STEM — yikes! Science, technology, engineering, and math (the "STEM" subjects) are important areas of learning for any student — but they sure can be intimidating for parents who are trying to reinforce their kids' education at home.
A 2010 survey by Change the Equation revealed that nearly one-third of Americans would rather clean their bathrooms than do a math problem. How do you make math fun for your kids when you hardly enjoy doing it yourself? The good news is, it's not too complicated, and you can use everyday objects you already have at home to explore fun STEM projects with your little ones.
Although STEM subject matter seems difficult, children have a natural curiosity about problem solving in their environment. They love to experiment, analyze, build, and create connections between what they already know and the fascinating world around them. Fostering an early interest in STEM can build a strong foundation for your child's math and science skills for years to come.
Getting started doesn't require a Ph.D., a ton of time, or sophisticated equipment — just a new perspective for finding real life examples of STEM concepts and an entertaining way to present them. Here's some inspiration to get the ball rolling!
The basis of all things math begins with number recognition and understanding the corresponding quantity. Turn snack time into learning time with an easy but entertaining counting and sorting game.
Set out empty cupcake liners in two rows of five, with a number between one and 10 beneath each cup. Challenge your child to put the correct number of snack pieces into each category (try using chopsticks to keep little hands busy and to develop even better coordination).
DIY Marble Run
Physics seems like an incredibly complicated science, but even preschoolers are capable of learning about concepts like cause and effect, energy, and gravity. Scientific inquiry is developed through building, reconfiguring, and adapting. See it all in action with a do-it-yourself marble run built with stuff from around the house.
Put your mini-engineer to work with a pile of paper towel and toilet paper tubes. Attach tubes to the wall horizontally and diagonally with strips of masking or washi tape (or any kind that's flexible and easy to remove), and experiment with creating different configurations while testing the effects on a marble's travels. Discover which routes are faster or slower, and hypothesize why.
Fun Math App
Technology can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to kids. Although it's an amazing tool for learning, it's also an endless diversion that often distracts from the important things in life. The upside to technology is that it offers the ability to introduce new material in an entertaining and engaging way that easily holds a child's attention. Put that interest to work with educational apps.
The Tiggly Chef: Preschool Math Cooking Game is an iPad counting app that brings together aspects of real-life cooking and a colorful virtual world full of number-related challenges. Improve your child's motor skills, language skills, and executive functioning with silly addition and math challenges. He'll be so glad for additional device time, he won't even realize he's learning! (Check out these other cool STEM apps kids love!)
LEGO Pattern Blocks
Build in some learning time with LEGOs! Identifying and creating patterns with these colorful bricks helps children learn to make predictions about what should happen next. Predictive ability is not only important in math, but also in broader social development, as patterns and routines help children find order in the seemingly disorganized world around them. Turn your next LEGO session into pattern prediction practice with some new ground rules on play.
Create a pattern using LEGOs by alternating colors or sizes, and ask your child to copy what they see using their own blocks. Increase the level of difficulty by going from an A-B-A-B pattern to A-B-B-A or using more than two variables. You can also make patterns that include blank spaces and invite your child to determine what's missing.
Dice and Dominoes
Make your own numbers game using dice and dominoes! Counting and adding up the dots helps children compare quantities and begin to recognize the relationship between numbers. She'll also get familiar with identifying "more than" and "less than" — another important mathematical building block.
It's easy! Simply have your child roll the dice and then search for a domino with a sum of the corresponding number. For instance, if a three was rolled, she would need to find a domino with one dot on one end, and two on the other for a total of three. Give her points for each correct answer and encourage her to beat her previous score from the last game. Looking for even more toys that help boost kids' STEM skills? Check these out!
Ashley McCann is a mother of two who loves finding creative ways to integrate learning into family fun. She writes about the intersection between technology and education for eBay.com, where you can find a wide variety of smartphones for STEM learning time with your kids.