When Dale Stoff shops for children’s Christmas gifts, she seeks toys and games that kids and their parents will embrace.
What does she look for?
“Fun and learning,” Stoff said while browsing recently at a Marbles: The Brain Store in San Francisco.
She had her eyes on ColorKu, a $39.99 Sudokulike puzzle board game using colored marbles instead of numbers. The game helps with visual perception and pattern recognition, its maker says.
Stoff echoed many parents trying to find ways to challenge their children while helping them develop through play the skills they’ll need when they grow up.
Marbles: The Brain Store, a Chicago-based, 38-store chain and online shopping site, focuses on games, puzzles, books and software that it says improve five key brain functions: memory, critical thinking, visual perception, coordination and word skills.
Many of the retailer’s offerings fit with STEM toys, which emphasize science, technology, engineering and math. STEM toys have gotten more attention recently as the growth of STEM jobs is expected to outpace all other types of jobs between now and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Inspire Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering at Purdue University recently issued its second annual Engineering Gift Guide, with 50 STEM toy and application suggestions intended to engage girls and boys in engineering thinking and design. It includes the high-tech Ozobot Bit 2.0 robot toy, along with familiar nontech items such as Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.
Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart and ToysRus are among the major retailers making it easy to find STEM toys in their stores with labeling and on their websites, which often have links to pages featuring STEM toys.
From those sources, here are just a dozen hot toys that parents should celebrate alongside the kids:
These are the droids toymaker Sphero says you’re looking for, but they may be hard to find. Some stores are limiting quantities of the Star Wars toy. Listed at $149.95, but available from some retailers for less, the app-enabled toy has a mind of its own, responds to voice commands and lets players explore the Star Wars galaxy together. You can also record and view virtual holographic videos. (Ages 8+). Sphero also makes the popular SPRK, a $129 robot you can teach to roll, flip, spin and change color. Age 6+.
Draw 3-D sculptures instead of sketches with a doodle pen that extrudes heated plastic instead of ink. A set, listed at $179, includes 100 plastic strands, nozzles and a stand. Age 14+.
Using an iPad app, make and share friendship bracelets by selecting i-patterns or creating your own. Starter sets, listed at $39.99, come with six spools of colored string, spool tags and five clasps to help you complete your creations. Ages 8+.
4. Forbidden Desert: Thirst for Survival
Make family game night a lesson in cooperation. Two to five players, whose plane has crashed in the desert, must work together against a shifting game board to find an ancient buried flying machine to escape the searing sun and find their way back to civilization. Unless everyone is able to survive, everyone perishes together in the game, listed at $24.99. Age 10+.
Priced at $49.99 to $180 depending on the size of the set and its features, these building sets have geometric-shaped pieces with magnets that rotate to their positions for instant connections. Kids can start with structures that are two dimensional and then easily transform them into 3-D objects, such as balls and houses. Age 6+.
Snap together the modular circuit boards that blink, twist, buzz and light up to make neon signs, swimming sharks and other creations you can dream up. A base kit lists for $99; deluxe $210. Age 3+.
Combine your Foosball and Air Hockey skills to play a $60 game of coordination and reflex. You use a magnetic handle under the board to control your playing piece on top as you try to hit a ball into your opponent’s goal, but small white magnets may cling to your player and cost you points. Age 8+.
Bounce balls off the round trampolinelike, floatable and flexible discs or fling them back and forth like Frisbees. A set with two 15-inch discs and a soft Ogoball lists for $35. Minisets with 12-inch discs sell for around $30. Age 4+.
The Spirograph is back. Make elegant, distinctive spiraling designs with gears, wheels and pens in this update from the 1965 original Spirograph. The 45-piece deluxe sets include a carrying case and list at $24.99. Age 8+.
Construct a 3-D maze and let your marbles run wild through cubes, tubes, spinners and other contraptions. Infinite design possibilities encourage logic, problem solving, creativity and imagination. Small sets list for around $15, but the ultimate with more than 170 pieces is $124.99. Age 6+
Success hangs in the balance in this $20 game from Melissa & Doug. Develop hand-eye coordination while adding rubber-tipped wire pieces to a structure without making it fall. For one to four players. Age 8+
12. Lucky’s High Roller
Learn spatial skills and the engineering principle of momentum as you build and craft carnival games for Lucky, toymaker GoldieBlox’s sweet goldfish. The 40-piece set lists for $10.99. Age 6+.
What toys and games do you recommend as children’s Christmas gifts this year? Share your discoveries with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.