Three Free (or Nearly Free) STEM Activities Every Kid Will Love

Nurturing your child’s love of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is one of the best things you can do to prepare them for exciting careers and ensure lifelong learning. STEM activities can easily be found at local museums and fancy toy stores, but not all STEM enrichment has to be expensive or complicated. With a little planning and creativity, you can engage your little scientists for hours, encouraging their curiosity and problem-solving skills. Whether your budding scientist is interested in robotics, architecture, or is still working on basic fine motor skills, there is an affordable STEM activity for you!

Doodle Bots

Image Courtesy of DollarTree Blog

This activity is perfect for budding artists, robot lovers, or anyone wanting to have some fun!  The best thing about these robots is all the supplies can be found at your local dollar store. With some assistance, your scientist will put an electric toothbrush inside a pool noodle with markers attached via rubber bands. When the electric toothbrush is turned on, the pool noodle vibrates, bounces, or rotates, depending on the placement of the markers, producing beautiful abstract art on the paper below.

I once used this activity to occupy a group of school-aged kids at a summer day camp, and it was a huge success! Watching the children’s faces light up as they transform an electric toothbrush and pool noodle into a robot that scribbles on its own is truly awesome. Additionally, kids get to put their troubleshooting skills to work. For instance, we learned that fine tip markers work much better than regular markers. Also, you can influence the robot’s movements by adjusting the angle and height of the markers. We found that the higher the pool noodle is from the coloring surface, the more it bounces. If one marker is pulled out more than the others, the robot spins and draw circles.

Building doodle bots is a great, affordable activity that entertains and challenges kids of many ages and interests. Doodle bots provide hours of fun, and can be kept and enjoyed for years to come.

Marshmallow Building

Image courtesy of Let’s Play at Home Blog

This activity is great, because it can be customized based on your learner’s age, interests, and even the subject matter. Provide mini marshmallows, toothpicks, and some inspiration for hours of entertainment. Note that if your child is too young to work with toothpicks, or if the mini marshmallows are too small for their fine motor skills, large marshmallows and pretzel sticks can be substituted.

For a geometry lesson, have kids construct squares, rectangles, triangles and hexagons. Next, ask them to transform these shapes into three-dimensional counterparts. Show your child a picture of a three-dimensional shape, and ask them to recreate it with marshmallows and toothpicks. This is a great spatial reasoning exercise.

For older kids, give them structure challenges such as: What is the tallest structure you can build using only 15 marshmallows?

Add STEM enrichment to history and geography lessons by encouraging kids to try to build a marshmallow and toothpick version of London Bridge, the Great Wall of China, or an Egyptian Pyramid.

Once your budding engineers have mastered toothpicks and marshmallows, branch out to licorice, gumdrops, twigs, and play dough. Compare construction materials and encourage creativity. What a wealth of learning opportunities from such simple supplies!

For students who love experimenting, try building various toothpick and marshmallow bridges and see which can hold the most weight. Children can also work in teams to see who can build the tallest free-standing structure that won’t tip over.

Encourage kids to build a huge castle, a village of small houses, or favorite animals. Ask them to build a model of their house, or better yet, their dream house. The potential for this activity is limited only by your imagination. These activities remain some of my boys’ favorite ways to spend an afternoon.

Play Dough Spaghetti Threading

Image Courtesy of My Bored Toddler Blog

This activity is perfect for budding scientists under 4 years old. Simply place a ball of play dough on a table, stick some uncooked spaghetti in the dough, and offer cheerios for your child to thread onto the pasta. If cheerios are too small, try fruit loop cereal, or even tube pasta. The smaller the item, the more challenging it will be.

This activity is great for fine motor skills, and introduces basic engineering principles. For example, if a spaghetti pole is pressed on too hard, it will break. If a pole is full of cheerios, no more cheerios can be added. As kids get older, show them that longer spaghetti poles hold more cheerios, and that it is much harder to stack towers of cereal without a pole than it is when using the pasta as a support.

These activities confirm that STEM enrichment does not have to be expensive or complicated to provide ample learning opportunities. STEM enrichment can be found and customized for all budgets, ages, and abilities.

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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