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Choosing fun, educational toys is a challenge. You want something children will enjoy and play with often, but you also want the toy to have a learning component. Here are some reviews of our favorite STEAM toys (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) because they definitely include a creative arts component!
Best Screen-free Educational Toys
Over the summer, my family moved from the United Kingdom back to the United States. I had to fit all of our belongings into a 25-foot container. It was no easy feat. I applied the KonMari technique ruthlessly to get rid of clothes, books, and toys. This meant donating or selling any toys my sons didn’t use in the past month. It was tough, but necessary. The toys we kept are educational and entertaining. Here is a list of my favorite screen-free educational toys for the boys in my house.
1. Crazy Forts
Description: “Crazy forts come with 69 child-safe geometrically precise balls and 44 sticks that join together to form any play space from your child’s imagination.”
I recommend getting at least two sets. My sons love to assemble igloos, barns, and rockets in the living room. The best thing about the set is that my sons can create crazy forts together.
Warning: There’s a technique for building forts so they don’t end up lopsided. Our first forts were wonky because my children started building without looking at the letters on the purple balls. The arrows on the purple balls must face up (point to the top) and form a cross for right angles or be diagonal to the openings for angled connecting tubes. My five-year-old was the one who figured it out!
Crazy Forts is a great STEAM toy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics). Children learn important engineering skills like how to create strong bases and form the best shapes for building stable structures.
If you build with your children and talk as you work, you’ll help them develop STEAM vocabulary as well. Discuss right angles when creating squares and rectangles. Describe the names of 3-D shapes like cubes or pyramids. Figure out the other angles you use when creating structures. Many structures have 45 degree angles. You can show your children how this is half of a right angle (90 degrees). Your child’s math teacher will be thrilled!
- great for problem-solving
- encourages creativity
- develops fine motor skills
- fun for the whole family
- put blankets over the tops and pillows and sleeping bags inside for a real fort experience
- develops mathematical and engineering vocabulary (good STEAM toy)
- life-size (you need a large, open space to assemble your fort)
- difficult to see the letters to match on the purple balls
- can’t support too much weight (heavy blankets)
Magnetic tiles were my favorite toy in the house for a long time. Not only did they keep my two active boys engaged, but they also provided wonderful learning opportunities.
When we got the magnetic tiles, I had them out for months! The children continued to play with them long after the first week. I was amazed how my sons’ creations grew in complexity and sophistication over that time. At first, I was delighted to see my then 3-year old stick together a few tiles to make a flat 2-dimensional star. Next, he moved on to a simple cube followed by a pyramid. Later, he designed castles, churches, rockets, and even haunted houses. I loved hearing the names he chose for some of his more unusual designs.
I know Magformers are popular and strong, but I don’t think the expense is necessary. The solid Magna-tiles are also popular, but I prefer the sets that aren’t solid so my children can pick up the pieces. When my son was three, he could stick his fingers through the middle of the magnets and grab them easily. He also figured out how to build his creation flat on the floor and then slowly pull up the center pieces to make his structure stand. Why didn’t I think of that?
- Great STEAM toy
- Entertaining for multiple children at once
- Provides opportunities to learn colors and shapes in a fun way
- Encourages creativity
- Can teach older children 3-D shape vocabulary and discuss sides, faces, and angles
- The only con to these are that there never seems to be enough of the magnetic tiles (especially when both of my sons play)
Here are two tips for keeping the peace if you have more than one child playing with these magnetic tiles:
1. Have lots of magnetic tiles. We asked for additional tiles for Christmas so the boys would have enough magnets to make their elaborate designs at the same time.
2. Take pictures. I quickly learned to take pictures of favorite creations before my three-year-old flattened them with a body slam, WWF-style.
3. Stomp Rocket
This is a fantastic toy. After we lost a few rockets over the fence, I decided our yard wasn’t big enough for the stomp rocket. Now, I keep it in the back of my car and pull it out whenever we go to the park. When my boys start using it, we always end up with a crowd of children and adults gathered around us to watch. My children have learned to share and let other kids try it out. My husband and I even have fun with this one.
When my youngest was three, he figured out how to jump on the air pump with both feet and really get the rocket airborne. We didn’t need to get Stomp Rocket Jr. for my son. He was fine with this one. He can launch his rocket at least 50 to 100 feet in the air by jumping on the air cushion with all his weight.
The Stomp Rocket set includes: A Stomp Launcher, 4 foam-tipped Ultra Stomp Rockets that work with three different Stomp Rocket Launch Sets.
- A fun way to get kids interested in physics
- Fun for the whole family
- Good for a variety of ages
- Gets kids outside and away from screens
- Allows kids to experiment to see which angles launch the rocket farther vs. higher
- Easy to lose rockets (have extras on hand)
- The tripod stand starts to fall apart after vigorous use (ours still works, but I have to put it back together more often when we use it. I may zip tie the tripod pieces together as another reviewer suggested.
When my son went to Cub Scout camp, they had a few snap circuit sets out for the children. There was a crowd around them. All the boys wanted to try to get the bulb to light up or the fan to spin. My son had to wait ages for a turn, but when he tried a set out, he loved it. Guess what he got for his birthday that year.
This Snap Circuit set is a great introduction to electronics for younger children.
We got the 100-piece set first, but this year I’m going to get my nine-year-old this set so he can go more in depth with the learning.
I was amazed how easily kids can create sounds, light bulbs, and get motors running by snapping the circuits together. Snap Circuits is a great, hands-on introduction to electronics.
Description: “With this building toy, young engineers can assemble over 100 different electronic circuit projects with just 30+ electronic parts. Kids can construct working models of a photo sensor, a flashing light, an Adjustable-Volume siren and much more!”
Included: “Plastic snap-grid, 32 electrical components, and 1 project manual.”
- Durable, high quality
- Fun to create light, motion, and noise
- Good, hands-on way to introduce electronics
- My child could do this independently
- After my son made all the circuits several times, he didn’t have anything else to do
- The instructions don’t explain the science behind what is happening, but you can research this with your children
5. LEGO and LEGO Duplo
Classic LEGO sets are timeless toys that encourage creativity and problem-solving. I prefer the classic sets because they give my sons freedom to build their own designs and come up with new ideas. My sons also love the themed sets, but they tend to build these once and not want to take them apart (ever)!
Don’t underestimate LEGO Duplo either. We had a big box of Duplo blocks for my youngest in the living room. I can’t tell you how many times his older brother joined him and created structures that blew me away. My eldest was more creative with the Duplo bricks! If I didn’t have a younger child, I would have donated the Duplo without realizing how much fun an older child can have with them.
To mix it up, give your child a few sheets of large googly eye stickers. They will have fun creating LEGO Duplo monsters, animals, and robots with eyes.
- Encourages creativity
- Helps with problem-solving
- Good STEAM toys
- Hours of fun
- Children can build independently
- Storage – I’m always trying to figure out the best way to store LEGO. If we put them all in a box, it would be overwhelming. So, I try to organize pieces by color. The other challenge is keeping the themed sets together so children can build them again!
- LEGO bricks on the floor are painful to step on
- Keeping little LEGO away from small children is a challenge as well
Oh, and if you want a new way to play with LEGO Duplo, have your child build the tallest tower he can build and then film him knocking it over in slow-motion on your camera. My sons think this is hilarious. We’ve had hours of fun with this activity, too!
I hope you found these suggestions helpful. Let me know if you have any favorite toys to add to my list of the best educational toys. I’m always looking for new ideas!
Here’s my latest post on a fun educational toy to help children develop math skills: