November 1, 2017

INSPIRE Gift Guide opens up engineering for all ages

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Offering a resource to help parents, educators and other adults broaden children’s learning interests to include engineering thinking and design is part of the goal of the annual Engineering Gift Guide from INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering.

Now in its fourth year, the unique guide is bigger than before, with pictures, websites and reviews for almost 130 toys, games, books and applications that inspire STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and engineering-related thinking and design.

Elizabeth Gajdzik, assistant director of INSPIRE, said “STEM learning” has become a buzzword today in education and children’s media, making it confusing to sort out which products teach STEM concepts – particularly engineering.

“INSPIRE uses its engineering education expertise to help gift givers identify a variety of toys that promote engineering thinking and design, and that their children will think are fun,” she said.

The toys, games and books in this year’s 16-page gift guide are labeled by the top two STEM concepts they teach, such as coding/programming, design, logical thinking and problem solving. The toys cover a wide range, from a variety of building toys for kids as young as 1 year old to a Snap Circuits set for ages 12 and up.

Gajdzik said this year’s guide improves on last year by expanding the age range of the toys to include more ideas for older children.

Coding remains an emerging focus of toys in the guide this year, following a trend that began with the 2016 guide.

Monica Cardella, director of INSPIRE, said research shows children as young as 4 years old are beginning to engage in engineering thinking.

“It’s a question of whether adults are recognizing that their kids are doing those things related to engineering and design,” she said. “I think that one of the things the toys and books in the guide provide is more support for the parents to be able to recognize what their kids are already capable of doing.”

INSPIRE is a research institute in the College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Education established in 2006 to help educators and parents investigate how children learn engineering in formal and informal spaces and how to increase the ability and interest of a diverse group of students who could become engineers.

A YouTube video about the guide is available at

INSPIRE toys Children test out toys at the West Lafayette Library for the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering’s annual Engineering Gift Guide. (Photo/INSPIRE) Download image

Items included in the guide go through an extensive review process. From the engineering aspect, Purdue engineers were asked to evaluate the toys, and faculty and students conducted their own evaluations.

And then there are the most important groups of evaluators: parents and children. Events to review the toys and games were held throughout September at Imagination Station as well as the Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette public libraries and MatchBOX co-working studio.

In addition, local boy and girl scouts were able to earn engineering patches by taking part in the toy review process.

Cardella said a popular misconception is that if kids are constructing something, they are learning engineering concepts.

 “But when we think about engineering or design, we are thinking about more than just building something,” she said. “In engineering, you have to go through a process of thinking about who you are creating it for, what are the different constraints on it and bigger goals for what you’re creating beyond just building it.”

In addition to the pages of toys, Gajdzik said the Engineering Gift Guide will feature three articles from INSPIRE intended to offer insight to parents.

“As an institute, it’s our duty in the guide to not only share which toys but also provide some of the things we’ve learned that a parent could easily apply,” she said. “We have articles to help parents understand and realize what is engineering thinking, what is design and what is computational thinking.”

As part of the guide, a seal was issued by Purdue and INSPIRE to toys, games, books and apps for the third straight year to let consumers know that a gift promotes engineering thinking and design and was selected to be in the guide. Companies can include it on the gift itself or on their website.

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, 

Sources: Elizabeth Gajdzik, 765-494-9599,

Monica Cardella, 765-496-1206,

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality B-roll of testing at Armstrong atrium is available at B-roll of child testing at the local libraries is available at For additional video, contact Teresa Walker, director of communications,, 765-494-9391.

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