What is STEM and How Do I Teach it to my Kids?

STEM. This has caught a lot of attention. Do you know what it means?

– Science
– Technology
– Engineering
– Mathematics

Did you think it was exclusive to older children, or even adults? Not at all! These concepts are all part of children’s learning through exploration and discovery. 

Did you know all children are little scientists? Everything about their world is open for discovery. They want to know “why,” “what happens if I do this,” “where does it go,” “how did that happen.” Children will repeat actions such as building a tower over and over again even though it keeps falling apart. They want to learn how to make it more stable and  they want to build it taller. Have patience! Though they may get frustrated, they are learning a STEM concept! Encourage questions from your children by prompting them with questions of your own, such as, “why do you think the tower fell,” “should we try it again,” “what do you think will happen this time,” and “what should we do differently?”

Allowing children to experience concepts hands on—by creating a learning environment where they can touch, manipulate, and explore their surroundings—will benefit them far more than only reading a book about a topic or watching a video.

Try these activities at home:

SCIENCE: 
Little scientists investigating the natural world

GLOVE-garden

  • Try planting some seeds. Watching something grow from a seed can be exciting and doesn’t have to be done outdoors. You can start the growing season early by planting seeds indoors
  • You don’t have to start them in a pot or container either. Try using a plastic glove! Children can drop a moistened cotton ball into each finger length, add a seed and then hang it in the window
  • Discussion about what plants need to grow—sun, air, and water—can occur as you daily monitor the changes together as the roots begin to break free from the seed
  • Once the seed has sprouted, transplant it to a little pot with dirt and continue to watch it grow

TECHNOLOGY:
Exploring ways to use what they build for a purpose or action

Balloon Car2

  • Think “outside the box” and do activities that have less to do with an electronic device and more to do with hands on. There are plenty of apps available that offer activities related to technology, and children are getting more and more time on screens. Offer something new by taking the device out of technology
  • Use technology to “research” a project to make with your children
  • A project we like to make is a little car or boat that can be powered for simple movement. You only need common supplies such as cardboard, a couple of wooden skewers (sticks), milk jug tops for the wheels, some tape, a balloon, and a straw. After the car is built you blow the balloon up, and as the air escapes through the straw it propels the car forward. You can find complete instructions here http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Balloon-Car

ENGINEERING:
Using their knowledge of the world around them to build and create

Build-Engineer

  • Yes, build and create!
  • Make blanket forts
  • Build simple structures using toothpicks and mini marshmallows or small candies
  • Use building toys, such as stacking blocks
  • Make things from recycled materials

 


MATH
:
Increasing knowledge of counting, patterns, colours, and shapes to strengthen their ability to build and create with purpose

Color Mix

  • Get messy. Mix colours to learn about primary and secondary colours. Partly fill a sandwich bag with a small amount of shaving cream. Add a few drops from 2 different colours of food colouring. Have your children mix it all together to see what new colour is created. Have them predict ahead of time what will happen

  • Using different coloured recycled jug lids and stickers, make your own memory matching game
  • Create a container filled with random things you may find in a junk drawer (child safe of course), and have your children sort the things from smallest to biggest, or by colour or shape
  • Have fun with food! Break apart a chocolate chip cookie to count how many chocolate chips are in it. Estimate how many will be in each cookie, and compare the totals with the actual chocolate chip count

Looking for activities to do with your children, with STEM concepts in mind, can be a super way for you both to learn, be creative, get messy, and have fun!  

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

A Christmas Tree for the Birds

Every year when I was young, my brothers and I would spend a day with my Grandpa and Grandma, and decorate a tree outside with treats for the birds. It was usually on a Saturday close to Christmas, to give my parents time to do their Christmas shopping.

We would spend the morning making treats with my Grandma, and after lunch we would go outside with my Grandpa and decorate the tree.

A garland of stale popcorn and dried cranberries strung together was a treat for the sparrows and little chickadees, and peanuts, threaded through the shell and hung, were for the Blue Jays.

My Grandma would mix up peanut butter, suet and cornmeal, and we would coat pinecones with this mixture and then roll them in birdseed. We hung these on the tree branches with red yarn so the birds would notice them. We would also hang dried apple slices. 

Next we made mesh pouches out of mesh bags (like the ones used for lemons or oranges) and filled them with suet for the other birds. As we were working, my Grandpa would talk about the different birds that would come to eat the treats: pine siskins, grosbeaks, nuthatches, and woodpeckers; he would tell us what they looked like and their funny little mannerisms.

After the tree was all decorated, we would clamor back inside and race each other to the couch, the best place to view the action outside. After the usual jostling and complaining, we would finally settle to watch with delight as the birds visited the Christmas tree filled with treats.

