Keeping Kids Engaged with STEM

Published online: Jun 15, 2020 Articles, Family Fun Guide Rebecca Jones
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After plenty of time with the kids home this year, parents and caregivers are eager to keep everyone happy and busy. If the kids can learn while having fun? That’s even better!

There’s no need to lose your sanity while keeping the kids occupied. And it’s never too soon to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

Do yourself a favor and try some of these activities to beat boredom while subtly encouraging your kids’ interest in STEM fields.

Engineer a Snack 

Food and entertainment are a beautiful combination. Try giving your kids a healthy snack that tests their engineering skills. Prepare cubes of apples and cheese, and throw some marshmallows in there for a treat the kids will love. Using toothpicks, kids can build a structure with the cubes of food functioning as joints. Parents and caregivers can challenge the kids to build a structure that won’t fall. Try asking them encouraging questions like, “Who can build a sturdy structure? Whose structure will be the tallest?” Using their imaginations, kids will certainly create something you couldn’t imagine – maybe a castle, a village of homes for kitties, or their dream gym. The activity requires creativity, an engineering mindset, and problem-solving skills. Best of all, it will end with a delicious snack.

Rediscover the Alphabet

Using Legos or other blocks, your kids can have an introduction to the building blocks of computer coding: the binary alphabet. Computers don’t read letters the same way we do – they operate using a series of zeroes and ones. To help kids understand what this means, find a key to the binary alphabet online (I simply used a search engine using the phrase “binary alphabet” to find a key to use at home). Explain to kids that for each letter in our alphabet, a computer would use zeroes and ones. Now you can get creative together. Take a look at what blocks or building bricks you have available. Assign one color to be ones and another color to be zeroes. Using the binary alphabet key, have the kids write words or messages making a line of blocks to spell out the zeroes and ones. You could start with names – the word kids are probably most familiar with writing – and see how long it takes to spell out. As the kids work at creating their own binary messages, ask them questions like, “What would it be like if you had to use the binary alphabet to write your own schoolwork?”

Get Out! 

With all the additional time spent indoors with kids this year, an outing can be just the thing to keep everyone happy and sane. Try a field trip to the historic Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, just 50 miles west of Idaho Falls. EBR-I in the Idaho desert is a national historic landmark set up for the public to explore where nuclear power first produced usable electricity. You and the kids can opt for a guided tour or explore on your own with a self-guided tour. With a mix of history and science, the outing will get you out of the house and help your kids explore another aspect of STEM.

For more ideas on easy STEM activities to do with household items, visit stem.inl.gov and view our resource library.

 

Click here to continue reading the June issue of Idaho Falls Magazine.

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