STEM for kids can be super fun! STEM is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, and math” and it is used to describe the education and careers in those various fields. The acronym originated from the National Science Foundation in 2001 to help stress the importance of improving education in these fields.
The four fields are often referred to as a single unit because they have so many overlapping parts: a lab scientist might be a chemist who uses calculus and algebra in conjunction with high-tech machines to conduct experiments, while an engineer designing a bridge needs to conduct complex mathematical calculations and scientifically designed tests to make sure the structure will be safe long into the future. Even artists, writers, musicians, and chefs rely heavily on the concepts and technologies of STEM.
For these reasons, it’s never too early for kids to begin a comprehensive STEM education. In today’s article, we are going to outline some cool activities, online classes, and other resources to help jumpstart your kids’ exploration of STEM. To jump right into learning STEM, join our online NASA STEM Club designed by experts from Google and MIT.
What is STEM for kids?
STEM means an educational program that incorporates all four disciplines (and often others, such as art) into a comprehensive curriculum. This educational model incorporates hands-on activities, reflective writing and speaking exercises, sharing one’s results, and testing those results against the work of others. It encourages students to question the world around them, to practice intellectual humility by recognizing when something is wrong, but to never stop learning and to never stop asking, “Why?”
What is an example of a STEM activity?
For parents and teachers, the possibilities are endless. One example could be using a daily observation journal to track the weather, and then comparing those results with a news weather station over the past two weeks to see if the TV weather channel was accurate, or tracking one’s data against previous years by using websites such as Time and Date to see changes in the climate over the years.
Why is STEM beneficial for kids?
STEM isn’t just chemistry experiments and complex math, but includes many activities that reinforce critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, and collaboration. Studies have shown that STEM careers generally lead to higher lifetime earnings than non-STEM peers. On top of that, students who succeed in STEM have greater academic achievement, advanced degrees, and a mindset of lifelong learning.
Beyond that, STEM’s emphasis on experimentation and experiential learning can reinforce creativity in painting, drawing, and music, all of which benefit from greater skills of observation and writing. Some of the pioneers of science learning include famous artists who made scientific discoveries while searching for philosophical questions, new colors of paint, or better ways of designing a building, such as Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Jan Van Eyck.
Discover STEM toys for kids
Children learn through play. Far from stuffy classrooms and endless school days, much learning happens when children are simply interacting with nature and becoming interested in random questions that might not occur to the adults around them: Why is the sky blue? What happens when I push this button? Where does the Sun go at night? These are actually profound questions that require complex answers. Of course, we remember best, not when we are told by a book, but when we practice and experience things for ourselves. STEM toys can help children develop the curiosity and capabilities to succeed in later high school and university courses.
While LEGO, K’nex, rock tumblers, and science kits have been part of STEM education and play for generations now, there has never been a better time to help your students and children learn through playing with STEM toys. Make sure you choose something that is age appropriate, and ideally something your child is curious about or interested in. Remember though that kids often need to be shown things to become interested in them, since they might not know anything about the opportunities available to them. This list of STEM toys has a bunch of ideas, but here are just a few to get started:
- Sphero 2 Ring Specdrums - These special musical rings allow children to “play” color as unique sounds with the use of a pair of color sensing rings that respond to the color of everyday objects. Kids can build a drum kit out of an apple, a notebook, a wooden table, and a beach ball. Built with super cool technology and emphasizing experimentation, learning about music and science together can help make a student better at both.
- Botley the Coding Robot - This amazing toy can get your students excited about robotics and coding. Using a ‘screen free’ coding tool, this toy will pull your kids away from computer and smartphone screens while building a foundation for Computer Science and automation skills that could lead to high-paying and exciting jobs in the future.
- LEGO Make Your Own Movie - This kit, designed in collaboration between Klutz and LEGO features an interactive introduction to stop-motion animation using the best selling toy in modern history. Kids will love the guide’s step-by-step instructions that will help them make their own unique movies. It will even guide them through the more advanced techniques such as lighting, editing, and sound that help bring moving pictures to life.
If you need even more ideas, check out our STEM gift guide for kids of all ages.
STEM activities for kids
Of course, there are plenty of fantastic and free STEM activities that could be perfect for curious kids and home-schooled students. Explore some free and easy STEM activities for kids.
