3 Educational Tech Toys That Promote STEM

Research confirms that children learn best through play, so I intentionally look for toys that promote play and learning - especially critical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) as these skills are increasingly critical skills.

Both my daughters (ages 9 and 5) enjoy these three educational tech toys. And since I’m both A-type and frugal, I did a LOT of research before buying (aka “investing”). I also wanted toys that weren’t simply ‘glorified electronics’ -- but that actually encourage thinking, learning, trial & error and perseverance (just like a timeless puzzle, but modernized for today’s 21st Century child).

All 3 toys are award-winning, so you know they’ve been endorsed by respected educators and other parents. Final proof that I “shopped smart”? When their friends come over to play, I frequently hear: “I want this for my birthday!” The ultimate endorsement! 

Makey Makey

This “invention kit” teaches children about circuitry. Using colourful alligator clips, Makey Makey allows you to make a keyboard from any object of your imagination - just so long as the object conducts electricity. Simply plug it into your computer and attach the colourful alligator clips to a range of objects, such as Play-Doh, bananas or cutlery (we’ve also used carrots and snap peas!) to transform them into a digital piano, drum machine or video game controls.

It was invented by MIT, so it’s not surprising that it works well with another widely popular MIT-invention, ScratchScratch has been used by millions of kids worldwide to learn computer programming (coding) so by using Scratch together with Makey Makey, you enable the toy to “grow up” with your child. Translation: great value for money!

Mouse + Maze

Developed by Learning Resources, this toy is actually called Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set. (Now you see why I re-branded it).

Kids create their own maze, hide the cheese and then tap (code) directions onto the mouse to help it find the prize. The mouse also flashes light and makes funny sounds when it 'strikes cheese'!
This was a great purchase, and not just because I was originally going to buy a similar toy that was more expensive and less creative. It’s great because part of the fun for my younger daughter is simply creating the maze: using the platform and pieces (bridges, walls) the construct the cheese labyrinth. Coding a squeaking robotic mouse is bonus!

Snap Circuit

This was our latest purchase (thanks, Santa!). We have Elenco Snap Circuits SC-300 which has 300 different projects -- nearly one for every day of the year. Think of it as multi-sized and functional Lego pieces that ‘snap’ together to create an electrical circuit. The payoff is always special: a lamp that lights up, a propeller that spins or even flies off (“flying saucer” is always a fav),  a range of musical sounds - or a combination of them all!

Ultimately, this electronic and interactive 3D puzzle appeals to a wide age range: it's suitable for both of my older and younger daughters, and can challenge the entire family. Interestingly, my husband noted how he only used a kit like this when he was in senior high school -- so it’s great to know that my daughters in elementary school already have a leg up on STEM access! 

At What Age Did These Tech Icons Learn To Code?

There’s a widely-published theory that you need 10,000 hours to become an expert. That works out to approximately 417 days. So if you devoted 2 hours per day to learn a new skill, it would take you approximately 10 years to become a MASTER!

Given this, it’s probably not a big surprise that the world's most successful tech entrepreneurs started computer programming at a young age. We’re also guessing that they devoted a lot more than 2 hours a day to finesse their coding craft!

Here’s a snapshot of when these widely successful tech icons first start to learn computer programming (coding):

  • Larry Page (Google): got his first computer at age 6
  • Elon Musk (Tesla): started coding at age 9
  • Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook): started coding at age 10
  • Jack Dorsey (Twitter): started coding as a teen
  • Kevin Systrom (Instagram): started coding as a teen
  • Bill Gates (Microsoft): started coding as a teen

Yet despite easier-than-ever access to computers, mobile phones and tablets, you may be shocked to learn that many kids don’t officially learn coding until they reach high school (Gr 9 - 12). And while there’s more awareness and effort – like Hour of Code – we already know that you need at least 9,999 more hours to become an expert!

That’s why many tech experts, like Apple CEO Tim Cook, say that “kids should be taught to code alongside the alphabet”. Or taught the language of programming just as they would learn any other language, like French or Spanish. This may help explain why countries such as the US, UK, Australia and Japan have recently made coding mandatory for children as young as 5 years.

So don’t be afraid to get your child exposed to computer programming at a young age. You never know…the next young coder could be the next Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates or Elon Musk.