Friday, November 6, 2015

STEAM Gifts for Preschoolers - Three Year Olds

Ah, three year olds. For some reason, rooted in development I'm sure, three year olds are ready for toys with more moving parts and smaller parts that are generally more "dangerous" than the things appropriate for babies and toddlers. Here is my list for STEAMy gifts for Three Year Olds.

My favorite STEAMy gift is a family pass to a children's museum. A children's museum is a place where children have practically free reign over the space. There are hands-on activities designed with children in mind. The museums offer variety and novelty that are just unreasonable to expect to offer at home.

All of the museums I've been to have spaces dedicated to babies (Missoula, MontanaPhoenix, ArizonaMesa, ArizonaDenver, ColoradoAnn Arbor, Michigan). The best museums have dedicated baby spaces at every exhibit, like the "Baby Zones" at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. Use the search tool at the Association of Children's Museums website to find your local museum, or just Google "children's museum [name of city]".


Consider finding the local zoo for your little person and buying their family a year's pass. You will open their experience of the world to include exotic animals and their care. Search the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find an animal adventure near you. Search here.



Tea Set. This tea set is perfect for learning science and math concepts like chemistry (mixing sugar, milk and tea together) and pre-math lessons in volume, quantity and sorting. Don't miss the STEM learning that happens during a tea party!!

Silks. I love the geometry learning that playing with fabric provides. Scrunching, folding, rolling, or laying flat, a preschooler will be experimenting with his or her math skills when they play with these. The fabric can also double as green grass or blue rivers, or they can be used to build small tents for toys to gain shelter. I know that you could let your child play with towels, wash clothes, sheets and blankets the same way. But, oh - the touch of silk? It is special.

Nino Percussion. Musical instruments land solidly in the "A" of STEAM. And there are many instruments out these. I'm listing these two because they sound beautiful and they are mechanically interesting, which make them ideal for preschool engineers. Nino makes a variety of instruments but the Nino Shaker and the Nino Cabasa are my favs.

Nino Shaker
Nino Cabasa

Haba Block and Tackle. We have this set of pulleys and they invite comments from everyone who visits our house. Young people study physics. They also get to explore how this technology aids new ways for lifting things, which is the definition of engineering.

Magnetic Builders. Check out these two sets of magnetic builders! Our magnetic toys are our go-to toy for playdates. Magna-Tiles have been used to make "airplanes," "houses," and Octonaut's "gups."  They are solid, which make for good structures. Magformers have stronger magnets and snap together well but they have openings in each shape, which make great windows but not doors or walls. Both styles have cool add-ons like Playmags magnetic car beds, which work well with Magna-Tiles and Magformers motion set that has gears and cranks.

These toys scream STEAM. From experimenting with the ways magnets and shapes go together to building innovative structures. When people play with these toys there is counting, sorting, and building in two dimensons and three dimensions. Children explore the sometimes paradoxical relationship between form and function. And the list goes on and on. These toys grow with the child and are a perennial favorite gift...adding to the magnetic toy stash at birthday celebrations and other gift-giving holidays always go over well.



Traveling Magnets. Mindware makes a set of traveling magnetic shapes, complete with a container that doubles as a foundation.  Your preschool engineer can free-build some two dimensional sculptures or he or she can try to build to match a card!
Traveling Magnets

I have an entire section of my Amazon aStore dedicated to Building Toys. I break them out by Fat Brain Exclusives, Wooden Shapes, Hex Bug, and Other Building Fun. But for this list I'm going to suggest you check out these novel builders by Fat Brain Toys. They are called Joinks. In true Fat Brain Toys fashion, these builders are intuitive and unique. They are unlike other builders out there. Lessons in physics and engineering and maybe even some chemistry modeling are laying in wait in your first box of Joinks.


Butterfly Wings. Pretending to be a butterfly is fun but it is also preschool performance art. Children flap their arms to be anything from a bird to a bug to a butterfly. Check these wings out to add to their imaginative play (available in many colors).

Butterfly Wings

For additional science learning grab a non-fiction book (My, oh my -- A Butterfly!) or some music (Mighty Wolf) about butterflies.

Speaking of Preschool Performance Art, I will add another really novel dress-up item. Jeff and Paige made bobcat shirts that have been a huge hit with 3 year olds, 4 year olds, and the grown-ups they frighten. On the front of the shirt there is the kind face of a bobcat. But there is also a flap on the front of the shirt that when lifted reveals the ferocious teeth and chomping mouth of a bobcat! Available to buy exclusively at Jeff and Paige's website.

Artist Travel Desk. My kids both love this personal artist desk. Consider it a pint-sized artcart...perfect for small spaces as well as on-the-go creative work. Don't forget to stock it with paper, stickers, washable crayons and markers, and, perhaps, scissors and glue. (For those of you in hot climates, be aware that if this is left in the car then the crayons might melt!)
Desk To Go

Last but not least is a Magnifying Glass. This tool is made for children 3 years old and older. I like the size. I like the magnifying power. And I like that it can be propped up on the ground so a child can do hands-free observation. The tweezers are an added bonus because anything that grabs usually goes over well with Preschool Engineers.

Magnifying Glass

So there you have it. My list for STEAM gifts for three year olds. I believe these gifts sustain their value because as the child grows, the gift grows. The play (i.e., learning) supported by these gifts changes, becomes more sophisticated, and ultimately makes your child smarter. That is what makes this list of STEAM gifts different from other lists you might find out there. I hope that makes it a valuable gift giving guide. Tell me, what do you think?

More Gift Ideas
Gear for Outdoor Adventures
STEM Gifts for Babies
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - One Year Olds
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - Two Year Olds

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