Wondering what to get your aspiring scientist or engineer this year for Christmas? Well fear not, because it is a golden age for STEM toys and gifts to inspire young learners to experiment, play and discover the pleasures of figuring out how things work.
We like to support more people to get involved in the world of inventing and making, so here is our countdown of the top eight science, technology, engineering and mathematics gifts for Christmas 2017.
1. The Physics Workshop from Thames and Kosmos
Physics deals with the fundamental forces of nature and how they interact. This awesome gift has a clear instruction book and tons of practical, hands-on experiments that demonstrate the principles that govern how things move they way they do.
All essential knowledge for every field of engineering and applied science.
Skills Learned: Momentum, kinetic and potential energy, mass, force, inertia
2. SmartLab Ultimate Secret Formula Lab
A perfect complement to physics is the study of chemistry, which is all about the behavior of elements and molecules and how they change state under different conditions. Sound intimidating? This chemistry set makes it easy, with clear instructions for forty experiments using safe household supplies like vinegar, soap and even cabbage.
Learn about fluid dynamics and pressure, heat exchange, pH balance and much more. Not only is it instructive but it looks like you have your own mad scientist movie laboratory.
Skills learned: Acids and bases, heat transfer, phase changes, fluid dynamics, pressure and volume.
3. The Original Spirograph
It’s often said that engineering is applied mathematics, but math by itself can be hard for young learners to grasp conceptually. This gift not only helps to make it easier to understand math concepts but also to appreciate the beauty underlying the patterns of the physical world.
No need for batteries, smartphones, apps or even electricity, Spirograph is a classic gift that still fascinates and teaches more than fifty years after it was first introduced.
Turning mathematics into works of art, the Spirograph uses a series of geared wheels within wheels to generate an almost infinite variety of complex patterns that bring basic mathematical relationships into colorful life.
After all, many math concepts can be expressed in the forms of symmetry and repeating patterns. Like the best gifts it’s simple in principle, infinite in application and timeless in its appeal.
Skills learned: Balance, proportion, patterns, fractals, spirals, spatial reasoning, design
Taking abstract thinking into the next dimension is the Zometool. Inspired by pioneering work in architecture and mathematics, the Zometool owes its genius to the many-faceted ball joints that hold the different struts together.
This ball has different shaped slots to hold the mating struts at precise angles. Following a few simple rules for constructing a starting cube, a limitless variety of derived shapes can be formed around it. We like this one because it sets you free to create without a blueprint, but still maintains the kind of discipline needed in all good design work.
Now, Zometools are used by educators, Nobel prize winners and architects to model geodesic domes, molecules and proteins. How many shapes can you make? No one has figured out all the possibilities, yet.
Skills learned: Creativity, geometric and spatial reasoning, design
5. Neuron by Makeblock
We live in a tech world, so to get young people prepared for a life with technology means helping them to understand the language of computers and electrical circuits. Thankfully that’s easier and more fun to do than ever before with this innovative and interactive gift.
The Neuron is an award winner in many ways. First, there’s a group of discrete components like on/off switches, lights, speakers, cameras and more which can be clicked together to build any number of devices. But to make circuits that work properly, children need to also use a simple programming tool on a tablet.
Expansion kits add to a growing list of components and there are online competitions to see who can make the coolest designs. Learning to program a computer was never this much fun.
Skills learned: Electronics, computer programming, product design
6. Simple Machines from Engino
Ok, now we’ve covered the basics of physics, chemistry, math and electronics. Time to start making some machines! What exactly is a machine? A device that multiplies or transfers force over a distance.
All sophisticated machines are merely extrapolations of a few simple types, so this is a great way to establish a firm foundation in the mechanical arts. Basic mechanisms include levers, gears, pulleys, cranks and cams. From these, budding mechanical engineers can build more than 60 machines that will teach them the practical applications of force, mechanical advantage, gear ratios and drive mechanisms.
Skills learned: Gear ratios, levers, pulleys, wheels and axles, mechanical advantage, inclined planes
7. Robotics Workshop from Thames and Kosmos
Ready to take it to the next level? Robotics combines mechanical and electrical engineering with computers to create machines that you control remotely or that can follow programmed commands.
A detailed instruction book explains how to build twelve sophisticated robots to perform a variety of tasks, but with your imagination you can build many more. A smartphone or tablet is used to access the free app for controlling the robot, which is also being constantly updated with improvements.
Learn how to use motors and sensors to control your robot, help it to avoid obstacles, sound warning alerts or lift heavy objects. After all, robots are going to take over the world so it’s a good idea to make friends now while you still can.
Skills learned: Sensor technology, ultrasonics, servo motion, control programming, mechanical dexterity
8. K’NEX 6-Foot Ferris Wheel
The original Ferris wheel was the brainchild of bridge builder George Ferris and served as the main attraction at the World Expo in Chicago in 1893. Now it can be the main attraction in your home with the biggest and baddest K’NEX set ever offered.
Standing over six feet tall, this mother of all construction sets contains 8,500 snap together pieces and three instruction books. This very challenging construction project teaches structural engineering along with patience and the ability to follow complex instructions.
Imagine the sense of accomplishment and wonder when your child plugs it in, switches on the LED lights and watches it come to life. Worried that your kids will get bored with their toys a week after Christmas? Not with this one.
Skills learned: Eye-hand coordination, following instructions, patience, dexterity, structural engineering concepts
Honorable Mention: LEGO Ultimate Millennium Falcon
What Christmas would be complete without a new Star Wars gift? But not just any Star Wars toy, this is the ultimate LEGO Millennium Falcon, one of the most complex and challenging sets LEGO has ever made.
With more than 7,500 pieces, a detailed interior and eleven movie figurines, this spaceship will launch a thousand new adventures in a galaxy very close to home. Admit it, you want one.
We believe that in our changing world everyone needs to be well-versed in basic science and engineering, and these toys and gifts show that it’s fun and easy to do just that from an early age. We use these same skills and concepts every day in manufacturing the next generation of cool products, and we’d like to do the same for you. So bring us your design ideas and we’ll offer you a free quote to get started. Merry Christmas!