As an engineer I tend to observe and reflect on many things. Playing with my daughters I have noticed a few attitudes I embrace that transform our play into a STEM learning experience. A mindset I want to share with you.
What you can do as a parent to boost learning:
I TALK out loud and try not to oversimplify. I give them tools to communicate and express ideas. The more rich their vocabulary is, the more detailed their world becomes. And I am mindful of my language because I am aware that…
I MODEL and my attitudes become theirs. So I model excitement for learning and wanting to find solutions, I make mistakes so they can see that they are just part of learning. And I understand that they have a leading role in their learning so…
I MIRROR their curiosity and wonder, their excitement when discovering new things and I slow down and let them set the pace because it is important that..
I GIVE THEM TIME to figure things out by themselves because that is when learning truly sticks. And in the meantime…
I OBSERVE , watch how they approach challenges, what they are interested in. This helps me tailor future activities and hit the challenge sweet spot. And if they ask for help..
I WONDER OUT LOUD. I avoid giving direct answers but rather wonder about different possibilities and ask for their opinion because…
I am a TEAM PLAYER and not the know-it-all parent. Because of this I can enjoy the moment and…
I have fun and we EXPLORE TOGETHER , setting a positive foundation for future STEM learning.
Practice This Mindset With These Family STEM Activities:
Math is not just about numbers. It is about noticing patterns, connecting the dots or finding the exception and making these things visible through numbers. This is why hands-on experiences that involve comparing, grouping or patterning become key to build a solid foundation for future math skills. They give children a feeling for what math is used for and help them visualize concepts without abstract symbols.
Children naturally engage in these types of experiences early on. We’ve seen both my daughters sort sticks from rocks or order them from small to big. However, if you want to further support your kids and help them develop these key early numeracy skills we got you! We have put together 7 simple ideas that you can do on a regular basis and even take outdoors!! You don’t always have to do them but they are a great toolkit to carry around in case the moment presents itself.
How To Develop Early Math Skills Outdoors
That’s it! Simple activities you can do on a regular basis with your kids to help them develop early math skills. And build a solid foundation for all the numbers to come.
Preparing an educational activity for young children has the great potential to open up a new world of understanding and experience. So as parents we look around for the perfect activity to develop their already awesome abilities. However, sometimes it is difficult to know how to engage in these activities with your kids so that they benefit from all the learning that is offered. We want to share with you 7 strategies that will help you understand how to unleash learning potential from your home. By using these strategies:
you will be able to use and understand the learning opportunities provided by educational activities
your child will happily engage and want to do them more often with you
you will learn about your child’s abilities and interests
your child will learn in a fun and positive way, leading to learning that sticks
A lot of STEM activities on social media are adult-led, focus on the final outcome, and give little freedom for child-led discovery. For example, a beautiful but not developmentally appropriate craft that young kids can’t do by themselves or an experiment that requires constant adult intervention. We believe this creates an obstacle for deep understanding and learning that sticks. Especially when doing activities with younger children. So we’ve rounded up the strategies that we believe are key when doing any educational or STEM activity. Follow these strategies and engage with your children, have fun together and take advantage of the awesome learning opportunities.
1. Build Motivation Beforehand
Motivation is key for learning. It helps associate positive feelings to whatever we are doing, creating positive connections and memories which will be easier to recall. This boosts learning. And let’s face it, if you do something you enjoy, chances are you will do it again. The more you repeat, the better you learn.
One way to help with motivation is to create excitement. We can do this by talking to our kids in a very positive way about the activity or experiment. The more excitement we show prior to the activity and the more we talk about it as something we do together, the more engaged and motivated our kids will be.
2. Get The Timing Right
Timing can make a huge difference for kids benefiting from learning opportunities. This has to do again with associating positive feelings and emotions to the task at hand. Make sure you understand your child’s rhythm, their ups and downs. For example, our kids are more open to new experiments in the mornings, so we try to do them at that time of day. Also, we’d recommend not doing activities with hungry or sleepy kids.
