STEM is a teaching philosophy that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM is an important part of education because it teaches kids to investigate, create theories to solve a problem, test their theories, and execute plans to reach the desired outcome. It helps them learn to build evidence-based explanations for real-world issues. The concept of STEM learning has taken off in a big way and can even be found in toys, books, and activities learned around the world! Here are some fun ways to incorporate STEM learning into everyday life with kids of all ages.
A simple trip to the grocery store can become a fun STEM activity, even if it is a pretend trip where you use items around the house as your “groceries.” Creating a real or pretend shopping list, counting the items on it and checking them off one by one, then counting how many items are left to get can start younger kids off with basic math. Older children can help keep track of the cost of each item, rounding up to the nearest dollar amount to make things a bit easier, then guessing how much the total will be in the end (don’t forget to account for tax!). Whoever is the closest, wins! You can work with kids to help set up the store items and use post-it’s or pieces of paper and tape to attach prices on your items. Kids will have a great time “stocking” your new store!
Baking requires using measurements, how ingredients interact with one another, fractions, keeping track of time, and predicting how your creation will turn out in the end. If a problem arises, you can brainstorm possible reasons why and come up with ideas on how to fix the problem next time. Figuring out how to deal with issues such as not having a particular ingredient and finding substitutes based on how different ingredients interact can introduce a child to the concept of trial and error used in science.
A car ride or your daily walk can become a fun game of guessing the speed of other cars around you. As you pass a car if driving or as cars pass you while going for a walk, kids can guess how fast your car is going and/or how fast or slow other cars are going. Big trucks move much slower than regular sized cars, but why? Come up with theories and then test them at home with toy cars and trucks going down a ramp or slope outside. This can lead to talks about weight distribution and momentum and what weight does to speed. You can even have a grand race of different-sized toy cars and trucks!
Like baking, cooking requires measurements and keeping track of time. But it also includes changes in molecular structure, which can be seen, felt, and tasted by kids. Boiling water for pasta turns water into steam. You can discuss with kids how and why that change happens. Where does the steam go? How hot does water have to get before it changes? What happens to the pasta as it heats up and absorbs the water? Let kids taste a carrot before it is cooked versus after it is cooked. What changed? This can open up conversations about texture, size, and consistency changes in objects that are heated up. Create theories on what kids think will happen to each item, then test it out and see if those theories are correct. Then eat your projects after they are done!
All you need is dirt, pots, and a few seeds to teach kids about plants and how they grow. Plants require mostly the same things that humans do in order to grow; food, water, and sunlight! This can open up conversations about how plants may seem different than us, but they are similar on a genetic level. You can explore how plants grow, what parts make up a plant, and the process of photosynthesis. As the plants grow, you can discuss with kids how often to water, how to tell if their plants are getting too much water, and create theories about what they think will happen as the plant grows. This activity can be a fun STEM project that may empower kids to grow their own food, beautiful flowers, or take care of their own house plants. It could even be a great way for them to build the skills they need to take care of their own family pet.
Although the concept of STEM learning may seem daunting at first, it can become a very easy and fun part of a child’s everyday life at any age. The knowledge and skills that come from teaching these concepts to kids help to set them off on a path that leads to a true love of learning, curiosity, self-confidence, resilience, and patience when trying to figure things out. These are skills that will be carried with them for life and give them a boost towards greater success as teenagers and adults. The best part is that you can support their learning in everyday life with a little conversation and a lot of fun!