STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math with hands-on learning and problem-solving. STEM lessons are important to help children develop problem-solving and strategic thinking skills. Before sharing 4 activities, let’s discuss 4 steps to use with children in addition to the hands-on activity to help facilitate their learning. Going through each of these steps will help the child better understand the lessons in each activity.
1. How can this activity be used in the real world? Why does this experiment or activity matter in their world?
2. What is the problem? Why do you want to find an answer?
3. Conduct an experiment. Gather all the materials needed and guide the student through the process. Don’t do too much for the child as the learning is in the investigation. Let the child come to their own conclusions.
4. Reflect on what happened by asking questions. When the activity is complete, ask the child what they built or how it worked. Let the child reflect on the science behind the results and have them explain it in their own words.
Now we will look at four specific examples of STEM activities. Each activity will identify the question that the child is trying to answer. Then you will see a list of materials needed for the activity. There are also directions to help you guide the child through the activity and ways to encourage the child to go a little deeper into the topic and learn even more. Here are 4 STEM activities for young children that are easy to do at home using household items.
Science Activity – Comparing fingerprints. Everyone has fingerprints and that’s what makes us unique! This activity allows children to investigate their own uniqueness and how their fingerprint compares to others.
Objective: How does my fingerprint compare to other fingerprints?
Materials: Clear tape, black construction paper, magnifying glass, pencil and paper
Directions: Help children investigate their thumbprint with a naked eye as well as with a small magnifying glass. For further investigating, place a piece of tape over the child’s thumb. After removing the tape, place it on the black construction paper. Continue this process with each child in the group and yourself, too. Have children talk about what looks the same and what looks different on each print. Then, have the children draw what they see.
Extra Engagement: You can extend this activity by having the children observe and compare prints on their other fingers and even their toes. You can also expand how fingerprints compare to other items such as art, patterns, and shapes.
Technology Activity – Popsicle stick catapult. Simple machines are all around us and we use them for everyday activities. A lever is a simple machine that consists of a bar placed on a pivot to move heavy loads.
Objective: How can you move the marshmallow using the provided materials?
Materials: How can you move the marshmallow using the provided materials?
Directions: Help children build a lever, deciding which of the materials they need and how many of each. Continue to have children use trial and error strategies until they are able to catapult the marshmallow.
Extra Engagement: Add straws, paper towel rolls and other materials to modify and create new catapult designs.
Engineering – Roller coaster racing cars. Roller coasters zoom downhill faster than uphill or on level ground but by how much? This activity visualizes different speeds depending on the slope of the ride and can be applied to riding a bike down a hill or watching a ball roll away.
Objective: How do different ramp slopes impact a car’s speed?
Materials: Matchbox cars, cardboard, tape, paperback books
Directions: Help children create two different ramps with the provided materials. Have them create ramps with varying inclines. Roll each car at the same time and let the child see which car rolls the fastest.
Extra Engagement: You can extend this activity by providing varied materials, such as PVC piping, plastic cups that are cut in half, and other round objects.
Math – Marshmallow and pretzel shapes. Children love craft projects and this activity is appropriate for most children. They can get very creative at discovering how many shapes they can make by simply hooking things together.
Objective: How many shapes can be created with the provided materials?
Materials: Pretzel sticks (or toothpicks), small marshmallows
Directions: Show the child how to connect the pretzel and marshmallows to create shapes, using the marshmallow as the meeting point of two pretzels. Have the children count the sides and points to categorize the shapes (square, triangle, etc.)
Extra Engagement: When a child masters simple shapes, extend the concept by creating 3D shapes.
These activities are just a starting point! Conducting these 4 basic activities will lead to many more questions from curious minds. While children are investigating, ask them questions about their interests. Use these interests to lead the child into the next activities. If an activity is too difficult for a child, ask yourself what the child doesn’t know that is keeping them from participating in the activity. Provide the child the knowledge that they are missing and let them continue investigating. Remember that STEM is everywhere! If a child has a question about the world we live in, there is likely a STEM activity you can do to investigate it.
To learn more, a STEM course is available with enrollment in the Intermediate Childcare program.
About the Author: Chelsea Herndon has a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education and an Educational Specialist in Elementary Education both from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a certified teacher in grades pre-school through 6th grade. She was previously an elementary teacher in Alabama and Washington, DC and is currently a doctoral student at Auburn University.
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