What would you guess is the most important ingredient for valuable STEM learning? It’s not fancy lab equipment, complicated engineering books or the latest high-tech gadgets. Every kind of STEM learning out there actually hedges on one much simpler concept: curiosity.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, but beyond that intimidating acronym, STEM simply represents a hands-on approach to exploring the world, examining how it works and solving real-life problems. So if you have curious kids, they can practice STEM!
Research shows early STEM learning benefits kids across multiple subjects.1 So while you’ll undoubtedly see more STEM activities popping up in the classroom, don’t let the learning stop there. Get in on the fun and support STEM learning at home with these simple activities (for ages 5 & up) that turn your kiddos into the super-solvers of the future!
1. Join the maker movement
Celebrate the ultimate creative activity: making stuff. Your kids don’t need expensive equipment or special instruction manuals to start making—just their own creative minds, a few easy-to-find materials and some encouragement. Here are a couple of ways to get your kids making:
- Turn a regular craft table into a maker space by piling it with any materials you have on hand—like straws, rubber bands, craft sticks, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, plastic foam, tape, glue…and other odds and ends. Ask your kids to build! If they need a little boost, pull up some ideas online and help them build their first creation.
- Start collecting large cardboard boxes and encourage your kids to find new ways to use them. Kids can make anything imaginable from recycled cardboard—castles, houses, cars, vending machines, robots and rocket ships…the sky’s the limit!
Having “ready-to-go” materials around helps kids create the moment inspiration hits. Plus, it gives them firsthand experience with the design process!
2. Turn wonder into discovery
Every little question your curious kids ask—and we know they ask a lot—presents a prime opportunity for STEM learning. Whether they ask how the toilet flushes or how the refrigerator light turns off, you can answer tons of questions in our digital age. Simply head online together and investigate the answer.
When you see your kids playing with their favorite toys or eating their favorite treats, ask them to guess how those items were made. After they come up with a solid guess, research How It’s Made videos on YouTube that give kids an up-close look at the manufacturing process of their favorite products. Not only will this help foster a healthy sense of wonder, it will also help kids build up their “bank of knowledge.”
3. Tinker with everyday tools
A child’s daily routine includes tools, gadgets and inventions that all resulted from a design process, and therefore, can be improved. Have your kids brainstorm how they might design even better versions of things they use every day. They might make scissors more comfortable to hold, design a toothbrush for fun brushing or even improve a spoon handle to minimize dribbling.
Ask your kids to sketch their new and improved tool and explain what they’ll change and why it’s an improvement. They can even create a working prototype! For example, kids can work with clay or play dough and old spoons to create a spoon handle for a steadier grip.
Then have them test out their new design…and watch them get a huge kick out of using something THEY invented. As they design and test, they’ll feel just like real engineers—with the power to improve things and invent from scratch!
4. Take advantage of community workshops & events
Your local hardware stores and craft stores probably provide workshops for awesome make and take projects just for kids. As kids delve into these exciting workshops, they’ll handle tools and materials they don’t have at home, and the more tools kids can use, the more opportunities they have to invent, improve and innovate.
You can even check out local events, camps and science fairs that offer STEM activities…so your kids can get even more hands-on experience with exciting new tools and materials.
5. Meet the inventors of the past…at your local library
Have your kids imagine a world without electricity, medicine or even chocolate chip cookies! Tell them people from the past invented many things we enjoy today. What did those people all have in common? They asked questions, examined possibilities and innovated solutions to improve their world.
Ask your kids what invention they want to learn about—from bicycles to computers and even candy bars! Head to the library and help them find books to answer a few simple questions about their invention:
- Who invented it?
- What inspired the inventor’s idea?
- What materials did the inventor use to create something completely new?
After learning about real-life inventors, kids will be inspired to see if they can be inventors too!
6. Learn up-close at a museum
Nothing brings learning to life quite like your local museum. If your kids love dinosaurs, they’ve probably enjoyed books and movies on the topic, but a museum can awe them with real dinosaur bones! Plus, kids can discover exciting STEM career paths they never knew existed—like becoming a paleontologist!
7. Observe workers in action
The next time something around the house tragically stops working, turn the disaster into a learning experience! When your plumber, electrician or mechanic arrives, ask if you and your child can observe their work. As you watch, encourage your child to ask questions about their tools and the problems they discover as they work.
Kids can learn so much from watching a worker’s process of tinkering to detect and correct a problem. As kids observe and question, repairing a toilet turns into an educational experience! Plus, since your handyperson will stick around until they solve the problem, kids also learn the importance of persevering to solve problems—an essential STEM skill!
1. National Research Council, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas,” The National Academies Press (2012): 2-4