3. Find The Challenge Sweet Spot
If something is too easy, kids tend to lose interest fast. But if the activity is too challenging it can lead to frustration and lack of motivation. But struggles are part of life, and we help our kids get through them on a daily basis so they grow. We do this by offering a safe and supportive environment. This environment is what you should try to recreate in any educational activity that you do together. Because a certain amount of challenge is needed for learning to occur. This is known as productive struggle. So, how do you know if the activity has the right amount of challenge?
Some activities will give an age range, so you can start there. However, we believe more in the power of observation so you can truly tailor activities to your kids. Because each kid is different. The more you observe your child the more you will understand what their level is. Make sure there is room for them to learn, that they don’t know all the answers, but that it is not too advanced.
So you can understand the concept of productive struggle a bit more, think about it this way: Productive struggle refers to a challenge that is just out of reach but that requires tools that we mostly understand and can use to solve the problem. Try to find activities that can be adapted to different levels.
Play means exploring, making mistakes, interacting with our environment and so much more. If you look at this closely, it is the foundation of learning. Play-based-learning activities are a great way for kids to take control and become active participants of their learning experience. So all you have to do is set up an environment that will foster learning through play and you’ve got it. If you want to guide and be involved, make sure it comes from a place of playing and discovering together. Become scientific teammates instead of having all the answers. The more children are allowed to follow their curious and playful nature, the more they will be willing to experiment and discover. Learning is just a happy by-product of their play.
Try to match the theme of the activity to your kids as much as possible. This is connected to motivation and is key. Choose activities that build on their interests or that can incorporate topics they like. For example: include toy cars, animals, or role-playing with any activity that allows it. Use your imagination to find ways to connect with them through these educational experiences and the learning will be deeper.
The type of activity is also important for learning. For example, our daughter loves to touch everything, so when we tried a typical sodium bicarbonate and vinegar experiment it was over quite fast because she kept wanting to put her hands in the mixture all the time. This is ok for a little while, but we did not want her to spend an hour with her hands in vinegar. So that experiment was not a good match for us. Even though it is a very cool and educational activity, our kid was not able to fully engage and benefit from the learning experience. If however, your kid is more of an observer, it would be perfect.
Every kid has different ways of learning and experimenting, tailor activities to meet those needs. Having said this, we do believe that children learn best when they can manipulate things as much as possible and use as many senses as possible. Hands-on and sensory activities are great for this.
For this we want you to remember one thing, learning is a process and not an end result. Try to steer clear from activities that lead to just one outcome and try to do things that are open-ended. Focus more on observing, guiding, and connecting during the activity rather than rushing to a conclusion. This allows for time. Time to engage, to experiment, make mistakes, try again and actually learn something that will stick. If you can manage your own expectations about the perfect result, you will also transmit this to your kids, avoiding frustration when things don’t go as planned. And also remember, repetition is key for learning. So it is actually better to repeat the experiment many times than to do it just once perfectly.
7. Add A Touch Of Color
When we do colorful activities, it appeals to their visual experience. Our kids are more interested and motivated, and motivation and engagement leads to better learning. So make it colorful! Ways to do this: always have food coloring at hand and use it whenever there is water involved in any activity (which in our house is quite often). It adds a whole new level of fun to any experiment!
So these are our 7 strategies for learning that sticks. But remember, just because you don’t see a specific expected outcome does not mean that learning is not happening. Learning can take on many forms. Just make sure to create a home learning environment that encourages discovery and acknowledges mistakes as part of the learning process. Model excitement at any learning opportunity. Have fun together. Play. The learning will happen naturally and it will be deeper and longer lasting.
In your search for fun activities to do at home with your kids you might have come across the concepts of play-based learning or learning through play. You may even understand that it has to do with your children learning while they play. It seems ideal, but you might be skeptical. How do children actually learn through play? Is there anything I need to take into account? Do I just let them play without any involvement? Here we will try to clarify some of these questions and offer an understanding of how you can engage with your kids through play.
What is play?
