Do you remember the games you used to play when you were on summer vacation? Maybe you owned an Easy Bake oven and had a thriving bakery. Or were you the daredevil, creating roller coaster rides with skateboards, ramps and pillows? Regardless of the activity, it sure was fun!
What you did not know at the time was that your activities were playfully centered around science, technology, engineering and math, together known as STEM. There is no doubt about it: having a solid background in STEM is essential for success in our highly technological society. The good news is that there are several exciting ways to build curiosity and life-long interest in these topics.
Here are some simple summer vacation ideas that will prepare your child for STEM by creating opportunities for creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Better yet, you can do these activities anywhere – at home, on the go, or even while your family is on vacation.
Telling time without a watch
Extend your child’s time telling skills by practicing counting by 15’s and finding patterns in nature.
- Your hand
- The sun
- The horizon
1) Extend your arm fully in front of you with the palm of your hand facing you and placing your pointer finger just below the bottom of the sun.
2) Continue to stack your hands one below the next until your bottom finger reaches the horizon.
3) Each fingertip (leaving out your thumb) is equal to 15 minutes of time, so each hand is equal to 1 hour. Add the total amount of hands and fingers you measured to estimate the amount of time until sunset.
Getting creative in the kitchen
Take measuring and mixing to the next level while practicing experimental design.
- Your favorite cookie recipe and ingredients
1) Make one batch of your favorite cookies as you normally would, this will be your control group.
2) Choose some variables that you want to test. Examples: all white sugar, all brown sugar, a mix of both brown and white sugar, freezing the dough, refrigerated dough, replacing baking soda with baking powder, increase or decrease baking time.
3) Use a journal to note physical observations.
4) Taste test your cookie recipe with a group of friends and family. Record the results.
5) Determine if you now have a new favorite cookie recipe!
Note: Use this opportunity to work on fractions and units of measure. If you have little ones helping out, you can use this as an opportunity for counting and following a procedure.
Trying to stay dry with water play
Experience centripetal force in action.
- A bucket with a sturdy handle
1) Fill a bucket half-way with water.
2) Hold the bucket down by your side.
3) Rotate your arm quickly in a vertical circle, resulting in turning the bucket upside down and back to right side up. What do you observe?
4) Vary the speed of your circle and observe what happens?
Tracking the stars
Develop an understanding of Earth’s orbit around the sun and constellations.
- Nighttime sky
- Paper and pencil
- Google Sky App
1) Use the Google Sky App to explore constellations in your area.
2) Create a drawing of the constellations you see.
3) Check the constellations at the beginning of the night and right before the sun rises. How did the constellations change?
4) Every few weeks throughout the year, create another drawing and compare your drawings to see how the location of the constellation changes.
5) If you were out at sea and your navigation equipment failed, how could you use the stars?
6) You can extend this project by taking a trip to a local observatory.
Michelle Lageman is Director of Teacher Education at the New Jersey Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL), a nonprofit that is helping to transform STEM education in schools in the US and around the world through a powerful new approach. To learn more about CTL’s Progressive Science Initiative® (PSI®) and Progressive Mathematics Initiative® (PMI ®), click here: https://njctl.org/