What the Tech? STEM toys for kids

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(ABC 6 News) – Toys are on every kid’s wish list. It’s often the same story though; kids get a toy, play with it for a few days or weeks, then the toy ends up in a closet never to be played with again. Parents looking to give their children a toy that’ll grow with them should look at techie toys that teach as they play.

STEM toys, (those that teach science, technology, engineering, and math) are popular with parents and kids this holiday. The toys are educational but they’re also a lot of fun. While they may require the use of a smartphone or tablet, the toys are not all digital. They combine things they see in an app with things they do with their hands.

Osmo a leading educational toy and gaming company, makes dozens of kits and toys that teach children things such as computer coding, reading, math, and imaginative play.

6-year-old Emily Stout doesn’t know it, but she’s learning how to write computer code using the Osmo Coding Starter Kit. The interactive game requires an iPad or Kindle Fire tablet to display animated characters that move according to how the child arranges tiles on a playing surface.

Using a small camera that clips to the top of the iPad, the Osmo sees which tiles she places on the table and the order in which they’re stacked. Each tile will move the character to one space. As Emily places the tiles next to each other and gives them directions, the character moves across the screen. The character has goals such as walking through and around shrubs and bushes to reach its target.

Emily doesn’t know it, but those tiles are similar to how someone writes computer code, giving the character one movement at a time. Although she is just 6 and just playing the game, she’s effectively writing code to make the character move.

Her 9-year-old sister Cora also uses the Coding Starter Kit for the more difficult task of making music.

Osmo has similar games and toys for ages 3-12.

I also dropped off another Osmo game called “Detective Agency” for James and Jude Jantz to try out. It’s for children ages 5 and up but Jude is just 3.

“Detective Agency” uses world maps and a magnifying glass to teach kids how to solve problems by following the directions in the game. James and Jude play the game using an Amazon Fire Tablet. On the screen, a character gives clues asking them to find certain things on the map such as someone in a dress, or someone with a red hat. Jude uses the magnifying glass to locate the correct item and the Osmo camera can tell if he finds the right one.

This game teaches problem-solving and geography. It’s a little difficult for a 3-year-old but with a little help from his brother, mom, and dad, he’s getting better at recognizing the clues and identifying the objects.

Another popular STEM toy this year is the Boolean Box. A kit specifically for young girls to teach them how to build their own computer using an included Raspberry Pi.

There’s also the GoCube, a techie version of the Rubik’s Cube that connects to a smartphone app over the WiFi network. The app gives clues on how to solve the puzzle which teaches children (and us adults) how to think and move the cube to get all of the colors in the correct place.

Sales of traditional toys have dropped in recent years but educational STEM toys are increasingly popular with parents and children. One recent survey predicts sales of this type of educational toy will reach over $140 billion over the next few years.