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Summer Fun & Learning With The Best STEM Toys

During the summer we have a routine we developed over the years. Each morning we all get up and get ready for the day, and while I make breakfast the boys practice piano. Then they work through a few pages of math or reading while they eat breakfast, and then we watch a bit of television together – usually Cyber Chase or Curious George- or play chess and various board games. Around noon we have lunch, and then free play time starts.

I used to stress about all the time spent in front of a screen for their free play, or the unimaginative recreation that resulted from branded plastic and plush toys from silly cartoons, but then I realized if the majority of the toys around are educational (instead of the mindless niche items that can only be used one way), not only do they pick those up, they fully embrace them and have a blast. They think they are having a great time figuring out how to win a game or put something together, but I know they are learning and stretching their brain muscles in original and unusual ways, and I love it.

This year I wanted to make sure they had STEM focused activities specific to their ages and above, and my picks for our 2018 are:

Osmo Genius Kit

Osmo is an award-winning game system that will change the way your child interacts with the iPad and iPhone by opening them up to hands-on play. More than that, it expands the way your child thinks and forces them to think outside the box. My son is eight and loves to be challenged, so the included apps- Tangram, Numbers, Newton, and Words, were perfect for him, and Masterpiece released his inner artist (you can even use photos for your child to recreate). Each is completely different and engages in different ways, whether by allowing kids freedom to create, necessitating creative thinking, or requiring a little cleverness, and each is fabulous.

Whether he’s in the mood to test his current skills, or ready to advance beyond in more demanding challenges, he was happy to try to figure things out on his own in ways that literally left my head scratching. It’s amazing to see how children are already capable of looking at different ways to solve something, and can see things you may not be able to… they are so smart!

One of the tasks in Newton required us to navigate balls through a sort of maze, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. He realized that he could use his hand and other objects to create a barrier and direct the balls (the red gadget on the camera reflects everything children write or place in front of the iPad on a white pad on to the game itself, making it wildly interactive), thereby winning the game. I would have spent hours and hours continuing to draw lines that were ineffective, not considering other tools to help me win. Kids are naturally innovative ♥︎

The Osmo world of play and learning is continually expanding, and I recently discovered Hot Wheels™ MindRacers and the Coding Family (which teaches coding, music, and more) so have a bunch ready to go when we are done with these. Of course I picked up the storage tote too to store our Osmo and games for when we go out to eat or visit grandparents or travel, and am adding more apps to our wish list… it’s going to be a very fun summer with so much to learn and do that is actually entertaining and engaging for kids and adults.

Botley The Coding Robot from Learning Resources

Botley™ the Coding Robot Activity Set teaches children 5 and older coding fundamentals, and since this isn’t something the boys have been exposed to much yet (and it’s an integral part of the world today), I couldn’t think of a better way to sneak in a challenging STEM concept than with a robot. All my younger son sees is ROBOT when he looks at Botley, which has him barely able to sit in his seat because, hello, robots!

Botley is a hands-on approach to introducing coding to kids that allows them to actually see in-person the results of their programming, controlling how Botley moves and interacts. The best part is there is no tablet or phone required, so children who don’t have access to screens can enjoy Botley, and it’s ready to start right out of the box. Botley features collision detection, looping commands, and If/Then/Else programming logic (I remember trying to learn this ages ago by typing on a slow IBM with a boring screen with a flashing > staring back at me- I didn’t try for long, coding was boring as heck when I was a kid).

Botley challenges your child to set up a course that includes obstacles and required critical thinking and planning. As a parent, it’s amazing to see your child rise to the occasion and figure out how to solve blocks and create paths. And they will, because it’s not an animation or a screen, it’s a real-life robot.

Brain Quest and Smart Alec Books

We’ve been using Brain Quest books for several summers now, starting the day with a lesson to both help the boys remember what they learned during the year, and also get a head start on the following year. They are in the habit of starting each summer day with a few pages of “homework”, and once breakfast and their assignments are over, they get to play. Because the pages are short and to the point, they just grab it get it done quickly now, then head off to play with the Osmo Genius Kit and Botley while I check their work.

The range of lessons is always grade appropriate (ie challenging to make sure they not only remember what they learned so far, but can logically take it a step further without an actual school lesson to be prepared for moving beyond the following year). I used to buy character books based on movies and cartoons they currently are fans of, but those didn’t seem challenging enough, so was thrilled to discover how wonderful the Brain Quest and Smart Alex books are, as well as random activity books we discover filled with animal trivia, at-home science experiments, and more. Since we now have Numbers with Osmo, I skipped the math workbooks this summer and plan to have the boys practice their math skills with the game instead.

Of course, we join in on typical, wonderful regular summer activities, like swimming, playing at the park, reading, and having friends over for barbecues. Those are the basics of summer, and the boys are so energetic that they like to mix it up to make the most of each day. I wish the summer vacation was longer, but at least thanks to our educational summer fun picks, we can make the most of it with the perfect mix of learning and fun each day.