STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s important for children to understand these subjects, or else they won’t be prepared for the technology-driven world. And it’s never too soon to start learning!
Kindergarten kids are bright and curious. They want to know how the world works. That’s why they’re always pushing things over and putting things in their mouth — these are experiments that help them to get the hang of their environment. In other words, they’re already thinking as clever little scientists, and STEM lessons can build on this foundation.
Here are some of our favorite STEM lessons for kindergarten kids. They’re hands-on and interactive, and give children a chance to explore their innate scientific curiosity. To make the list a little easier to navigate, we’ve divided it up into four subject areas — science, technology, engineering, and math.
To make a lemon volcano, you will need a lemon, baking soda, and if you’re feeling artistic, some food coloring. Cut a lemon in half and scoop out some of the flesh to make a small crater. Drip some food coloring into the crater, then add some baking soda. Use a spoon to mix the baking soda with the inside of the lemon, and watch as the volcano erupts in a colorful fizz.
This simple activity can help teach kids about chemical reactions. In simple terms: the lemon is acidic, and the baking soda is alkaline. When they mix together, they form carbon dioxide, which is the source of all the fizzing foam. Kindergarten kids don’t need to know all the chemical specifics, but it’s fun and fascinating to see the different substances interact.
This time, you’ll need water, salt, and a fluffy pipe cleaner. First, mix salt and water in a cup, and wait until the salt dissolves. You want to add a lot of salt here: keep going until it stops dissolving. Twist a pipe cleaner into a nice shape, like a star or a heart, then drop it into the water. Leave it there for a couple of days. When you take the pipe cleaner out again, there will be salt crystals all over it.
Make sure to point out how neat and regular the salt crystals are, with lots of perfect squares and rectangles. This is all to do with molecular bonding. Again, kindergarten kids don’t need to know all the details, but they can admire the process of crystalization, which some of them might never have seen before.
Growing watercress in a cup is another great science experiment for kindergarten children. First, they will need a cup filled with soil and some watercress seeds. Keep them well-watered, put them in a sunny location, and watch as the seeds start to grow. The watercress should start to sprout in a few days and can be harvested and eaten as a healthy snack when it reaches a desired size.
This project is a great way for young children to learn about plant growth and care. If you want to push this learning even harder, try planting three sets of watercress. Keep one cup well-watered, but keep it in a dark cupboard. Keep another cup in the sun, but don’t give it any water. And give the third one water and plenty of sunlight. Are your kids surprised when the watercress with no water, and the watercress with no sunlight, struggle to grow?
Jam sandwich algorithm
This lesson will have you laughing and learning simultaneously. In this activity, you’ll be playing the role of a robot. Start by standing in front of your kids with a loaf of bread, a jar of jam, and a butter knife. Get the kids to call out instructions to you with the target of making a jam sandwich. Put the bread on the plate, spread the jam, and so on.
But remember: robots always obey instructions literally. When your kids tell you to put the bread on the plate, put the whole loaf on the plate, without taking it out of its packaging. When they tell you to spread the jam, spread it on your face, or the back of your hand. Your kids will quickly realize the importance of specific, well-ordered instructions. This is an important part of computer science, and sandwich-making too.
All you need for this one is a room and some treasure. It doesn’t need to be a real treasure. A cookie would do the job. Or a toy who needs to be rescued. Hide the treasure somewhere in the room, while your kids aren’t looking. Then give the children step-by-step instructions until they find it: take two steps forward, turn to your left, take five steps forward, and so on.
Just like the jam sandwich algorithm, this teaches children about specificity and the importance of well-ordered instructions. It doesn’t feel like coding while you’re taking part, but this is what coding is all about. Once your kids find the treasure, let one of them have a go as the ‘programmer’, instructing the others until they find the hidden treasure. And if you really want to up the stakes, try giving the treasure hunters blindfolds!
