Best STEM Toys for Babies

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

29 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
346 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best STEM toys for babies

Last Updated October 2019

These days, with so many educators focused on the importance of STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—it’s no wonder more and more parents are rethinking which toys to give their children. Little ones learn through play, which has led to the development of toys that teach the most basic STEM principles during playtime.

Even though your baby is years away from conducting science experiments or building a robot, it’s never too early to start laying a solid foundation with toys that aim to grow their problem-solving and spatial skills.

But, type “STEM” into any search engine, and you’ll discover more brightly colored toys than your baby could ever play with. That’s why we’re here to help you narrow down your search. Our shopping guide breaks down the types of features available. Don’t forget to take a look at our top five picks for the toys we want in our toy chest.

STEM isn’t everything. These toys aren’t designed to create the next Albert Einstein. Rather, they’re made to stimulate the early development of cognitive skills that children will use throughout their life—whether they become a scientist or a sculptor.

Key considerations

Age recommendations

Every toy has an age recommendation with good reason. To enjoy and receive the full benefit of a toy, it should neither be too advanced nor too simple for your baby’s developmental abilities. Toys that are too advanced will likely cause overwhelming frustration (and tears); they may also have parts that can pose a choking hazard. If the toy is well below your child’s developmental age, it may be boring and left on the floor.

Your baby's interests

Even babies show a preference for certain types of toys. Do you have a baby who loves cars or one who brightens at the sight of animals? Some babies may prefer soft plush toys while others want a ball to throw. If you take a minute to observe which kinds of toys your child is drawn to, you’ll have a better chance of buying a STEM toy he or she will love.

Stimulation and interactivity

STEM toys are essential for stimulating the muscles and brain in ways that will later be used for math, science, and other related subjects. But toys that require manipulation, problem-solving, and sorting skills don’t have to be complicated. Everything from texture and color to lights and sounds can be part of the play experience.

A velvety soft toy that senses when playtime is done

We absolutely love the Musical Bee, because it’s got almost everything—lights, music, sound, wordplay, and numbers. Not to mention the fact that it’s adorable and soft, which is perfect for a good cuddle. Our favorite feature is the sensor that detects your child’s movement so that it can go from play to sleepy-time mode, in which the light and sound slow down so your baby can sleep.

Features

Plush toys

Does your baby love to feel satiny tag on his blankie or to cuddle polar fleece? Then a STEM plush toy might be the right choice. Going way beyond the average teddy bear, these dolls come with mirrors, shakers, movable rings, and various textures to add to the play options and stimulate all your baby’s senses. The only downside of plush toys is keeping them clean. A plush toy may need to be washed and cleaned more often than one made from plastic or wood, so be prepared for extra care.

Music

Nothing grabs a baby’s attention as quickly as music. And with a STEM toy, your little one will likely be exposed to Mozart instead of “Old MacDonald.” However, for your sanity, look for toys that have an on/off switch and volume control. While your baby won’t tire of her favorite tunes, it’s likely that you will.

 

Lights

Lights and music just seem to go together. Lights aren’t as common on STEM toys as some other features, but they’re eye-catching and hold children’s attention. Keep in mind that these will be battery-powered, so you may have to replace batteries often if your baby can’t get enough of his favorite toy.

Size

Your available play area and storage space will help you determine the appropriate size for the STEM toy. Some are small enough to attach to the tray of a high chair while others are an 18-inch by 18-inch cube with racks and mazes extending out at the top and sides. However, STEM toys come in all sizes, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one that’s right for you.

STEM toys can be found in all shapes and sizes. Many are small enough to travel in a diaper bag or be stored in a closet without taking up much space.

Noise

Music isn’t the only kind of sound a STEM toy can make. Crinkle fabric, shakers, and bells are just a few of the features you may find that will delight your little one. Parents may not love noisy toys, but babies do. A toy that rattles, squeaks, or dings when manipulated can help a child learn the cause and effect of their actions.

Mobility

Most STEM toys are stationary, but some can increase your child’s mobility. Push toys or walkers covered in mazes, buttons, pull toys, and levers do far more than help your child learn how to move her feet. Some fold down for easy floor play, too.

Materials

STEM toys are made from standard materials like plastic, fabric, and wood. Plastic is the easiest to clean and maintain. BPA-free plastics limit exposure to potentially harmful substances and are almost standard for baby toys. Fabrics should be somewhat water-resistant and easy to clean. Wood offers a classic look and feel, but keep in mind that wood shows teeth and bite marks more than plastic. 

