Do you live in a community that does not have access to a children’s museum, or to a science museum with exhibits appropriate to young children? I believe that it would be possible to put together a great experience on a really limited budget. If you have an extra classroom at a local school, or could talk a library into using their meeting room for a month, or convince a church to let you use a space, or ask a local shopping center to let you occupy a pop-up space in between tenants, you could create a fabulous learning opportunity for kids in your community!
You might even be able to do this at an elementary school where instead of having one evening dedicated to a science fair that is mostly about walking around seeing other people’s science projects, you could have a week of having hands-on science for kids to explore.
Some Ideas for Exhibits:
- build a wind tube with a fan and simple materials where children can test what materials will fly https://gooddayswithkids.com/2015/02/08/build-wind-tube/
- use a shop fan to create a ball cannon and a scarf shooter and a ball levitator https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2021/10/11/fun-with-a-fan/
- offer a paper airplane folding station and a target to aim at (free, with paper from your recycling bin)
- make kites with paper or cardstock, bamboo skewers and string or make straw gliders
- set out miscellaneous materials with a balloon pump – does wind move each item?
- make constellation viewers out of nice materials for permanent use – children could use these to “view the stars” https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/02/28/stars-2/
- create a space travel and mission control imaginary play zone with obsolete tech, paper bag helmets, pretend jet packs – use a DIY constellation projector to shine “stars” on the ceiling https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/02/14/planets-and-space-travel/
- make a large scale earthquake shake table for kids to play on and build on https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/01/30/earth_quakes-2/ and create a jigsaw puzzle map of the world from its tectonic plates
- offer an observation station with lots of great rocks to study, weigh, draw, examine with a magnifying glass, sort into categories: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/01/30/rock_science_for_kids/
- make pet rocks
Light, Shadow and Rainbows
- shadow screen – build a simple PVC frame to hang thin white cotton fabric, put a bright shop light behind it and chairs for an audience in front of it, and children can perform shadow dances, do shadow puppet shows, and make hand shadows on it. You can also place an old style overhead projector behind it (or where it can shine on a wall) and children can place items on it that create interesting shadows
- you could offer a craft station for children to make their own shadow puppets
- offer a light table with translucent items to explore
- colored lightbulbs – this inexpensive exhibit allows kids to explore how different colors of light combine: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2018/07/23/color-mixing-shadows/
More Hands-On Exhibits
- You can build an inexpensive magnetic ball wall / water wall https://gooddayswithkids.com/2015/04/26/diy-ball-wall/
- you could make some truly lovely apparatuses for sensory play or water play: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2018/06/22/sensory-bins/
Where do my exhibit ideas come from?
My family and I have traveled to countless children’s museums and science museums around the country. (Read my reviews: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2019/04/15/destinations/)
We’ve seen so many fabulous exhibits that kids love. Some are expensive or a lot of work to set up, but some of the best are so simple! Many of those we have found a way to re-create.
We’ve also seen other exhibits that fall flat… Some of those exhibits looked beautiful and had a high level of craftsmanship, but they failed to engage. Or they were too difficult for the children to play with – as if they’d never been play-tested with actual children.
I design and make hands-on children’s activities all the time, for a STEM enrichment class for kids ages 3 – 6. We have 35 sessions worth of hands-on activities designed. Over the past seven years, we’ve been able to play-test these activities with 200+ kids and we know what works well.
My activities have their limits. They’re not beautifully constructed of fine materials – I don’t attempt to build things perfectly because a) we only use the materials for one day each year, and b) I want to model for the parents that THEY could do this all at home, for cheap. (See my post on the Cardboard and Plastic Lids Aesthetic.) If you have a permanent space, and access to a full shop with a skilled craftsman, you could make these items prettier. But as is, I can guarantee that they are workable hands-on STEM activities that kids love.