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20 Super Cool Summer STEM Activities

School may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean learning has to! In fact, it is vital that it doesn’t. When students let their brains take a break over the summer, they can lose the equivalent of two months of their grade-level math and reading skills. To combat summer learning loss and keep those STEM skills fresh over the summer, Project Lead The Way put together a list of super simple (and FUN!) STEM activities you can do with your children over summer break.

  1. Create a discovery jar. Sit down with your child at the beginning of the summer and brainstorm all of the questions or ideas your student is curious about. Maybe it is why grass is green or how space travel started. Or how many varieties of leaves exist on the trees in the yard. Then put all of the questions into a mason jar. Pull one out each day for your child to research and explore. PLTW Director of Assessment Claudia Guerere (@ClaudiaGuerere) recommends this activity, which she says engages kids’ natural curiosity and discovery.
  2. Do try it at home! Matt Arnold (@ArnoldSTEM), PLTW instructional specialist, is a big fan of the Lemelson Center’s collection of ‘Do Try This at Home!’ activities, through which students develop their innovation and creativity. Try one of these free and fun activities.
  3. Keep their math skills sharp. Bennett Brown (@BennettBrownIA), PLTW director of curriculum and instruction for computer science, prefers, which offers grade-based math activities that feel more like fun than practice.
  4. Bug out! Did you know that insects outnumber humans 200 million to one? No matter where you live, insects are a vital part of your community and play an important role in everything from recycling waste to helping plants spread pollen. Discover what bugs live in your neighborhood, and try to identify those you haven’t seen before.
  5. Explore computer science.You don’t need to be a professional to create computer Apps! Help your student learn basic computer science principles with these easy-to-use computer science platforms. PLTW’s computer science curriculum developers recommend these resources:
    • Scratch Jr. (PreK-3) – Scratch Jr. is a free App available on both iPad and Android tablets that allows even the youngest students to learn to code.
    • Scratch (grades 3-9) – Scratch is a free platform for students to program interactive stories, games, and animations. All you need is a laptop and creativity.
    • App Inventor (grades 5+) – This platform allows students to create their own Apps in less than an hour. To use, you’ll need two devices: a Web browser on computer, as well as an Android device. Both must be able to access the same wireless Internet network.
    • Tynker (grades 4-5) – Tynker is a blocks-based programming platform available on desktops, laptops, and tablets that helps students learn to code. Both free and paid memberships are available.
    • DroidScript – DroidScript lets students of all skill levels easily and quickly write Apps for Android using JavaScript. Use a PC and an Android phone, tablet, or Smart Watch. Both must be connected to the same wireless Internet network.
    • Lightbot – Lightbot is an educational video game for learning software programming concepts. Paid versions ($2.59-$4.99) exist for both Apple and Android tablets, as well as Windows and Mac devices.
  6. Feel the beat! Learn how different activities affect your heart rate with this fun activity from Rachel Allard, PLTW’s director of curriculum and instruction for PLTW Biomedical Science. Teach your child how to measure his or her resting heart rate, and then collect it at different points throughout the day to learn how quiet versus physically active tasks change their heart rate. Find a helpful guide here.
  7. Bake! It’s one of the best ways to teach young children math and science. Work on their math vocabulary and measurement skills as you measure out ingredients. And explore where ingredients come from, or how solids and liquids transform during baking for a basic science lesson. Then reward them with a chocolate chip cookie or a Rice Krispies® treat!
  8. Explore architecture and public works! @BennettBrownIA recommends taking children on a fieldtrip to your local infrastructure facilities – the waste water treatment plan, electric plant, or manufacturing plant – to learn about civil engineering and architecture. Most do free tours if you call ahead.
  9. Sharpen their problem-solving skills! PBS Kids offers a great resource full of problem-solving games for young students. PLTW Director of Curriculum and Instruction Vanessa Stratton (@Vanessa_PLTW) enjoys these with her own children.
  10. Go to camp! The Engineering Education Service Center is a great resource for a list of summer engineering camps happening across the U.S. Camps are listed by state.
  11. Take a snack break. Several members of the PLTW Programs Team recommend the Exploratorium’s Science Snacksfor hundreds of ideas, sorted by subject. Some of our favorites require few materials and even provide talking points for parents.
  12. Make getting the mail fun. PLTW Director of Instruction Stephanie Poll subscribes to Tinker Crate to keep her children engaged outside of the classroom. Tinker Crate promises not to be just another science kit. This monthly subscription-based service designed for kids ages 9-14 creates ‘low threshold, high ceiling projects accessible and fun for all types of learners.’ A version of Tinker Crate is also available for ages 3-4 and 4-8.
  13. Upcycle! Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction Joanne Donnan (@JoanneDonnan) loves to see what students create when handed a bin full of recyclables. Gather your old materials and this kit of connectors ($12.50) and turn your kids loose. Modern Parents Messy Kids has another take on this creativity-inspiring activity.
  14. Master physics. @BennettBrownIA and @ArnoldSTEM love the Minute Physics channel on YouTube. These videos, set to engaging animations, make some of the most complicated science topics easier to understand.
  15. Grow a salad. Explore life sciences with this fun activity. Grow lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes in your garden or in separate pots. Students will learn the growth cycle of plants and the impact of soil, sun, water, and nutrition on plants’ growth.
  16. Take the egg drop challenge. What happens when you drop an egg from ceiling-height? It cracks and creates a giant mess, right? Challenge your child to engineer a vessel that will protect the egg and keep it from breaking when dropped.
  17. Go star gazing! Warm nights and clear skies allow for fun interstellar observation, with or without a telescope, says PLTW Director of Curriculum and Instruction Gerald Holt (@Holt10). Sky Map, built by a team of amateur astronomers who work at Google, helps Android users locate stars and planets in the night sky. NASA also provides a fun way to locate the International Space Station with its Spot The Station website.
  18. Help your children boost their critical thinking skills.“Instant challenges” are go-to resources for many on PLTW’s Programs Team with their own children. These challenges, set to a specific amount of time, force children to think on their feet, work in teams, and use their critical thinking skills. Google ‘Instant Challenge’ for ideas, or check out some of @Vanessa_PLTW’s favorites:
  19. Learn about microorganisms! Microorganisms are important to life on Earth, acting as decomposers in various ecosystems and playing a vital role in the nitrogen cycle. Help your child learn about the different bacteria in their daily environment and the important role each plays with this interactive game.
  20. Build a paper rollercoaster. @JoanneDonnan recommends Canon’s printer-friendly roller coaster template and corresponding instructions. Print and assemble your very own paper roller coaster, and then assemble your coaster car and race it around the track.

Take a picture as you enjoy these activities with your children, and share it with us on social media! Tag PLTW on Twitter @PLTWorg, on Facebook at 'Project Lead The Way - PLTW', or on Instagram at PLTWorg.