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Summertime STEAM Family Fun

Astronomer Carl Sagan believed “every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist.” Think about it, children exhibit insatiable curiosity! Everything babies touch ends up in their mouths and they love to study cause and effect in their environments. Toddlers stop to investigate bugs on the ground and often imitate their parent’s every move. Elementary aged children have a strong need to know “why” and “how.” In recent years, educators have pushed the STEAM initiative. STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. The goal of this initiative is to help students develop critical thinking skills through the use of project based learning. The rationale behind this learning philosophy is that the ability to solve novel problems will prepare children for the future. Examples of STEAM activities involve asking “why” questions, engaging kids in counting and rhyming activities, taking exploration walks, utilizing sensory tables and sorting stations, repurposing materials, going on scavenger hunts, and comparing and contrasting.

I’m the type of person who loves to be outdoors. When my children and I are cooped up in the house for too long we begin to lose our sanity and things tend to unravel. However, it’s not always easy to come up with ideas spontaneously. Given the emphasis of STEAM in schools I wanted to compile a list of activities parents can do at home to encourage such learning.

First of all, let your children get dirty! My mantra is the dirtier my kids get the better. I want them to be engrossed in hands-on learning, and there’s no better proof of engagement than that disheveled look at the end of a fun day. Here are some of my favorite activities. Enjoy!

Create a Mud Kitchen

Get a bag of soil, some pots and pans, wooden utensils and let your children create their piece de resistance!

Plant an Herb Garden

Compare and contrast textures, smells, and tastes
Use your herbs in simple recipes. One of our favorites is mint lemonade!

Plant grass seeds and watch the grass grow

Place some of the seeds in the sun and some in shade and ask “why” the ones in the sun grow more quickly
Have your children cut the grass with scissors to work on fine motor development

Make bubble prints

Pour bubbles into small containers
Add a few drops of food coloring into each container
Have your child blow bubbles and let them land on the paper

Go on a photo scavenger hunt.

Consult Pinterest for scavenger hunt lists if you’re short on ideas.
Kids love to take their own pictures!

Set up a mud run and toy car wash.

Set out a bin of toy cars.
Sprinkle the bottom of a second bin (medium to large size) with baking soda.
Set out a cup of vinegar. Have your child pour the vinegar into the bin with the baking soda until you see a reaction form.
Let your children drive their cars through the concoction!
Fill a third bin with soapy water and let your children wash their cars.
Dry with a hand towel.

Paint with seaweed and seashells collected during an outing at the beach.

Go on a bug hunt. Ladybugs, crickets, and spiders oh my!

Transfer water from one container to the next with droppers and sponges. Challenge your children to identify other objects/materials they can use to transfer the water.

Dr. Carmen Anderson is a School Counselor at St. Mary’s School, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, located in south Orange County, dedicated to providing the best education possible for Preschool, Elementary and Middle School students. Carmen Anderson earned her B.S. degree in Psychology from Santa Clara University and later her M.A./Psy.D in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. For more information about St. Mary’s School, visit

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