WHAT MAKES A STEM TOY?
For almost 20 years now, the STEM acronym has been filtering into public consciousness and one could argue that in 2019 it has never been more prominent in the toy industry. It seems that you can hardly pass through the aisles of a toy shop or department store without seeing various STEM artworks emblazoned across products – from simple jigsaws to slime-making kits.
But since STEM became ‘a thing’ (for the uninitiated it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) are we in danger of using it too liberally on toys, making it hackneyed to the point that the consumer doesn’t really understand what it means or why an officially recognised STEM toy is of genuine educational value?
Recently, Magformers, the leading magnetic construction toy and a global business, was proud to be awarded official authentication by the renowned STEM.org organisation.
STEM.org Authenticated™ means consumers can easily identify goods and services that conform to STEM.org’s rigorous and vetted standards, enabling decision-making in favour of quality. In Magformers’ case, the STEM.org Authenticated™ trustmark means it has been identified as a toy that has these key characteristics:
- It integrates seamlessly into STEM programmes and classrooms;
- It is aligned to Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Maths standards;
- It supports the development of students’ 21st Century skills;
- It engages students through hands-on learning and collaboration.
Of these four cornerstones, arguably the third is the most relevant. When STEM (originally known as SMET by the way) became prominent, it was as a direct result of a global identification by politicians and academics of an impending shortage of skills in young adults in an increasingly complex and technology-reliant world.
As a result, between 2007 and 2017, the UK government committed £990m to boost STEM educational activity. So STEM has become ultra-important.
But rather unfortunately, the STEM acronym is not a trademark. Its usage is unprotected. There is no global, standardised STEM logo, so the toy market – and other industries too, of course, – is awash with a myriad of different versions, in differing shapes and colours.
For toy manufacturers, this has presented an opportunity. After all, who would ever baulk at a ‘free’ way to highlight the educational importance of their product, even if its actual STEM suitability was low?
And in these tough and turbulent economic times, it is hard to argue against anything that helps to sell more toys. But left unchecked and unmoderated there is a potential danger that the impact of the STEM movement is being diluted when it comes to toys.
Where do we draw the line in eligibility to be classed as a STEM toy?
Even the simplest of building blocks could be deemed to be teaching ‘Engineering’ if they make 3D models. Anything with a wire can be argued to have ‘Technology’ in it. Dice in a board game have numbers of them…does this make them ‘Mathematical’? Slime mixing kits (enormously popular in our house, by the way) are ‘Scientific’.
It’s always interesting to see the magnificent variety of new toys launched at London Toy Fair and I will, as ever, have a keen eye on the educational toy sector, particularly those sporting STEM logos.
Some are incredible, inspirational and genuinely smart. And in my opinion, there is no better place to satisfy my thirst for ‘edu-tainment’ or ‘edu-play’ than at the BTHA’s flagship event.
As someone working in the toy industry it’s perfect to spot trends, development ideas and emerging technology. And as a dad, it’s just great, great fun.
About the author: John Kelly is an award-winning journalist, editor and the owner of Stamford, Lincolnshire-based marketing agency, Snap!Media. He is a consultant to Magformers UK Ltd.