4 Fantastic STEM Activities to Explore with Young Children

STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math with hands on learning and problem solving.

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 hand-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 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.

fingerprintScience 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 finger prints?

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 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.

popsicle stick catapultTechnology 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.

roller coaster racing carsEngineering – 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.

marshmallow and pretzel shapesMath – 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, question them about what they’re interest are. 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 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.

3 Ways Screen Time Can Improve Child Literacy Skills

While there is controversy surrounding screen time, children can use their time with technology to improve their reading skills.

Parents used to talk about how much time their children spent watching cartoons, but total screen time is a new challenge. As technology advances, so does screen time, or the time our children spend watching television, playing video games or using tablets and phones. Recent articles and studies portray all screens to be problematic for young children. But I have good news – while there is controversy surrounding screen time, children can use their time with technology to improve their reading skills.

As a reading coach, I’ve seen excessive amounts of screen time, which is not ideal for children, but reasonable amounts up to an hour total per day, used in appropriate ways can be beneficial. Here are three ways screen time can improve reading skills:

child with adult on laptop1. Educational Videos. When children are first learning how to read they focus on learning letter sounds. Phonics plays a huge role in reading and some kids can struggle with learning the various sounds of the English language. One of the easiest ways for kids to listen to sounds is by watching videos. Videos give kids a visual to connect to the sound and they can hear the proper pronunciation. Youtube is a great place to find phonics videos, and Kidzphonics has a huge variety of videos to choose from.

Older children can also utilize educational videos to improve their reading skills. Beginner readers can watch Youtube videos of adults reading to help with fluency. Fluent readers can view videos on summarizing, making inferences, and recognizing cause and effect.

2. E-books. Apps like Kindle and iBooks allow readers to read an e-book on any device. Readers have access to books instantly and they can be read anywhere and at any time. E-books also make reading interactive. Readers can simply magnify, highlight, define words, and take notes all with a few finger clicks. E-books are also great for children of all ages because apps include picture books and chapter books.

child playing on tablet

A great app for children’s books is Epic! It can be used on any device and features over 25,000 books and videos for children of all ages. It appeals to all readers as it offers fiction and nonfiction books as well as books in Spanish. Many schools are transitioning to virtual textbooks, so the more exposure children have to e-books, the easier it will be for them to navigate academic texts.

3. Audiobooks. For those children who struggle with reading or reading comprehension, audiobooks are a great solution. Apps like Audible by Amazon allow readers to download audiobooks that can be replayed numerous times. For additional support, kids can read along with the audio. Audiobooks can also be enjoyed with the whole family by listening together during family time or while driving in the car.

If a reader does not want to purchase audiobooks, Youtube provides audio versions for free. This comes in handy for readers listening on the go, especially kids. If a child has to read, they can follow along with the Youtube audio version in school, on the bus, or sitting on the couch.

If used effectively and appropriately, screens can help readers of all ages improve their skills. It is important to be aware of how much time children spend on devices and what they are doing. Not all apps or videos will help kids, so feel free to try different programs. It is important the kids should enjoy reading, so if they are getting frustrated consider watching the videos or reading the e-books together. A frustrated reader will often shut down, so making it into an activity with an adult can often relieve the child.

While there is controversy surrounding screen time, if used effectively with time limits, screen time can help readers of all ages improve their skills. Not all apps or videos will help children develop their skill set, so try different programs and see what apps the child likes. It is important that the child enjoys reading, so if they are getting frustrated consider watching the videos or reading the e-books together. A frustrated reader will often shut down, so making it into an activity with an adult or guide the student to apps that include some pictures or game play about the story.

About the Author. Christine Ducz is an English teacher and reading coach in New Jersey. A graduate of the University of Phoenix with a Master of Arts in Education and Curriculum Instruction, Christine also authors post-secondary education courses, including Children and Literacy. Christine is an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute, an organization dedicated to professional training and certification of elite Nannies, Au Pairs, Babysitters, and other childcare providers.

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