Steam Kids Challenge
STEM or STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, (Art), and Math. It’s everywhere these days as children are interested in technology and the advancements we are making as a society. We are a very STEM-oriented homeschooling family in that we do a lot of science and technology-based lessons at home. My children are naturally very curious about science and love the hands-on learning that STEM guides provide. We often perform science experiments, incorporate themed math lessons and tie in art to our daily lessons. Roo’s favorite subject is math and Chickie always wants to craft and paint, so STEAM-based learning is perfect for us to combine academics with playful learning.
Some people are intimidated by diving into hands-on science at home and opt for that type of learning to come from alternative avenues. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I do want to point out how easy these types of lessons are to create at home. You don’t need a bunsen burner or special beakers to use the scientific method and facilitate a STEM education for your children. Let’s start by going over some ideas for activities that fall into each category:
S– Science is all around us. We just need to open our minds to allow ourselves to be curious and open our eyes to observe it.
T– Technology can be a very helpful and beneficial resource to use and learn about.
E– Engineering is simply designing and building.
A– Art is everywhere we look and waiting for us to be inspired to create it!
M– Math is the universe. Everything is made of math and mathematical equations and patterns apply to all of life.
How to Apply It
Science: We started building the foundation for this subject by learning and reviewing the scientific method. Science can slip away from you if you don’t know why you’re doing it and how to apply it. Observation is key, but I highly recommend teaching your children the scientific method and encouraging them to make a hypothesis and test their results. This can exercised in daily play, it doesn’t have to be a formal lesson. Children wonder all the time, it’s how their brains are built. Why not use that natural curiosity to your advantage by investing in that behavior and thought process? If my kids ask me a question, I’ll typically respond first with “What do you think?” I do not want my adult perspective or knowledge to cloud their growing minds and prevent them from coming up with original ideas for themselves. One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is seeing them make connections on their own, so I aim to foster this. Next I will ask them “Why do you think that is?” or “What would happen if?”. ‘If and Then’ is used a lot in our home because it stimulates the problem-solving thought process and encourages independent thinking (and also forethought).
We are a crafty family so we have a lot of materials already on-hand. This makes it super quick and easy to pick a few things to use for an experiment. Measurement is a great way to break into science experiments at home that aren’t too messy or time consuming. When Roo wanted to learn everything there was about the moon, we did a moon crater experiment outside and measured the craters. To demonstrate an ‘orbit’ we tied a ball onto a stick (and again-went outside) to swing it around and observe the motion. We painted the planets to scale, cut them out, and brought them out to our street. We took the measurements of the distances the planets should be, scaled it down (using math! woo hoo) and placed them those distances apart. It took half our street (about 1/8 of a mile) but it was fun to walk the length from start to finish so the kids could see just how far apart some of these celestial bodies really are! There’s science, math, and art all wrapped up into a single activity! Remember to always ask your children questions about what THEY think will happen and review your results to help give them perspective.
Technology: We use screens for homeschooling (although I know some people disagree with it). There’s much to be learned from video lessons, nature documentaries, and live streams of events (Space-X anyone?). Obviously, everything in moderation is best, and because of this, we tend not to use screens very often for leisure. I can’t imagine learning about an animal and not watching a video of said animal in it’s natural habitat, or learning about rockets and not watching one take off while the whole country tunes in. I think it’s important to keep our kids up on current events (that are age-appropriate) so they can learn from this ever-changing world and see that what they’re learning in their home education applies as you grow. One of the worst feelings I can remember from childhood is the feeling of insignificance. Sometimes, kids can feel small and unimportant, like they don’t have something to offer because they aren’t a grown-up. I don’t want my children to feel that way. I strive to build up their self-esteem and help them understand that they matter and how they can make a difference as they age. Love it or hate it, technology isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s how the whole world communicates and functions. So I think it’s best to embrace it and use it for the positive attributes it has.
Roo has shown an enormous interest in coding as of late. He attended a computer class at the library where he coded a video game and he was sold! We purchased Botley The Learning Robot (by Learning Resources) and he loves to create obstacle courses and code Botley to complete tasks. This is wonderful technology-based play that can be applied from a young age and it doesn’t require screens!
Engineering: Designing and building can begin from a young age whilst playing with blocks. Most children I know naturally want to build forts, castles, walls, and tents. Incorporate this drive into homeschooling lessons by creating multiple environments to test results! Use different weighted and sized materials to achieve the same goal. Change the amount of materials or location of the materials to see how that affects the outcome. Make paper bridges on plastic cups and test how many pennies each bridge will hold. Create wooden boats and find out how heavy a load they can carry before they sink in a bowl of water. Glue popsicle sticks together and tie a string around them to make an elevator; then loop your string around a door handle or hook to test how many items your pulley system can lift. The opportunities are endless and each experiment will teach your child new skills and empower them!
