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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.

Companies like MEL Science and Steve Spangler Science Club bring creative STEM project kits right to your doorstep with a monthly subscription.

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.”

Circuit Cubes Whacky Wheels Kit + LEGO

What is a STEM toy, exactly?

Marissa DiBartolo, senior editor of The Toy Insider, told Fast Company that many items across various categories can be considered STEM-related. She said that while STEM is “extremely important” for a child’s early education, a toy doesn’t have to have the word “science” on the box to fit the category.

In fact, when judging a toy’s STEM value, some toy industry experts have asked, “When the child does something, does the toy change in some way?”

That may further blur the lines about what qualifies as a STEM toy. Can a picture puzzle be considered STEM-worthy? Or a 3D, handheld puzzle? How about a Stretch Armstrong action figure? My answer to that last question: Maybe, if you open him up to examine his insides.

For a more serious academic evaluation of how a toy measures up to expected performance by grade level and in a given STEM discipline (Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design), parents can check the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

But most parents I know prefer a more practical way to judge a toy’s STEM cred – one that looks beyond a toy’s label and takes into account their own kids’ wants, needs, and abilities.

Parent Co. partnered with Circuit Cubes because we know not all STEM toys are created equal.

The nerd dad way

At Raising Nerd, my dad-driven blog that supports other parents in their quest to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and innovators, we view STEM toys through the eyes of makers and creative problem solvers.

From our perspective, a good STEM toy is one that:

Fuels a kid’s imagination, curiosity, and creative passion
Sparks interest in and teaches one or more “STREAM” principles
Promotes collaboration, trial-and-error tinkering, thoughtful experimentation, and fun
Develops a kid’s creative problem solving abilities
Can be used in more ways than one way
Encourages kids to design, invent, or make something – anything – tangible and useful…or not!

Thankfully, for every ordinary bag of sand with a STEM label, there are many more Nancy B’s project kits, Ozobots, and Tenka Labs Circuit Cubes that will give parents true STEM bang for their buck.

Is that STEM toy right for your kid?

For the past year at Raising Nerd, we’ve reviewed a variety of STEM toys, kits, and books. Like true dad tinkerers who often learn through failure, we’ve formalized our review criteria through trial and error. Our ratings are based on practical, common-sense criteria:

Input from our kids

Is it age- and ability-appropriate for our kids? How do the kids relate to the product before, during, and after using it? If the product is beyond their skill level, can they still enjoy/learn from it if we assist them?

Offer true STEM/STEAM value?

Are kids learning something while using the product – a skill, a STEM principle, a creative way to solve a problem – that will benefit them now or down the road? Does the product/book stretch their imaginations? Does it inspire them to learn more about the subject/discipline? Does it deliver on its marketing promise? Does the product do what it’s supposed to do? Does the book leave kids wanting more? Are kids excited for the next chapter or book in the series?


Is the product/book engaging? Is it easy for kids to play right away or are there complex instructions/rules? Will they need help from parents to set up? Are kids having fun while learning? Will they return to play again and again or get bored easily? Can kids and parents enjoy together? Good for solo play? If a book, is it a page-turner that kids won’t put down or will repeatedly request to read/have read to them?

And, perhaps the most critical question, at least for this dad:

Does it make a mess that a kid can clean up?

Especially if an experiment (chemistry lab, crystal growing set, etc.) or art/craft project, this is key information. Will parents mind keeping it around to display, or will it just add to household clutter?

For our money, who is getting STEM toys right?

Despite the inevitable STEM-washing that’s happened in the fast-growing marketplace for educational toys, there are many companies designing toys and games with high STEM value.

Based on our own experience at Toy Fair, reading about and reviewing products for Raising Nerd, and through our kids’ hands-on play “testing” at home, here are five toymakers that will deliver a well-rounded and inspiring STEM experience for your kids:

CIRCUIT CUBES – Designed by STEM educators and FIRST LEGO League coaches, these electronic building blocks bring kids’ creations to life. They were built from the ground up to fully integrate with LEGO®-style building blocks but can be used with any materials kids can imagine – from vintage toys to recycled milk cartons.

Circuit Cubes teach the basic fundamentals of electronics. Their unique transparent design enables kids to literally see the connections they make when they light an LED, power a motor, or activate a switch. Circuit Cubes can also be used vertically, horizontally, and diagonally to accommodate any design.

GOLDIBLOX – From their website: “Through the integration of storytelling and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) principles, GoldieBlox creates toys, books, apps, videos, animation, and merchandise; the tools that empower girls to build their confidence, dreams, and ultimately, their futures.”



LEGO – As if LEGO wasn’t cool enough already, the brick giant plans to go “live” with its LEGO Boost 5-in-1 programmable robot set in August. The set will enable younger LEGO enthusiasts to learn to code and use any kind of LEGO bricks to build onto the starter kit.

KIWI CRATE – This monthly STEAM kit subscription includes everything needed to satisfy your kid’s craving to make, invent, and experiment. The kits come in four age-appropriate versions with easy-to-understand instructions.

CHIBITRONICSChibitronics makes electronic stickers, which let you create, craft, and code technology through arts and crafts.

Parent Co. partnered with Circuit Cubes because we know not all STEM toys are created equal.


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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.


A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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