When most people think of STEM, they think of scientists in lab coats or engineers on a computer. But as farmers, we have to use science, technology, engineering, and math all day long to keep Barton Hill Farms running as it should!
We believe that it’s never too early to begin learning about the wonders of science and nature. Encouraging kids to solve problems and use their powers of observation keeps them engaged in the world around them, and helps to work that curiosity muscle that will benefit them their whole lives. So we wanted to pass along a few fun STEM-related projects for those families that are looking for extra challenges this summer. And since we’re farmers, you know these fun STEM ideas must have an outdoorsy component. No tablets here!
Sprout an Avocado Plant From a Pit
Next time you eat a tasty avocado, save that pit so you can show the kids how seeds begin to sprout!
First, clean the pit well from all leftover avocado, being careful not to scrape off the brown skin.
Then, identify which side is up. The top will usually be a bit pointier, while the bottom side will be more flat. Insert four toothpicks into the pit, one on each side. Make sure they’re pointed slightly downwards, toward the bottom of the pit.
Next, fill up a glass with water and rest the pit and toothpicks on top. The bottom half of the pit should be submerged. Place it in a sunny windowsill, and wait! Change the water every 3-5 days to keep it fresh.
In several weeks, the bottom of the pit will open up and some roots will start to emerge. Keep them wet! Soon, the top will also open and a stem will start to grow. When the stem is about 6″ long, you can transfer it to a pot, leaving the top half of the pit exposed.
Observe the Life Cycle of a Butterfly
There are few creatures that undergo such a dramatic visual lifecycle as the butterfly. From egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly, watching these creatures change is an amazing STEM activity that gets kids excited about nature.
If you’re familiar with your local butterflies and what they eat, you may be able to find eggs on the bottom of leaves in your garden or local park. But if you’re unsure where to find them, you can also order eggs. Just make sure you know what the larvae will need to eat when they hatch, so you’ll have plenty of food. Monarchs are a great butterfly to raise, since they’re easily recognizable and they eat common milkweed.
Get all the info you’ll need about how to raise monarch butterflies at Save Our Monarchs.
Make a DIY Solar Oven
This is a fun project for kids but it requires plenty of adult supervision!
Cut a cardboard box so the top can flip up (or use a recycled pizza box). Line the inside of the top and the box itself with aluminum foil, which will radiate heat. Then, you can place whatever you want to “cook” in the box. Add a thermometer and cover it with a glass bowl so you can watch the temperature rise and see the results. Here in Texas, it will get very hot in there. So don’t touch the glass with bare hands!
Put chocolate candies in the “oven” and let them melt together. Then refrigerate until solid and enjoy a sweet snack. Or use the oven to melt marshmallows for s’mores without the fire.
Tell Time with a Sundial
A sundial can teach kids about both telling time and the earth’s travel around the sun. This science lesson is both fun and practical!
A paper plate or piece of paper can serve as a base, and a straw or pencil can be the gnomon (the straight part that creates the shadow.) By simply marking the time on the paper plate at each hour, you can track the shadow across your homemade sundial and tell basic time. Here’s a quick tutorial!
You can also make a temporary version with chalk on a sidewalk or driveway.
Explore Nature in Your Own Backyard
Not all science activities require building things. Sometimes, just the act of observing and classifying can be valuable in itself. Plus, it teaches children to pay attention to the world around them.
Pick up a kid-friendly guide on your local bird, bug, or plant life and go exploring! Take photos of each of your discoveries as you “collect” your way through the identification guide. You can even upload your pictures to Project Noah to contribute to their “citizen science” resources.
Make a Dirt Battery
With little more than some dirt, galvanized bolts, and a bit of copper wire, you can create electrical energy! Moist dirt acts as an electrolyte solution, conducting for the passage of electrons between the copper wire and the zinc in the bolts. While it may not create lots of power, it’s enough to light up a small LED pin or power a small clock.
To make one, add dirt to the recesses of an ice cube tray. Then, wrap 3″ sections of copper wire around each bolt, leaving a bit loose at the end. Place your bolt in one ice cube section full of dirt, and bend the extra wire into the next ice cube section to create a chain. Here’s a video that shows how it’s done.
Might come in handy if we have another deep freeze here in Central Texas!
Do an Egg Drop
For a fun engineering challenge, try an egg drop. Kids will create a container that will protect the egg’s fragile shell from a long fall. Drop the containers from atop a playscape or an upper-story window to see who built the safest contraption.
This is especially fun to do in groups, so it’s a great activity to do during a playdate.
Build Your Own Telescope
This is a fun technology activity for older kids. With a pair of magnifying glasses and some heavy-duty corrugated paper, they can make a telescope strong enough to get a closer look at the moon. They may even be able to see Saturn’s rings.
This project is a bit more complicated, so it’s probably one to do together. But it shows kids how a simple refracting telescope can bring something far away into sharper focus.
STEM Learning Boosts Creative Thinking
These simple STEM activities can help kids to get curious and excited about the world around them. While there’s certainly a place for indoor and screen-based entertainment, adding a few educational activities to the mix will help keep kids engaged and their little minds turning.