STEMulate Your Kids this Holiday Season: Two Activities to Keep Hands Busy and Minds Engaged


As the Holidays are quickly approaching, parents and teachers alike are looking for ideas to keep the little ones busy while learning at the same time. Parents may be stuck inside with their kids during Christmas break with family gatherings and bad weather. Teachers are looking for ways to keep students engaged and learning as they anticipate vacation.

STEM activities, which is the learning emphasis of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are a great way to let kids be creative and imaginative while learning in the process. STEM activities can be open-minded and explorative. They allow for thinking, reasoning, and creative play and there is no reason you can’t combine some popular holiday treats in the process! The key here is to think outside the box and allow for real ingenuity.

For these ideas, you will only need a few simple supplies. Kids can build and rebuild their designs and work in teams or individually. Engineering is the emphasis and will allow kids to use the design process to solve problems. You may even want them to sketch or plan their build first. Remind them that this is only a model for the real thing. You can have discussions before or after the build about what a model is and when or where they may see these designs in real-life.

In our activities below, kids will be building trees and snowmen and as you are out and about you can point out these figures and have discussions about them. Design and Model recognition are key concepts in the NGSS or the Next Gen Science Standards, which are the new and improved standards for STEM learning.

These projects are also great ideas for the busy parent who needs to get some holiday baking or gift-wrapping accomplished. Have your kids sit at a table or counter near you and watch their originality and design skills come to life. These are also perfect for a classroom setting as the teacher can allow for group or team building competitions with the winners being voted upon.

Candy Trees

STEM Concept: Engineering Design-NGSS MS-ETS 1-2, 1-3, 1-4

Target Age Range: 8-13 years old

Supplies: gumdrops and toothpicks

Try not to eat all of them before building


Pass out supplies and allow students/kids to work individually or in teams to build the largest free-standing Christmas tree. They may not use any other supplies unless you allow. Remind them they may want to discuss ideas of how to make the tree stable and build the layers and even sketch out their process. You can also set a time limit to make the project more exciting. This can become a very creative and competitive activity!

Follow-Up Questions:

  1. Did you plan or draw your design before beginning? Why or Why not?
  2. Are there changes you would make if you had to start again?
  3. Did you wish you had any other materials/supplies to help you build your candy tree? What?
  4. Do you think there is another way to build a tall free-standing tree? Why or Why not?
  5. Is there anything you have seen in the real world around you that is constructed this way?
    (possible responses: bridges, scaffolding etc.)

Do You Want to Build A Snowman?

STEM Concept: Engineering Design-NGSS MS-ETS 1-2, 1-3, 1-4

Target Age Range: 8-13 years old

Supplies: marshmallows (mini and large), toothpicks or straws, mini chocolate chips or black squeezable decorating icing

Of course it’s more food; this is a holiday STEM activity

Directions: Similar to the candy tree activity, this can be an individual or team building effort. Kids get to engage and learn while creating and designing a snowman made from marshmallows. They can use large and small marshmallows for the body; toothpicks or straws (cut into various sizes) to hold pieces together and chocolate chips or dark decorating icing to “draw” the eyes and mouth. This is a fun and playful activity…the hardest part will be to keep the kids from eating all of the supplies!

Follow-Up Questions:

  1. Did you design or draw your snowman before building? Why or Why not?
  2. Are there other supplies or food items you think would have worked better to make the snowman?
  3. Is there anything you would do differently if you made another snowman?
  4. Would you use what you learned by building this model of a snowman to build a real one? Why or Why not?

 As you head into the Holidays, if you want to find ways to keep your kids or students learning just remember to look at the world around you. If you have supplies for similar activities at home use what you have on hand instead. Even better allow your kids or students to help decide what they could make a tree or snowman out of! I have seen everything from using items out of the recycle bin to cutting and coloring envelopes. Remember, the great thing about STEM lessons and activities is they allow for multiple right answers AND failure is just another way to learn and redesign your process. These can be activities the whole family can enjoy!

Links to similar activities and ideas:

About Brian 69 Articles

Brian is an engineer, librarian, and general STEM enthusiast who hopes his daughter one day conquers the world. Even if it is just one of her own creation.

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