Celebrating National STEAM Day – Create. Dream. Imagine.

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steam activitiesSTEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the newly added A for Art, and Math, is all about prioritizing problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity for kids. The concept of STEAM has been highly popularized in the last decade or so for several reasons. The benefits of STEAM activities and curriculum are numerous and getting your kids excited about them at a young age is so important. It also helps foster an environment to learn through play. Subscription services have also helped popularize hands-on creative activities that can be customized by age and sent right to your door. And for me, it’s a personal mission.

I grew up loving statistics, enjoying math, solving puzzles, and trying to figure out what that meant for me. I didn’t think I wanted to be an engineer, so I did what seemed practical at the time. I got a degree in Management and picked up a concentration in Analytical Consulting and a minor in Statistics, just for fun. My first internship landed me in the world of software development and I fell in love with technology. Always in the minority as a woman and wishing I had learned about technology at a much younger age, I am determined to push hard and advocate for STEAM in any way I can. I want to get more kids (especially girls) interested, aware, and involved in areas that they could love too.

November 8th is National STEM / STEAM Day, so here are a few ideas to celebrate at your house.

Science / Math / Engineering

  • Cooking – Cooking is a great way to emphasize creativity, learn measurements, understand the science of ingredients, and a huge bonus is getting something delicious to eat at the end.
    • For little hands, consider making peanut butter protein snacks (my kids can’t stop eating them). Let little hands measure since the exact ratio isn’t so important in this snack. In a bowl measure and combine 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter, 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, 1/4 cup ground flax seeds, and 1.5 – 2 tablespoons honey. Explain how the peanut butter and honey mix to make a sort of sticky glue for the dry oats and flax. The chocolate just tastes good! Roll them into balls, teach them about spheres, talk about Earth and planets, and identify other round objects around your house. Chill for about 10 minutes and enjoy!
    • For a little older kids, bake your favorite cookie recipe or use the foolproof one on the back of the chocolate chip package. Explain how measurements need to be precise because baking is a chemical reaction, just like the best science experiments! The wet ingredients in your mix will help dissolve the baking soda, allowing it to react with acid from the brown sugar in your batter. That causes little gas bubbles to rise and puff up your cookie! You can simulate this with baking soda and vinegar to make your own volcano while you wait for cookies to bake or cool!
  • Building – Math is often overlooked in kid’s activities. People think math is just about counting, or adding, subtracting, etc., but there’s so much more you can do.
    • Try building a tower with blocks. If it has multiple legs, your kids will realize that keeping the legs the same length (by measuring) will keep the tower level. They can calculate or draw a plan first to simulate what they want to build. If it falls over, then use science to explain that your creation has given way to gravity.
    • Get more advanced by building with other materials. You could use marshmallows and spaghetti, straws, popsicle sticks, and glue, or anything you want.
    • Make it a family game by having each person bring one material to the table. Spend a few minutes brainstorming and drawing a plan, and then incorporate everyone’s item into the tallest tower you can.

Technology

Technology is the world I live in, so I could spend all day on this one. The benefits of kids learning to write code and learn how computers work are literally endless. It helps with problem-solving, creativity, puzzles, patterns, and so much more!

  • Screen-free activities – I like finding screen-free ways to enforce patterns and repetition and to lay the foundation.
    • To explore patterns find some beads and pipe cleaners or string, and make your own patterns with bracelets. You could also use blocks to make a patterned tower, cut strips of paper and make a patterned chain, or make use of Halloween candy and organize Skittles or M&Ms.
    • To simulate problem-solving, set up a grid on a sheet of paper, the floor, or any space you have available. Mark a starting point, an ending point, and put a few obstacles in the way. Then have your kids move or explain the path to get to the finish line. (For example, go up one square, go right two squares, etc.) There are tons of free printables if you search online. I also love the examples and activities at this amazing site, Coding for Kids.
  • For kids a little older there is a great FREE game on the PBS website called Code Quest. It simulates the navigation game I explained above but adds chunks of code to click and drag. It takes a kid comfortable with a computer or a patient parent helper. We loved it but felt like our 5-year-old was a little young and needed some more practice. Being able to read independently would also be great.

Art

This one is so important and I am so glad it’s been added to join its other “STEM” friends. Kids need to be able to create. It’s ok if you let them think they are “bored”. They need downtime. This gives them a little push to sit quietly and create. Creativity and imagination are so crucial in life. Let them sit and dream. If you’ve read the ideas above, you’ll also see how creativity helps drive these other areas and when combined can be incredibly powerful.

  • Simple activities and prompts are the best way to foster creativity with art. Kids can paint, draw, write, whatever medium they choose. Start with blank paper and let them choose what they want to use. This gives them some control over their project.
  • Try giving them a prompt and having them finish it to write their own story. The same can be done with drawing. Give them a helpful starting place. Maybe tell them to draw things that start with a certain letter, draw your dream treehouse, draw your favorite vacation. My nephew is 7 and loves drawing and writing his own books and some are even complete with worlds he’s invented that look like old school video games.

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