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What is a STEM/STEAM Toy? Check out the 14 characteristics

At present, the STEAM concept has spread all over the world. Domestic and foreign toy manufacturers have launched various STEAM toy products to meet market demand. However, how do toy dealers and consumers measure a product as a qualified STEM/STEAM toy product?
Recently, the American Toy Association released a report titled "STEM/STEAM FORMULA FOR SUCCESS" based on information collected through interviews with dozens of industry experts and more than 2,000 parents. The report indicates that a good STEM/STEAM toy should reflect 14 features including 2 mandatory features and 12 strengthening features, which will serve as the guide for industry insiders in production and sales of STEM/STEAM related products as well as consumer purchases.


1.Explores an aspect of STEAM
The product should be able to guide children to explore science, technology, arts, engineering or mathematics, or to engage children in scientific methods, including exploring through experimentation and observation to gain new knowledge, solve problems and answer questions.

The product should be able to attract children, arouse their interests, stimulate them to explore and play. This feature is more subjective and elusive.
A good STEM/STEAM toy can stimulate the left and right brain of children. When the toy or gaming experience inspires children to think about scientific, technical, engineering, arts or mathematical problems, the left brain, which is the logic and reasoning part, will be activated. When the game experience produces a fun feeling, the right brain in control of emotions will be triggered.


The product should be able to encourage a child to find his or her own ways to play with it. Besides the mandatory features, this is the main attribute of a good STEM/STEAM toy. The product must allow multiple ways of playing, rather than specifying only one correct way. This includes toys that support a variety of ways to solve problems, build structures, create designs, or complete tasks.

2.Relate to the Real World
Toy industry experts point out that it is necessary to help children and/or parents understand the relationship between the playing experience of a toy and STEAM and its surrounding environment. STEAM skills should be similar to literacy and link children to things that are relevant to them. In this way, children can understand that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have an impact on their world and their lives, regardless of whether they are engaged in STEAM-related careers.

3.Allow Trials and Errors
The ability of children to learn to acknowledge and accept failure is the key to success.


Science has repeatedly proven that children's hands-on ability can promote brain development. It is especially important today that children gain tactile and tangible input through their hands. Due to frequent use of electronic screens, the physical feedback they get in their lives is decreasing significantly.

5.Children Dominate
This feature is about building a child's intrinsic motivation and developing the ability to make decisions. A good STEM/STEAM toy can convey this idea, which means that the child shall dominate the play experience.


6.Problem Solving
The ability to solve problems is a key element taught through toys and games. It is a highly convertible thinking skill that can be applied to other aspects of a child's life.

7.Include Curriculum
A good STEM/STEAM toy should offer an age-appropriate curriculum to enable parents or teachers to guide their children’s play experience so that they will act in line with STEAM's learning objectives.

8.Gender Neutral and Inclusive
It is recognized that games involving STEAM should be more inclusive, which can be achieved through neutral products, toys based on children’s individual preferences, and brands converging cultural differences. This inclusiveness is critical to face with the complex problems of the 21st century from different perspectives.

9. Support Parents
Parents’ attitudes depend on their understanding of STEM/STEAM. Parents are the gatekeepers of children's toys, especially young children. Supportive materials may be provided to parents through different ways, such as videos, to help them become familiar with STEAM topics, increase product value, and encourage parental involvement.

10.Build Confidence
Children tend to mark themselves as products are labeled. If the child is afraid or not ready to learn STEAM, this idea may become a limitation on STEAM toys. Therefore, a good STEM/STEAM toy should be able to help children build confidence while exploring different themes and this confidence will then transfer to every part of a child's life.


11. Encourage Creativity
In the context of educating children to think outside the box or to paint without lines, we add A(art) to STEM to create STEAM. Most creative people have proven that creativity requires practice and courage, and toys can play a role in both.

12. Social and Emotional Skills
Emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning (SEL), and emotional management are skills that children are trying to master. Combined with STEM/STEAM, these social skills are influencing career aspirations and problem solving abilities.