Quick & Easy STEM Play

The Exploratorium is a fabulous science museum in San Francisco. On their website, they have a fabulous collection of “Science Snacks“: which are quick and easy experiments that are “hands-on, teacher-tested, and use cheap, available materials.”

Most of the content of this blog is my theme-based posts, where you’ll find experiments, art projects, songs, books, and imaginary play options all focused on the “topic of the week.” On this post, I have gathered together my version of “science snacks”. Let’s call them STEM Tapas: quick little bites you can throw together and enjoy any time. (They make great rainy day activities or offer fun on a summer day when your kids are saying “Mom, I’m bored! Bored, bored, bored!”

Science Crafts

Use a variety of noodle shapes and have your child glue together a pasta skeleton – human, or dinosaur or make hand “x-rays” with Q-tips

Use clothespins, pipe cleaners and googly eyes to make clothespin creatures.

Hardboil eggs and color the eggs with liquid watercolor or whatever your preferred method. There’s no reason to limit egg hunts to a single holiday or time of year. They’re fun anytime! You can also do egg drops – with tester eggs, then hardboiled eggs, then raw eggs to test your design.

If you have shaving cream, try out Rain Clouds in a Jar and shaving cream paper marbling. Or mix it half and half with glue, and use it as “puffy paint” in a painting / collage.

Make a magnet maze: draw something (like a road) on a paper plate. Cut out a paper shape (like a car) and attach a paper clip to it. Place the shape on the plate, hold a magnet under the plate, and use the magnet to “drive” the shape around.

Make salad spinner paintings. Put a circular piece of paper in the bottom of the spinner basket. Drip on some (non-toxic) paint, and spin it.

Painting with toy cars. Cover a table in paper. Glop on some paint. Hand kids a toy car and let them drive it through the paint and over the paper.

Parents and Kids Build

For older kids who like to tinker: build a cardboard animatronic finger or hand.

Make a weather vane or an anemometer with a plastic cup, straw, and some dixie cups.

Make a thaumatrope (for little kids) or a flip book (for kids 7 and up). Both are ways of “animating” a drawing.

Make a waterproof / airtight mini “submarine.

STEM activities – some planning required

Cloud Observation using the Cloud Identification Tool.

Match the sound. Fill any opaque containers with ingredients (popcorn kernels, kidney beans, pompoms…) Then give your child transparent containers with the same ingredients. They shake the transparent container to see how it sounds, then try to find the matching ingredient in the opaque cup.

Learn about symmetry: Cut out a shape (e.g. a butterfly) and fold it in half. Open it up, paint one side – fold it and press the two sides together to press paint onto the other side – open it up and compare. Or use the butterfly coloring sheet. Or play the symmetry game with blocks.

Ice Excavation. Freeze toys in a block of ice. The kids excavate them by figuring out how to melt the ice.

Have fun with dry ice.

Shadow play. Hang a sheet in a doorway. Put a lamp behind it. The child can dance around between the lamp and the sheet, putting on a shadow show for an audience on the other side.

Set up a clothesline style pulley so kids can send messages back and forth across a room.

STEM activities – no planning required

Plant seeds. Any seed, any time. You can germinate the seed in a ziplock baggie so you can see it sprout, then make a planter from a water bottle.

Make a craft stick harmonica.

Touchy Feely – throw random objects in a pillow case. Have child reach in, pick one up, guess what it is, then pull it out to check their guess.

Have a taste test. Sample four different kinds of apples. Or four brands of cheese crackers. Or nonfat milk, whole milk, and cream. Or…

Guess the scent: Blindfold your child and hold things up for them to smell. Can they guess what it is?

Learn about sorting / classification. Give your child any collection of objects and ask them to sort by one criteria, then another.

Try to mix oil and water. Make “fireworks in a jar” and “lava lamps” and learn about emulsifiers.

Make a ziplock time bomb with baking soda and vinegar.

Sink and float. Give your child random objects and tub of water. What floats? What sinks? Why?

Show your child how to build a basic catapult (with a pencil and a craft stick, or a spoon with something as an improvised fulcrum). Launch things!

Give kids anything they can stack. Have them compete to see who can build the tallest tower.

Give kids toothpicks and something to stick them into (grapes? apple chunks? cheese squares? marshmallows? gum drops?) and let them build.

Hungry for more ideas?

Check out my post on DIY Summer Camps for STEM fans.

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