Manipulate your children with gifts
November 18, 2018 7:40 PM   Subscribe

The rise of the STEM toy (Forbes, Andrew Raupp) means the profileration of STEM Gift Guides: PBS (Danielle Steinberg), heavy.com, The Spruce (Julie Evans), Tom's Hardware (Avram Piltch), Forbes again (Talia Milgrom-Elcott), and the behemoth, the venerable, the original, and the only one that comes with footnotes to current research: the 2018 Engineering Gift Guide from the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering at Purdue University.
posted by bq (35 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's also this gift guide from the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
posted by bq at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2018


Slate (Liz Lewis)
posted by bq at 7:51 PM on November 18, 2018


ERECTOR Set > K'Nex > LEGO > any other "STEM toy"
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 8:23 PM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, I'm very in favor of LEGO and the like, but a bunch of these are so genuinely neat that I'm having a hard time keeping myself from ordering stuff just for me. I feel like so much of who I am now was dictated by, like, LEGO, and much earlier less-slick versions of "toys" that involved making circuits with little light bulbs and buzzers, and David Macaulay books, so I'm so excited that these things exist.
posted by Sequence at 8:32 PM on November 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


You can talk shit about educational toys like this but I totally ate this shit up as a kid and my kids are the same way today.

Also the best thing I had as a kid was Capsela, which disappeared for a long time but is now sold as IQ-KEY and is just as overpriced today as it was 30 years ago.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:47 PM on November 18, 2018 [21 favorites]


What's the latest MetaFilter opinion on getting kids started with programming? I have an 8-year-old who is asking me to teach him programming because, of course, he wants to write games when he grows up. School isn't teaching him much that way, so it looks like it's up to me. Is there a good Minecraft or Lego angle that would make it familiar to him?
posted by pracowity at 12:29 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I feel like the bigger problem is the focus on whether these toys are pedagogically solid. Play can be play and still lead to valuable ideas. I don't like the idea that kids' toys need to be designed so as to maximize their development.

In other words, these toys look cool because they're cool, not because they're going to help us develop our spatial reasoning, or something. Just give kids cool toys and let them be smart and creative, as kids very often are. It's not like there was a shortage of engineers and mathematicians before people started marketing toys for STEM development.

I mean, shit, I had nothing but science toys as a kid, and I ended up dropping out of high school and getting a degree in anthropology.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:43 AM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the update on where to find Capsela, Mr. Encyclopedia! I loved that as a kid!
I always think of Capsela and cuisenaire rods on my parents' kitchen table when educational toys are brought up (it took me ages to realize that they were "Cuisenaire" rods and not "Cuisinart" rods, which retarded my googling).
posted by Svejk at 1:45 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


All the uncool nerdy kids are using Snap!

My kids have have access to everything. My microscope, computers, every video game system, trips to the rain forest, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, NASA Ames, weekend writing workshops, innumerable science projects of the month subscriptions, an entire room of musical instruments and parents that play all of them, thousands of books, drones, cameras, telescopes. For the most part, they just want to play soccer and collect Pokémon/Magic cards and watch Phineas and Ferb . Kid one is an amazing athlete and kid two is the most popular kid in grade one. You can try to geek up your kid as much as you want, but sometimes they just turn out to be an incredibly successful jock or the ringleader of the popular crowd. My youngest can’t even name the astronauts in each of the Apollo missions but you know what? I still think he’s smart and funny even if he’s more interested in how many birthday parties he’s been invited to than what makes a noble gas noble.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:47 AM on November 19, 2018 [15 favorites]


Adding onto my last comment, I do think stuff like this is great if kids are expressing a specific interest. My nephew is getting to the age where he's getting into specific stuff, and it's great to be able to give him toys and books that will help him explore it. I can't wait until he's a little older and I can start giving him more advanced things. In that sense, I think it's great that people are designing toys for this stuff. I'm really just bothered by the focus on whether it's educational enough. I just care about whether the kids are going to enjoy it.