Art: Art doesn’t need an introduction or an explanation. Even the most non-artsy person can create an artful environment! As long as you are playing with color, lines, shapes, or patterns, you are creating physical art! Grab some clay and ask your child to build a sculpture of an animal! Pull out some food coloring and mix colors to learn about the color wheel. Take it a step further and place celery stalks or carnation stems in the cups of colored water to observe what happens after 24-48 hours!
Math: Mathematics is everywhere and can be applied to everything! Math is logic, reasoning, observing patterns, and using strategy. If you look for the numbers, they will appear. Make math hands-on by using manipulatives! You don’t have to buy fancy objects from a learning store, you can use anything around the house! You can collect natural items in nature to create shapes and patterns, pull out measuring cups from your kitchen drawer to learn fractions, build multiple towers of blocks to learn place value and multiplication. When children can see the math in a physical form (as opposed to symbols on paper) I believe they internalize and understand it better, which makes the learning experience more rewarding for everyone!
All of this to say, that Steam Kids Books offered an awesome and FREE 5-day #steamkidschallenge series via Instagram last week. They supplied the lesson plans and video guides, all the participants needed to do was collect the materials and perform the experiments! We took part in each and every lesson and the kids had a BLAST!
Here’s the breakdown:
Day 1: BUILD
We built a rock balancing lever machine as well as a lever pom pom catapult! Next the kids created a balloon-powered car from scratch which was a ton of fun to test drive around the house! We finished up with a patterned snack tower!
Pom Pom Catapult
Day 2: COLOR
Included in Tuesday’s printables were coding worksheets: a binary and decimal code key, a code to solve, and an adorable color by number gear coloring sheet that the kids completed using the binary code they cracked! Next, we dove into chemistry by using primary colors along with baking soda + vinegar to create secondary and tertiary colors through chemical reactions! Lastly the kids had rainbow snacks to go with the theme of the day.
Binary Color By Code
Color Coding Color-By-Number
Color Chemistry Experiment
Day 3: PLAY
Play day was a ton of fun (like all of the days). There was a science scavenger hunt, toast painting, and making a rubber band flyer! I was also very fond of this particular packet’s ‘Joke Of the Day’:
How does the moon cut his hair?
The scavenger hunt was super interactive because I gave the kids a clipboard with the list and they ran around looking for the household items. Each line item was a riddle so it took a bit of critical thinking to solve them!
Science Scavenger Hunt
Chickie and Roo had a lot of fun creating and decorating their rubber band flyers. It was a bit challenging to get them to fly, but we definitely had a few successful attempts! We brought our flyers outside and made them soar into the grass. The trick is really pulling the rubber band taut and holding the flyer up and out. They wibble and wobble and it’s super fun to see how far they can go!
Rubber Band Flyers
Day 4: SENSE
We are often taught that we have 5 senses (see, hear, taste, touch, and smell). This daily guide aims to teach us that scientists have found that we are capable of far more sensory applications than we thought! For Day 4’s activities, we explored the worlds of soundwaves, sight, and our olfactory sense. The first experiment we completed was the hearing aid! The kids rolled cardstock into a funnel shape and used their new instrument as a hearing aid. We tested loud sounds and whispers to learn how the funnel affected our hearing capabilities.
Next, we learned about a specific optical illusion called thaumatropes! It’s a tricky illusion when 2 images rotated quickly create a new image! Your eyes can only see 10-12 images per second, so when the device is rotated quickly, your brain blends the 2 images together. So cool!
Day 5: REACT
We were so sad to come to our last and final day of Steam Kids Challenge activities! The kids have loved the experiments and I have loved the guided planning that required minimal forethought on my part.
The last day’s activities were about chemistry. We created a lava lamp by mixing oil, vinegar, liquid food coloring, and salt! It was fun to shake it up and watch the fluids separate.
Next we dabbled in some penny science. We collected the dirtiest, darkest, oldest pennies we could find and made a cleansing solution for them. This solution contained vinegar which the kids dipped the pennies in. For one trial, we only held half the penny in for 30 seconds; for the next trial, we dumped all the pennies in and waited 5 minutes. We found that the solution shines the pennies up nicely! Per the instructions, we laid the pennies on white cardstock to create oxidized art!
I’m over the moon about this challenge and all that it entailed! The lesson guides, videos, and materials list were simple, clear, and easy to understand. This program made science easy and fun! We will continue with our STEAM lessons within our home education plan and our monthly STEAM class we attend. But, we are always are looking for science activities, so the next time an opportunity like this pops up, we will definitely be participating!
My goal of sharing our experience of this challenge with you is to encourage and empower you to try the same with your kids. Remember, science doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated (at least for the elementary years). I hope this has inspired you to give it a go! Let me know in the comments below which experiment looks the most interesting to you and which one you try!