Arts & Entertainment

Purdue engineers’ top toys for creating, problem-solving, communicating and engineering

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STEM gifts can be found for the little engineer or techie in your life. Courtesy Purdue University /INSPIRE

Compiled by the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering at Purdue University

Purdue University’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering has compiled an Engineering Gift Guide every year since 2015. This year’s is once again filled with toys, games and books to engage children and teens in engineering thinking and design. Items included in the guide go through an extensive review process led by a student team. Faculty in the School of Engineering Education and the INSPIRE student research team look for items that promote engineering practices ranging from coding and spatial reasoning to problem solving and critical thinking.

We’re sharing Purdue’s Top 10 toys of 2022 list here, but you will find mini gift guides grouped by interests and age at, and Honorable Mentions at

• Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects by Andrea Beaty introduces and reinforces engineering processes of design.

“I really enjoyed reading this book! I thought it did a great job of cementing engineering processes in the minds of children, teaching them in a way that did not feel like learning. The book itself was fun, it was a breeze to read, and I really enjoyed the drawings as well. It made engineering approachable! Overall I really enjoyed this book.”

• Snap Circuits MyHome Plus teaches the basics of circuits and wiring for children ages 8 and up.

“I thoroughly enjoyed playing with this toy. There are so many projects to complete and plenty of material to cover. The instructions come with in-depth explanations of the electrical processes behind circuits, as well as explanations of how the included components work. There is a lot of room for learning, but at the same time the toy is still fun to play with and sparks curiosity. It is clear this is a high-quality product and the instructions help guide someone new to the world of physics through the basic concepts. It also directly demonstrates how these concepts are applied to the real world through analogies related to the home, making it easy to understand their importance.”

• Smartivity Hydraulic Plane Launcher centers on engineering design and offers an introduction to hydraulics and aerodynamics for children ages 6 and up.

“This gift teaches users about aerodynamics and walks you through the process of designing a paper plane that can fly the farthest or achieve another goal. The booklet does a great job of showing users how to use observable data to iterate on a design by asking you to observe what happened when you made certain changes. Additionally, it explored the concept of aerodynamics using terms that children could understand. Overall, it introduced many engineering concepts that could inspire or help children learn about engineering and design.”

• Sensory Leaves Math Activity Set is for children ages 3 and up to learn counting, sorting and patterning while playing.

“This gift would be great for young children as it begins to introduce engineering thinking and design (EDT) concepts at a young age. The earlier children begin to be exposed to EDT concepts, the more likely they are to have better EDT skills in the future, so I think that this would be a great jumping-off point for many kids.”

• STEM Explorers Brainometry is a puzzle game for children ages 5 to 10.

“This gift is exceptional because it promotes many of the skills needed in engineering while still being fun. Users must think creatively to solve the given challenges while meeting the given constraints and criteria, and must constantly iterate on their designs and analyze their choices. There are also a wide variety of activities to work with, keeping users engaged and excited. Some of the challenges involved designing flowers or clowns, others had users creating the longest wall without having blocks of the same pattern touching. Overall, playing with it was a great beginning exercise in problem-solving and iterative design.”

• Switcheroo Coding Crew™ is an interactive coding toy for children ages 4 to 7.

“This gift is very engaging and exciting, especially for young children. There is a large catalog of problems to solve, but there is also the opportunity for users to define their own problems. This gift is an excellent introduction to coding for young people, and I would absolutely recommend it for anyone looking for a very simple introduction to coding.”

• Zendo is a logic game for children ages 12 and up.

“It was mentally challenging and provided a great gradient from which you could get better at it. I feel like it could be a bit frustrating for some children, but with practice, it would become easier. I think that this game is a great example of indirectly and non-invasively developing EDT skills. Sometimes when interacting with engineering or STEM toys, the fact that it is supposed to develop EDT skills can be overbearing and make STEM skills feel disconnected from reality. In this game, however, the skills are implicit and naturally follow gameplay.”

• Discover is a cardboard construction kit aimed at using recycled cardboard from home for children ages 5 and up.

“There is a huge potential to create with this gift. The kit comes with child-safe tools and the website has instructions for some designs to make as well as how to use the pieces and tools included in the kit. I think creativity really determines how enjoyable this kit is. I would also recommend using a real box-cutter for adults and older children, as the provided cutter (although safe) cuts rough edges and makes lots of cardboard dust.”

• Kids First Intro to Gears is a toy that introduces mechanical gears for children ages 3 and up.

“Gears are an important and fascinating tool used in most if not all machines, so getting a basic understanding of how to use them properly is very important. It teaches higher concepts of gears as well such as speed, torque, and axis of rotation. For me, I was always fascinated with gears when I was little, so getting the chance to use and arrange them in any way I could imagine would have made me so happy. This also explains why gear positions are used and what effects they have. Some of the experiments they walk you through I remember learning in high school, so introducing them at such a young age would help tremendously in classes I have had and am currently taking.”

• Mega Cyborg Hand is a toy that lets children ages 7 and up explore hydraulics, pneumatics and robotics.

“This toy was much easier to put together than most other kits I have reviewed, and the product worked just as intended. Not to mention how cool the glove is once assembled. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of interacting with this gift, and I would recommend it to any child who wants to learn more about STEM topics or who likes to build.”

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