This Christmas tradition is one of my favourite memories of my grandparents. I feel so fortunate that they took the time to do this with us when we were kids.

Pinecone treats for the birds:

  1. Mix equal parts peanut butter (use the natural kind with only peanuts listed in the ingredients) and suet (or lard).
  2. Stir in enough cornmeal to make a thick paste.
  3. Press this mixture into the pinecone.
  4. Roll in a wild birdseed mix.
  5. String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard.
  6. Enjoy the birds that come visit!

Halloween Science Fun!

I think I have one of the best hobbies in the world – science! Halloween is especially fun, as I become a mad scientist, performing science shows and demonstrations at events.

One of the things I love about this is that I get to create a character and a story to act out around the science experiments I’m doing. It changes a little with every show, but that’s part of the fun!

This Halloween, why not act out a character that’s different from your everyday life, and add some cool science activities to the fun! Here are a couple of fun, easy ones you can try!

BONE GROWING FORMULA (A.K.A. Goop)

You need:

  • Deep pan or bowl
  • Cornstarch
  • Water

What to do:

Mix the cornstarch and the water until everything is wet, but there is no water sitting on top. To mix it, you have to move slowly and gently.

This neat goop gets hard when squeezed or hit, but oozes when let go. (It’s called a non-newtonian fluid for anyone who wants to look that up.)

It’s entertaining for all ages – trust me, I had more trouble getting the adults out of it than the kids!

FAKE BLOOD

You need:

  • 1 cup Corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp Chocolate syrup
  • 2 tbsp Cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp Red food colouring
  • 2 tbsp Water

What to do:

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix it up. Add more red or chocolate syrup to get the colour you want, but it works out pretty well.

Want to really gross people out? Taste the fake blood in a way that makes them think it’s real – it actually doesn’t taste bad!

Left Brain Craft Brain is a great blog that lists some spooky science experiments to do as a family. You’ll find links to all the instructions you need to have a great time this Halloween!

 

The Easiest Ever Thanksgiving Craft

Thanksgiving is coming soon! It might be a little different this year, but enjoy a long weekend of fun, food, and lots of family time! Here’s an easy and fun craft for the whole family:

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Crayons
  • Optional: felt tip marker

What to do:

  1. Trace your hand or your child’s with a marker or crayon
  2. Use crayons or markers to draw in and colour a turkey
  3. Have fun with it! 

You and your child can make just one, or make a turkey for each person at Thanksgiving dinner! Place them on each plate, not only for decoration but for conversation too! 

 

WHY?

Making crafts together is a good way to bond with your child, and the talking that comes from working together is building an important literacy skill. A bonus is the hand coordination that comes from drawing, which will help with writing skills in the future.

4 Ways to Celebrate Autumn with Your Child & Reap the Benefits of the Outdoors

autumn

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” – e.e. Cummings

Fall is almost here with its whimsical, whirling leaves and wind. There’s no better time to make sure we, and our children, are getting enough outdoor fun. With screen time increasing for both kids and adults, it’s more important than ever to consciously make the time to play in nature.

There is no shortage of information about why our kids need the great outdoors. Vitamin D exposure, healthy eye development, opportunities for exercise, improved sleep quality and brain development, Mother Nature provides it all. Thanks to the nature of outdoor play, (the jackpot of early childhood development), kids can discover confidence, independence and resiliency.

Playing outside forces kids to be inventive. It requires them to make choices and choose adventures, take risks and adapt. They move their whole bodies, and use all of their senses when in nature; they can see, hear, smell and touch the world around them, and research tells us that multi-sensory experiences promote better learning. Outdoor play supports coordination, balance, and motor skills; it feeds a sense of wonder, forces our kids to ask questions, and it even reduces stress, which is important because stress is a huge barrier to brain development.

Below are four ways to take advantage of the outdoors to promote healthy brain development and early literacy.

1. Do something that helps out Mother Nature, such as make a bird feeder, plant a tree, or make a birdbath.

How to make a bird feederbirdfeeder

You will need:

  1. natural peanut butter
  2. suet (or lard)
  3. cornmeal
  4. pinecone
  5. wild birdseed
  6. cotton thread

Directions:

  1. Mix equal parts peanut butter (use the natural kind with only peanuts listed in the ingredients) and suet (or lard)
  2. Stir in enough cornmeal to make a thick paste
  3. Press this mixture into the pinecone
  4. Roll the pinecone in the wild birdseed mix
  5. String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard

2. Start an art project. For example:

  1. Collect and press fall leaves between wax paper, or do leaf rubbings (place a piece of paper over the leaf and lightly rub over it with a pencil or crayon)
  2. Collect rocks and paint them to look like animals
  3. Create a “stained glass” window with fall leaves. After picking your colourful leaves outside, press them to the sticky side of some transparent contact paper, and place on your window

3. Read a non-fiction book about birds. Try About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill, and see if you can find any of the birds outside.