Let’s first clarify what play actually means. The general understanding of the term play is that it is child-led, open-ended, process-oriented (no end result in mind), unstructured, enjoyable, and make believe. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): “The impulse to play comes from a natural desire to understand the world”. Therefore, we can assume that if children are trying to understand the world, they are also learning about it. So let’s take a look at the elements involved in play to see how this might actually be happening:
Child-led and unstructured
Limited adult involvement means children have to figure stuff out by themselves. This can lead to many different scenarios involving productive struggle, trial and error, and repetition. All these scenarios drive learning. Also, children are naturally curious, and this curiosity drives their learning. It is important to clarify here that adults can obviously play with their children. But for it to remain child-led, the adult has to meet the child at eye-level. We should become play companions with our kids and not take over or try to direct toward a specific outcome.
Enjoyable and make-believe
We learn better when we associate positive feelings to the experience. Early childhood is all about having fun and following our imagination. This fuels our intrinsic motivation, which moves learning.
Open-ended or process-oriented
If there is more than one answer, more than one way to do things, we need to get creative and use problem solving or critical thinking skills to reflect on what we are doing. In addition, there is no judgement or frustration if the end result is not achieved. When we don’t associate negative feelings with what we do, we tend to repeat. Both repetition and motivation are key elements for learning.
The Learning Through Play Spiral
So to make things even clearer we have created a learning through play spiral that will help clarify how this could be happening:
Why a spiral? Because learning is not a closed circle, it doesn’t stop and start. It builds on itself, like a spiral, which can keep going and going, as opposed to a circle that just goes around on itself. Bear in mind that this is a possible scenario and that it doesn’t always necessarily happen this way. We wanted to provide an illustration of how learning through play is possible. Remember that play is open-ended and learning is just one of the many outcomes. Also, sometimes play is just playful and fun, and that is ok too.
Inspirational quotes about learning through play
So now that you understand a bit more what it means to learn through play here are some wonderful inspirational quotes:
“When a child is doing something she’s passionately interested in, she grows like a tree – in all directions. This is how children learn, how children grow. They send down a taproot like a tree in dry soil. The tree may be stunted, but it sends out these roots, and suddenly one of these little taproots goes down and strikes a source of water. And the whole tree grows.” John Holt
“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who wasn’t motivated to figure things out, to find the answers to personally relevant questions. However, I’ve met (and taught) plenty of kids who aren’t motivated to sit quietly and listen to someone else talk or to memorize the definitions of a list of words. That lack of interest doesn’t suggest an absence of motivation (to be remedied with carrots and sticks) but a problem with the model of instruction or with the curriculum.” Alfie Kohn
“Self-directed learning does not mean no adult involvement. It means no adult force/control.” Carol Black
And how can we as parents support their learning through play?
Now that you understand how children learn through play you might wonder how to encourage this at home. It’s simple. By offering an environment that fuels their natural curiosity. An environment that motivates them to discover the world at their own pace and rythym, in a fun way, and with a bit of a challenge. We can offer open-ended activities that have learning opportunities and that require little to no adult involvement. These types of activities are some of the ones we focus on here at a STEMful mind. Our activities usually have some adult involvement but the idea is that we as parents guide through observations but leave the exploring and experimenting up to our kids. So if you are up for it go ahead and check out some of our favorite activities:
Ask any expert on child development and they will tell you that one of the most important things in early childhood is to talk to your children. And we fully embrace that in our home. We use any opportunity to strike up a conversation. Sometimes it becomes interesting, other times it just fizzles out. We read books, we make up stories and songs, we make observations during our activities, and we wonder out loud. The language we use with our kids is so important. There is a lot in the words we say or do not say. So in this post we invite you to reflect on this and we ask you the following question, have you wondered with your kid today?
As parents, we sometimes feel we have to know all the answers to all the questions. Reality check… we don’t! So what if we can transmit that to our kids too? That they don’t have to know everything. That the joy is in the discovery, the process, rather than the result. This is why wondering out loud with your kids is so great. We are engaging in conversation with them, and we are teaching them that it is ok to have our own ideas, whether they are right or wrong.
