If you have an elementary-age child, then you’re likely already familiar with STEM — the overarching umbrella that contains science, technology, engineering and math (and in some curricula, art, too, or STEAM).
Getting your child interested in STEM activities can be beneficial not only for their early development but also beneficial in the long-term. After all, kids with great STEM grades are likely to do better in related subjects later on in school, which can lead them into STEM careers, which are increasingly in demand.
Unfortunately, many parents struggle with getting their kids interested in STEM topics. This is especially the case for parents who aren’t that interested in STEM themselves. If you’re a communications or liberal arts major, then you may balk at getting into the nitty-gritty of STEM topics with your kids. What do you do when they ask a difficult question that you can’t answer?
Thankfully, engaging your child with STEM activities isn't as difficult as many parents make it out to be. These 18 best STEM activities for kids at home can be fun for the entire family and a great compliment to your child's more formal school activities.
STEM Arts and Crafts Projects
Who doesn’t love a good craft project? Pull out the popsicle sticks, cotton balls, glitter and glue, because it’s time to get creative while simultaneously learning a thing or two.
Teach your child about physics, just using a few items lying around the house. Building a catapult is a fun project (if you don’t mind a bit of mess) and one that can keep kids busy for ages, as, once they’re finished building, they can use their homemade catapults to launch miniature pom poms, marshmallows and other goodies across the house (and at one another!).
This project is easy enough. All you need is a handful of toothpicks and something soft that your child can then poke the toothpicks through (like mini marshmallows or jelly beans). Lay them all out on a table and let your child get to work using the materials to build their own structure. Show them how to connect the toothpicks and the binder of your choice to make a simple cube and then let them go from there.
This fun, creative activity teaches children valuable lessons about engineering and design.
If your child loves art, give them a new medium beyond their crayons and colored pencils — invisible ink!
All you need is a lemon. Just squeeze all the lemon juice out into a bowl, add a spoonful of water and mix. Then use a cotton swab to draw with the juice on a plain piece of paper. When it dries, hold the paper next to a warm lightbulb on a nearby lamp to reveal your child’s drawing or message (and teach them a thing or two about chemistry).
Don’t have a lemon on hand? You can also use orange juice, onion juice, vinegar or milk.
Help your child learn about the science of solubility with a permanent marker, rubbing alcohol and some white fabric (like a t-shirt or a pillowcase). Let your child draw with the markers on the fabric (and really encourage them to use a lot of ink for a better tie-dye result).
After their artwork is complete, use an eyelet dropper to spread some of the rubbing alcohol onto the fabric, revealing the ink molecules’ solubility (and you can even compare that to the ink’s water solubility, if you want to compare and contrast).
To finish, throw the fabric into the dryer and heat it up for a long-lasting reminder of your DIY science project.
Of course, when it comes to STEM, you won’t want to miss enjoying some of the messier science experiments that come with the territory. These great stem activities might require a little more clean up, but who doesn't like to have a mini science fair on their kitchen table?
Easy, simple and totally educational, this experiment teaches children about chemical reactions, atoms, molecules and more. All you need are a few dirty pennies, vinegar, salt and a few pieces of steel hardware, such as screws or nails.
Kids absolutely love slime. It's a fun sensory toy that helps build motor skills while also being cool and colorful.
Let your kids make their own slime and then use the opportunity as a teaching moment on chemical reactions.
With just a jar, hot water, ice and some hairspray, you can create your own cloud in a jar. This is a fun experiment for learning about weather, and it’s not as messy as some of the others on this list.
Plus, even the smaller kids can help with this one. There’s also a more difficult method for making a cloud that the older kids might prefer (that uses fire, for added excitement!).
When chemistry and yumminess combine, you can’t go wrong. Making some homemade ice cream is a great lesson in things like freezing point and chemical changes, and it’s one experiment that’ll keep your kid busy for a while.
All you need is a little salt, sugar, half and half and ice cubes. Then, it’s time for your child to shake, shake, shake their way to a tasty treat, brought to you by science.
Some of the best STEM activities allow your child’s imagination to run wild.
The Egg Challenge
Give your children (or your entire family) their own egg for the day and then challenge them to create something that will keep the egg from breaking when dropped. (Just have some paper towels on hand, as egg carnage is guaranteed to occur.)
You can up the ante by offering a prize to the person who comes up with a reliable solution the fastest (which will also teach them about invention and market demand).
A STEM Bake-Off
Baking relies on science in so many ways, so hosting your own STEM bake-off is a great opportunity to explore how things like yeast, baking soda, baking powder and even the temperature of your eggs before cooking impact the final result (and you get a yummy treat at the end).