EXPERT TIP

Give your child plenty of parent play time, but also provide time for your child to play on her own. Children need both social and alone playtime to fully reach their potential.


Staff  | BestReviews

Prices

Inexpensive: STEM toys for babies start at less than $10. These toys usually lack lights and music but can still have bright colors and graphic shapes. Shakers, plush toys, balls, and teething toys are often found in this price range. Make sure that plastic materials are BPA-free, as some in this low-price range may not be.

Mid-range: Between $10 and $30 are toys that may have several pieces, such as shape sorters, or multiple functions like music, lights, wordplay, and number-recognition features.

Expensive: For over $30, you can find large multifunctional toys, push toys, and wood toys. These models may have spinners, sorters, an abacus, and mazes all on one toy. While they’re hours of fun, they also take up the most space. 

Easy to grip and simple to play with

The Bendy Ball is perfect for the youngest of babies. The grid pattern lets their little fingers slip through and hold tight even when they lack the coordination for much more. Bright colors and a rattle create a toy that will keep your baby’s attention as long as he holds his grip. The BPA-free plastic is soft enough for chewing and quickly wipes clean. 

Tips

  • Keep it clean. Toys should be cleaned regularly. Depending on how much your child plays with the toy, it may need to be washed once a week or every couple of weeks, and those with lots of cracks and crevices can be trickier to scrub. A disinfectant wipe or soap and water work well on plastic and wooden toys, although you’ll need to make sure to thoroughly dry wood toys to prevent water damage. Plush toys are a bit more problematic. Most can only be spot cleaned, but you may find some that are machine washable. 
  • To chew or not to chew? All babies put toys in their mouth as that’s part of how they test out the world. However, some babies gnaw on their toys more than others. If your baby is a chewer, look for STEM toys designed for this purpose. They’ll be made of BPA-free plastic that’s soft, so it won’t hurt tender gums. While plush toys can be chewed, they don’t have the durability of plastic and will likely turn damp and soggy.
  • Stay organized. If the toy comes with multiple pieces, babies, especially ones who are starting to crawl or walk, may drag them from one end of the house to the other. You’ll have to decide if you want to buy a toy with multiple pieces that could potentially get lost. Keep in mind that these toys often have one large piece in which all other parts can be stored.
CAUTION

At one point in time, throwing a toy in the dishwasher for a quick cleanup was common. However, the exposure to high heat can damage some plastics. Unless the manufacturer states that the toy is dishwasher-safe, it’s best not to clean it this way.

Other products we considered

With so many great toys on the market, it wasn’t easy to narrow down our list to only five. Here are a couple of toys we still love that didn’t quite make our top picks. The Play22 Activity Cube is an all-in-one play station. Babies gain their first exposure to shapes, colors, problem-solving, counting, and sorting from this one toy. Our favorite part is the removable bead maze, because your baby can sit on the floor and play for hours. The PlayGro Sort and Stack Tower is simplicity at its best. Babies learn to sort and problem-solve with opportunities to learn colors and counting.

STEM toys don’t need to have all the bells and whistles to keep your baby’s attention. Stacking cups, sorting rings, and an abacus can provide a new learning opportunity every time your child plays with them.

FAQ

Q. Can a toy still teach STEM principles if it’s not labeled as a STEM toy?
A.
Most certainly it can. Advertising a product as a STEM toy can boost the marketability of a toy, but it’s the principles of STEM that are more important. Toys that encourage the development of sorting, counting, problem-solving, and a better understanding of spatial relationships are the precursors to higher level math and science skills. Any toy that promotes these skills, no matter how it’s advertised or marked, promotes STEM learning.


Q. Should I really worry about STEM learning for my baby?
A.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s learning. Toys that aren’t STEM-based won’t hurt your baby, but they may not stimulate the same kinds of thought patterns and skills. That doesn’t mean all your baby’s toys need to be STEM-related, but a few carefully chosen STEM toys can start a learning process that will help your child as he or she faces formal learning later on.


Q. Are there STEM toys for the bathtub?
A.
Tub toys turn bath time into a science experiment, so, yes, there are STEM toys for the bath. These toys may have pieces that can be attached to the side of the tub to create a water wheel or sort various shapes to ride down a mini water slide. They teach the same principles as other STEM toys except they add water. What could be more fun than that?

The team that worked on this review
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Stacey
    Stacey
    Writer

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