It’s never too early to start nurturing science, technology, engineering, and math skills in toddlers. Learning Liftoff shares that an early introduction to STEM can encourage the development of language, communication, and problem-solving skills. They add that it will also set them up for future academic success because they will be able to transfer these skills to other areas of study.
Similarly, the Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum reports that children are already laying roots for abstract reasoning before they turn one. “These roots,” they say, “must be encouraged through engagement and play in order for inherent tendencies to develop into lifelong STEM thinking skills.” For these reasons — if not simply for a love of STEM! — you may be interested in finding some fun yet educational STEM toys for the toddlers in your life.
There are plenty of STEM toys geared toward preschoolers and older children, but you might have to search a little harder for STEM toys for toddlers. Some STEM toys for toddlers are obvious – they are labeled as such or clearly based in science, math, technology, or engineering. Others may not overtly appear to be STEM toys, but yet they help develop some STEM-related skills.
You will find below a list of STEM toys for toddlers, focusing on children from 12-36 months old. Although I have grouped them by math, science, and engineering and technology, there will inevitably be overlap in the skills and subject areas engaged through many of these toys.
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Math-Based STEM Toys for Toddlers
The following STEM toys may help toddlers develop some basic math-related skills and concepts and skills, such as
- understanding of size and shape,
- recognition of patterns,
- counting, sorting, and sequencing,
- identification of numerals,
- one-to-one correspondence, and
- spatial relations.
Smart Counting Cookies
The Smart Counting Cookies each display a numeral and the corresponding number of chocolate chips to encourage counting. The cookies also engage the sense of touch with the raised chocolate chips.
My Counting Train
Playing with the LEGO DUPLO My Counting Train helps toddlers learn to count and recognize numerals. This toy also encourages building skills, which are a key component of engineering.
LeapFrog LeapStart and corresponding books
The LeapFrog LeapStart interactive learning system engages children in a variety of subjects through books they interact with using a stylus. The books are leveled for ages 2 through 7. You buy the system once, and as your child grows, you can add books to your library that meet her new age or skill level. Some books even feature some of my kids’ favorite characters, such as PJ Masks and Paw Patrol. If you have multiple children, like I do, it’s a wonderful toy to have because once the older kids outgrow books, the younger ones can start using them.
To help teach math to toddlers, try this bundle of 4 books for children ages 2-4. Math-related concepts include shapes and counting. They’ll also learn about letters, colors, and animals!
These Matching Eggs will help toddlers learn shapes as they take the eggs apart and need to find the matching piece. They can also count the eggs as they place them into the carton or sort by color.
Puzzles are a perfect way to help toddlers learn their shapes and practice spatial reasoning by placing the shapes in the appropriate place. We have the fun, colorful Melissa & Doug Shapes Chunky Puzzle, and it’s a great pick!
Use a shape sorter to help your toddler with shape recognition. There are lots available, but this one is extra fun because it doubles as a toy for pretend play. Your toddler can pull the wooden truck around, put shapes inside the mixing drum (and then unload them!), and play with the included driver doll.
Laugh & Learn Piggy Bank
The Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Piggy Bank is a favorite toy at our house! The pig will count as your toddler drops the coins through the slots. The toy has three modes that grow with your toddler, and enriches the playing experience through song and even Spanish vocabulary.
Manipulatives such as an abacus help toddlers count and visualize adding and subtracting. This abacus incorporates bold rainbow colors and is made with wooden beads.
Melissa & Doug Counting Caterpillar
The Counting Caterpillar by Melissa & Doug with its bright, inviting colors may become your toddler’s favorite toy. He can have fun rearranging and stacking the caterpillar’s segments, learning numerals and counting along the way.
Stacking & Nesting Cups
Stacking and nesting cups help children work on ordering items from biggest to smallest and comparing volume. They can choose to stack the cups up into a tower or nest them together. These Discovery Toys cups go above and beyond by incorporating time-telling and measurement, and three different languages. They could also be used as water toys!
This Montessori-inspired toy will help your toddler learn to count and recognize numbers. There are a variety of ways to use the ladybugs to help your child learn, from simple counting to games. One thing I love about this toy is that it comes with its own carrying jar to contain all the ladybugs after playtime is over.