Split the family or a group of your kids’ friends into two teams, give them a little info on the chemical reactions they can expect from various baking ingredients and then let them experiment to get the desired results, whether that’s a super moist chocolate chip cookie or an ultra-fluffy loaf of bread.
A Fort Challenge
Building a pillow fort is a favorite activity for many children, but if you think about it, a lot of science goes into building the perfect pillow fort. Physics, engineering and critical thinking skills play a role in how long a fort can withstand crawling, pillow fights and more.
Challenge two teams from your family (or just two kids) to build the best pillow fort possible, and then let them see how long their fort will last, based on their construction methods. Frame it as a challenge, and the winner gets to pick the next activity. Kids love a good competition.
The Paper Airplane Challenge
Do kids even still make paper airplanes in school anymore? Regardless, have some fun with this old-fashioned craft at home, and learn a few things about aerodynamics while you’re at it. Let the kids experiment to create the best paper airplane imaginable and then when they’re ready, hold a paper airplane race.
Need some paper airplane ideas? Try out a few patterns.
If you want to focus entirely on fun, no experimenting is needed, and you can always pull out a STEM game. Start planning a family game night with one of these three options.
Qwirkle teaches strategy, spatial recognition, planning and problem-solving for kids ages six and up. Two to four players will enjoy mixing and matching the more than 100 wooden tiles the game comes with, all racing to beat their fellow players into first place.
Another reasoning, logic and problem-solving game is the similar-to-Sudoku challenge Chocolate Fix for kids ages eight and up. The best thing about this game is that it's for one player only, which means your kids can keep themselves occupied and not have to rely on more screen time to get in some educational activities.
Rush Hour works similarly, as a sliding block game that teaches reasoning, planning and other critical thinking skills, with lots of challenges for single players.
Online STEM Activities
Sometimes you don’t have the time nor the energy to drag out the crafting and science experiment materials and help your child make a mess on the dining room table. When that’s the case, but you still want your child to learn a few things during their downtime, take advantage of one of these three online STEM activities.
Many children’s museums around the country are moving their activities online, so families can still stay engaged and learn, but without the need to go out into a crowded space. Boston’s Museum of Science offers daily events that touch on all branches of science, from earth science and astronomy to biology and coding.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (which is also the largest children’s museum in the world) likewise offers a Museum at Home program, with live chats, science experiments, storytime and other activities, for endless ways to engage your child right from their favorite smart device.
For older kids, code.org offers what it calls Code Breaks, online episodes and activities for teenagers that cover coding concepts from algorithms to prototypes to encryption. Plus, many episodes feature familiar faces your kids might recognize, like Ashton Kutcher, Keegan-Michael Key and Macklemore.
Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code provides very similar coding, at-home activities like code.org. There are lots of coding projects to download, all of which teach valuable skills such as building a chatbot or debugging code.
A Few Tips for Teaching STEM
Remember, STEM doesn’t have to be hard to still be educational. In many cases, the activities above will make it look like your child is just playing, when in fact they’re learning important skills and concepts that will last a lifetime. Even legos can have a STEM element to them, believe it or not.
When teaching your child any STEM education or having fun with a STEM-based activity, remember to keep it just that — fun. If you find fun ways to make it an enjoyable activity, and one that doesn’t have a lot of pressure riding on it (“You have to learn this concept! It’s important for your education!”), it’s more likely your child will stay engaged and want to engage in future STEM projects later on.
Overall, take a relaxed approach and remember that it’s okay if your child needs help (maybe even enlist an older sibling in the helping) or if they don’t understand a concept right away. That’s what science is all about, after all! Testing, failing until we get it right and then learning from our mistakes and successes.
Need a Little Extra Help?
If you need a little extra help teaching your child STEM concepts at home, you might want to consider a kids’ STEM subscription box.
Genius Box is one such option. Just pick your subscription level, receive your box in the mail, and enjoy three or more hands-on STEM activities per box. Everything you need is included. Past subscription boxes have included fun activities such as creating your own marble maze and rubber band art and geodesic domes.
If you don't want to splurge on a subscription box for your kiddos, there are plenty of free printable resources out there for kids of all ages.
Remember — The Fun is What Matters
No matter what concept you and your child are working on, the point of enjoying STEM activities for kids at home is to have a great time together, building memories and learning some life skills in the process. From science activities to simple STEM activities, there are plenty of options for STEM learning at home.
There’s no pressure to be able to repeat something for a test or to memorize a formula. It’s all about family fun.
You might also be interested in: The 15 Best Subscription Boxes For Kids (Ages 2-14)