educate. We won't blame you for wanting to play with them yourself.

Educational Insights

Pyxel is a great STEM toy that teaches kids to code, no matter their level of coding. This cool pet is fun for both beginners and those who already have some experience with coding. There's a simple remote for basic fun and Blockly coding for those starting out. Take it up a notch, and you can also use it to learn Python.

Amazon

National Geographic's kits are a great way to get kids excited about science. Even if your kid isn't totally into science (yet), they'll be impressed with all the varieties of slime and putty in this kit, including glow-in-the-dark and bouncing putty and snotty slime. 

The kit comes with seven premade slimes and putties and all the ingredients so kids can make their own. There's also a learning guide, so you can learn all about slime and putty and try out some experiments.

Amazon

This fun and challenging K'nex kit will keep budding engineers busy for hours. The best part? The end result is a massive, 3-foot-tall motorized ferris wheel that will provide even more endless hours of entertainment. This kit is recommended for ages 9 and up, but keep in mind that kids on the younger side will probably need some adult supervision to help them with the more complex pieces.

Amazon

Kids who love candy (and who doesn't?) will appreciate this Gummy Candy Lab kit. Not only will they learn about different chemistry concepts, but they'll get to munch on delicious treats in the process. The kit comes with everything they'll need for candy-making, including a plastic mold, carrageenan (natural gelatin), cherry and lemon flavorings, and storage bags. Maybe if you're really nice, they'll share.

Educational Insights

If you are looking for coding toys, Artie teaches coding line-by-line... by drawing lines on paper. Kids program this expressive bot buddy to doodle designs with three color markers loaded in its back. It has built-in tutorials and an easy-to-follow guide so kids can jump right in after unboxing -- and seeing something happen on paper gives immediate gratification. It teaches five coding languages: Blockly, Snap!, JavaScript, Python and C++.

Artie can also sense colors and follow lines and be remote-controlled and has a "cliff sensor" to avoid falling off tables. 

Educational Insights

Circuit Explorer is kind of like Lego, but this STEM skills toy teaches the very basics of how a circuit works in programming. Kids learn that they need to connect the lines on the side to complete a circuit and make things light up or move. Choose from three different sets with rocket ships, Mars rovers and space stations or mix and match parts to invent your own monster machine. They can even connect with Lego bricks. 

Lego

There's a whole world of Lego for education, and you won't find it in the toy aisle. The Lego Learning System has kits packed with hundreds of bricks and instructions to guide students through several lessons. Each kit is targeted to different kids' ages. These teaching kits are designed for the classroom, but anyone can buy these educational toys directly from Lego for hands-on learning at home. (And there are teacher guides to help parents too.) 

Our favorite is the Spike Essential learning kit for grades 1-5, which includes a few tech pieces like a light matrix, color sensor and motor. Kids also use an app to program their creations. With 449 bricks and 40 lessons, the kit teaches computational thinking, design engineering, physics and math skills -- all told through a story of cute Lego figure characters. If you want something cheaper without the tech and programming parts but still want to keep the physics and math lessons, check out the BricQ Motion Essential kit for $134.

Thames & Kosmos

Thames & Kosmos make some of the best build-it-yourself engineering toys and they are often hard to find. (We're looking at you, Candy Claw Machine and Mega Cyborg Hand.) Here's one fun gem that we're still seeing widely available: This wacky, waving, inflatable arm-flailing tube man has a blower that lets kids conduct experiments with air pressure, airflow and aerodynamics. Air basketball. Air cannon. Air tube man. Good for ages 8 and up, and we stress the "up" because you want this for your desk. (No judgment here.)

Thames & Kosmos

Making your own robot doesn't need to require programming skills. This is the Kids First Robot Factory by Thames & Kosmos, and it's good for introducing kids to basic engineering concepts. The manual is an illustrated storybook that guides youngsters through building eight different battery-powered motorized bots. With this building toy, kids can also make their own contraptions, and as they go through the story they learn why each robot moves in its own way. 

3Doodler

Here's a different twist on the DIY robot. Kids can build anything their young minds can imagine out of plastic with this 3D printing pen. The 3Doodler Start Plus is slim and light, making it easier for small hands to hold. With a 30-minute charge, this pen melts sticks of plastic so kids can draw them into any shape, but the nozzle and melted plastic aren't hot, so it won't burn little hands. (I've tested it; you can put the tip to your skin and draw on your finger. I had no worries giving it to my kids.) Draw right on paper or a table and the plastic creation pops right off. 

It comes with 72 filament strands and an activity guide with 10 new projects. To take the learning up a notch, there's a $13 Edu Stem Accessory Kit with more activities.

Skyrocket

Want something more tasty? Draw it in the kitchen with chocolate with Skyrocket's Chocolate Pen. A warming tray keeps chocolate gooey as your battery-powered pen sucks up the sweet stuff into the cartridge. Draw, eat, repeat. This fun pen comes in various colors, and little hands will have an easy time filling up the molds. You can also draw whatever shape you want on wax paper and it'll cool in 10 minutes. Sure, this activity is more of a creative art, but there are chemistry lessons you can teach with cooling confectionery. Technically, that makes desserts science.

KiwiCo

There are easy ways to get kids crafty even if you aren't the crafty type. I subscribe to KiwiCo Crates, which are hands-on learning activities in a box. Packed with a few science and engineering lessons, they come in the mail and cater to different age groups. I'm a longtime subscriber for my kids, and I like the quality of the items. It's not just for tiny tikes; there are boxes for all sorts of ages, even engineering boxes for adults. Subscriptions start at $24 per month, but you can also shop the KiwiCo Store to purchase items individually. 

Target

If you're stuck trying to find screen-free activity ideas, well, just look to the old-school screen. Lite Brite is back. The machine slimmed down a bit, but it's still got the pegs you loved to punch into holes. All that creative thinking and pixel art may just inspire tomorrow's game programmer.

Amazon

This cute robot for ages 5 and up teaches basic programming, has various challenges and is screen-free with no phone or tablet required. Botley can detect objects and move around them, follow looping commands, navigate obstacle courses and follow a black line your kid designs. With an included 46-piece activity set, there's plenty to keep kids busy.

Blockaroo Toys

Even the wee ones in your life as young as 18 months can learn STEM with these magnetic foam builders. Soft blocks connect effortlessly and rotate so you can build creatures with heads, wings, elbows and other body parts. Don't worry about the blocks getting dirty as they're dishwasher-safe and bath-friendly.

My 2-year-old hasn't gotten tired of them after a year, and my 5-year-old also still plays with these to make up all sorts of vehicles and creatures. It's always a win to get a toy that has a good shelf life, and you can expand this stem education toy with multiple set boxes.

Magformers

I'm a fan of this geometric brain-training toy. There are many spins on the magnetic building-blocks trend, but I've personally taken a liking to Magformers in how it's designed and the options available for different types of box sets, so it can expand easily for different age ranges. My advice: Get a starter set with wheels, so kids can give their creations some speed. Some models can even be controlled by remote.