Stacking rings are common, but did you ever think of them as STEM toys for toddlers? They are! They help toddlers compare size and work on sequencing to put the rings in order. This ring stacker is popular on Amazon and incorporates different textures to stimulate your toddler’s sense of touch.
Science Toys for Toddlers
These science-based STEM toys for toddlers are fun tools to introduce
- science concepts,
- scientific vocabulary and language,
- observation through senses,
- cause and effect, and
- a sense of curiosity and inquiry.
Little Tikes STEM Jr. Wonder Lab
This might just be the ultimate STEM toy for kids. The kid-sized science lab comes prepared to do 20 different hands-on experiments while experiencing fun sounds and phrases. You will just need to pitch in a few household items for the experiments. There is also a built-in ball maze and circuit center!
Touch and Feel Books
Touch and feel books allow toddlers to use their senses to explore the pages. Here are some great choices:
- Baby Einstein Backyard All Year: Experience different backyard textures and talk with your toddler about the changes in seasons.
- See, Touch, Feel: A First Sensory Book: Your toddler can see herself in a mirror, bang on a drum, or trace the swirl of a snail’s shell.
- Mommy’s Big Helper: Explore all the textures in your baby’s everyday surroundings as you read about a typical day. Feel the housecat’s soft fur or the sticky cake batter, and even smell the strawberries at the market!
Uncle Goose Blocks
Uncle Goose offers a variety of science-themed non-toxic wooden blocks for toddlers. Find all your choices here, or go straight to these awesome sets:
Space-Themed Play Tent with Tunnel
While your toddler has a “blast” playing inside the astronaut rocketship tent or crawling through the tunnel, he can also learn about the solar system and the names of the planets. You can purchase balls separately to turn it into a ball pit!
Atom Teether Toy
Your toddler will love chewing, manipulating, and rattling this teether toy in the shape of an atom. It is BPA-free. Plastic rings can be moved back and forth along flexible stems. Reviewers warn — do not boil to sterilize!
Baby University Books
Baby University board book sets introduce babies and toddlers to scientific concepts and vocabulary in a simple, fun way. I’ll bet you never thought you’d see a kids’ book about Quantum Physics or Organic Chemistry! Maybe you’ll learn a little something, too, while you read them to your toddler. Explore all the Baby University books here.
Spin ‘n’ Sprinkle Water Lab
The Spin ‘n’ Sprinkle Water Lab incorporates science into bathtime. Your toddler can measure water with the test tube and pour water into a funnel to set off a series of cause-and-effect reactions.
Engineering and Technology Toys for Toddlers
Through playing with toys that are based in engineering and technology, toddlers can learn to:
- build structures,
- try new ideas,
- use simple tools and machines,
- consider how (well) things work,
- and solve problems.
Bristle Blocks work well for ages 2 and up, and toddlers will not outgrow them any time soon. My 6-year-old still loves playing with Bristle Blocks! Create planes, cars, and houses with these interlocking, versatile blocks.
Every toddler needs a set of Mega Bloks! These classic building toys will grow with your toddler for years and promote creative, open-ended play. Toddlers can construct towers, animals, castles, or whatever else they dream up. The large size is perfect (and safe!) for little ones. You can also purchase themed Mega Bloks sets that combine with the starter kit to add to the fun.
Toddler Tool Kit
Introduce your toddler to the world of tools with a pretend play tool set. This one has everything you could hope for – a workbench, screwdriver, hammer, wrenches, electric drill, saws, nuts, bolts, and nails. Your toddler can practice such skills as screwing and hammering while also engaging in color-matching.
Goobi Juniors Construction Set
This building set allows toddlers to use magnetic bars to build 3D shapes and structures. Children as young as 12 months will enjoy engaging with this brightly colored set while developing construction skills and learning about magnetism.
Baby Einstein Symphony Gears
Gears toys introduce toddlers to cause and effect, but this toy goes a step further. The gears correspond with musical instruments, and toddlers can layer and stack them together to create their own symphonies. What a brilliant combination of engineering and music!
This Vtech train set has been a well-loved toy at my house. Toddlers can build the train set in a variety of ways (with your help) and enjoy the fun songs and sound effects that are triggered as the train chugs along.