Best STEM toys ages 6 to 8

From treasure hunts to microscopic views, these 2011 Golden Apple Award winners will educate as much as they entertain.

By GreatSchools Staff

Geomate Jr.

Appeals to ages 5-8

What it teaches: navigating and using a compass, exploring the outdoors, following directions, using technology

Catch the geocaching wave! This global phenomenon is a terrific way to bring out the explorer in young kids, and whether you live in city or suburb, give them a sense of adventure – along with getting them outside and moving. Not too shabby.

Turning the entire country into a giant Cracker Jack box, the device comes preloaded with 250,000 “treasure” locations nationwide. When you turn it on, Geomate finds your location and instantly locates the closest "geocache," sending you on your way to find a small treasure — coins, toy jewelry, plastic jewels, a note — that are hidden in, say, the crook of a tree, under a rock, or behind a brick in a wall. Worth noting: This easy-to-use handheld is better for younger than older kids who (as with one of our 10-year-old, tech-savvy testers) don't find it high-tech or sophisticated enough. (For older kids and adults, you can use a smartphone and an app to Geocache.)

Bottom line: A wonderful device to get the whole family outdoors and energized about going on a modern treasure hunt.

Where to buy it: Geomate Jr.

Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope

Appeals to ages: 5-15

What it teaches: scientific observation, biological exploration, technical skills

Microscopes are an awesome tool for scientific discovery — no matter your age — but cheaper versions made for kids can be arduous to use. Little kids often have trouble coordinating the focusing of the lenses and seeing through a tiny aperture. But this handheld microscope projects its images onto a computer screen, allowing kids to explore micro realities via a large image that’s easy to see, share, and discuss.

Our testers loved the versatility of this toy which seemed to drive their curiosity in all kinds of unforeseen ways. Fingerprints? Cool. Dust bunnies? Yeah. Housefly wings? The flies the limit.

Bottom line: A tool that offers kids a way to explore an otherwise inaccessible world that’s right under their fingertips.

Where to get it: Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope

The Klutz Guide to the Galaxy

Appeals to ages 6+
What it teaches: astronomy, cosmology, navigation, hands-on learning

This simply elegant learning kit from the ingenious Klutz team packs a world of learning into one tidy box that includes a telescope, sundial, night-sight flashlight, star and moon maps, and scores of activities. Constructed out of stiff paper and simple lenses, the telescope is fairly easy for a child to assemble (although kids may need some adult help) and get working. The sundial is also a cinch to assemble and to use — no batteries required. Our kid testers enjoyed assembling the telescope and the sun dial, and figuring out exactly how they worked and why.

The kit also includes a Lunatic Wheel for Moon Gazers, a Galactic Passport your child can use to record the phases of the moon and constellations she's observed, easy-to-use star maps, and a plethora of fascinating facts about the sun, moon, and planets.

Bottom line: Everything to launch your child into a hands-on galactic adventure.

Where to get it: The Klutz Guide to the Galaxy