Kids are active – more than that, kids should be active. Activity boosts health, happiness, attitude, and brings a whole host of other benefits.
But as a parent, it can be hard to find enough activities to keep busy kids, well, busy.
Besides that, what kind of activities should you do? How can you encourage your kids to stay engaged, and also encourage them to learn and grow?
It can be downright panic-inducing to sit around and think of good activities for your children. Adding in important principles, like the ideas behind STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics – can make the whole process downright terrifying.
To help you out, we’ve compiled the ultimate list of STEAM activities for kids of all ages. We’ve got lots of them here for toddlers to older children with each one of them a fun activity with an important idea behind it.
STEAM for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Up first? STEAM activities for toddlers. Toddlers are naturally inquisitive and experimental, which makes STEAM activities perfect for them as they begin to take a greater interest in the world around them. Unlike STEAM activities for older children, these activities for toddlers are more laid back. You want to keep things playful so your toddler’s short attention span will be held, but you don’t want to be disappointed when your toddler suddenly moves onto something else.
Setting up a project shouldn’t be labor intensive for you either, and it should involve the whole project, from playing to clean-up. Ensure that your child knows that at the end of each project, they should also help with the clean-up, which teaches them about their own responsibility. Some projects have more clean-up than others, but those with more clean-up generally
As your toddler plays, think about ways to engage them. Ask them questions and think about engaging their senses. For instance:
- What does it feel like?
- What does it smell like?
- Does it taste? Is it sweet or salty?
- What do you hear when you touch it or when it falls? Do you like that noise?
- What does it look like?
As a parent, you’re cultivating a safe space for your toddler to play independently but under your supervision. The learning experiences you create and cultivate for your toddler are giving them an opportunity to explore and ask questions about the world around them. Unlike the more organised activities, activities for toddlers are open ended and are teaching them the basics about the world around them. As your toddlers grow up and become more confident, the STEAM activities will grow with them and become more organized and consistent towards a specific theme.
For toddlers, STEAM activities will use a wide range of objects that appeal to their senses. The “S” refers to science, which is very basic at this stage. Think water, mud, paints.
The “T” is technology, but at this stage you’ll want to implement appropriate tools like scissors, tongs, drawing or painting materials and the like. A lot of the “T” activities will look at cause and effect, as well as how you can manipulate the project to reach a certain outcome.
“E” is for engineering, but in a very basic sense. Building blocks and boxes or whatever items can introduce them to creative thinking and problem solving.
As STEAM also includes art, using art to teach your toddler about the world around them is a great way to develop an important, lifelong interest in art, as well as keep their attention for a longer period of time.
And lastly, “M” is for math. Here the focus is on basic counting, understanding patterns and more.
So, without further ado, here is an extensive list of STEAM activities for toddlers:
From Lego Duplos to blocks to wooden rainbows that can be stacked, you want your toddler to experiment with height and gravity. For most toddlers, the best part about building will be knocking it down. For other toddlers, they may get frustrated when their project falls, but as the parent, your job is to encourage and help them build even better. Keep encouraging them and watch their skills develop.
Ever seen a toddler see their shadow for the first time? Some toddlers run away from their shadows, while others are fascinated by them. Set up a shadow area in your house, shining a light on a blank space of wall. Show them how to create shadows with their hands or work on making paper shadow puppets to tell a story. Shadows teach a child cause and effect and is a good way to get some art time in as well as teaching your older toddler about the sun as it moves and how it will affect their shadows.
Ramps are a fantastic way to teach your toddler cause and effect, about gravity, about using tools to engineer a ramp that sends a ball on a fun little course. Setting up a ramp can be simplistic or quite complicated. You can take toilet paper or paper towel rolls and tape them to the wall and send cotton balls, pompoms, or plastic balls down them. As with every project, keep an eye on your toddler if you’re using small balls as they can be a choking hazard. Overall, ramps use nearly every aspect of STEAM so your child is learning about the world around them, whilst having loads of fun.
4. Foam or shaving cream activities
This is a fun science experiment that is really safe. Depending on the resources you have on hand, you can make your own foam from dish soap and water in a mixer (whip it up until it’s thick and foamy and can “stand” on its own) or you can make an edible, but not very tasty foam from the juice of canned chickpeas or lentils. Combine with a tablespoon of cream of tartar per can used, a couple drops of food coloring and then strain and whip the liquid until peaks foam. Shaving cream can also be used, but be aware of strong smells and that it is not edible. Once you have a foam ready, pipe it into muffin tins, different size bowls, even let them find pompoms or shells or toys in the foam. At the end of it, combine it with a cleaning up, so offer your toddler a big bowl of water where they can scrub their toys, and themselves. This activities allows your toddler to experiment with different materials and understand different textures like foam and water.
5. Painting Toys
Another science, technology, and art based activity is painting toys. Using a large tub to keep the paint in one place, set up a line of plastic cars, plastic animals, balls, or anything you have around that can be easily washed. Set your toddlers up with a smock and a paintbrush and then let them paint the toys in the tub. Like the previous project, offer them a bowl of water afterwards to facilitate easy clean-up.
It’s never too young to start facilitating a love of math, and early toddlerhood is a great time to start. Go for a walk and count the leaves or flowers you collect. Count balls as you throw them back and forth or as you sort them. Look for or create patterns and point them out. Even cooking together is a STEAM activity that implements counting and math. Finding math in ordinary circumstances and making it fun will help even your young toddler enjoy counting and hopefully will set them up for a lifetime of if not loving, definitely enjoying math and what it has to offer them.
Boring old reading is a fantastic STEAM activity. Look for books that support a healthy perspective of math and make science fun. Lots of counting books are brightly colored and patterned, while other books implement basic science principles that the child can understand.