- Composting for kids and building a worm farm is a fun Spring STEM activity - Kids and adults can learn a lot from growing a garden. Learning about sunlight, photosynthesis, water, and soil nutrition are more fun when you get to eat the results of your work! Aside from helping build nutrition awareness, students can learn to build a worm farm to help dispose of food waste and household garbage while creating worm castings that plants just love. On top of keeping garbage out of polluting landfills, this could be combined with building a compost bit, compost roller, or a simple pile nearby the garden to show how decomposition works and how nitrogen and carbon feed the plants that feed us.
- Toy take apart - Most kids have a growing pile of toys from yesteryear collecting dust somewhere. Instead of donating or disposing of these toys, and thus adding to the plastic pollution in the world, why not reuse them by taking them apart and seeing what makes them work. Electronic toys have circuit boards and wires, while toys that move might have gears and other moving parts that can help get kids interested in engineering.
- STEM kids clubs - Most schools today have some sort of extracurricular activities focused on STEM. If your kids’ school doesn’t have one, consider joining a local group or even starting your own with other parents or educators. Kids learn more from their peers and when kids learn together, they often develop a greater understanding of STEM and social interactions that can be invaluable later on in life. We have some excellent clubs at Create & Learn, such as the Game Design Club, Digital Art Club, and NASA Club while both NASA and National Geographic have great online resources to get involved, too!
If there’s a holiday coming up, here are a few great ideas for incorporating STEM activities into your festive festivities. Try to read and explore some different options and be sure to communicate with your kids to see what they want to try.
Halloween STEM activities: Why didn't the skeleton do the scary STEM project? He didn't have the guts! But you do! Check out some of the spookiest fun October projects, computer science challenges, and puzzles.
Thanksgiving STEM activities: From creating a pumpkin launcher to writing secret messages with cranberries, explore fun fall activities.
Valentine's Day STEM activities: From elementary to middle school and high school activities, check out fun ways to enjoy the Valentine's Day holiday this year. Discover the science behind chocolate, create digital cards, and find sweet treasures before it's too late!
Winter STEM activities: Choose from tons of fun activities: Where's Santa now?; Dig into a white Christmas; and learn more about green Christmas trees.
National STEM Day activities: From visiting the zoo to flying a plane, find all sorts of cool ways to explore STEM. For example, did you know you can visit the largest cave in the world and even hear the river running as you tour it? It's true!
Explore STEM classes for kids
Compared to global statistics, American kids have been falling behind the global averages in STEM education for quite some time. This is why it’s imperative that parents and educators get their kids thinking about STEM in fun ways as early as possible. For this reason, the above toys and clubs are best done in conjunction with online classes and tutoring opportunities. STEM industries are growing fast, with healthcare, technology, and biological sciences being the fastest growing areas for employment and higher earnings.
Create & Learn offers the best online STEM classes designed by Google and Stanford experts for children K-12 worldwide. Students learn using the same apps that the pros use every day. These expert-led classes offer 30 different subjects including beginner-friendly Scratch coding (the most popular for students just getting started), Minecraft coding, and more complex Python coding, as well as Roblox coding. Find the perfect learning opportunity for your student!
There are so many resources online that it can often be hard to find good material, and it can be hard to choose something. Finding out what interests you or your kids is half the battle. We have made the rest simple with this great list of free at-home STEM learning resources and activities for you to do with them. For example, check out fun with magnets, a cool online data superpower event, or make a terrarium.
Enjoy STEM for Kids
We hope you have enjoyed reading about STEM for kids and that you can use this to make an informed decision for your child. Remember to follow their interests while encouraging them to have a growth mindset. The smartest kids need more to challenge their sense of curiosity and wonder, and these activities, clubs, and resources can help ensure a steady growth in STEM skills, whether your young child is struggling in science class or your teenager wants to develop skills to improve their chances of success in university. Most of all, we hope you remember that STEM can be fun! Up next, get started with a fun, free beginner-friendly coding class:
Written by Bryan Gordon, a Create & Learn instructor. After ten years of working as an English teacher, Bryan began studying Math and Computer Science over the past few years. Aside from writing and teaching, he likes cooking, gardening, playing guitar, and hanging out with his cats, Baguette and Wally.