STEM/STEAM education started out as a nice idea, but now that technology and the web are involved with everything from online schooling to solar-powered electronics, STEM education is becoming a global requirement. So, whether our children are destined to be Computer Engineers or Forest Rangers, exposing them to STEAM activities will only help them in discovering opportunities and make the most of their education.
Pulling this at-home STEAM education with young children sounds like one heck of a project, but there are some fun and simple activities that are up for the job. All of these are great for tots and kindergarteners, and they work for older children too!
Science a la Casa
The great thing about these activities is that they offer teaching moments while encouraging creativity, flexibility, and independence. They’re also a great way for kids to develop their own natural strengths (and an excellent way for parents to become aware of them). Independence, inherent skills, creative, and critical thinking are quickly becoming valued business and leadership skills, so the more parents can promote these in their kids, the more we can set them up for success as adults. Here are some ideas how!
- Pulley Play: Science is all about weights and measures, and the properties of matter. Being a parent is all about giving your best to your child while maintaining some sort of sanity. Make your own pulley using the tutorial from Little Bins For Little Hands, and you can accomplish both. Pulleys are amazing because they keep our children’s mind active as well as their bodies. They can be used to explore weights and measures, weight versus mass, the properties of matter (ie. liquids versus solids), and the force of gravity.
- Plant Projects: Dirt is free, pots are cheap, and you’re sure to have a steady supply of seeds on hand in the kitchen (like, say, dried beans and cilantro/coriander seeds). Throw ‘em all together for some real-life science. Some of the awesome plant science projects Live Science recommends include comparing/contrasting fruits and their seeds and doing well-spaced potted seedlings versus crowded potted seedlings. They also have the good old fashioned seed-in-a-wet-paper-towel experiment, except their variations include planting a variety of seeds that have different sprouting rates and variances in color and size, so these things can be witnessed and discussed as they grow. You can take this plant experiment even further by having kids plant seedlings and using different growing mediums, watering habits, and amounts of sunlight. This all can be used to teach kids about the importance of soil nutrients, water, and light, and how too much or too little will affect plants.
Technical Fun & Engineering Games
This realm is not my personal favorite, and that’s precisely why I’m dumping it on my kids. Engineering and technical fields are exploding with exciting growth and job opportunities. However, after just two minutes of trying to read up on this stuff, the only thing I see exploding is my brain. It’s not my cup of tea, but if I can help my kids build these skills slowly and naturally, then I’m gonna put my time and money into it. And who knows, maybe one day they’ll be able to teach me what all today’s tech-jargon blogs can’t.
- Techy-Toys: There are some amazing new toys on the market, but many of them are geared towards older children. However, there are two that are really worth checking out: the Think And Learn Code-A-Pillar and Microduino’s mCookie. These toys are both techy and, conveniently, promote tech competency in kids. Their goal is to teach kids simple and basic coding, from toddlers to Elementary-aged children.
- Building a la Nature: Code-a-Pillars and LEGO mini computers are cool and all, but if you’re looking for something simpler, natural, and budget-friendly engineering, we have just the thing for you. You can get your kiddo building and designing with nothing more than ice cube trays, water, and dirt. Combine the dirt and water, then fill the ice cube tray. Let them set until they’re at the desired consistency. Dump them out of the tray, and you have your very own mud bricks! They’re sure to meet all your kiddos building and water-dissolving needs.
- Engineer-Worthy Apps: It’s not hard to find an app, but finding a good one? Pulling that off puts parents at risk of falling into a black hole of reviews and Google searches. Luckily, Geeks With Juniors put together a great list of top apps for kids. Their picks for engineering-worthy apps for kids 3 and under include Peg + Cat: The Tree Problem, Labo Paper Plate, Lipa Pirates, Sago MIni Toolbox, and Shape Gurus. They all promote skills with either problem solving, building, creativity, spatial reasoning, or all four.
School and government threw art on the backburner, but with all the tech and engineering advancements, creative and abstract artists are finding their work in new high-tech places. With homes to update, electronics to create, and suits to design, young artists have big doors of opportunity ahead of them. But besides that, art is just awesome! It’s food for the soul (not to mention, it makes for great decor and memorabilia). Get artsy!
- Nature Art: Combine art and science with a nature project! There are so many ways you can go about this, that you can get creative with whatever tools or inspirations you have around. Check out Jean at The Artful Parent for out-of-this-world art projects that are equal parts simple, fun, and gorgeous. Her list of Nature Art projects includes mandalas, suncatchers, mosaics, hammered leaf prints, “paint brushes” from nature, chalk leaf prints, clay nature prints, shadow tracing, and more. Stock up on chalk, paint, cardboard, and contact paper, and you can pair them with backyard nature finds for daily art projects. The cool thing here is that you can use all of these art ideas to create a project to advance kiddo know-how with seasons, storytelling, counting, life cycles, and more, and more.
- Color Crafts: Education.com has some amazing and simple activities that turn art projects into science lessons. One of my favorites is their Ice Cube Paint activity. Ice cube trays are filled with pain, stuck with a popsicle stick, and frozen. These frozen stick paints are great since they help keep paint off fingers and clothes. They’re also an awesome science lesson, because they can teach kids about color blending, solids and liquids, and hot and cold. Other fun ones my toddler gives his thumbs-up on include blow painting and paper plate tambourines with beans. If you’re afraid to do paint because of the mess, then we have the perfect option for you: bathtub color activities! You can make your own stain-proof bath paints using cornstarch, water, food coloring, and your child’s own shampoo. Your kiddo can use these homemade paints to decorate the walls of the bath and shower. When they’re done, they can scrub it clean. One less to-do for mom and dad!
If your schooling was anything like mine, then your childhood math memories aren’t reminiscent of play so much as they are of torture. But thanks to our pain, today’s teachers have swapped out mind-numbing worksheets for education through play-doh, LEGOs, and fun playful activities.
- Shape And Number Activities: For active math fun, you can piggyback off Playdough To Plato’s shape hunt activity by creating a scavenger hunt for shapes, numbers, or finds that need to be counted. For indoor play, bust out the playdough to make numbers and shapes, or to teach counting. Create a basic playdough toolbox using ideas from Learning4Kids. Round up popsicle sticks, large buttons, shapes, cookie cutters, and other items, and you can create all sorts of math activities.
- LEGOS: They’re pricey and they hurt like heck to step on, but LEGOS are an intro to engineering that suits kids of all ages and interests. LEGOS naturally promote STEM skills like creativity, spatial reasoning, building (aka engineering) know-how, and fine motor skills. In addition, they can actually be used for specific educational purposes. LEGOS are perfect for teaching and practicing math skills like counting, numbers, geometry, and more. Younger kids are best off starting with the smaller LEGO Duplo sets. As they get older and more interested in math, they can be moved up to the advanced and STEM-erific sets in the LEGO education series. The Machines and Mechanisms sets can be used for exploring engineering concepts, while their Mindstorms and WeDo sets can actually be used to explore math through engineering and coding. You can even use these sets to create a real LEGO robot. How cool!
That sums up this list of STEAM-erific Summer activities. Have you tried any of them? Do you know of any others that are kid-approved? Share in the comments below!
**Ash is a writer who doubles as a wannabe nutritionist, philosopher, psychologist, and shaman. When she isn’t writing her soul out on the web, she’s listening to the great minds (or great comedians) on YouTube, soaking up sunshine, dancing in her living room, or having yet another fascinating conversation with herself (she gives excellent advice, you know). Check out her blog, or find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!