8. Art and nature
Stencils? Patterns? Outlines? Look no further than nature! The leaves, sticks, and rocks your child loves to collect make great patterns for paints and crayons. Or they can even be used as a canvas and painted directly – a great way to integrate a study of nature with basic art principles.
9. Shapes and geometry
Grab your paints and use those old wooden blocks to stamp out some shapes and patterns. Foam rollers and painter’s tape also make great additions to your toolbox.
10. Sensory play
Kinetic sand, homemade playdoh, slime, even a bowl of dried beans; each one has a different texture and feel to it. Sensory play encourages kids to engage different materials, exploring how they act, as well as how they feel.
Kids love music and singing, and there’s a ton of potential for music as a teaching tool. Even just encouraging your children to make noise can be a great STEAM activity, whether it be with rattles or on old pots and pans.
STEAM for bigger kids
If your toddler has grown into a bigger kid and already has a background in exploring, these activities are perfect for improving and helping them better understand the world around them.
1. Screen-free coding
Coding, in essence, is pattern-following – you create a pattern, encode it, and let a machine follow that pattern. Simplified, screen-free coding works on the same principles. Create a pattern – with dots on paper, pegs on a board, or whatever – and let your child trace that pattern and connect the dots. Another great activity is to read the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” and combine it with a story grid so the child uses the grid and arrows to indicate where the family explored
2. Egg-painting with vinegar
Have some extra eggs, and want to introduce your children to the world of chemical reactions? Try egg painting with vinegar! Take some hard-boiled eggs, color on them with crayon, then soak them in vinegar. The vinegar’s acetic acid and the sodium carbonate of the eggshells will create bubbles in the vengar, and after about an hour, you take the eggs out and boil them again. This removes the crayon – but you’ll find the picture stays behind, etched on by the reaction
3. Dancing rice
There are a nearly infinite number of variations on the “vinegar-and-baking soda” experiment that powers so many homemade volcanoes. The dancing rice experiment is one of the better ones. Combining a cup of water with a tablespoon of baking soda and some food coloring provides your base; add a quarter-cup of instant rice and 2-3 tablespoons of white vinegar to get a homemade show!
You can make levers any sort of way. The best ones though are set up to be used time and time again without too much fiddling about. Use plastic spoons attached to a block by a rubber band. Secure the block to the table or floor with tape and send whatever you want to launch. You can experiment with different items and see why some launch better than others. Overall, this is a great experiment into understanding levers and tools.
5. Shadow Drawing
Set some simple toys for younger children or some more technical toys for older child out on a sunny day and have the child trace the shadow. This simple activity teaches your child more about light and shadows, as well as basic drawing skills.
6. Salt and Watercolor art
Another fun artistic activity includes salt and watercolor paints. Using a heavy paper such as cardstock, glue a pattern and cover it with salt. Then paint over the pattern to see how salt impacts watercolors. Once it’s dry, shake off the salt and enjoy the effect! This is a great activity that neatly combines science and art and is appealing for all ages.
7. Force and Motion Paintings
This is a fun activity that teaches about force and motion and the end result is some pretty epic artwork. It’s as simple as taping a piece of paper to a tray and forcing a piece of cardboard covered in paint up and down the paper until the right effect is achieved. You could also tilt the tray up and using a liquid paint and an eyedropper put droplets of paint all over the paper. The tilted tray will cause the paint to side down the paper, creating a really fun effect and also teaches the child how gravity works. Lastly, using a magnet and some drops of paint on the paper taped to the tray, move small metal objects around to create a one of a kind artwork.
8. Animal Tracks Activity
Have an animal obsessed child? This is an activity for them. Look for animal tracks outside and identify them. If you live somewhere with snow, this project is much easier after a snowfall. Take a ruler to measure the tracks and then mark them down in a book or on a sheet.
9. Wood bending bracelets
Boil popsicle sticks in water for 5 minutes and set them inside glass jars to hold their shape. Then you can decorate the wood with paint, glitter, or even washi tape. The wood bends when boiled because of the weakened fibers, making this a fun science experiment and art project.
10. Giving Directions Game
Blindfold a child and have another child give them directions to reach an endpoint. This game is guaranteed to have hilarious results and teach your child how to give directions to reach the goal; great for coding!
11. Abstract art
Remember the painters-tape-and-patterns project from earlier? Take it a step further, and use some more abstract patterns to teach older children about the emotional impact of different colors.
Further reading – The Importance of Art in Child Development
12. Food colors and flowers
An easy way to demonstrate the science behind how plants feed is to drop a bit of food color in some water, and then add some flower stems or herbs. With the right plants and lighting, you’ll be able to see the colored water reaching the leaves. Science and art, together!
13. Craft-stick bridge
Encourage the technical skills your children have by using craft-sticks and glue to build bridges, houses, or almost anything. Use different shapes to explore design principles and demonstrate the strength of different designs.
A mandala is fairly straightforward to make, but makes a great tool for demonstrating symmetry and patterns. There’s even some fascinating history behind many mandalas, meaning that with one simple project you can cover just about every topic!
Don’t forget the significance of “simple” spirals. Whether you use sand art, paints, or simple pen-and-paper to make them, spirals give a great way to introduce older kids to some of the more unusual geometric patterns. Add spirolaterals and hypocycloids, and you’ve got a great introduction to more advanced aspects of math and geometry.
This isn’t an exhaustive list; almost any activity can be turned into a fun, exciting STEAM-based learning experience. And the people who invent new STEAM activities often aren’t educators or teaching experts; they’re parents and childcare workers who are trying to incorporate science, technology, math, arts, and engineering principles into everyday activities.
So start with the activities we’ve listed here, but don’t be afraid to add your own!