Thanksgiving STEM activities are the perfect way to keep kids engaged in education throughout the holiday season. Not only are themed experiments more fun, but they also help learners develop valuable skills in engineering, science, math, and turkey. Ah, we mean...technology.
Whether you want to challenge kids with projects that sharpen their critical thinking or entertain them with physics fun, we've rounded up some of the best budget-friendly Thanksgiving STEM activities for elementary and middle schoolers.
Don't be fooled by the holiday themes—these projects are sure to build valuable lifelong skills. To build even more computer science skills, explore our fun Thanksgiving STEM camps!
Discover Thanksgiving science experiments and STEM activities
Learning STEM is more fun when it involves launching pumpkins and trapping turkeys. That's why we chose activities and experiments that make the most of November. So grab your supplies because it's time to decide which projects to experiment with this holiday season. You can even learn how to make digital holiday cards! Keep in mind, these activities are best done with adult supervision.
Explore Thanksgiving science activities for elementary school
These elementary school STEM projects are great to spark kids' interest in science and build a foundation of knowledge for years to come.
1. Build a turkey cage
It's tough to have Thanksgiving without turkey. Keep your birds close with a cage made out of simple household supplies. Using marshmallows, toothpicks, and printable templates, kids can engineer a structure to corral runaway turkeys. Get tips and inspiration here. Hint: It can't just be a fence because the turkeys can jump over! To make this activity extra challenging, race the clock.
2. Create a pumpkin launcher
That's right, it's possible to make a catapult out of rubber bands, a spoon, and popsicle sticks! This sort of catapult demonstrates trajectories and introduces kids to fun physics concepts. Read through this tutorial, and fire away using candy pumpkins or candy corn.
3. Write secret messages with cranberries
Why eat cranberries when you can use them to create hidden messages? Learn how to write in invisible ink using baking soda, and reveal the words by painting on a mixture of cranberry juice and sauce. This activity is sure to entertain the future spies in your life while teaching them about acids and bases.
4. Make fall leaves slime
Uncover the science behind slime with this vibrant Thanskgiving STEM activity. Using Elmer's glue, saline solution, food coloring, and leaf-shapped glitter, this tutorial explains how kids can make slime from scratch. It's a great lesson in cross-linking (the process of two polymers forming a bond) and shows how liquids transform into solids. Plus, it's a ton of fun to stretch and squish the outcome.
5. Design turkey balloon rockets
Explore the power of pressure, thrust, and force with a balloon-powered turkey rocket. In this STEM activity, kids create a turkey out of foam, paper, and feathers, and attach it to the string 'race track' with a drinking straw. An untied balloon propels the turkey down the track, and the first to reach the end is the winner! Don't be surprised if everyone wants to race their turkeys again and again.
Check out Thanksgiving science activities for middle school
Middle school students benefit from STEM experiments that challenge their creativity and let them find unique solutions to problems. Looking for something a little more challenging? Experiment with leaves, fires, and more with these fun science experiments.
6. Try a turkey STEM challenge
Watch turkeys (and faces) light up with this easy circuit dough project. Kids use conductive and insulating dough to create a turkey and circuit. They then attach an LED light and hook up a simple battery pack to see if the light turns on. If not, the experimenters get to troubleshoot, expand their understanding of electrical components, and test their hypothesis. The trick: the conductive dough on each side of the LED light can't touch or else it will short circuit. This tutorial explains everything you need to know about making the dough and attaching the battery.
7. Experiment with leaf chromatography
Teach middle schoolers about the pigments that give fall leaves their brilliant colors with this simple chromatography experiment. Using isopropyl alcohol, glass jars, coffee filters, and a variety of colorful leaves, kids can discover the pigments present in each leaf. This is possible thanks to chromatography, a technique used to separate a mixture. In this experiment, kids can watch how the pigments move through the coffee filter at different rates, revealing a colorful band of pigments and highlighting which ones are more or less soluable.
8. Make fall-colored fire
Grab your gloves and googles for this STEM activity that uses fire to teach about chemical reactions. To start, gather a variety of cleaners, chemicals, and salts from around the house. Your goal is to see what color flame each produces and how adding or removing a substance changes the color. Try to create a rainbow or attempt a fall color palette of orange, yellow, green, and blue. It's helpful to watch the entire tutorial video beforehand. While this experiment needs more adult supervision than the rest, it's a memorable activity your middle schoolers won't soon forget.
9. Run a turkey race
Create an environment of friendly competition and engineering with this turkey race STEM activity. Here, students use critical thinking, measurement, troubleshooting, and collaboration to see who can design the fastest turkey stunt double. They can use a variety of household items to build their turkeys, like cardboard tubes, construction paper, paper or styrofoam bowls, tape, straws, or index cards. After the students have enough time to test their prototypes, troubleshoot, and redesign, they can race against each other to see which turkey crosses the finish line first.
10. Get toasty with homemade hand warmers
Warm up to chemical reactions by making homemade hand warmers. Using water jelly crystals, iron fillings, calcium chloride, and a plastic bag, kids learn how the reaction between water and iron generates heat through oxidation. The calcium chloride speeds up this process by acting as a corrosive, so students don't have to wait long to feel the heat coming from the bag. Follow this step-by-step tutorial to learn how to make the hand warmers and get an in-depth explanation of the science.
Bonus activity: By the way, we have a limited time winter snowball challenge coding class that's great fun for the holidays.
Try Thanksgiving STEM activities at home!
These simple, fun Thanksgiving STEM activities make the cooler months fly by and help kids learn useful STEM skills. You can also join us the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a cool free Minecraft TimeCraft challenge class.
Once you work through every project, explore more STEM-related indoor after school activities.