School Literacy & Culture’s 2018 Gift Guide: Our Top 25 STEAM Picks

Gifts to inspire Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math learning in young children

Welcome to the 2018 SLC Holiday Gift Guide! We hope this post finds you gearing up for the holiday season, planning big meals for family and friends and enjoying this cooler weather that, we hope, is here to stay. Thanksgiving marks the kick-off of the holiday shopping season and our gift guide is here for you just in time! This year, we’re focusing on STEAM gifts. Traditionally, we hear STEM referred to more often than STEAM, with STEM being an integrated approach to teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to children. In recent years, however, there has been an emphasis on adding the arts into the STEM studies, creating a more comprehensive approach to these competencies. The addition of “Art” to STEM (STEAM) doesn’t refer to just painting and drawing, but to the liberal arts as a whole. It refers to the importance of incorporating open-ended opportunities for innovative design and creative thinking, even including other content areas like music, the humanities and writing. Marrying Art with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics demonstrates that “the arts” and STEM are not at all at odds, but instead they work cooperatively to build up well-rounded young learners. Integrating these competencies in meaningful ways rather than isolating them leads to a treasure of learning opportunities for young children.

Last year we shared with you a new text that the SLC staff and mentor teachers read called Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff. Originally written for parents, we’ve used the text in a variety of settings as we share with others the importance of fostering the “6C’s” of 21st century learning in young children. The 6C’s are:

  • collaboration
  • communication
  • content (deep knowledge of an academic subject area)
  • critical thinking
  • creative innovation
  • confidence

The 6C’s provide a “suite of skills that will help children to be socially adept, flexible thinkers who take joy in a lifetime of learning” (p.6). These 6C’s, the authors suggest, are the key to our future. We must nurture children who are willing to ask hard questions and come up with creative solutions. We must cultivate imagination and collaboration between children, because the problems of today are likely not the problems of tomorrow. Without an intense focus on these competencies in our homes and in our classrooms, we risk teaching our children to “know” but not to think about what they know and, perhaps most importantly, use their knowledge in positive and productive ways. Knowledge itself will only take a learner so far; creatively using the knowledge they have to come up with new ideas, solve problems in innovative ways, or ask novel questions about old theories are the skills children need for the future.

In this year’s gift guide, we’ve made an effort to share STEAM inspired items with you that also foster the 6C’s.  The items you see listed in our gift guide this year are most appropriate for children in preschool through first grade, though with parent assistance some could be used for children a little older or younger. We’ve scoured our own children’s playrooms, closets, and holiday wish lists to share with you our top 25 STEAM picks. The range of gifts is wide—you’ll see science lab kits to board games, paper-making sets to Stomp Rockets, telescopes to Tinker Toys. We’ve also included a book list for you at the end of the guide with a few of our favorite STEAM books for children. We hope this list inspires you and the children in your life, and makes your endless holiday shopping to-do list a little bit easier to master.

On a final note, as you greet your Amazon boxes at the door and your wrapping paper rolls are emptied as you tie up pretty packages, remember to save them! As excited as the young children in your life will be to play with their new STEAM gifts, you’ll also give them the gift of using their imaginations with these recycled materials. Children will take their STEAM learning to new heights as they build structures and inventions from empty boxes, paper rolls and everyday household materials like a roll of tape, a pack of markers and some play-dough.

Happy holidays to all of you! We wish you a joyful season full of play, creativity and togetherness.

STEAM11. Emarth Astronomical Refracting Telescope with Tripod / 2. Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Exploration Kit / 3. Insect Lore Giant Butterfly Kit / 4. Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Activity Set / 5. EZ BioResearch Bacteria Science Kit

STEAM2
6. 4M Recycled Paper Beads Kit / 7. GoldieBlox Craft-Struction Box / 8. Kahootz Spirograph Deluxe Design Set / 9. VTech Kidizoom Camera Pix / 10. VTech Kidizoom Action Cam / 11. Creativity for Kids Aquarium Terrarium Craft Kit
STEAM312. Stomp Rocket Dueling Rockets / 13. Educational Insights Design & Drill Take-Along Toolkit / 14. Melissa & Doug Junior Suspend Family Game / 15. Lite-Brite Magic Screen Toy / 16. Trouble Game / 17. ThinkFun Rush Hour Traffic Jam Logic Game

STEAM418. Learning Resources Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set / 19. PLUS PLUS Blocks 300-Piece Basic Assortment / 20. Spinning Gear Magnets, 22 Piece Set / 21. K’NEX 100 Model Building Set, 863 Pieces / 22. ETI Toys 101 Piece Engineering Building Blocks Set / 23. MindWare KEVA Contraptions Plank Set / 24. ZOOB BuilderZ 125 Piece Kit / 25. TINKERTOY 100 Piece Essentials Set

Finally, here are a few of our favorite STEAM-inspired books for children:

1. Math-terpieces: The Art of Problem-Solving
2. Ada Twist, Scientist
3. Iggy Peck, Architect
4. Rosie Revere, Engineer
5. The Most Magnificent Thing
6. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
7. Strange But True!: Our Weird, Wild, Wonderful World
8. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader’s Edition
9. 50 Things To See With A Telescope – Kids: A Constellation Focused Approach
10. Smithsonian Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects

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