Babies spend a large portion of their day focused on meeting their primary needs such as eating and sleeping. However, there are windows of time that we as moms may be looking to engage our young children in learning. Here you will find 10 simple ways to introduce STEM activities for infants in the first year of life.
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What are STEM Activities and Toys?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. More recently, the concept of STEAM learning has been introduced, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
If you have older children, you may hear of STEM learning commonly with older kids in elementary school. Schools may even offer after-school activities, such as STEM clubs, that have children working on simple STEM projects that are hands-on and engage young minds.
Are there STEM activities for infants?
Absolutely! You may just need to broaden the idea of what STEM play includes. While infants will not be calculating equations anytime soon, STEM in young children has a much larger definition. At this age, we are simply introducing STEM concepts in a fun way to peak their natural curiosity toward STEM learning.
For infants between 0-12 months, STEM learning helps with the development of fine motor skills. They play with STEM toys through:
STEM activities are easy ways to work on hand-eye coordination with little hands and beginning problem solving skills. They also begin to understand the concept of cause and effect, which is a key component of a scientific mind. Early exposure to STEM activities in infants can improve spatial awareness and processing skills as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that what an infant is capable of at 3 months versus 12 months will change drastically. The most important part is that they are having a great time and are exposed to different items and activities. Each child is different, and with my 2 kids I found that what they enjoyed playing with at the infant stage has been very different between them.
Best STEM Activities and Toys for Infants
Below I discuss 10 toys that can be used as easy STEM activities with infants. Young kids learn best through play, and the best way at this age is playing with their parent. These are toys that with a little help from you can set up the building blocks and a strong foundation for their education.
As a current early childhood educator (I teach a Pre-K2 class aka 2 year olds!), these everyday experiences are so important for little learners. Teaching STEM will provide a head start in the early years that teaches younger kids that science activities and engineering skills are so much fun!
You may also notice that most of these toys engage little hands and do not make noise and light up. All of the bright toys making a lot of noise can actually impact brain development in a negative way. While they can be fun to look at in the store, best practices are to reduce those distracting toys as much as possible.
Now as a parent, I am not saying to go throw out all toys that make noise. I just recommend having a larger number of toys like the ones below that encourage problem-solving skills are beneficial to a developing brain.
All 10 of these STEM toys I have owned myself for my young children and can say they are worth the investment. These simple STEM activities are the ones my kids kept coming back to over and over again in our playroom!
A simple shape sorter is a great toy for babies to begin learning about STEM concepts. Little hands will likely still need help in the infant stage with getting the shapes in the correct slot. This is a great opportunity to play with your child. Shape sorters are also typically organized by color, so bonus points for talking about shapes and colors at the same time!
Similar to a shape sorter, a ring stack is a great way to introduce STEM topics in a little toy. Babies enjoy stacking the rings, and my kids particularly liked this one because the top ring made a rattle sound. They begin to learn that they cannot put the smaller rings on first or they will not be able to stack the larger ones, an introduction to engineering skills.
An activity cube is the perfect place for young minds to explore how objects move and turn. A wooden activity like the one here is an investment, but babies will spend a lot of time with this toy even into the toddler years. We have this same one in my two-year-old preschool room, so even toddler classrooms can enjoy this item.
I personally recommend a wooden activity cube over the electronic ones. The wooden one will stand up well to more play, and it does not make noise and light up. The toys that make the least noise can end up being some of the best things, because little learners will actually play with the toy for longer.
An activity cube, unlike the first two, can also be played with independently more easily as an infant. While playing with your child is great for brain development, it is also beneficial for them to learn to play on their own for a couple minutes at a time.
Infants can begin playing with puzzles around 6 months old. You will want to buy puzzles that have only a few pieces and have large wooden knobs for them to hold onto easily. Puzzles are a great activity for hand-eye coordination. At this stage, they will not likely be able to complete the puzzle on their own, but they will enjoy the sensory play component. You can show them how to rotate the puzzle piece, a precursor to working with simple machines later.
Something to keep in mind with several of the toys such as the shape sorter, ring stack, and puzzles is that some young children will find their inability to do the task very frustrating. Do not take this to mean that you should not play with these toys. It is ok for them to whine a little and get frustrated while they are trying to put together a puzzle piece. This is how they work on problem solving skills and it is important to their early childhood development. If your child is easily frustrated, keep it to only a couple minutes at a time and be encouraging to them while they work on it.
Block play is the perfect way to introduce basic science concepts. While these building blocks are marketed for slightly older kids at 2 year olds, infants can still play with these in simple ways. While they will not be building the tallest tower, you can still peak their natural curiosity with stacking, sorting, and knocking them down. You will want to supervise with these blocks as some pieces are small items, but you could also take the smallest ones out for now while they are still putting things in their mouths.
Another great item to kick off STEM education are large building bricks. These are perfect for little hands and are safe for young children who are putting everything into their teething mouths. The large building bricks are a great introduction to engineering skills. The next step after these would be LEGO Duplo sets.
While similar to building blocks, what makes the bricks so much fun is that young kids can begin stacking them together and the bricks will stick together. While they will still need a little help, they will be able to complete this more easily, which will get them excited to keep playing.
This is also a great set to have if you have older children too, because there are plenty of pieces, and kids of all ages enjoy building different structures with the bricks.
These stacking cups are another fun way to introduce STEM learning. They can be sorted and stacked, and also have holes in them to play with water. It is amazing how much a cup of water peaks an infant’s natural curiosity. You could set up a simple science experiment in the bath with food coloring so that your infant can see the water coming out of the cups in different colors without the mess. This combines simple STEM projects with sensory activities.
Both my kids loved this pop-up toy as an infant. It was like playing peek-a-boo over and over again. Now this is the only toy on the list that is electronic and does make noise. However, I will say that you could leave the pop-up toy turned off and they will still have tons of fun. This helps little hands with basic concepts of pushing and turning. It helps with hand-eye coordination. Your little one will probably master some of the shapes and movements, such as pushing, but struggle with others, like rotating the shape. They will likely need a little help, but if you take their hand and show them the movements, they tend to pick up on it faster.
This Melissa and Doug Rollables Wooden Ocean Slide was a great Christmas gift for my son last year. Young children begin learning basic concepts of cause and effect, watching the plush rollables go down the slide. The rollables are easy to grip for little hands, so they can begin using this toy at a younger age. The structure is wooden, so it is sturdy and not easily knocked over during play. My son thought this toy was hilarious. He would let the ocean creatures roll, and laugh and laugh.
You know I couldn’t have a post about early education without including books. This book set includes 5 books in the “My First 100 Words” series with books on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. Now admittedly, this book set on STEAM education is more for parents. Babies are not really going to pick up on all these words. Young minds will still enjoy the pictures, as they love any reading time and early exposure to books.
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These are 10 engaging STEM activities and toys for teaching infants. Comment below to let me know your favorite STEM toys and activities for infants.