Prior to COVID-19 and distance learning, students were taking STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes to learn about science and technology. But with many students out of the classroom all year, as well as on winter break, some of these skills that were acquired in STEM labs might have been lost. Don’t let your kids step backward in the skills they’ve worked so hard to achieve. Here are some fun STEM projects to keep them engaged at home.
Start Early and Often
Starting a new routine is typically the hardest part, so we recommend adding in STEM projects as soon as possible. Some kids would rather spend their time at home sitting on the couch playing video games or watching TV. Set up a schedule that allows plenty of time for mindless fun, but also includes time set aside for learning STEM. By setting solid expectations, you’ll make the adaptation that much easier to manage. Here are a few starter projects to kick off the STEM fun.
Create a Discovery Jar
Kids are curious by nature, so tap into that curiosity with a discovery jar that’s geared toward their unique interests and creative way of seeing the world.
Take some time with your child to brainstorm questions they are curious about. For some kids, it may be related to the natural world: “Why is the grass green and the sky blue?” Others may be more interested in learning about the past: “Where did chocolate chip cookies come from?” Or maybe you have a child whose imagination takes them to the stars: “How far away is the nearest star other than the sun?”
Once you have a good group of questions and ideas compiled, place them all into a jar. If your kid is a creative type, feel free to decorate the discovery jar with stickers, ribbons, and other findings. Throughout the summer, whenever you need a project, pull out one of the discovery questions. Take some time to research the question, and if possible, explore it in a more hands-on way. This can be by conducting a simple experiment, visiting a museum, or talking to someone whose profession is related to the question at hand. Remember, you can always add more questions later if your child thinks of new ideas to explore.
Build Your Own Science Camp
Science camp is a lot of fun, but this year many camps are closed down due to the pandemic. Don’t worry! You can create a science camp at home using simple items you can find at your neighborhood market or online. Choose some experiments that fit a particular theme or select a wide variety to hit all sorts of interests. For even more fun, let your child invite a friend or two to take part in this at-home science camp, sharing their results on a video chat.
Try a Science Kit
For some, putting together the ingredients for science experiments might be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, there are plenty of kits available to help your child explore all sorts of STEM disciplines. Check your local hobby shop, or order online from one of the many specialty sites. You can find everything from dissecting a frog to growing crystals, creating a working catapult, and even making your own chewing gum.
If you’re not sure what type of kit you want to start with, why not make it a surprise? These days, all sorts of themed subscription boxes are available. Fortunately, there are several STEM-themed exploration subscriptions available for students of all ages. Try subscriptions from KiwiCo for a wide variety of interests, BitsBox for coding, MEL Science for chemistry experiments, or any number of other options.
More STEM Activities
It may be helpful to change things up a bit to keep kids engaged and interested. Here are a few ideas that may help.
Computer Science Apps
Computer science skills are sure to be in high demand in the future. Of course, this type of study relies on technology at its heart. While sending kids outside to play and explore is certainly important, inclement weather may require indoor activities. Take advantage of challenging weather, and let your kids explore some of these amazing computer science apps.
Scratch (grades 3-9) – Scratch is a free platform from MIT that allows students to program interactive stories, games, and animations. All you need is a laptop and creativity.
ScratchJr (PreK-3) – ScratchJr is a free app available for tablets from the App Store or Google Play. It’s designed to make coding easy for even the youngest students.
App Inventor (grades 5+) – This is another concept from MIT, designed to give kids the ability to create their own apps in less than an hour. You’ll need both a computer and a mobile device that runs on the Android platform. Both must be connected to the same wireless network.
Tynker (ages 7-13) – Tynker offers 16 courses to teach kids coding for apps, games, and even robots. There are both free and paid memberships available. The company also has a Junior version for ages 5-7 and a mod creator for Minecraft fans ages 7-13.
Lightbot – Lightbot is an educational video game for learning software programming concepts. Paid versions ($2.59 - $4.99) exist for Apple, Amazon, and Android tablets, as well as Windows and Mac devices.
Science is truly all around us. On pleasant days, your back yard may be a wonderful place to conduct a safari. Discover the bugs that live in your neighborhood, and try to identify each type you find. If you have nearby water, woods, or other natural areas, you may be able to find even more.
Grow a Salad
Learn about life sciences and nutrition together with this fun activity. Plant a garden full of vegetables or herbs in the ground or pots. Students can learn about how plants grow and discover the impact made by soil, water, and temperature differences. And in the end, they can serve the family a dish they’ve grown with their own two hands.
The Egg Drop Challenge
You may remember this one from when you were in school. What happens when you drop a raw egg from a high place? Of course, it will crack and make a mess. Challenge your child to take the egg drop challenge. They must create a vessel to protect the egg and keep it from breaking when dropped. Trial and error are key for this activity. Kids can learn the valuable lesson of improving on failed projects to create something that works.
Learn About Microorganisms
Microorganisms are important to life on Earth, acting as decomposers in various ecosystems and playing a vital role in the nitrogen cycle. Today we’re hearing a lot about a virus that is making people sick all around the world. But there are plenty of beneficial microorganisms that help us to digest food and keep us healthy. Research these beneficial microorganisms with your child, and teach them about the symbiotic relationship we enjoy.
Hot ice may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s a fantastic experiment for kids. Imagine making miniature snowmen even when you don’t have snow in your yard! You can create hot ice easily from a few ingredients you may already have around the house. Learn about the details with STEAMsational's Hot Ice Experiment.
LEGO Building Challenges
LEGOs are a ton of fun, and many kids are positively obsessed with this building system. But you may not be aware of the LEGO building challenges available to inspire creativity and teach kids to build their dreams. Download the free calendar for a full month of LEGO fun, then let your kids design fun projects like a marble maze or a bridge that holds something heavy.
Experimenting with different types of STEM activities can help kid discover what piques their interest. Even children who are more interested in reading, art, and sports can find something that’s exciting and engaging for them to learn. For young learners, science is all about fun, and what kid doesn’t like a fun activity?