Benefits of wondering out loud with your kids
By starting a conversation with “I wonder why/how/what…” and following it up with “what do you think?” we:
give our kids an understanding that their thoughts are valuable too and that they have a right to their own ideas
foster imagination, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills
communicate in a way that doesn’t involve right or wrong, avoiding judgement and frustration
can continue a conversation and discover together, avoiding a conversation cut short by the correct answer
make thinking visible, allowing our kids to better understand thought processes and how it works
help develop their curiosity and encourage lifelong learners
So if you stumbled across this post today, take some time to reflect on this thought and try to incorporate some wonder into your day. You will love hearing your little ones start using this and wondering out loud too. And you will notice how much learning can be behind one simple thought. Follow that thought with your kids and see what you discover together!
A few suggestions to get going:
what snails eat (nature study)
where the people on the train are going (geography)
how many fish are in the lake (math)
if it is also raining at grandma’s today (weather)
what will happen if I mix water and cornstarch (experiment)
if that will sink or float (physics)
Fun activities to follow up and continue wondering:
Playing is the essence of childhood. Whether it is building with blocks, running and jumping, or any sort of role playing. This is how children experience the world. Through play. Sometimes it is structured, certain games have certain rules, or certain toys are “intended” to be played with in a certain manner. Other times children are allowed the chance to let their imagination flow and play at their own pace and follow their own rules. This is what is known as free play. A time in which we allow our children to explore the world without a structured agenda in place. In this post you will learn the connection between free play and STEM. As well as the dos and don’ts of free play.
Free Play: A STEM Perspective
Many educational theories strongly advocate for giving children the chance to engage in free play. Especially in the early developmental years. But you might be wondering how this is relevant to STEM. Doesn’t STEM need more guidance, such as experiments and math activities to learn this skill set? And yes, this blog is mostly about guided STEM activities. But I believe that all roads lead to STEM and free play is still extremely relevant. Allowing kids to explore by themselves, to make mistakes and try over and over gives them the confidence that they will need when engaging in STEM activities.
Failed experiments or challenging projects are a huge part of real-life STEM and the earlier kids learn that this is all part of the process the better. Reducing frustration, creating tolerance and acceptance of long procedures, understanding that mistakes are part of learning. These are all things that are nurtured through free play. Without adult guidance a child will have to figure things out by themselves and that is the highest form of STEM. Solving problems with the resources at hand.
The Dos And Don’ts Of Free Play
So, how can you let your child engage in free play and hope for more specific STEM learning? The main idea is that you create an environment that will invite them to explore STEM concepts with open-ended activities. Here are some suggestions for the dos and don’ts of free play:
Leave STEM-related toys or materials out (Activities become invitations to play but are not mandatory)
Take the materials out and push them to do the activity/play with the toys
Encourage in a subtle way. Use language focused on possibilities rather than on something specific “I wonder if it would be possible to build something with all these materials”
Use language that encourages one specific action such as “let’s build a tower with toothpicks and playdough”
Wait for them to ask for help when they struggle
Get involved if they haven’t asked for help (if you think they can manage on their own don’t get involved the first time they ask. You can tell them you are finishing something and you will help as soon as you can, giving them the time to keep trying)
Let them use toys/games/materials in their own way even if it is different from the way it was intended to be used (as long as it is not dangerous for them or anyone around)
Discourage their imagination by telling them that objects that are not dangerous have to be used in a specific way
Be present but on the side
Take over the activity/game (again, as long as there is no danger). Remember they are still learning even if they don’t “get it right”
If you follow these suggestions you will be creating an environment that will allow your child to engage in STEM activities in a free way.
By being present and letting them ask for help before intervening, you are giving them the chance to figure things out by themselves. But they know they still have you as a safety net. You are nurturing their confidence and showing them your support and that you believe in them. You believe in their independence and individuality. Observing your child in free play gives you insight into what they are interested in. This will give you the chance to tailor other activities to your child. Presenting your child with activities that are more in tune with their interests offers a higher chance of them engaging. This itself will boost the learning that occurs during the activities.
