STEM Activities On The Go
Life, especially in the summer, can be full of waiting— waiting for your meal at a restaurant, waiting for your plane at the airport, or just waiting to move on to the next activity. As your kids become restless, seize these opportunities with some impromptu STEM! We have compiled a list of challenges to equip you with STEM activities on the go!
STEM is not a separate discipline, a distinct subject, or a requisite for life. However, STEM fields and careers are among the fastest growing in our world and are an integral part of almost everything we do. Foster critical thinking skills and STEM knowledge everywhere you go with your kids.
These activities use supplies you already carry, are at the location, or are easy to bring along. Read on to discover ways you can entertain your kids with STEM on the go wherever you need to be.
Your kids probably already see the items on a restaurant table as toys. Channel this curiosity with hands-on activities from Vivify STEM while you wait for your meal.
Pizza night? Ask for extra raw pizza dough for kids (Grimaldi’s already does this!). Build towers or bridges using straws as structural supports. Or see how far you can stretch the dough and still return to its original shape (a great lesson in elasticity). Speaking of pizza—what a great opportunity to squeeze in some fraction practice! Ask: What fraction do you think you will eat? How much of the pizza will be left?
Another simple idea is a science demo with your drink. Challenge everyone to capture the most liquid in their straw. Why does this happen? The air at the top of the straw is pushing down on the water, and the air at the bottom of the straw is pushing up on the water at an equal force until a drop of water falls out. This small amount of water lost creates a lower pressure of air above the water. Now the force of the air pushing up on the water is greater than the combined force of the air pressure above the water pushing down and gravity acting on the water. Thus, the water is suspended inside the straw! When you lift your finger, the air pressure forces above and below the water become equal again and cancel out. This leaves only the weight of the water (force of gravity) pulling down on the water so the water falls out.
More restaurant STEM challenges:
- Make an arch bridge out of sugar packets. Who can make the biggest tunnel area?
- Make the tallest, freestanding tower out of a paper napkin or coffee creamer cups! Extra points to whoever can guess the historical landmark your leaning tower of coffee creamers resembles. 😉
- Play an estimation game by taking turns guessing how many sugar packets are in a pile/stack, or how many chips are on your plate.
- Balance a chip on top of another. See how many you can balance. The location at which the chip is balanced is called the center of gravity. What happens if you stack another chip on top? What happens to the center of gravity?
- Bring magnetic blocks or tiles (I like Tegu’s) and test if they are attracted to the flatware, table, chair, or other items on the table. Build something by incorporating the metal pieces in the restaurant.
- Construct a prototype house for the homeless out of sugar packets or coasters. How will this house withstand severe weather? Shake the table to simulate an earthquake!
- Pretend there is a tiny vehicle that can travel around the table and clean up crumbs while you eat. What would it look like? Can you draw it or make a prototype out of napkins?
Road Trip STEM
Avoid the “are we there yet?” question on repeat with these great tips for STEM in the car by Science Schoolyard. With a little prep work, the possibilities are endless and the kids stay engaged!
Small STEM packets can be just the ticket when flying with children. Yes, we know that movies and game electronics are available, but that doesn’t always keep a child’s interest during long flights.
We like to pack plastic Ziplock bags with easy to use materials that will fit in a back pack and easily stay on the pull down tray. In this day and age of security checks and minimal space once seated, we aim for simple and compact, as well as non-messy, non-noisy, and non- “oops I dropped it and it rolled two seats away” kits.
One of our favorite materials are the Wikki Stix. A combination of colorful wax and yarn, they adhere to the tray with fingertip pressure and can easily be re-shaped and lifted of again and again. Attaching a card with a STEAM challenge such as “create a colorful garden of fantasy flowers” provides a focus for the materials. A bag filled with pretzel sticks and small marshmallows with instructions to build a house is a fun example of edible engineering. Small rolls of colorful masking tape and index cards that are precut into strips becomes an inexpensive maker station for the plane trip when you add a card with ideas of things to make. A fantasy airplane? A pet crate? A robot?
We also like to cut up straws into various lengths and add a mini can of PlayDough for a building materials that fit on the tray and clean up easily. One of the more expensive items we like that still fit easily in a zip lock are magnetic building pieces. Wioboy has a small kit on Amazon of colorful magnetic blocks. We pick and choose which blocks will work best on a plane ride and make sure they fit into the ziplock. We all agree that traveling by air has become stressful in recent years but having some STEM kits tucked into the backpack can provide a helpful distraction when flights are long or delayed during the busy travel season.
Whether at the playground or at a park surrounded only by nature, there are plenty of opportunities to learn and play with STEM. Here are a few ideas from Vivify STEM:
- Build a stone stack. Who can make the tallest? The most creative?
- Create a stick fortress. Stack sticks as shown above to build a fortress that is resistant to flying debris (gently tossed rocks), or can support your weight. Is there a certain shape that is stronger than others (cube, triangular, star, etc.)?
- Discuss and experiment with pendulums using swings from this post.
- Create a sled for a rock to go down a slide using sticks, leaves, or other natural materials. Make multiple prototypes and test them for speed (has the least drag), stability (stays upright), and rigidity (stays together even after leaving the end of the slide).
More STEM at the ready
For all the times when you could use some STEM, Meredith Anderson- Momgineer recommends keeping the following in your bag or car;
- Monopoly deal
- A deck of cards (play 24!)
We have also put together a free “cheat sheet” of ideas for STEM activities you can do at home or in the classroom using common supplies. I hope you now feel prepared to incorporate STEM no matter where you are!