TFE/TFE Licensing, October 2019

Page 26

FEATURED CONTENT

Screen-Free, Coding-Focused, and Child-Led: Toymakers Continue to Help Kids Get Excited about STEM

W

BY

ELAINE ANDRUS

ith more parents encouraging their kids to build science, engineering, math and technology skills, the Toy Association is taking more steps to better define the characteristics of STEM toys and provide guidelines for toymakers. Toymakers, meanwhile, are also striving to teach kids computational thinking skills without using a screen in reaction to parents often limiting their kids’ screen time.

DEFINING STEM In its latest report, STEM/STEAM Formula for Success, the Toy Association outlines 14 unifying characteristics of STEM toys and how they can help kids master the skills necessary to pursue a STEM-related career. “We were walking down the aisles of Toy Fair [New York], and so many different toys were labeled as ‘STEM.’ It seemed like it was the wild west without a lot of guidance or guardrails around it,” says Ken Seiter, the Toy Association’s executive vice-president of marketing communications. Based on insights from experts in scientific laboratories, research facilities, professional associations and academic environments, the Toy Association determined that STEM/STEAM toys need to stimulate both sides of the brain and incorporate logic and reasoning, as well as trigger a fun feeling in kids. The other unifying characteristics include being open-ended, relating to the real world, allowing for trial and error, being hands-on, child-led, problem-solving, building confidence, and being gender neutral. “We hope to see more and more incorporation of STEM ideas and principles into school curriculum and utilization of some of these toys to help teach those ideas,” Seiter says. STEM toys should also incorporate curriculum to help parents feel confident in teaching these subjects to their kids. In a survey of more than 2,000 parents, the Toy Association found that parents sometimes found these toys intimidating, especially after their kids had a stronger mastery of technology than they did. 26 tfe October 2019

Learning Resources’ Coding Critters

Thames & Kosmos (T&K) continues to respond to the needs of parents and kids by making the manuals that accompany its kits as straightforward, digestible, and fun as possible. “The importance of STEM and the presence of technology in the world, in general, is a relatively new phenomenon,” says Andrew Quartin, CEO of T&K. “As a result, children are exposed to it more than their parents ever were. We include examples of real-life applications so that kids and their parents can more easily identify and relate to the theories and concepts at-hand.” While building and construction continue to be popular and classic STEM toy categories, there’s a growing number of craft and science activity kits that can also serve as fun tools for comprehending STEM and STEAM principles, says Carolann Dunn, vice-president of consumer products, licensing at Discovery. “Parents should look for toys that are age appropriate and have the right balance between fun and problem-solving. A good STEM toy engages kids, ignites their imagination, and satisfies their curiosity,” she says. SCREEN-FREE PLAY Many toys use computers or tablets to teach coding, but kids tend to have a shorter attention span in front of a computer, tend to gravi-


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