So sit back and just observe. Let your child explore their surroundings and let them know you are there if they need you. And remember, it does not always have to be full-on free play. You can find a balance by allowing more freedom within a structured activity or guiding something that started out as free play. Just pay attention to your child and see how they respond to whatever is happening at the moment. As in everything, balance is key.
STEM activities are a great way to engage with your children. By discovering the world together you get the chance to strengthen the bond between you. Solving problems and connecting ideas open up a new and beautiful world. Young children have an incredible curious nature. Something that tends to be neglected as we grow up. Following your child’s motivation to understand their environment is a great way to reconnect to your own inner child and connect to your family. Not only are you doing things together, but you are also growing together, learning. You become scientific teammates ready to tackle the world’s problems. And by doing this, you are nurturing a love for learning that will pave the path for the rest of your children’s lives.
Connect as a family from home
And the best thing is, you can do this at home. In your backyard. Or when you go out for a walk. The activities we focus on here, at a STEMful mind, are low-prep and easy activities that can be integrated into your daily life. The more you do these types of activities, the more you will get inspired to do your own. We also encourage you to observe and play with your children at eye-level, to discover together. You will find ways to do this in all our activities. This will help you get to know your child better so that you can all connect as a family.
Create a home learning environment that fosters creativity and wonder. Let your child become your teacher. Listen to their stories, engage with them in their play. It all counts. It all connects.
If you are interested in STEM it is important to have a bit of background information regarding this topic. There is a lot of information out there so I will try to be concise. I will explain why I believe STEM learning is important and how you can implement it at home.
What is STEM?
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is currently being used to define a methodology or educational practice that combines these disciplines into an interdisciplinary approach to learning the subjects. STEM is very broad and encompasses so many different aspects of this world that it can sometimes be a bit daunting. In reality, STEM is everywhere and everything has a bit of STEM in it. And with this blog, my aim is to help you understand it a bit better.
Why is STEM Learning important?
You will read everywhere that STEM is mainly important because of its professional relevance in our current technology-driven society. And this is true, however, it is not only about the future job market. Learning through a STEM approach means applying STEM skills and combining them to solve real-life problems. Contrary to popular belief, it does not only help children develop science and math skills but it also works on their so-called 21st-century skills. Critical thinking, analytical and organizational skills as well as creativity and communication are just some of the skills that go hand in hand with learning through a STEM methodology. It is inquiry-based, meaning it aims to answer questions, and therefore helps children nurture their innate curiosity and love of learning. So, in other words, STEM learning is a way to prepare children to tackle real-life situations, where problems cannot be clearly divided into separate school subjects and this is where the importance really lies.
I believe that STEM is connected to the way we see the world and the way our brain processes information. In order to tackle any STEM challenge, your brain has to have a necessary set of tools to help it navigate this challenge.
When talking about STEM learning it is important to note that it is not only about the scientific concepts or the mathematical tools. It is also about the way they think about problem-solving. We have reached a moment in time in which information is at our fingertips! So just knowing the concepts is not enough, we need to know how to use them in context. Or how to apply them to real life so they become less abstract. For this, we have to know how to use the tools. And this is what STEM learning is about. It is about learning the STEM concepts by training the brain to think in a STEM way. For example, tools like the scientific method or the engineering design process are examples of structured problem-solving.
However, even when using these tools it is good to have other skills to support problem-solving. Being creative, looking at a problem from different perspectives, having patience and learning from mistakes, not giving up or knowing when to give up, knowing what questions to ask, these are all examples of skills that can be worked on through STEM learning. And the great thing about this is that it is not specific to STEM. These skills can be transferred to life in general and this is where the importance of STEM learning actually lies. In learning a skill-set which can allow you to problem-solve in an efficient and productive way.
STEM Learning with Children
The beauty of STEM learning with children is that they are naturally curious. That curiosity, that wonder, and inquiry, if guided accordingly can be used to nurture a love for learning and pave the way to discovering how the world works. And STEM learning can be adapted and grow as the child grows, diving deeper into Science Technology Engineering and Math concepts as the developmental milestones of the brain are reached. Small things like collecting, organizing and categorizing can be started early on and can then develop into solving a problem or finding out how something works.