My only other reservation is that the general STEM push always excludes stuff like the arts, but I'm doubting that the world has somehow forgotten about super fun art stuff since I was a kid. And I had tons of science stuff and ended up being an anthropologist, so I don't think kids will be magically swayed to engineering because they got a fancy erector set.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:51 AM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


> What's the latest MetaFilter opinion on getting kids started with programming?
As a programmer, I tried to teach both my kids programming. Didn't get much interest. But one discovered Minecraft and is now building complex constructions of redstone circuits, torches, command blocks, switches, etc, etc that I don't fully understand but definitely recognise as quite sophisticated programming. He's recently discovered refactoring...
posted by merlynkline at 3:03 AM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Kids are individuals! Some kids eat this stuff up, some want nothing to do with it, and both are okay!

I have a eats-it-up kid and he has many STEM toys because why would I deprive him of toys he loves? (Also, I was definitely raised to be a scientist by my dad who is a professor of a science-related subject and wound up as an English/Anthropology double-major with a Masters in teaching social studies. Kids are individuals.)

Procowity, my kid has been learning programming with Scratch and Blockly for a couple years. Both are free, no toys needed, thigh there are some toys that use them as their coding platform. My kid has robots made by Wonder Workshop that use Blockly.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:53 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


These are useful lists although I do find myself a bit... put off... by how TE they are. It'd be nice to have a list of slightly less gadgety and more tooly things that are decent quality and good for kids.
posted by ethansr at 4:17 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid I'm going to end up programming this stuff even if he doesn't.
wife: "Come to bed!"
me: "Just a minute! I'm in the middle of..." something I swore I would never be in the middle of.
posted by pracowity at 4:25 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


My only other reservation is that the general STEM push always excludes stuff like the arts, but I'm doubting that the world has somehow forgotten about super fun art stuff since I was a kid.

My kid has a fine motor delay and is an extremely concrete thinker, so he's always found visual art to be really frustrating and non-rewarding. Anecdotally I can tell you that the assumption that all kids love and will willingly do arts and crafts is alive and well in schools and daycare centers across the nation, much to his chagrin--though his art teacher this year says he's finally kind of getting it. It's still not an undertaking he willingly engages in at home, though. My husband (interdisciplinary arts major, writer, musician) and I (see above) were fully expecting a head in the clouds, fantasy-loving, art-loving little chimera of ourselves, buuuuut, that's not really how kids work.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:28 AM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: buuuuut, that's not really how kids work.

We have four kids, and it's very rare that a gift we've given them has guided their interests. Sometimes we get lucky and they love what we give them (often: Lego bricks), but I now have no problem with them returning stuff that doesn't light a spark.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


It looks like there are plenty of Capsela sets on eBay, and cheaper than the modern version. You haven't lived until you've tried to drive a plastic reduction gear backwards.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:45 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


My only other reservation is that the general STEM push always excludes stuff like the arts, but I'm doubting that the world has somehow forgotten about super fun art stuff since I was a kid.

Interestingly enough my local school system has rebranded STEM as STEAM specifically to re-include art, which on one hand sounds like a good addition and on the other makes one wonder why we need this subdivision from a general education. If we're trying to foster creative expression, why not include language, or whatever else?

Not really griping against this or anything, it's just something I've been musing on.
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 6:59 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Re: What's the latest MetaFilter opinion on getting kids started with programming?

Roblox has been around for a while, and is still being actively developed. My kids enjoyed tinkering with it, and my partner's son is now heavily involved in the gaming industry after seriously upping his coding skills with it, at a young age. Plus, it has that Lego-like angle you're looking for.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


It looks like there are plenty of Capsela sets on eBay, and cheaper than the modern version. You haven't lived until you've tried to drive a plastic reduction gear backwards.

I do think IQ-KEY is more an overseas company taking advantage of expired patents than making a worthy successor to a niche educational building toy. A lot of the reviews say they're cheaply made and prone to breakage/falling apart, but I also remember the Capsela couplings would crack and split if you looked at them funny so questionable quality has always been part of the package. Capsela is definitely the favorite of the building toys I had as a kid, followed closely by K'nex.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:46 AM on November 19, 2018


Interestingly enough my local school system has rebranded STEM as STEAM specifically to re-include art, which on one hand sounds like a good addition and on the other makes one wonder why we need this subdivision from a general education. If we're trying to foster creative expression, why not include language, or whatever else?

