STEM For Kids: 10 Fun And Easy Things To Do
By Lisa Moss and Dr Thomas Bernard, QuestFriendz
When faced with the topic of STEM for kids, you may wonder what STEM actually is.
Why is it so important, when should your child start learning about STEM and what you can do as a parent to help nurture and develop your child’s interests and abilities in this area?
STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics – learning emphasises core skills such as collaboration, communication, research, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.
When we talk about developing STEM skills, this is really about an integrated approach to learning across STEM disciplines in terms of problem solving, computational thinking and critical thinking.
STEM for kids education is a direct realisation that our children’s future will be built around their capacity for innovation, invention and creative problem solving beyond the established traditional disciplines.
This is why STEM education is so important for kids today and in the future, considering they’ll likely be doing jobs that haven’t even been created yet.
As parents, we need to provide them with an education which offers the best chances of success.
Imaginative and active hands-on purposeful play, when combined with problem-solving through play, are key to providing young children with an engaging and memorable experience.
At QuestFriendz we believe these elements help children to develop a natural interest in STEM from a young age.
STEM for kids should start at an early age as it helps children to make important connections between everyday life and STEM disciplines.
Addressing young children also allows us to harness their natural curiosity. This magical state helps to accelerate learning including STEM learning.
Children become better equipped to face a fast-paced and evolving world, when problem-solving skills and learning to fail are introduced from a young age.
We believe that the key is to connect children’s imagination and curiosity about the world they live in with simple challenges where problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity are the keys to finding solutions.
We call these educational challenges ‘quests’.
Here’s a set of simple hands-on and practical off-screen ways you can use STEM for kids to engage your children in STEM learning at home:
1. Baking abstraction
Your child/children get to pick their favourite cookies recipe and the quest is to create a shopping list for the ingredients needed to make the cookies.
The challenge is that they can only look at the recipe instructions but not the ingredients list.
They will need to use abstraction to pick out the most important details from the recipe instructions in order to make a grocery list. An additional challenge could be to abstract the equipment needed for baking.
An additional quest for older children can be to have them choose one recipe based on ingredients that can be purchased within a certain set budget.
The reward at the end is their favourite freshly baked cookies for the whole family to enjoy!
2. Toy hunt
Plan a toy treasure hunt quest. The adventure starts with your child hiding their favourite toy somewhere inside or outside your home.
Ask your child to draw a toy treasure hunt map (learning to draw a simplified version of your home or garden).
Children need to hide their toy ‘treasure’, mark it on the map and then give the other team (siblings, friends or parents) the quest to find the hidden toy using only the map.
It helps children to grasp the idea of focusing on the most important information to reach the end goal.
3. Design a scarecrow
This is a great way to incorporate several STEM skills into one activity. The first step of this quest (for younger children) is to explain what a scarecrow is used for.
Next ask your child to design their own scarecrow by drawing on a piece of paper. They should feel free to let their creative juices flow.
The next step is to ask them to decompose the scarecrow into a set of simplified parts (e.g. head, body, arms, legs).
When children learn to decompose a problem, object or idea, they learn how to break it down into smaller bite sized pieces. The smaller pieces are then easier to tackle.
An additional quest is to ask them to come up with creative ideas on material around the house which they can use to build their very own scarecrow.
Along the way they may run into challenges in implementing their design and may need to adjust.
Trial and error is an essential part of structure problem solving. This is all part of honing their STEM problem solving skills.
4. Build a dollhouse (or another DIY item)
When children receive a bulky gift, for example, a dollhouse, it can be overwhelming for them to have to build. Often an adult takes over to build the dollhouse.
This is a missed opportunity for a quest which can teach problem decomposition and sequencing to your child.
Looking at the instruction manual together, the parent and the child can determine what steps are required to build the dollhouse and in what order the steps need to be done.
The child can then understand that a big endeavour can be broken down into tiny achievable steps which one can do.
Completing such a task together will help your young child to build confidence and will be eager to try again the next time.
5. Grocery sorting
Coming home from grocery shopping can be a daunting task. How about turning this into a quest for your child?
The quest is to go over all purchased items in the bag and to organise them with the items which go in the fridge on one side of the countertop, items that go into the freezer in the middle and the items which go in the pantry on the other side of the countertop.
An additional quest is to separate the refrigerated items: the ones going into the crisper, setting all dairy products together.
This skill is called sorting and teaches your child to be able to recognise similarities and differences in order to be able to sort them.
6. Candle making
Some cheese, like Edam or Babybel, comes in a waxed coating. The quest is to reuse this wax to make a homemade candle.
Save the collected wax in a container. Once you have collected enough wax, you can heat it up in a bain-marie, heating up until the wax has melted into liquid.
Then pour the liquid wax into a heat resistant container with a nicely woven cord to serve as the wick of the candle.
Your child is exposed to physics with the transformation of a solid wax into its liquid form which again hardens into wax.
This is a gentle introduction to chemistry and conducting simple experiments like a little researcher.
7. Musical masterpiece sequence
Your child takes on the role of the music teacher.
You can either take a simple childhood instrument around the house (e.g. xylophone or flute) or you can make your own instruments out of household items (e.g. pots and pans as drums, salt shakers, grater and spoon, etc.).
The quest is to have your child creates a musical masterpiece, by denoting a colour on a sheet to each instrument or song note. It creates a sequence of colours linked to their original song.
Then your child plays the song according to the patterns of colours on the page.
And finally, siblings and/or parents get the fun assignment of replicating the song.
You read a short story to your child. At the end of the story, the quest is to ask your child to retell the story in terms of a simplified version that covers the beginning, middle and end.
This helps to develop abstraction skills, as they will need to focus on identifying the most important points in the story and with the most relevant details.
This helps them to learn how to filter information and focus on the most important points. Information filtering in abstract thinking is an essential and much needed STEM skill in our current and future world.
9. Setting sail – sink or float
This quest involves pretending with your children that you are a band of sailors getting ready to set sail on your next expedition.
In order to prepare for your adventure, you need to assess which items have buoyancy, meaning they will float on the water instead of sinking.
Your child/children need to come up with a long list of items they’d like to take on the trip. You then evaluate each item on the list and decide if it will sink or float.
When in doubt you agree to test out each item in your kitchen sink or bathtub.
This highlights the evaluation part of structured problem solving where the child has to determine based on specific criteria results and analyse them if they solve the quest.
10. Disco dancing
Put on your dancing slippers and get ready to dance! In this quest, your child/children will take on the role of the dance instructor(s).
They will make up a dance routine for the family to follow. They can use objects or pictures to represent different dance moves.
They will place the objects or pictures in a specific order which provides the instructions (or programme) they need to follow to complete the dance routine.
You can make it into a dance contest, with participants taking turns, and each participant builds on to the routine with a new move, until one can’t complete the routine.
This is a lot of fun for parents and children to do together.
These quests can be adapted as needed to the age and development level of children. Children find their energy by feeling useful, having a purpose and helping others.
This energy gives them the confidence – the participation and the sense of purpose in the family and at school.
These quests are learning moments for children to further develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a practical and memorable way.
At QuestFriendz, we inspire STEM educational learning through the combination of interactive storytelling and 21st century learning.
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There are also lots of fun, educational STEM activity sheets available to download!
How do you bring STEM for kids into your homeschool day?