Inspiring children and teens through play the wonder of creating, problem-solving, communicating, and engineering solutions.  

At Purdue University, we never stop in our persistent pursuit of the next giant leap. Through world-changing research and education in a culture of inclusion and hard work, we are developing practical solutions to the toughest challenges, building a better world, together.

For us, we lead the way in integrating engineering with science, math, and language arts in pre-college classrooms. We do this in a way that engages learners and promotes participation of students from groups underrepresented in engineering. The annual engineering gift guide is one example of our outreach that has earned a global audience with over a million clicks in the past seven years. There may never be a way of knowing the number of children across the world who have benefited from our work and the incredible products inspiring them, but we will keep going because they keep us going. Again and again and again.

In our newest guide, the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering's 2021 Engineering Gift Guide is once again filled with toys, games, and books to engage children and teens in engineering thinking and design. Items included in the guide go through an extensive review process led by a student team. Faculty in the School of Engineering Education and the INSPIRE student research team look for items that promote engineering practices ranging from coding and spatial reasoning to problem solving and critical thinking. Selected gifts are included below in the mini gift guides grouped by interests and age groups.

New for 2021

Researchers explain some of the skills discussed in the reviews and why they are important for a child's development.

New Article: Computational Thinking in Play

New Article: The Power of Engineering as a Teaching Tool

Our Top 10 Overall Engineering Gift Reviews

Abby Invents the FoldibotAbby Invents the Foldibot is a book written by Dr. Arlyne Simon for ages 4-9 that follows Abby and her brother Miko on their quest to create a folding machine to help their mother with the laundry. 

"This book is just amazing. It's just so approachable for such a complete overview of what engineering really is and how it works." 

"The main characters are very likable and the way that they go about developing their system is so interesting and really keeps your attention. I also really love the side characters, but particularly the fact that even the silliest advice (such as the machine making noise when it is finished) is taken into account by the main characters. I also love seeing more diverse characters in STEM books, because I feel as though that is the sort of representation I lacked growing up."

Coding Charms
Coding Charms is a screen-free coding kit for children 8 and up.

"I absolutely love this toy. It is such a genius way to engage children in learning coding principles. The explanations and descriptions of the code were very detailed and thorough while being absolutely age appropriate. The kit comes with enough pieces to make all the designs and children can provide more fuse beads if they want to create more after."

Related - Article: Computational Thinking in Play

Marble MazeDesign & Drill Marble Maze is a marble run puzzle for children ages 5 and up.

"I really liked that the box came with a large number of pieces so children can go beyond the challenge cards. The challenges required some thinking but were not so difficult that younger children wouldn't be able to complete them. The use of the drill is a really fun way to assemble the marble maze."

CastleEngineering & Design Castle Building Set is a building toy for ages 5 and up to build a castle structure from their imagination or using one of the challenge cards included in the set. 
"I love how straightforward the toy was with it's connections to engineering. The toy explicitly asks users to identify a problem, come up with a solution, test the solution, analyze the results, and learn from the results to create a better solution. The manual also has a section where the user has the ability to keep track of their design process for every card that they decide to try and create a solution for. I appreciate that the user is able to compare their solutions with the possible solutions on the back of the card, indicating that there are more solutions than just the ones that the kit lists."

Future Engineer
Future Engineer is a book written by Lori Alexander for babies and toddlers that introduces engineers and what they do. 

"It is a very cute book that introduces engineering to young children in a clever way. The book compares the every day activities of small children to the general concepts of engineering. I like how the book presents general engineering topics but also offers specific disciplines of engineering."

IndiIndi by Sphero is a car-like programming robot intended for children ages 4 and up to introduce coding.

"This is a perfect gift for beginner coders. It teaches perseverance through coding and how to think in a way for a robot to understand. This gift is also very child friendly. The bright colors of the command pads are engaging, and the softness of the robot and symbol designs give the kit a very friendly and welcoming feel."

Mochi Robotics Kit is a toy by My Creativity Box for ages 3-9 that introduces users to coding. Help Mochi travel across the solar system in his very own spaceship!

"I loved playing with this toy. It blends scientific information about all of the planets in our solar system with engineering and coding principles. This toy allows users as young as three to be introduced to coding principles in an engaging manner. The toy was easy to understand and provided a fun and engaging way to understand coding."

Related - Article: Computational Thinking in Play

Remote-Control Gear-Bot
Remote-Control Gear-Bot is an interactive and controllable robot intended for ages 4-10.

"This is a great gift for young aspiring engineers to learn about gears and practice spatial reasoning skills. The kit provides example designs, but the user can design their own robot as well. The remote control aspect adds an extra level of excitement to this toy. After the children build their robot, they are able to reward themselves by driving it around!"

Snap Circuits
Snap Circuits Light is a toy by Elenco that introduces circuits to children 8 and up. 

"I always love the snap circuits sets. The instructions are phenomenal and very easy to follow. The directions have very detailed passages on the science of circuits and how they work. There are so many projects in the book to choose from so children can be entertained for hours. I also love how easily the pieces fit together and come apart, making this a great toy for children of all ages."

Apple STEM Factory

STEM Apple Factory by Skoolzy is an open-ended design toy for ages 3-7 that encourages creativity and exploration of the engineering design process. It promotes learning math skills, counting, sorting, patterning, and number recognition. 
"I really like the idea behind this toy. Because it does not include anything more than the apples and prompt cards, the user must turn to their environment to create their own way to play."

Research Base for Engineering Gift Guide

Moore, T.J., Glancy, A.W., Tank, K.M., Kersten, J.A., Smith, K.A., & Stohlmann, M.S.  (2014). A framework for quality K-12 engineering education: Research and development. Journal of Precollege Engineering Education Research, 4(1), 1-13. 

Dasgupta, A., Rynearson, A., Purzer, S., Ehsan, H., & Cardella, M. (2017). Computational Thinking in K-2 Classrooms: Evidence from Student Artifacts (Fundamental). 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings.

Gift Submission Process

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Contact our team at inspire@purdue.edu for questions or concerns.

Mailing Address

Purdue University, Wang Hall, Suite 3500
ATTN: Tamara Moore
516 Northwestern Avenue, Room 3506
West Lafayette, IN 47906

Financial Support for Gift Guide

General Motors Foundation

In the News

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