Pair it with fiction books about birds or animals, like the Little Owl’s series by Divya Srinivasan, or any of the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. Extend your books even further by drawing and colouring your favourite birds together.

little-owls-nightpigeon-book              

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Learn a rhyme together that involves nature. Here’s one to start you off:

September Leaves

Leaves are floating softly down;
Some are red and some are brown.
The wind goes whooshing through the air;
When you look back there’s no leaves there.

 

Mother Nature provides for a rich learning experience, so get out there and seize the season—make those mud pies, and jump in those puddles!  

Hot Day Relief and Writing – What Could Be Better?

Combining water on a hot day with an opportunity for writing can be great fun!

LET’S GO!

Use the hose and your bodies to create letters or words on a dry fence or wall.

DO IT TOGETHER!

On a nice hot day, get your hose out and have some fun! Find a dry spot on a fence or wall (the wall has to be one that gets darker when water hits it). Have your children and other family members line up in front of the dry area and strike a letter pose by making the shape with their body. You might need two people to make some letters!

Ask everyone to freeze and spray them with the hose, making sure to soak the dry area around their bodies. Once everyone’s nice and wet, have them step away and look at the dry areas left behind.

Have fun with it. Once it’s dry again, challenge yourselves to write a simple word or someone’s name! Give your children a turn with the hose, so they can be the one “writing”.

WHY?

Aside from giving relief on a hot day, writing using different tools and methods will help your children learn to write. Whether it’s making the shape with their body, or outlining someone else’s shape with the hose, they will be able to see what the letters look like and how they are formed. If you try to write words, such as their names, they will start to understand that putting letters together makes something new and meaningful.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

Painting Patterns

Have fun painting with different-shaped objects that don’t always create the pattern you think they should.

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Non-toxic, washable paint – different colours
  • Bowls or plates to hold paint
  • Washbasin (or deep cake pan)
  • Objects that roll or slide (golf ball, rock, marble, pencil, etc.)

What to do:

  1. Put the paper on the bottom of the washbasin.
  2. Put each paint colour into a bowl or on a plate.
  3. Choose an object (like a golf ball) and dip it into the paint.
  4. Place it on the paper in the bottom of the washbasin.
  5. Move the object around by tipping the basin in different directions.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Look around outside and in your house for objects that your child thinks have fun shapes or designs. Let them try each object one at a time in the washbasin. Talk about their painting and the patterns left by the paint.

Does the pattern match the shape of the object or the pattern you thought it would leave in the paint? Follow your child’s lead and experiment by putting more than one object in at a time, or different coloured paints on the same object.

WHY?

Numeracy isn’t just about numbers. Talking about colours, shapes, and patterns helps with your child’s numeracy development. Experimenting and having fun at the same time will help your child learn and remember these numeracy ideas even more.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

Tips for a Great Road Trip with Your Family!

For our vacation this summer, many of us will choose to hit the highways. I love road trips with my family—there are so many places and things to learn about. If you share your enthusiasm and find ways to use all of your senses while you travel, your kids will not only learn but will be happy too.

With children young or old, you can point out all that can be seen with their eyes. From mountains to waterfalls, rivers to forests, prairie lands to animals, both farm and wild. Show everyone where you are on a map. Point out signs. Visit historic sites. Learn about our past. Play I Spy. You can let your children use binoculars to help them search the land for scavenger hunt items, or try playing a variety of license plate games while on your road trip.

With digital cameras it is easy to allow your children to take as many photographs as they like (deleting ones that don’t make the final cut won’t disappoint them). You can see the world through their eyes, and you may be surprised by how great their photography skills can be. 

You can use your ears to hear things you may not hear if you are from a big city! Things such as quiet or animals in the forest. If you stop somewhere for a picnic, for stretching legs and relieving restlessness, you may hear a train travelling nearby. You might hear water rushing down a waterfall if you’re on a mountain escape. You can even hear insects buzzing around in summer; we don’t like them, but they are there! Is that a cow lowing in the distance? Talk about what farmers are doing this time of year.

How about singing to pass the time away? If you aren’t comfortable with your own voice leading the family choir, how about some family friendly music borrowed from your local library? There is so much more to children’s songs today than in the past. One of our favourites is a CD called “Snack Time” by the Bare Naked Ladies. My teenagers will still sing along! For lyrics that mom and dad can laugh at, and a very original version of “ABCs”, it’s a must have.

Smells! You cannot dismiss the power of your sense of smell. The air smells cleaner as we leave our city homes behind. We can point out smells our children may not be familiar with. There are plenty of smells that accompany any farm, whether grain, livestock, or vegetable and fruit. Find some flowers to sniff. Do trees have a scent? Sniff an evergreen! What about leaves or moss on the forest floor? The air by a stream? A factory?

