Gift Edit 2023

The 20 Best STEAM Toys for Kids of All Ages

published Nov 3, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
boy playing with buildable colorful tiles
Credit: amazon

This feature is part of Cubby's Gift Edit, our editor-curated collection of gift ideas. Need more inspiration? Check out all our guides here.

Play is educational for kids — full stop. Any kind of play is how they learn about the world. And we as parents and caretakers want to make sure kids have a full arsenal of toys to help them explore — not just nurture a teddy bear or role-play with the help of their first Barbie doll, but also build like an architect or solve problems like a mini mathematician.

When people talk about STEAM toys, they mean toys that aid in learning about science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. That may sound like everything in a traditional school curriculum, and it kind of is, but these educational toys can be balanced with other things that help with basic literacy and socio-emotional learning. In other words, STEAM isn’t so much about the ABCs and learning to share as it is about problem-solving, reasoning, and building brain pathways now to make things like computations, ordering, spatial reasoning, and coding easier when they’re older. It might sound novel, but you can start that when they’re babies!

Here are some favorite STEAM toys for kids from ages 6 months to 10 years, arranged baby-first and big-kid last. Many of these are classics that I used with my own two children, but a few are new. If you’re looking for more, we’ve also curated some STEAM-related kits in our list of Best Subscription Gifts for Kids, plus we have Science Gifts for Kids of All Ages.

1 / 20

Lesson number one in object permanence: When a fish is dropped into the bowl, it still exists, as your baby can see through the side of this smiling, singing aquarium. This also teaches cause and effect, as taking things in and out sets off lights and songs, including one that counts up to 10, reinforcing the order of the numbers over and over again. (Sorry, parents, repetition is how things sink in for babies!) This is age-graded for 6 months+.

2 / 20

You can’t fit a round peg into a square hole — that can be proven over and over with any classic shape sorter. But we like this modern take that’s a box of smiling sushi rolls! Textures invite toddlers to feel every piece, while designs on the pieces invite you to name shapes such as the heart and star.

3 / 20

Simple, classic, and such a good teaching tool: Stacking cups nest together, smallest inside of largest, or pile up with the biggest on the bottom and the tiniest at the top. There’s so much for a baby brain to get out of that alone as far as understanding size differences and ordering. Numerals are embossed on the bottom (1 through 8) and the cups have drainage holes so you can play with these in the bath.

4 / 20

By 18 months your child might be able to play with this modern classic, a hedgehog whose colorful quills can be popped into and out of its body. Count out loud for your baby as they set each one in, talk about colors, and reward them for persistence when they finish the job!

5 / 20

Introduce the radical idea of “half” with this set of wooden veggies that your toddler can split down the middle, then reassemble. Of course it’s also good for role-playing — your kid can pretend to “cook” near you in the kitchen while you make a meal. It’s recommended for ages 2 and up.

6 / 20

For budding engineers, preschoolers can manipulate the 46 gear pieces however they please, using base pieces to go horizontally and pillar pieces to go vertically. When they’re ready, they just put the crank into any of the gears and give a turn to watch physics in action. This set is also good for developing fine-motor skills.

7 / 20

Our team’s favorite toy for teaching kids to think in 3D is anything from Magna-Tiles. This meaty set of 110 pieces includes the usual squares and triangles (equilateral, right, and isosceles, if you want to teach your kid the differences) plus hard-to-find pieces like stairs and an arch. The pieces easily go together with magnets and hold together for frustration-free, open-ended construction fun.

8 / 20

Kids know Numberblocks from the streaming cartoon that sees the digits 1 to 10 come to life. With these pieces kids can really see for themselves that connecting 2 to 3 gives them a piece the same size as 5. It all helps build their “number sense” so that they grow to reflexively know that 10 is twice as big as 5, easily add and subtract in their head, and feel comfortable around numbers in general.

9 / 20

Math lessons are baked into this pizza cart, which is fun for role-playing but also lets kids offer fractional parts of pizza (can I have just a quarter of that?) and count their money with the pretend dollar bills and coins. Insert three fresh AA batteries and this plays songs (the pizza spins to function as a turntable!) and offers up many lessons on shapes, colors, and food.

10 / 20
Melissa & Doug

Sequencing is the earliest skill needed for coding and math, and stringing these beads lets kids practice making a pattern: arranging beads in numerical order, alternating with stars or circles, putting the number 5 bead next to the one with five dots, etc. The pieces are fun apart from the strings, too, although the lacing offers a bonus way to hone hand-eye coordination.

11 / 20
Melissa & Doug

Outer space is always a source of fascination. We like this high-quality floor puzzle as a hands-on way to introduce your child to the sun, moon, and eight planets in our solar system. (Sigh, I will never get over Pluto being counted out.) It’s a satisfying 48-piece, 2x3-foot size. It's appropriate for kids from about age 3 to 6.

12 / 20

Geometric shapes combine to produce beautiful artistry with these wooden puzzle pieces. There are 10 templates, and it’s a fun challenge to try to reproduce one of the scripted designs, like a builder following architectural plans. But your kid can also freely make whatever they please!

13 / 20

Nurturing an animal-lover and perhaps a future biologist or zoologist? While this is not a working microscope — you can’t put a leaf under the lens and look at it — this toy comes with its own slides of more than 60 images and Bindi Irwin’s voice delivering kindergarten-appropriate mini science lessons about animals of all stripes. It’s a fun way for kids to feel like a scientist while learning fun animal facts. If you’re more on the hunt for a pair of working but kid-safe binoculars, check out what is, in our opinion, the Best Kids’ Binoculars You Can Buy for $20.

14 / 20

Cards illustrate mazes that your early elementary-age child is challenged to recreate. It’s like building puzzles, but in 3D and with the fun of sending a marble through at the end. It will hone their spatial reasoning and problem-solving skills with each mini engineering lesson!

15 / 20

My nephew collected rocks as a kid — and he’s now going for his PhD in geology! Maybe you’ll spark some interest in fossils, rocks, and gems with this geology kit that includes hundreds of pieces for kids to study, compare, classify, and sort — just like a real scientist.

16 / 20
was $16.97

As old as the hills (okay, from 1967) and about as cheap as toys come, Lite Brite scratches the “art” itch of STEAM learning while also providing a satisfying look at how colors change depending on the light. Kids can follow the template or go rogue and make their own designs. Placing the pegs is, incidentally, a great fine-motor skill exercise.

17 / 20
was $47.05

My son loved this because it’s real, but safe, electrical engineering play for elementary school kids in about third grade and above. If they build correctly, they can make a doorbell ring when they push a button, set a little helicopter-like top spinning and flying, power a motor, make lights light up — there are more than 300 projects!

18 / 20

It’s a logic puzzle and an original fidget toy, and this new version of the Rubik’s Cube is made from recycled material. It spins well from the get-go without needing a lot of breaking in like the old ‘80s versions. Solving it is a mathematical challenge recommended for ages 8+.

19 / 20

One of our Hottest Toys of 2023, Kanoodle Pyramid challenges kids and adults to think logically as they piece shapes of different sizes together, Tetris-style. All Kanoodle games have gotten trendy, thanks to TikTok, and this newest one can be used flat on a table or a player can stack pieces vertically to make the pyramid.

20 / 20
was $77.99

Fifth graders and middle-school kids might be ready for their first chemistry set. There are detailed directions for more than 100 experiments, and a lot of stress on safety: Wearing goggles, keeping your experiment space free of contaminants and, of course, cleaning up. The thick booklet has lots of kid-appropriate chemistry history and inspiring stories about why this science field matters.