I am a firm believer that the types of toys we have in our homes greatly affects our kids’ creativity. The toy aisles at most big box stores are filled with total junk – brightly colored plastic toys with lights and sounds that break within a few days (or hours!) of purchasing them. Many toys can only be played with one way and provide very little inspiration for imaginative play. Even some of the “STEM kits” out there are actually not very open-ended, but instead are designed to be assembled one way, and then… you’re done. I thought it might be helpful to write about our favorite building and tinkering toys that we have found to both high quality and engaging for kids!
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The Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 is definitely our favorite marble run toy. One thing to keep in mind with ANY marble run set is that while preschoolers are attracted to them, it’s the age 8 and older crowd that can really build some cool layouts. Plan to help younger kids assemble any marble run toy. That being said, I think that the Q-BA-MAZE is more attainable than some of the others out there. The Quadrilla wooden marble run looks so cool, but personally I think it’s a little hard to build (and expensive).
The Q-BA-MAZE is constructed with different types of interlocking cubes. There are single-exit cubes, double-exit cubes, and bottom-exit cubes. The double-exit cubes mean that a marble can roll out of either side, so there will always be multiple paths down your marble run!
When we first bought our maze, there were not as many special sets available. I just recently bought the rails, and we love them.
Here are the sets I’d recommend:
Rails Set – comes with 10 rail pieces as well as 80 cubes and 4 marble catchers. We don’t have the marble catchers as those are a recent addition, and they would be super useful!
We also love the Zoom Stunt Set. This one does not come with cubes, just the coaster tubes and marble vortex.
The Bounce Stunt Set is also super cool. It comes with a trampoline for the marbles and two cascading towers.
You can see all the sets offered here: Q-BA-MAZE 2.0
Snap Circuits are another brilliant STEM toy! Kids can build all kinds of electrical projects with components that literally snap together. Perfect for ages 8+, although younger kids will enjoy this with help! Projects include things like lights that turn off and on with different types of switches, a two speed fan, a burglar alarm, a gadget that plays Happy Birthday, and more. One of our favorites is a propellor that launches and flies all the way up to the ceiling! It feels like play, but kids will be learning concepts of electricity such as wiring parallel and series circuits and more.
We have the Snap Circuits SC-300 set and love it. It comes with instructions for assembling 300 different projects.
If you’re looking for a way to introduce kids to real coding and programming, the SPRK+ robot from Sphero Edu is an awesome choice. There are three ways to program the SPRK+. Kids can start by drawing a path on a grid with their finger, and the robot will follow that path. They can also program a series of operations by dragging and dropping blocks of code. Advanced programmers can write their own program using java script.
One fun project that we did with our SPRK+ robot was to draw a city map with streets and buildings and then write a program that would take the robot from one location to another location on the map.
I wrote an entire post on the SPRK+ robot which you can read here – SPRK+ Review.
Or check it out on Amazon here: SPRK+
KEVA planks are simply rectangular wooden planks. They don’t look like they would be all that interesting, but there are so many amazing things that you can build with them! We have the KEVA Contraptions set. It comes with 200 planks, two balls, and a book of interesting projects to build.
Here are some of the things we have constructed on our own with KEVA planks. In fact, we have a post of engineering challenges to do with kids that you can see here: Engineering Challenges with KEVA Planks.
Create your own STEM sets!
While these are toys that we recommend, we’ve also had a great time with homemade building sets!
These two posts have been huge hits:
Have fun building and tinkering!