How can you engage children in fun STEAM projects? How can you get children to start actively learning while also making subjects interesting to them?
When I was a teacher and was hands-on with kids in the classroom, I would get curious about how students would be more interested in certain activities than they were in others.
Howard Gardner would have a lot of explaining with his multiple areas of intelligence. Still, even though we tend to lean on activities that align with our strongest skills (most of the time), in some instances, I would see children drawn to certain projects that were not the ones they were usually inclined to.
Let’s take Ryder, for example. Ryder was a second-grader whom I worked with on a Language & Literacy action research project. Ryder was the type of kid who was very interested in technology and building with Legos.
Once during a reading assignment, Ryder came up with the idea of “creating a volcano.” He realized that the main character in the lesson was interested in volcanoes, which is what called his attention to this activity.
Like Ryder, other kids’ interests may be sparked by a catalytic event, such as the reading I was having with him, or simple activities such as walking in the park with grandma and grandpa and questioning about nature. We can go even further and include prompts and visits to the museum—this book about a field trip to the dinosaur museum is a great example.
If put to good use, STEAM activities can be a valuable opportunity to discuss more complex concepts with children. STEAM; or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics; encompasses the most important areas of learning.
Let’s take, for instance, concepts in Earth Science. Most concepts in Earth Science such as natural disasters, dinosaurs, and space are usually too abstract for young children who are not yet in the concrete stage of development.
They have knowledge of those concepts through books, television, and the internet, but still are too far from their reality. Nonetheless, those subjects and others can stimulate children’s imagination. We can bring them closer to kids’ understanding by creating meaningful opportunities for them to learn.
If you are a parent or a teacher working remotely, you can mimic the classroom setting while also immersing children in rich investigations and activities. You can immerse children in fun STEAM projects in several ways. Here is how:
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Planning the project – the inquiry phase
You can start a discussion about the topic by asking the kids open-ended questions. Taking the volcanoes activity as example:
“Why do volcanoes erupt?”
“What happens with the lava when it cools off?”
From that conversation, you can gather information about what the children know about volcanoes and take things from there. This allows for you to better plan, prepare, and document the activities.
The same rationale applies to any other subject of your choice (or the children’s interest) such as the weather, the rainforest, alternative energy, reptiles, etc.
To foster inquiry and bring forward as much information as possible about the topic, read books about volcanoes, or other subjects in question, and show pictures to the kids. This may spark their curiosity and make them excited about the project.
Hands-on experience and investigation
After the kids have researched the subject, this is the time to get down to business. Better yet, this is when you will engage kids in hands-on experience and exploration. Organize the materials and let children work on them.
You can start those experiments with simple products or materials you have around the house in the kitchen, pantry, laundry room, or arts & crafts area. For instance, children can make their own volcanoes out of clay, dough, construction paper, paper maché, or plaster of Paris.
Or you can engage children in fun STEAM projects by using environmentally friendly subscription kits made especially for children such as Green Kid Crafts. Those kits come complete with tools to facilitate their exploration.
For older kids, they can explore a volcano eruption by conducting an experiment with baking soda, liquid dish soap, and vinegar.
Get kids to “play geologists” by manipulating the objects geologists use to monitor a volcano. Guide them to learn what is inside and outside of a volcano by “studying magma” and experimenting with margarine and warm water.
What happens when the lava cools off? Ask the kids what types of rocks are formed and their usage. Have them look at, touch, play with, and see them on a microscope.
Guide children every step of the way by asking questions, proposing new alternatives, and challenging them.
Get kids to do, redo, and explore. Record their predictions through notes, drawings, pictures, and videos. Question, reflect, and let them come up with their own interpretations.
Wrapping up the project
When children’s interest for the project dies down, conclude it by reviewing what they have learned.
If you are doing this project at school or for homeschooling, motivate children to create a board to display their work with pictures.
This way, while children explain what they accomplished, not only will they be able to revise the concepts they learned, but also take pride in their work by showing it to loved ones, friends, and peers.
As you can see, you don’t need to go out of your way to engage children in fun STEAM projects. In reality, you can involve kids in exploration anywhere. While the examples above may have laid the ground for deep exploration and learning, it is up to you as parent and educator how you will further it.
What tricks do you have up your sleeves to involve children in fun STEAM projects? What projects and materials did you use? Have you tried any of the Green Kid Crafts activities? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.
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