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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended education for teachers, parents, and students alike, but before that revolution, there was another one just as profound. Long before parents were asked to double as in-home teachers, educators were focusing on STEM education, turning their sights to the important fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
The importance of STEM education is difficult to overstate, and the vitality of these fields is only expected to increase in the years and decades to come. With the world currently undergoing an information-based paradigm shift, the jobs that survive the coming artificial intelligence disruption will be the ones that harness creativity in new and profound ways.
Whether your kids are learning at home on a full-time basis or supplementing their classroom time with screen time, there are some wonderful STEM activities families can do at home. Some of these activities can be done in the great outdoors, where children can revel in the beauty of nature and parents can get some much needed fresh air. Others are indoor activities, perfect for rainy days and those dark winter nights.
What they all have in common is that they make learning fun. If you want to spark a lifetime love of learning in the next generation, mixing enjoyment with education is always a great place to start. With that in mind, here are some of the best and most creative indoor and outdoor STEM activities for parents, children, and the entire family.
From the smartphones in our pockets to the satellites circling overhead, science plays a vital role in modern life. The importance of science is only expected to increase, so get your kids ready with these fun scientific activities and experiments.
- Solar system mobile – The universe is a fascinating place, and the solar system we live in is no less interesting. Even the youngest children can construct a miniature model of the eight (or nine) planets, and all you need are a few simple materials.
- A bug zoo – You do not have to go far to find exotic wildlife; there are fascinating creatures in your own back yard. Just grab some jars, bottles, and other containers and let the kids build an extensive bug zoo for their bedrooms.
- Testing soil and gardening – Planting a garden in the back yard is a great way to let your kids stretch their scientific wings. Let the kids test the relative merits of various types of soil, using seeds you buy online or get at the local garden center.
- Growing crystals – Growing crystals in solution is a wonderful science experiment, one you may remember from your own elementary school days. You can buy ready-made kits for growing crystals, or you can find the materials you need at home.
You do not see a lot of children programming computers, but kids have a natural affinity for technology. These days even young kids carry powerful computers in their pockets, so coding for kids is not as outrageous a concept as it might seem. Here are some fun technology activities for kids of all ages.
- Simple coding exercises – These days kids do not have to be programmers to complete simple coding exercises, so look for activities that spark curiosity and a desire to learn even more.
- App building – If your kids love using smartphone apps, imagine how excited they will be to create an app of their own. Using relatively simple tools kids can craft their own apps, testing the results as they go.
- Hold a homemade robot contest – Building robots at home is a great technology activity kids and their parents can enjoy. You can purchase robot building kits or find plans online and build your own mechanical creations from the ground up, and when you are done you can set up battles or contests to see which member of the family built the best automaton.
From STEM activities for kindergarten and STEM activities for elementary school to STEM activities for middle school and STEM activities for high school, there is no end to the fun and the learning. Engineering does not have to be dull and boring; it can be engaging and exciting. Here are some of the best engineering activities to enjoy in the comfort and safety of your own home.
- Build your own rocket – If your kid dreams of being an astronaut one day, building a DIY rocket is sure to spark their creativity. You do need high explosives or special equipment to launch a homemade rocket; you can make your own ship using simple products around the house.
- Delicately balanced sculptures – Engineering and art are not mutually exclusive, so why not combine the two. Building a delicately balanced sculpture can reinforce important lessons in engineering, and give your child a beautiful decoration for their room.
- Absorbency and spills – Chances are your kids have spilled their fair share of grape juice and milk, so why not make the next mishap a learning experience? When the liquid hits the floor, gather a variety of cleaning materials and test the absorbency of each, calculating rates of absorption, checking for residue, and keeping copious notes on the results.
Many children struggle with mathematics, but in many cases that is a failing of the educational system and not an inherent deficit in the kids themselves. It is easy to make math seem mysterious and out of reach, but the field is actually the most practical of all. Mathematics plays a role in every aspect of adult life, from buying a home and getting a mortgage to shopping at the grocery store. Here are some fun mathematics activities to try at home.
- Cooking and baking – Following a recipe is a mathematical exercise, so let your kids help out in the kitchen. Pepper the preparation with questions like “what is half of half a cup?”, “how many teaspoons in a tablespoon?” and “how can you calculate the baking time for that delicious cake?”.
- Online shopping – If you love to shop online, let your kids sit in on the transactions. From assessing shipping charges to calculating percent off offers, these exercises will build math skills for the next generation.
Common Benefits of STEM
From STEM toys that can entrance and entice the youngest children to STEM activities that spark curiosity and foster a love of learning, science, technology, engineering, and math can play a powerful and productive role in the education of students. By making learning fun, educators, parents, and society at large can use STEM as a kind of shortcut, and as a stand-in for schooling that will stand the test of time.
All of this may be true, but the real benefits of a STEM education go far beyond the current generation. Indeed, the true potential of science, technology, engineering, and math are rooted in the future, a future that will likely be dominated by machine learning, artificial engineering and technological advances the current generation can only dream about.
Experts predict that the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics is likely to be as disruptive as the industrial revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, if not more so. Like previous disruptions in the social order, the industrial revolution improved many lives, but it also put millions out of work.
Now a new revolution is hurtling our way, and the devastating impact on employment is being widely predicted. When that future is fully realized, whole classes of workers will be permanently displaced, but others will find a rich field of employment opportunities in its place.
Those successful workers will need to be adaptable, intelligent, and highly educated, and they will likely emerge from the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Children who are well-grounded in STEM education from an early age should have the best shot at success, and parents and educators can lead the way.
Parents can start the education at home, even before their youngsters leave for kindergarten. Through the use of STEM toys, parents can foster a curiosity that will last a lifetime, and those early experiences will feed on one another and pile up through the years.
The learning can continue through subsequent ages, with STEM projects that can be done at home, in the grocery store, and even on vacation. Something as simple as computing discounts on a shopping trip can be informative, while later and more complicated STEM projects can reinforce those lessons and provide even greater benefits.
The job of every parent is to prepare their kids for the next stage in life. Whether that next stage is moving on to kindergarten, moving out to college, or somewhere in between, lessons in STEM are sure to serve them well. Giving your child a firm grounding in the tenets of science, technology, engineering, and math will prepare them for a future filled with artificial intelligence, factory running robots, machines that learn, and other 21st century advances.