7 Playful Activities that Encourage STEM Learning

STEM Learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is incredibly important for young minds and helps develop, early on, a variety of problem-solving skills and methods of strategic thinking. There are so many activities that spark this type of STEM learning that are also fun for kids, thus building a positive foundation for their education as they continue to grow.

So, let’s get creative, put on our thinking caps, and maybe even get a little messy!


1. Build a Marshmallow Pretzel Stick Tower

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You can use different materials for this project, as long as you have one solid stick-like material (a pretzel stick, toothpicks, dry spaghetti, etc.) and one soft/spongy material (marshmallows or gumdrops). The end goal is simple. Build the tallest and most structurally sound tower using only those materials. If you’re playing with multiple kids, you can make it a competition!

This game teaches kids basic principles about both engineering and physics. They’ll likely start building, realize there is a better way, and start again from scratch -- this is the kind of troubleshooting and problem-solving you want to encourage!


2. Math + Snacks = Fun

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If there is one thing I know, it’s that it is tough to make math fun. But, add a little sweet treat and suddenly math doesn’t seem so daunting. There are endless ways to get creative here and it’s easy to adjust these activities to any age! It could be as simple as counting to 10, or more complicated multiplication, fractions, etc.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Less than, greater than: Take 2 paper plates and draw watermelon slices on them. Sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each plate to look like “seeds.” Have your kid count the number of seeds on each watermelon and decide which one has more seeds. If they count and get it correct - they get to eat the chocolate chips!

  • Subtraction and addition: Make ants on a log (celery, peanut butter, raisins or chocolate chips), and an ant pile (crumbled graham cracker crust). Count the ants on the log. Move a few ants at a time from pile to log and have then add/subtract the number. Snack along the way!


3. Homemade Slime

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Making “slime” is pretty simple and isn’t actually as messy as it sounds. Most homemade slime recipes create something relatively solid, like ‘silly putty,’ so don’t worry about things spilling all over the floor.

One of the most popular recipes includes:
- Regular school glue
- Borax
- Food coloring
- Water
(Read the full recipe here. )

For the younger kids, this is just a fun activity to get their hands dirty and to expose them to basic “chemical” reactions. The fact that when materials mix, they can form an entirely new substance. For the older kids, if you want to make more of a STEM impact, do a quick google search for a simple description of the chemical reaction and discuss what actually happened when you made the slime!


4. Grow Something

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We’re getting back to basics here! But this is one of the best STEM learning activities you can do with kids from a very early age to really spark their interest in science.

First, pick something to grow together. Better yet, let the kids pick what they want to grow! There are easy DIY flower-in-a-pot kits that you can buy that already include the seeds, soil, and pot. Or pick up some seeds from the store and start your own mini garden. (Egg cartons work well here!)

Teach them about how seeds sprout, root, and grow with sun and water (photosynthesis). Have them check in on how tall the plant has grown every day. Activities like this are not only fun but also confidence boosters, since they are creating and nurturing something that they are responsible for.


5. Egg Drop Challenge

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You might remember doing this in middle school because it is one of the most classic engineering activities for young kids. The name of the game is simple -- build something that can hold an egg and protect it from breaking when dropped from a tall surface.

The sky is the limit here! Do some planning, pick up a few materials, and let their creative minds get to work.


6. DIY Lava Lamp

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We all remember the magic of staring at a lava lamp for hours! And it’s actually quite simple to create a homemade version of this nostalgic fixture.

You will simply need an empty jar or plastic bottle (with a lid!), water, cooking oil, food coloring, and alka-selzer tablets. Follow the step-by-step guide here.

You can explain that the lava lamp works because oil and water don’t mix. Water molecules are more attracted to other water molecules than to oil molecules…and the oil molecules float to the surface because they are more dense than water molecules. This is a great conversation starter to discuss molecules, atoms, and matter! If you don’t feel like you have a solid foundation to explain these concepts yourself, there are plenty of fun YouTube videos to help make these basic concepts easy for kids to understand.


7. Nature Scavenger Hunt

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One of the best (and simplest) things you can do with kids to spark an interest in STEM early on is just to get outside and explore nature.

Most kids are fascinated by wildlife, so be sure to cultivate that interest by spending more time outdoors.

A scavenger hunt is a great way to add a layer of fun and education to a regular day outside. Write down a list of things you’d like to find (example: An ant, a blue bird, a maple tree, etc.), bring a notebook, and head out on your quest

 
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