Today, I am taking a break from posting about games and instead want to tell you about a couple of STEM toys that have caught my eye. For those unfamiliar with the acronym STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. (Note: There is a recent push to add an A for arts in STEM and make it STEAM.) With this being the hot time of the year for shopping, and commercials, catalogs, and wish books flooding your senses, I thought I would direct your attention away from Hatchimals, Shopkins, Fingerlings, and whatever other buzz toys are out there, and instead turn your focus to some toys that are fun and educational at the same time.
When it comes to STEM toys, Thames and Kosmos really is at the front of the line. I could mention any of their scores of products and you would get something educational and fun. Instead of doing that, I am going to isolate one and tell you a little more about it. Happy Atoms is all about chemistry, elements, and how substances react with each other. What is the atomic weight of a particular element? How many electrons does it take for atoms to form molecules and be stable? What are some common and not-so common molecules we encounter in our every day lives? These are all questions that your child (and you) will be able to answer after spending some time with this set.
There is an introductory set and a complete set; your budget will dictate which one you want to get. The components are of a nice quality with each element having a very distinct color to it, as well as its chemical symbol. The atoms have rubber magnetic arms that represent the electrons and bonds they will form with other atoms, and to make it easier, each atom has the correct number of arms and empty bonding sites. There is also an app that fosters deeper learning by using your camera to analyze the molecule built and giving you more information on it. It also presents itself as a game, where you can chart what molecules (of the 10,000 possible ones) you have discovered. Overall, it’s a solidly made set and one that has a great tactile feel to it.
Shifting away from chemistry, we are now going to look at physics and the product Gravitrax from Ravensburger. You might know the name Ravensburger from their beautiful puzzles or strategy game catalog. Now, in addition to science kits, they have branched into STEM toys. Within the Starter Set, your child will receive over 100 pieces of tracks, height tiles, curves, junctions, switches, and of course six marbles. There is also a rule book with some pre-designed tracks you can assemble and play with.
However, the fun of this toy is in making your own tracks, seeing how they work or don’t work, and then tweaking them to be either bigger and better or smaller and more efficient. There are also expansion sets which add simple elements like a loop, cannon, or hammer, and bigger expansions which allow you to make more monumental creations! This is a very interesting toy in what it sets out to do and accomplishes in doing. It’s amazing what a few marbles and lots of track can teach you about gravity and physics.
I was highly impressed with the component quality and the ease of assembling and disassembling the pieces. I have clunky hands and I was still able to build some fabulous creations, and my son with his little hands was able to assist and create on his own, no problem. We have had hours of fun with this, and it is a toy that will get even more hours of play and discovery. If I had to compare it to another toy, I would actually compare it to old model trains. This isn’t the type of toy that you get out of the box when you want to play with it. Instead, it is a showpiece. You need a dedicated table or area on which to design, build, and tweak, so that it is always readily accessible and present to experiment with. The number of people who have seen it in our house, commented on it, and played with it is a testament to the greatness of this product!
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Copyright 2018 Stuart Dunn
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