Paper plane challenge
The engineering behind a paper plane isn’t quite as advanced as the engineering behind a real plane, but it’s still a great activity for kindergarten kids. Following instructions to make a paper plane requires patience and care, which are important skills in any part of life. And when the plane is finished, and ready to throw, kids can start learning about the four forces of flight: lift, weight, thrust, and drag.
They don’t need to understand these forces intimately, but they’ll probably notice that their friend’s plane flew further than theirs did. They’ll want to make a new one, paying even more care to the instructions, and making sure the wings are wide enough or the nose is pointy enough to really get some distance. This is engineering in practice.
Lego is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, and there’s a reason for that — they’re great at what they do. Lego sets are available for any age group, kindergarten kids included. They’re a lot of fun, and when it comes to engineering, these sets are educational too.
By building structures with lego bricks, kids learn to follow instructions, just like they do with the paper plane challenge. The tactile nature of lego bricks also helps them to develop better dexterity and hand-eye coordination, while the creative aspect allows them to express their imaginations and explore different design possibilities. Lego also offers an opportunity for children to learn about basic physics concepts like balance and stability. If they build their lego tower too high, it’s probably going to fall.
This is a classic activity, which most of us have tried at one point or another in our lives. The premise is simple: can you design and construct a protective device that stops an egg from breaking when dropped from a height? This activity is usually for older children, who come up with some really creative solutions, but it can work with kindergarten kids as well.
Instead of asking them to design devices of their own, take five or six ziplock bags. Put an egg in each one, along with a different material: water, ice cubes, cereal, paper towels, flour, sugar, or whatever else you have to hand (you might want to tape the bag shut if you use water). Ask your kids to predict what will happen to the egg inside each material, before dropping the bags on a hard, kitchen floor. This activity teaches some basic engineering principles, like the importance of material selection.
Recognizing shapes is an important math skill, especially for younger kids. This game is pretty simple. You need to tell your kids to find an item in the house that matches a shape of your choice. For example, if you asked them to find a circle, they might find a doorknob, or a plate, or the bottom of a mug.
Once they find the object, you don’t want them to bring it to you. Instead, you want them to draw it on a scrap of paper. They’re shape-finding detectives, and when their drawing is ready, they need to come back and show it off to you. All the while, they’re not just learning to recognize shapes; they’re also learning to draw them.
Can your kids tell the difference between numbers? Do they know that five is smaller than twelve, or twenty is smaller than thirty? A good way to practice this important skill is by guessing weights: find a couple of objects around the house, and ask your kid to guess which object will be heavier. Bring out your scales, weigh the objects, then ask your kid to tell you if their guess was right or not.
Comparisons like these are useful, and a fundamental part of mathematics. If your child is finding it easy, you can also get some addition involved. After weighing the two objects one by one, ask your child to work out the combined weight of the two objects. Once they’ve worked it out, you can test it on the scales, and see if they got it right.
Count the beans
Another important mathematical skill is the ability to count. In fact, that’s probably the most important mathematical skill of all. There are hundreds of ways to practice this, but one fun activity involves a spoon and a can of beans. Get your kid to place as many beans onto the spoon as possible, counting them one by one, until one of the beans falls off. Make a note of that number. Then try again. Can your kid beat their record?
When they get good at this, move on to something else, like pieces of cereal. Can they fit more cereal on the spoon, or more beans? And what happens if you get a bigger spoon? While all this is happening, your child’s counting skills will get better and better. It’s also good for dexterity and patience — balancing beans on a spoon is harder than you might expect.
These are just a few examples of STEM activities for kindergarten kids. You can find plenty of others online, and you can probably come up with a few of your own as well. The basic principles of science, technology, engineering, and math are everywhere you look. Just ask your kids to count the sheep out the car window, or to guess why there’s frost on the garden fence, or help you build a well-engineered fort using logs and sticks in the forest.
It’s also worth saying: don’t forget to encourage artistic activities too! STEM is important, but so are art and creativity. Sometimes it’s good to forget about the science, and just sit down quietly and paint a picture together.