This made me chuckle. Both my parents are science teachers -- my mom, a career teacher of ~30 years, and my dad, as his second profession, for the past ~5 years, after being a scientist. Both of them think the STEM (and now STEAM) thing is another educational fad and roll their eyes when it comes up. My dad in particular says he wouldn't be surprised if the next thing is STEAMS (science, tech, engineering, art, math, social studies) and then it'll just be...school.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:46 AM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


STLEAMS - Science, Technology, Literature, Engineering, Art, Math, Social Studies
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:49 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think literature goes under art. Maybe language.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:51 AM on November 19, 2018


STEAMED HAMS - Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math, English, Debate, History, Astronomy, Music, Sports
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:54 AM on November 19, 2018 [35 favorites]


42
posted by Pendragon at 7:55 AM on November 19, 2018


STEAMED HAMS

It's more of an Albany curriculum.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:04 AM on November 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


. . . then it'll just be...school.

Science, Coding, History, Orthography, Operations, Linguistics.
posted by The Bellman at 8:29 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm having a hard time keeping myself from ordering stuff just for me

Yeah I was looking at the building sets as stuff to maybe buy for myself. I still buy a few lego sets a year and I'm 41. Sometimes I'll build them, take them apart a month later, and sell them on ebay / CL for more close to what I bought them for, so in a sense you can rent them for a low cost. They're a nice break from hobbies like woodworking, which is indeed a hobby but for me comes with higher risk and expectations in terms of cost, effort level, and expected results, like the media cabinet I'm going to start building for my living room early next year.
posted by MillMan at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Will never be able to look at STEM toys again without thinking of (Mefi's own) Jesse Thorn and his child's terrifying robot.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


pracowity: What's the latest MetaFilter opinion on getting kids started with programming?

My 8-year-old nephew tried several of the usual suspects, but the one that stuck in his case was Code Combat, which has a nice demo that does reflect the overall experience. It teaches Python (or JavaScript) using a simplified IDE with code completion and other feedback, and the RPG / game aspect is fun. Costs money though.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:21 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


As someone who grew up with little spring-connector electronics kits from Radio Shack and mail-order home chemistry sets, it's not at all clear anything here is new except the label.

As a working scientist who spends rather a lot of my time on education and outreach activities, I sure hope parents are also spending time nurturing non-STEM ambitions. Not everyone in society needs to work in STEM. I'd much rather have a fulfilled and happy novelist than a shitty and resentful transportation engineer as a neighbor.
ERECTOR Set > K'Nex > LEGO > any other "STEM toy"
I got a vintage erector set as a kid in the '80s, 'cause my mom had some odd nostalgia for it. It was mostly a pain in the neck. I spend a surprising part of my professional life screwing and unscrewing screws, but the ratio of twiddling screws to actually designing things was discouragingly high, even for childhood me. I've never played with K'Nex, but my vote is for Lego.
posted by eotvos at 12:14 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


My father, grandfather, g-grandfather, g-g-grandfather were all STEM guys, and as a pre-teen I got the Erector set and Legos and Jr Scientist Chemistry Set, all of which I thought were pretty neat because I loved reading about the likes of Archimedes and Leonardo and Galileo and Newcomen and such until it finally dawned on me that I liked the history a lot more than the science. (Which made sense since other branches of the family tree were historians and classicists, and even a novelist or two.)
posted by BWA at 2:12 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


What's the latest MetaFilter opinion on getting kids started with programming?

We tried a few coding websites/apps & Scratch was the one that both my kids liked the best.
posted by belladonna at 6:45 PM on November 20, 2018


The 2018 Gift Guide from the Museum of Flight in Seattle has come out. Clearly not enough Jews on staff.
posted by bq at 3:01 PM on December 6, 2018


I rather like the Solar System Bubble Necklace and the Space Capsule Mug.
posted by bq at 11:07 AM on December 7, 2018


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