“Learning through play” is not only a key phrase in our educational system, it’s also a brilliant excuse for an afternoon building fun stuff on the carpet with the kids.

Especially if you should happen to find yourself stuck at home with rather a lot of time to spend sitting on the carpet with your kids.

Play is one of the very best ways to embed an understanding of, and a love for, STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. It’s a way to encourage kids to discover concepts from forces and gravity to motion, weight and density without a school book in sight.

Clearly, STEM is all around us: stacking bricks in a tower is an engineering experiment in itself. But toy manufacturers have taken things so much further, designing items that foster hours of investigation and critical thinking. These sorts of games also encourage grit and mental resilience; i.e. not giving up when you hit the first hurdle but exploring other solutions.

Here, we’ve sought out toys which offer a wide range of possibilities, from erecting runs for marbles, to slotting mathematical shapes together, to designing anything from cars to castles.

In several of our choices, building the toy is combined with some element of basic coding: once you’ve put your robot together, then construct a simple program to tell it what to do. Or design a ball run, then program a robot ball to navigate it. All of our choices encompass problem solving and engineering creativity.

Finally, a note on gender. STEM play is relevant for all ages, but according to a recent study, from about the age of six, girls start to become less likely than boys to think that they are “really, really smart”. At the same age, girls start to avoid activities said to be for the “really, really smart” – in particular STEM subjects at school and even STEM style play. With luck, this round-up will keep everyone equally hooked.

You can trust our independent roundups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The verdict: STEM construction toys

K’NEX creation zone stood out as the best; a keenly priced toy which offers limitless opportunity for creativity and creation. For those willing to spend a little more, the Arcade coder and Lego boost creative toolbox both provide long-term delight. While the Kinetic machines kit offers an affordable option with a great selection of different things to build.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.