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Publication Date Wednesday, November 1, 2017



More than a fancy acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM is a way of thinking about and understanding the world. STEM has taken over classrooms, the job market, and the toy industry. The majority of toy retailers now have STEM toy landing pages on their websites, and Amazon even offers a monthly STEM toy subscription. This rise in popularity is good for interest in STEM studies and careers, but comes with its fair share of safe play hazards and concerns.

Identifying STEM Toys

There’s no universal standard for STEM toys. Top toys currently on the market cover a wide range of skill and safety levels, and include: simple building blocks, chemistry sets, video games, and even computer coding dolls. That’s a lot of area to cover, and the definition has broadened further due to manufacturers hoping to increase their products’ appeal. Simply put, STEM toys promote creativity, logic, problem solving, collaboration, experimentation, and skills that are applicable in all types of learning.

The Benefits

The benefits of STEM toys are, in many ways, incalculable. STEM toys teach important problem-solving skills through real-world experience. STEM toys can work their magic beyond playtime, and make STEM subjects more relevant and interesting for students.

STEM toys can teach simple lessons like cause and effect, and help children develop skills that will support them in their future studies and careers, both in STEM and other fields. Through STEM and STEM toys, children can learn to solve problems using teamwork, data collection and analysis, and their own curiosity.

Failure is another important lesson learned from STEM toys, and possibly the scariest one for parents trying to protect their child. The process of trial and error teaches children that it’s okay to fail. You learn from it, determine what went wrong, and try again. And, in doing so, build perseverance.

The Hazards

Some of the potential hazards surrounding STEM toys are more obvious—electric shock, suffocation from small pieces—but others are less so. Some unexpected safety concerns include:

  • Unknown play patterns due to limited instructions
  • Unknown reactions from combining unrelated objects
  • Younger children using products intended for older children

This final item, is a growing area of concern for STEM toy safety as more and more STEM toys are being marketed to younger children (PreK). This is good for harnessing their curiosity, but can raise some safety concerns.

While younger children may show an interest and aptitude for STEM, it’s important to keep in mind that they may not grasp some concepts, like cause and effect, as well as older children.

Encouraging Curiosity

Children are naturally curious, and STEM toys can help to harness that curiosity in a safe and fulfilling way. As with any toy, you should consider your child’s age and development when purchasing a STEM toy. Read the instructions and warning labels to make sure it’s right for your child. Have safety equipment like goggles and gloves on hand for the activities and keep safety in mind after play time is over too. Safe, and out of the way, storage is another key to STEM toy safety.

Finding the balance between curiosity and safe play for your child is the key to encouraging a lifelong love of learning, and a strong foundation in STEM.

UL’s Expertise

UL’s team of quality assurance experts support the toy manufacturing industry’s drive to bring safer products to the world market. In addition to UL’s unmatched toy safety expertise, our child development experts can determine the most appropriate age grading of toys. Products bearing the UL Toy Safety Certification Mark are held to the highest quality and safety standards for the youngest consumers. Additionally, UL’s advisory services continue to help toy manufactures throughout the supply chain from design reviews and safety assessments

UL can help retailers and manufacturers mitigate the risks associated with global sourcing to protect brand reputation and build consumer loyalty.

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