Side note: it is important to note that the child’s brain develops in specific stages and that it is very important to not introduce activities or experiments that may frustrate the child. We want to keep our children motivated for STEM. Pushing activities when they are not ready is not the way to do it.
Having Fun is so important
So STEM with children is about having fun while they learn. It is also about engaging with them so that they can foster a love for STEM. With this, we can prepare them for being great problem-solvers and life-long learners. And this is the reason I created this blog, to help parents bring STEM into their home in an effective and fun way! Through guided activities, information and resources I hope to help you transform your home into a place of wonder and discovery. Because STEM learning does not need to be a thing of schools and educational institutions. But rather it can start and be nurtured at home. If you want to read more about this check out my post: 5 reasons for supporting STEM learning at home. Or check out some of the guided activities on the blog:
I love quotes! Finding a quote that resonates with your feelings and thoughts about the world is so inspiring. There can be so much wisdom and truth in just a couple of sentences well written. So today my aim is to inspire you with quotes that resonate with STEM learning. I have put together a set of qualities or topics that I consider crucial for STEM kids. I have tried to find the best quotes that can express the importance and relevance of these topics. There are so many great STEM quotes it has been hard to narrow it down! So I hope you find meaning and inspiration in these quotes and I will definitely be making a follow up with new quotes!
What makes up a true STEM Kid and Quotes to go with it
STEM Quote: Wonder
STEM learning is all about exploration and discovery. It is about understanding the world, so what better than to wonder why things are the way they are.
“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” – Socrates
Like wonder, this is a STEM must! Curiosity is what makes you look at the world and ask yourself why. It is what makes you dig deeper into a subject and motivates you to learn about things.
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” – Stephen Hawking
STEM Quote: Inquiry
What would curiosity and wonder be without inquiry? They are the drivers of inquiry. The curious, the ones who wonder, those are the ones that ask the question. And the questions are what drive STEM learning.
“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers” – Carl Sagan
STEM Quotes: Problem-solving
Once the questions are asked it is time to try to answer them. Here is where problem-solving skills come in handy. The core of STEM! But what is problem-solving?
It is a way of thinking…
“I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves.” – Louise Hay
a way of looking at the problem…
“A problem well put is half solved.” – John Dewey
It is also reflecting on everything that comes together in the problem and being able to adapt and change perspectives…
“Science progresses best when observations force us to alter our preconceptions” – Vera Rubin
It involves creativity…
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” – Edward de Bono
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination” – Albert Einstein
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery” – James Joyce
It requires patience to not rush and stick to a process that will deliver good results…
“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” – Arnold H Glasow
And also perseverance to endure when things get difficult…
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
And it will hopefully lead to discovery…
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan
I hope you find inspiration in these STEM quotes and that they show you the importance of bringing STEM into your home. Because the process of discovery is not limited to STEM but it gives you a way of seeing the world and learning from it.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. LEARN as if you were to live forever.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Inspire yourself and inspire your children to never stop learning. Check out these guided STEM activities to start bring STEM into your home:
There are so many awesome STEM activities out there. So many great ways to discover science and use math in fun ways. However, I have realized that most of them just explain the craft, experiment or activity and don’t go into much detail about the educational side of it all. I believe STEM activities have great potential for learning and that, as parents, we can use these activities to our advantage to create teachable moments and have fun with our kids at home! In this post, I will outline some tips that will help you turn a simple STEM activity into an educational STEM activity. If you don’t have a STEM or educational background, these tips will help you create teachable moments with any STEM activity you find online! And transform STEM activities into educational experiences!
The key is to know how to guide the activity. Educational research suggests that if we want to make learning happen we have to create an environment that will nurture learning. Advances in neuroscience have recently found a link between emotion and cognition, meaning that learning is more likely to happen if it is connected with positive emotions and feelings. This is why STEM activities are so great! Through fun experiences, children connect STEM to something positive and will be willing to repeat and keep learning. These tips are based on this idea and do not require any deep understanding of STEM from your side. The idea is that you discover and learn together!
