For many parents, there’s nowhere that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt more than in education. Students are suddenly stuck at home for part or all of the week, and parents are scrambling to help their children keep up and develop the skills they need.
STEAM skills (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) are now emphasized as particularly critical. But many parents aren’t sure where to start when teaching these skills, particularly if they don’t consider themselves STEAM-oriented.
However, STEAM is for everybody. It’s what holds our world together, from the wiring in a junction box to the architectural characteristics of a home. Whether you’ve been homeschooling from the get-go or you’re supplementing virtual learning, these easy, hands-on lesson plans will help your kids develop their STEAM skills in a way that anybody can understand and stay engaged with.
- Slime Factory
Making slime is one of today’s most tried-and-true kids’ activities. It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s appealingly gross and it teaches kids a lesson in basic chemistry.
Another great aspect of slime is how easy it is to experiment with. Try multiple different recipes and see if your kids can figure out why each one behaves the way it does. And when you want something really cool, try making magnetic slime. With the addition of some iron filings and a toy magnet, the slime almost seems to come alive as it moves on its own via the laws of magnetic attraction.
STEAM is all about seeing the connections between different skills, and aquaponics is about as perfect an example as one could ask for. Aquaponics combines aquaculture (farming aquatic creatures such as fish and snails) with hydroponics (growing plants using water as a growth medium), creating a functioning ecosystem in your own home. It’s a pet and a garden, all in one!
If your kids build a basic aquaponics setup and enjoy it, it’s relatively easy to expand the structure. You can even grow your own food with the right setup! Note that aquaponics is a longer-term project that involves living creatures, and you should only do it if your kids have the maturity to maintain it and not lose interest. Otherwise, you might be stuck cleaning a lot of fish tanks!
- Egg Drop Challenge
The classic egg drop challenge combines creative design with a crash course (so to speak) in multiple key physics concepts. In this activity, you’ll challenge kids to design packaging that will protect a raw egg from breaking when dropped. Start small by dropping an egg from standing height. Then, if your kids are up for a challenge, graduate to a second-story window, or even the roof!
Best of all, this activity can usually be accomplished just with items your kids can find around the house, such as rubber bands, cardboard boxes and paper towels. If you’d like to give them a head start, purchase some inexpensive materials and then encourage them to move on to whatever they can scavenge.
- Building a Catapult
Many kids don’t realize how fun physics can be until they’ve made an object go flying! It’s easy to build a homemade catapult out of household objects like popsicle sticks and rubber bands, in the process teaching physics concepts like leverage and force.
It’s also relatively easy to scale up the catapult and create something that’s surprisingly powerful. Note that this lesson requires some ground rules about safety and when the catapult is appropriate to use.
- Building Marshmallow Structures
All your kids need to become junior architects is a case of toothpicks and a bag of marshmallows (or other soft candy-like gumdrops). A marshmallow building activity can teach a wide variety of concepts, from very simple ones like shapes to more complex ones like load-bearing structures. And the flexibility of the building materials gives them surprising versatility to create cool projects.
For group learning, a “marshmallow tower challenge”–where kids compete to build the tallest tower–is a great way to introduce an element of friendly competition. A marshmallow or gumdrop structure can also be a great lead-in to more complex building projects such as a bridge building activity.
- Building a Functioning Heart Model
One surefire way to thrill kids is to show them the crazy stuff that’s going on inside our own bodies all the time. Using a few plastic bottles, straws and red food dye, this project will demonstrate the principles that keep the heart beating and circulating blood throughout the body. Squeeze the bottles and straws and watch the “blood” make its way from one chamber to the next.
Before or after the project, make sure to give kids an opportunity to feel the beating of their own heart, your heart or a pet’s heart. You can simply place your finger on a pulse zone such as the wrist or neck—or, for something really cool, try picking up an inexpensive stethoscope that you can use to listen to heartbeats together.
- Foamy ‘Toothpaste’
Also called elephant toothpaste or reindeer toothpaste, this chemistry activity uses a reaction between dish soap, peroxide and yeast to create foamy, bubbly fun for all ages. Kids will be delighted by the voluminous torrent of foam that comes forth from the mixture—just make sure that they understand it’s not actually for brushing your teeth!
This activity helps introduce important chemistry concepts such as catalysis. Although the ingredients aren’t seriously dangerous, most kids will still need supervision with this activity since it uses high-concentration peroxide that can be harmful if swallowed. There’s also high potential for a big mess if it’s not done carefully.
Remember that STEAM is, above all, multifaceted. If your kids don’t take to one project, try another! It’s all about finding the thing that makes the connections finally click. And when they do, you might be surprised at which older projects your kids are keen to revisit.