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Best STEM toys ages 3 to 5

Created for young learners, 2011 Golden Apple Awards winners masterfully lay a (fun) foundation for science, math, and technology.

By GreatSchools Staff

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Citiblocs (Cool and Hot Color Set)

Appeals to ages: 3-100

What it teaches: structural engineering basics, pattern recognition, cause-and-effect, collaboration, problem-solving, creative thinking, small-motor skills

Those of us who study learning know blocks are one of those toys that pack an evidence-based punch. (Block play is associated with later math competence, among other academic gains.) But Citiblocs’ multi-colored wood blocks surprised even us with their universal popularity. All the kids (and truth be told, adults) loved these colorful reinventions of a toy that is so deceptively simple, irresistible, and age-proof. (So much so that two sister testers battled over who got to keep her set: 7-year-old sister: “They’re mine. My sister can only play with them if she asks.” 11-year-old sister: “But that’s not fair. I love them, too!”)

All 100 of the precision-cut blocks are identically shaped – narrow rectangles (4.5 x.75 x.25) that scream “build, create, collaborate!” For our younger testers, this toy had staying power: They played for long periods of concentrated time to construct things they were proud of. Our older testers worked in teams to create building games, intricately shaped towers, and domino-effect boobie traps.

For the browsing adult, some of the other block brands with multifarious shapes may seem more “fun,” but the simplicity of Citiblocs are really their secret to success. They are similar to two other precision-cut brands — Kapla and Keva Planks — but more affordable. Finally, the cool and hot color schemes – one with natural wood mixed with blues and greens, the other with reds and yellow – are so stylin’ that you’ll be less likely to be annoyed when your child allows them to take over the living room.

Bottom line: Blockbuster STEM learning in an old-fashioned classic form.

Where to buy it: Citiblocs