Our children are growing up in an age of rapid change— technology is evolving, multiple companies just developed COVID-19 vaccines and vehicles are being automated. To thrive in this era, kids will need to be creative, critical thinkers and problem solvers.
One of the best ways to help our children grow in these areas is to engage them in STEAM activities. STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.
According to an article on the website Left Brain Craft Brain, STEAM activities provide "an integrated approach to learning that encourages students to think more broadly about real-world problems." The website lists several skills that kids can pick up when doing STEAM activities, which includes asking more questions, thinking creatively and solving problems.
You may be wondering how you could possibly pull off a STEAM activity with your own children at home. Maybe you are concerned about messes or perhaps you really want to do a STEAM activity with your little ones, but have no clue where to start.
The first thing to remember is that STEAM is about the process more than the result. It is about nurturing your children's curiosity and coaching them, not teaching them a lesson. Before you begin an activity, prepare yourself — and your floors and countertops — for messes. An old sheet works well as a tablecloth, and it doesn't hurt to keep a couple of wet rags and a broom or vacuum handy.
The second thing to do before conducting a STEAM activity is to make sure you have collected all the materials you will need. You also need to read through the activity several times — or watch a video of someone else conducting the investigation. Do you have questions? Look up the answers. When it is time to do the activity with your kids, they will find your enthusiasm and curiosity contagious.
Finally, right before beginning the activity, set everything up. Do you ingredients need to be pre-measured? Do you need to use any tools, mixing bowls or measuring cups in addition to the materials you collected earlier?
When you begin your STEAM investigation, expect your children to want to explore the materials you have laid out — this is a very important element of the STEAM process. Allow them to do this before you begin the activity. Maybe they will want to smell the flower or zip and unzip the little baggie for a while. Perhaps they'll want to squish the playdough or plunge their little hands into the bowl of warm water.
If you are dealing with any materials that are hazardous for children, remove them from the table until you are ready to introduce them with caution. For instance, you could say, "This pot is hot. You can watch the steam coming off the top, but do not touch it."
Finally, plan to send the kids off to a new activity and take some time to catch your breath when all the fun STEAM explorations are finished. Do not lecture your children or try to drive any points home afterwards, either. Although kids may not talk a lot about what they just learned, you will be surprised to hear ideas or thoughts from the STEAM activity pop up in your kids' conversations and play throughout the days that follow the activity.
It can be a hassle to find STEAM activities, especially if you are new to the process. Here are three simple ones you can start with.
Paper Towel Magic Art
This activity uses only markers, paper towels and water. You and your child will get to watch words or pictures "appear like magic" as you conduct the investigation. This video provides detailed steps, as well as science topics you can explore more deeply afterwards.
Building With Cups
All you need for this activity are disposable cups. You can use paper or plastic cups, large or small, colorful or plain. This activity is fun because it is open-ended and could lead to any number of other explorations — how buildings are built, which methods for cup-stacking work the best and why, counting and more! The video below shows the activity, along with some of the ways kids might choose to stack their cups.
Make A Lemon Volcano
This activity uses items you likely have at home — lemons, dish soap, baking soda and food coloring. It is a messier investigation, so consider conducting it outside on a sunny day and offering popsicles as a treat when you are finished.
The wonderful truth about STEAM activities is that even if everything goes horribly wrong, at least your children explored something new. Their appetites will have been satisfied and their love of learning awakened. You can then pat yourself on the back and enjoy a cold cup of iced tea while your children run through the sprinkler.