If it was still 1982, I would be frantically circling in the JC Penny catalog all of the Green Bay Packers stuff, Stomper 4x4 sets, an Atari, and most of the stereo equipment like the gem pictured to the left. The days of big "Wishbook" showing up annually in our mailboxes may be as ancient as somebody actually riding over the river and through the woods to grandma's house in a one-horse open sleigh, but my STEM Christmas list is here for 2022 and it is full of great brain-engaging kids' gifts.
Like every year, I have tried to find items that keep our kids active both physically and mentally. Some of these toys will have to wait to go outside until spring in colder climates, but it will be worth the wait. I have also included at the end some all-stars that have appeared on previous lists that are worth a mention as they continue to stand out as some of the most fun and engaging materials I have in my classroom.
The bald-headed principal in "Back to the Future" might've called Marty a "slacker", but all of the accessories that can be added to a slackline these days create adventuresome and active kids. Just find two sturdy trees (or posts) and you can string up a set of climbing and balancing obstacles faster than you could even get a stand-alone playset out of the box. Ancaixin products are available on Amazon and off a wide range of toys designed to keep your kids on the move. This set is currently $39.95 on Amazon, half off of the original $79.95 price. This is just one example available on Amazon. Search "slackline attachments" and you will find all kinds of other options.
Another fun outdoor adventure item is this set of tree climbing holds (Amazon $39.99). They're just like the climbing holds that are bolted onto climbing walls, but they are threaded onto ratchet straps. Wrap the holds around the trunk of a tree and your kids will instantly have access to the branches. With the straps, they are portable and will not damage trees.
Here's an active toy that keeps kids out of the weather and closer to the ground but builds balance and core muscle strength. The Teeter Popper from Fat Brain Toys ($39.99) lets kids rock in a sitting or "surfing" position. The suction cups on the bottom not only provide much-needed stability, they deliver as the name implies a whole bunch of popping. The rocking and the sounds make this a great gift for children with sensory needs. When kids aren't teetering or popping, they can recline in it to watch TV or read. Teeter Popper was a 2014 American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA) toy of the year award winner and comes in 3 available colors.
Bringing home 2022 ASTRA Toy of the Year honors in the category of Active Play is Dueling Stomp Rockets ($19.99 Amazon) where two players each jump on individual air pumps and try to make their attached rockets launch higher than their opponent's rocket. The dueling rockets are the latest in a line of Stomp Rocket products available. Do a search on Amazon to see the full set of offerings, including Stomp Racer air-powered dragsters.
Let's switch gears to some indoor fun and the various straw construction sets that are now available. I featured Strawbees construction kits two years ago that let kids build with straws and plastic connectors. One drawback to that original is its $50+ price tag for a 450-piece kit. Since then, toy companies have begun creating much cheaper alternatives. Amazon offers several 600-800 piece kits in the $25 range. Search for "straw construction kits" and check out all of the options.
One of the best things aboutFat Brain Toysis how they take classic toys and then rework them. Marble runs have always been great toys, but sometimes the pieces don't stack very well or the marble action can be really clunky. The way Fat Brain has reworked the marble run into its Trestle Tracks Deluxe Set ($39.95 - Amazon)is truly artful. The small steel bearing flow gracefully and the obstacle pieces are engineered to accelerate the balls through the track. Of course, the neatest aspect is that the tracks can be reconfigured over and over again.
Speaking of new spins on a classic, check out how Fat Brain is introducing a generation to the age-old art of knitting. Getting kids into knitting has actually been happening for a while now as easier-to-use plastic looms have simplified the process. Fat Brain has taken that simplification to the next level with its hand-crank Loom Bot ($59.99). Thread the machine for either tube or panel knitting and crank away to create perfectly knitted material. The set includes 5 different needles, yarn, and detailed instructions. Fat Brain Toys includes an age-appropriateness scale and rank this item highest for 8 to 10-year-olds.
Easily the best combination of fun, learning, and value comes from Klutz and their Lego kits. This year, I am a big fan of the Lego Race Car STEM Activity Kit ($28.99 - Amazon)as it comes with 124 LEGO elements, a 64-page book, and a 3-foot section of track that kids build. The book features different scientific challenges and encourages creative mixing of the race cars' parts to experience the engineering process.
Here's a piece of nostalgia that is making a much-needed comeback. Choose Your Own Adventure books were a staple of my childhood and I am a strong advocate for our current school-age children experiencing them as well. Most of my lists over the years have included books and what these classics do is help kids grow their navigational skills. The books offer different paths that cause the reader to make choices based on calculated risks. We need kids to be more adventuresome as I see students all too often who are hesitant to make choices and want to be told what to build or make instead of trusting their own ideas. Sets of four books start around $15. Check Amazon for both original titles and newer ones, including ones based on Minecraft.
Let's wrap up this year's list with some of the all-stars from lists of Christmases past. These are all items kids love to use in STEM and will keep them occupied and their brains engaged all season long.