STEAM Gift Guide: Smart Toys for Little Designers

2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers

If you’ve been following my blog for some time you know that:

1. I am an Architect

2. I love STEAM based learning.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math

I truly believe in the power of a project based, creative thinking, hands-on style of learning. This idea is at the core of all university level design schools and I’m happy to see it start trickling down to lower grades, even elementary school. And because play is the quickest way to engage young imaginations I feel strongly that smart toys will encourage the littlest designers out there to invent, create, and dream.

With that in mind, I put together a gift guide of STEAM toys I think every family should own. We own or have played with all of these toys and I can wholeheartedly recommend each and every one. So if you are looking to introduce STEAM based ideas through play, these toys are all the prefect fit.

And yes, I DID make a TOY Mandala using some of these bad boys!

This post contains affiliate links to products I love and recommend to my readers.

STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Every Budget

Under $10

2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers

    • ALEX Modeling Clay from $3.35 Age range 3+ Clay is the best toy for starting to think in three dimensions. Alex clay is a great stater clay because it’s colorful and oh so easy to smush!
    • Jenga Classic Game from $7.99 Age range: 8+ Jenga is not only an immensely fun game for the whole family but a great way to learn about structures and balance.
    • Classic Tangoes from $9.99 Age Range 5+ Tangoes are a form of tangrams, a classic Chinese puzzle that explores how smaller shapes can be combined  to form larger images.
    • DIGITAL GIFT IDEA:  Paper Toys Play Pack $6.00 Ages 6+ Looking for a STEAM based gift to send someone who lives far away? Our Paper Toys Play Pack has 7 paper toys you can download, print and make at home. All of the toys are art, science, and design based and loads of fun. You can see the most popular one Flextangles in action here:


2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers

  • Kaleidograph ®  from$11.95 Age range 5+ I love this toy! Not only is it beautiful but the possibilities for making shapes and designs are endless. It’s kind of like a large paper cut kaleidoscope!
  • K’NEX 521 Piece Building Set from $16.20 Age range 7+ An engineering friend of mine says K’Nex is the one toy he believes all children should play with. Think of it as Lego meets an Erector set!
  • Blokus Game from $15.14 Age range 5+ This game is both fun and pretty but most of all it teaches kids about shapes and strategy. Even preschool aged children will find fun in simply creating different shapes out of it.

2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers

  • The Original Spirograph from $18.99 Age range 8+ Math meets art! Spirograph has been a popular toy since it debuted in 1965 and for good reason, it makes creating complex shapes incredibly easy.
  • Wedgits from $20.99 All Ages including infants! Wedgits are a great beginning building toy for all ages. They are soft and easy to stack and safe for even babies to chew on.
  • Snap Circuits, Jr. Kit from $20.99 Ages 7+ This toy makes electronics fun! We have experimented with a  lot of the projects in the accompanying book but our favorite is the Flying Saucer project, hands down.


  • 2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little DesignersArchitecto Game from $23.99 Ages: 7+ We received this as a gift several years ago and we break it out often. It’s kind of like 3 dimensional tangrams. You have to create a complex shape using the smaller blocks.  I love it as both a puzzle and building toy. NOTE: The blocks are fairly small!  Foxminds, the manufacturer, also has another variation of the game called Equilibrio Game where you have to solve balance based puzzles! Looks fun and is slightly less expensive at $24.33.
  • LEGO Creator 3 in 1 Series from $23.99 Age range 7+ Lego  is probably the world’s most famous building toy. If you haven’t invested in Lego before you may not know where to begin. I love the Creator 3 in 1 Series because it encourages kids to build and then dismantle their creations to make something new. I love the emphasis on using the same kit of parts to make 3 different projects.
  • Wood Marble Run from $43.93 Ages 5+ We LOVE this toy! Let me say it again : WE LOVE THIS TOY!!!!! Marble runs are a great way to explore engineering principles with kids and this set is so easy to work with. It also smells like heaven since it’s made from quality wood.

Over $50

2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers

  • Magna-Tiles® From $64 Ages 3+ Everyone should own  set of Magnatiles. It has seen constant use in or house for over 5 years and appeals to both my 2 year old and my 8 year old. Magnatiles are easy to build with, colorful, and the translucent set is great on light tables too! We have both the translucent and solid sets.
  •  Wood Blocks  From $54.99. I suggest every family have a  set of high quality wood blocks in their home. This set of 60 Unit block from Melissa and Doug sees constant use in our house by both my two and six years olds. This holiday I also hope to add in a Haba set or two.  Did you know they have an architectural series which has Middle Eastern, Egyptian and Roman shapes and more? I’m also eyeing their Starter Set from $113
  • Fort Magic BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION TOY KIT from $99 in the Fort Magic Store or $113.99 on Amazon Ages 5+ Kids get to build LIFE SIZE structures! How amazing is that? This toy is absolutely worth the investment. I wrote about how much we love it in this post. This is one of my favorite toys to break out when we have parties and playdates because thee kids can have the opportunity to build together and I haven’t found a kid yet who can resist the giant scale of this toy. This would also make an amazing addition to an elementary classroom, I can see kids building structures together in teams.

Got some ideas now? The most important thing I look for when selecting STEAM based toys are their ability for open-ended and interpretive play. The best design toys give kids the chance to explore a variety of solutions or even invent their own!  Hopefully some of them will encourage the next generation of designers and thinkers!

And after the kids are done playing with toys…try some awesome STEAM projects at home!


A year’s worth of captivating STEAM activities that will woo the boredom out of kids!

Learn how get started with STEAM projects at home with kids

2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers2014 STEAM Gift Guide: 15 Smart Toys for Little Designers


  1. Vila says

    You know the Architecto and Equilibro games? And there’s a third one in the series, too, whose name I forget. But all three use the same blocks. So once you’ve bought one of them, you only need to buy the puzzle books, rather than the whole game, for the others. It’s cheaper that way, unless you want multiple kids to be able to play the two games simultaneously.

  2. Allison Conrady says

    I have so many of these that I love, too! Have you tried tegu blocks? Also, I prefer little bits to the snap circuits, so please look into them if you don’t know what they are! There’s also something you may be interested in to expand magnatile play, it’s a Picasso tile (some generic brand) car/truck thing that allows for creating cars, cities on wheels, etc.

    • Ana Dziengel says

      Thanks for all these awesome idea! I just heard about Little Bits and I can’t wait to try them! Will definitely check out the other toys you mentioned too!

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