You can also check any of the guided STEM activities on this blog. These activities give you a specific guideline that you can follow. The guide is intended to pave the way for learning experiences and turn thoughts into “lightbulb” moments of discovery. They largely follow the tips outlined in this post.
So let’s start with the 5 transformational tips:
Start engaging before you even start the activity
If you find a great activity you want to do with your kids it is important that they are motivated to do it. One way to get them motivated is to build-up to the moment. Get them excited before they even start! Ask them a question that the activity aims to answer, see what they think about it. Tell them you can find out more together with this cool activity you found. Another thing you can do is show them images or videos related to the activity you found. It is important that you also show excitement, that will definitely help them! Here is an example, so you can understand what I mean:
Imagine you find an activity about why things float or sink. First thing you could do is show your kids a video of a big boat and ask your kids some questions. Here are some sample questions:
Why do you think a boat floats on the water? Do you think a fork floats? Do you think apples float? Do you think a plastic bottle floats?
How could we find out why things float or sink? Should we find out together?
Guide through questions
Asking questions and looking for answers is such an important part of STEM. The best way to guide an activity is to use questions instead of making statements. Try to use formats such as what/why/how do you think…? Or what do you see…? Do you think you could do…? Another way of guiding through questioning is by modeling inquiry yourself. You don’t have to ask directly you could wonder out loud. Let’s build on the previous example of why things float or sink:
As you are doing the activity here are some suggestions of what you could ask/say:
Why do you think the plastic bottle floats but not the fork?
I wonder if weight makes things sink… Do you think heavy objects float more or less?
Show them 2 different objects and ask them which they think floats and/or sinks
Give space for free exploration and making mistakes
Guiding an activity is useful if you want your children to reach a specific learning moment. However, many children might reach that by themselves through free exploration. We have to give them the freedom to follow their thoughts. You probably already know the lesson that needs to be learned from the activity but your child is working to discover it. And for this they need time! Everybody learns at their own pace and it is important not to rush this.
I know that as parents we want to make everything easier for our kids but we need to let them try by themselves, even when we see that they are not doing it in an ideal way. By allowing them to make mistakes, they are also learning what doesn’t work, which is equally important. A lot of scientific research is based on trial-and-error experimenting and we should give our children the time and space to do this without feeling rushed to reach a learning milestone. This way we are supporting their learning and exploration needs. You can always guide the way back to the activity by saying something like this:
Ok, we have explored that now, should we check out this other part of the experiment/activity? I’m pretty sure we can find out some cool things there!
Involve as many senses as possible
Neuroscience has found a link between enhanced learning when involving as many senses as possible. Traditional educational methods rely heavily on sight and this is why hands-on STEM activities are so great for kids. They provide the possibility to engage in some sensory play. Even if the activity is not geared towards any specific sense you can always ask questions about the senses. Some examples of questions you could use:
What does it feel like? Rough? Flat? Is it heavy/light?
Does it have a smell? What does it remind you of?
Does it make a noise?
By exploring an activity using their senses they will get a different perspective on the whole learning experience. They might remember doing an activity and discovering a specific smell that will always trigger the memory of it.
Help make a connection and look back on the activity
Our brain learns by association. New information arrives in our brain and it connects it with old information creating memory. This is why it is important to look back on the activity, make follow-up questions, maybe even do follow-up activities. If you’ve involved the senses and found some fun stuff out you can ask things like:
Do you remember what …. smelled like? That was a funny thing to discover! What were we doing?
So there you have it, 5 useful tips for transforming your STEM activities into educational experiences. You don’t need to use every tip each time but I hope this gives you an understanding about how you can guide the activities to help your children reach some “lightbulb” moments. At the least, I hope it inspires you to not only do the activity but actually engage in it and discover the world with it.
Check out some fun STEM activities to sneak in some STEM learning: