Best STEM toys ages 9+

Young scientists and inventors will love these 2011 Golden Apple Awards winners created for older kids.

By GreatSchools Staff

Math Magic

Appeals to age 7- 13

What it teaches: math concepts and fundamentals

Brow furrowing may be a common response to opening a present with the word "math" so prominently printed on the box. This was a bit of an impediment to many testers who chose other, less explicitly academic toys over this one. But once we opened the box and began unpacking its many little tricks and games, the kids soon recognized this was more playing than studying. In fact, its collection of brain teasers, miniature card games, and magic tricks exemplify what an innovative teacher might do on a Friday afternoon for a fun break — building brain cells and having no end of fun to boot.

Bottom line: A great way to teach kids that math isn’t about worksheets, it’s magic.

Where to get it: Math Magic

Sustainable Earth Lab

Appeals to ages: 8-13

What it teaches: climate science principles, laboratory practices, and earth science fundamentals

Having trouble explaining to your child why the world is getting warm and sea levels are rising? Do you know how CO2 affects the atmosphere? It may be daunting, but our children need to know the fundamentals of climate science so that they can be smart stewards of a rapidly changing planet.

Conversations about the dangers of global warming may not teach kids that much if they don’t understand the science behind the news. National Geographic's Sustainable Earth Lab, a multi-faceted science kit, will go a long way toward making your child more knowledgeable about climate science than your average well-educated adult.

Bottom line: An ingeniously designed kit that prepares your child to be a great citizen of the planet.

Where to buy it: Sustainable Earth Lab

ReCon 6.0 Programmable Rover

Appeals to ages 9-13

What it teaches: introduction to computer programming

Lurking inside the brains of all science-fiction-loving children, there’s an overwhelming desire for their very own robot that’ll do whatever their young masters command: Telling pesky younger siblings to stay out of their bedroom, delivering a hand-written note, and even taking out the trash.

Aside from doing chores, this mighty little toy will make a robot-obsessed child's dreams come true. Kids can program this big-as-a-breadbox robot to walk and turn, talk, and deliver small items. Big fun! One tween tester, enthralled with the toy, spent many quiet hours getting it to do his bidding. He was disappointed, though, that there weren't more fun features "like a hidden camera." As well, he bemoaned that the programming instructions weren't more detailed.

On that note, parents, consider yourself warned: Unless you have a mini in-house Bill Gates, you may be spending a lot of time figuring out how to get Rover to walk the robot walk and talk the robot talk.

Bottom line: A nice "starter" robot for science-fiction and computer-science lovin' kids.

Where to buy it: ReCon 6.0 Programmable Rover