Hands on! Why can’t a road trip be hands on? Have you ever stopped to see the monument that makes a town special? Plan your breaks for places with something interesting to see, do, and learn. Run, play, burn off some energy before the next leg of your trip. Collect post cards and things like kids’ paper menus (the kind kids can draw on if you stop for a restaurant meal), random memorabilia, or maybe a picked flower. I still have a little flower picked by my son almost 10 years ago. It has a story behind it of what lengths he and his dad went through to get that flower back to me. My son drew me a picture to go with the flower that helps tell the story. I will treasure it always.

Back in the car again, hand your child a pencil, maybe some crayons, and a sketchbook. Have them write or draw pictures about what they have learned along the way. It is easy to keep a little box of things needed for creativity in the vehicle. You can also find an assortment of lap trays (which resemble dining trays) to use on your trip. They are perfect for snacks, drawing, puzzles, and more. Prepared ahead of time, scavenger hunts are fun—check things off as they are found, or places discovered.

    

Try this website before you head out on your next Canadian road trip, www.bigthings.ca. There is a list by province of things to see! To me, finding some of these things is reason enough for a trip in the car!

Life Sized Alphabet

Can you and your child make the letters of the alphabet with your bodies? Try numbers and shapes too!

LET’S GO!

Use your whole body to make letters of the alphabet.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Go outside or find some space in your home and make the letters of the alphabet by posing with your child. Explore which letters they can make on their own and which ones they need you to be part of to make it work. Try it laying down or standing up.

Involve other members of your family or friends and add the challenge of singing the ABCs while making the letters with your body.

What to do:

  1. Put two people in each group.
  2. Go around and have each group make the next letter in the song with their bodies (first group does “A,” second group “B,” and so on).
  3. See how fast you can get going without making a mistake.

WHY?

This is another way to explore the shape of letters with your child. Connecting the letters with big body movements will help them remember what the letter looks like and can help them when they are trying to write letters.

 

Homemade Father’s Day Present!

I often find Father’s Day one of the most difficult days to make special. What am I supposed to get a Dad who has every power tool, every tie, and every “Best Dad in the World” coffee mug?

I started to think about what I used to do for Father’s Day when I was a kid. First there came the crafts from daycare or preschool. This gradually evolved into presents made in art class, and eventually the store bought coffee cups, ties, and finally the dreaded set of golf balls that seemed to re-emerge every year as a last resort.

Thinking back over all the gifts that I have given, it made me realize that it was the homemade crafts that really made an impression on my father. It’s not golf balls that my father keeps in a drawer with all the gifts that mean the most to him. In fact, I’m sure he can’t tell which golf balls I gave him from the multitude of golf balls he found in the bush while looking for the wayward shot he took.

I can remember how happy I was making those crafts for my dad, and I can remember how it made me feel when I saw his face as he opened them. It is the gifts that come from the heart that are often the most memorable.

Here is a Father’s Day craft that comes straight from the heart. All you will need to make this unforgettable Father’s Day gift with your child is:

  • Popsicle sticks or craft sticks – at least 8
  • Markers
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • White paper – thicker paper works best

Directions:

  1. Color the Popsicle sticks with the markers – if you are using paint complete step 2 first.
  2. Glue the Popsicle sticks together using the hot glue gun to form a square frame.  You will want to make two individual frames. *Note: If you would like to make your frame thicker you can place 2 Popsicle sticks side-by-side.
  3. Measure and cut a square piece from the white paper. You will want it to be big enough to be able to glue on the Popsicle stick frame.
  4. Get your child to draw a picture on the paper – it doesn’t have to be about Father’s Day. *Note: Writing a personal note to Dad on the back of the picture is a nice touch as well.
  5. Now it’s time to assemble the frame – you might want to double check that the picture will fit into the frame before you start gluing. Trim down the picture if needed.
  6. On the back of one frame, in each corner, place a dot of hot glue. Place your picture face up on the glue to attach it to the frame.
  7. Turn it over. On the back of the picture place another dot of hot glue in each of the corners and attach the second frame. Make sure the colored side of the second frame is facing outwards.
  8. The picture frame is now complete. Your dad will be able to hang it from either side.

Other suggestions:

  1. If you would like to hang up the picture frame on the fridge attach magnets to the backside of the frame. Only one Popsicle frame is needed for this purpose.
  2. You can glue a piece of thread on the back of the first frame – after you have attached the picture and before you attach the second frame – this will allow you to hang the photo up on either side. Please let us know how these crafts turned out and any other Father’s Day suggestions that you found worked for you!