We know many of you are already thinking about holiday shopping … or at least are looking for some fun STEM toys for your Nerds in these last weeks of summer vacation. So, as you scan the many STEM toy offerings out there, take our Imperfect Dad’s advice in his first article for Parent.co, and look beyond the popular STEM toys’ label before you buy!
Excerpt from Parent.co
Beware of STEM-Washing
As I walked the three-story labyrinth of more than 1,100 exhibitors at the Toy Industry Association’s 2017 Toy Fair in New York City, I got the feeling that every vendor there was trying to tap into the demand for creative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) toys.
Some were clearly on the right track. Perennial STEM stalwarts like LEGO, Educational Insights, and Snap Circuits® maker Elenco, as well as upstarts like Osmo and Circuit Cubes maker Tenka Labs all jump to mind.
Others, like the company who presented a bag of sand as a legitimate STEM offering, seemed to toss the term casually onto product packaging simply for the trendy marketing boost. The “STEM pretenders” have only served to cheapen the term’s credibility, much like the overused and abused “all natural” and “organic.”
Can’t blame a savvy toymaker for trying
There are big incentives for manufacturers to hop on the STEM toy bandwagon. The demand for toys that help(s) get kids excited about science, tech, and making has exploded over the past few years. So much, in fact, that retailers like Amazon, Target, and Toys R Us have established dedicated online and in-store areas just for STEM toys.
With the definition of STEM expanding to emphasize creativity with the Arts (STEAM) and specific “maker” disciplines like Robotics (STREAM), even more, manufacturers are sure to join the chorus of educational claims.
Although the educational toy category only represents two to three percent of the toy market in the U.S., the fast-growing sector accounted for $20 billion in revenue over the past year. According to Euromonitor, the global market for child development toys is projected to reach nearly $40 billion by 2019, and STEM toys will account for more than three-quarters of that total.
Parents and buyers beware
An exploding market has proven parents are willing to invest in STEM products with steeper price tags if they know their kids are guaranteed a lasting learning experience and will have fun in the process. But, like most products, not all toys claiming STEM benefits are created equal.
Jennifer Stein, youth and family product editor at New York Amsterdam News, told Retail Dive earlier this year, “STEM has become a fabulous term for marketers to use because parents buy into it. For it to be effective, it needs to be used correctly.”
Just as some companies have falsely proclaimed their health products to be “all natural,” and others have “greenwashed” themselves to appear environmentally responsible, some toymakers stretch truth and credibility by attaching STEM labels to products that fail to deliver the promised educational benefits.
How can parents sufficiently evaluate the true STEM value of a toy based solely on the legitimacy of a label? With more than 50,000 toys currently on the market, it can be overwhelming for time-strapped parents to evaluate and decide which toys actually fulfill their STEM promise and which suffer from “STEM-washing.”