Earth Explorer Toys features toys from Purdue STEM gift guide 

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Monica Cardella and Elizabeth Gajdzik with INSPIRE (photo by Heather Lusk)

Monica Cardella and Elizabeth Gajdzik with INSPIRE (photo by Heather Lusk)

By Heather Lusk

Purdue’s INSPIRE Research Institute has put together its second annual guide of nearly 90 educational toys, books and applications that help promote STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. INSPIRE’s focus is examining how children learn engineering as well as providing teacher resources and guides.

Zionsville’s Earth Explorer Toys on Pine Street has copies of the guide and sells many of the selected toys throughout the year.

The items in the gift guide had to pass certain criteria to make the cut: fun for kids, educational, reasonable price point and promoting engineering and design. Also important were toys that promote activities like coding and those that appealed to both boys and girls.

Among the top toys are the Osmo Game System, with a pack of tools to use with an iPad, and Puzzlets, which teaches coding using either an iPad or Android device. Both of the toys can grow with the kids and offer challenges as they age and learn.

“Even five-year-olds can learn something with coding,” said Monica Cardella, Purdue professor and director of INSPIRE.

Also popular during their research were K’nex Mighty Makers building sets. The female-friendly line encourages the use of blueprints and plans with building and creativity.

“When girls are helping people they’re more engaged and learning more,” said Elizabeth Gajdzik, assistant director for INSPIRE.

“They want to make it for a purpose,” Cardella said.

More detailed information about each of the toys is available on the website.

“We’ll have explanations about how each of these toys promote engineering thinking and design,” Gajdzik said.

This year all of the toys were given a “Purdue University Gift Guide 2015” seal of approval to use on packaging or on their website.

The guide can be found online at inspire-purdue.org/EngineeringGiftGuide and offers advice to promote STEM learning and discuss engineering with children.

“We’ve taken our research and translated it into something that’s more open for parents,” Cardella said.

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