Supercharge your child's Creativity, Critical Thinking With STEAM

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

How Your Family Can Integrate STEAM Time Into Fun Time

  For young children, a STEAM experience can be as simple as identifying colors: and recognizing which colors make new colors: “If you have red paint and you add blue paint, what color will you make?” Then give them the paint. Finger paints are great for this, as it allows for free experience. Once you add a brush, some children may feel the need to paint a picture, and a STEAM lesson is more about the process than the finished product. The science behind why and how combined colors create more colors is a spark for critical thinking and will nurture your child’s ability to illustrate what they see.

Cutting is perfect for preschool-aged children. Give your child a stack of paper, all different types (construction paper, newspapers, magazines, old mail), and let them discover the form and mechanics of the scissors (Engineering.) Ask them if they can cut specific shapes, like circles, triangles, and squares (geometrics are perfect for early math recognition.) Share with them some images of collage work by Henri Matisse and encourage them to make their own collage masterpiece inspired by his work.

For older children, consider using the technology component of STEAM by letting them explore camera and movie techniques through stop-motion animation, a film-making technique that makes inanimate objects move (think Gumby or Wallace & Gromit). While stop motion is, for the most part, a simple, hands-on technology with which children can use with ease, there are constraints to the medium that encourages problem solving, experimentation through trying and testing, as well as projecting and planning out where a story is going. And it’s really fun being Spielberg for a day!

One of the best family projects that incorporates all elements of STEAM is gardening and journaling. Backyard gardening, urban gardening, kitchen gardening, homesteading — whatever you want to call it in your house — is a fantastic way for families to connect and discover. From tilling the soil and planting the seeds to watching them grow into food for your table, scientific discovery is everywhere in a family garden.

• What type of soil do you have? (Science)

• What types and how much of each nutrient will be needed to make your crops grow better? (Science and Math)

• How do I “map” where my plants should grow? (Math)

• How do I “stake” my garden? (Engineering)

• What are “companion plants?” What’s your “zone?” (Technology)

Through research — like visiting a garden center, searching online, or checking your local library for books on gardening — collaboration, and just getting your hands dirty trying new plants and techniques, you will discover the answers, as well as gain a deeper respect for the environmental sciences.

Where is the “A” in our family gardening project? It’s everywhere! It’s in the physical beauty of the plants and flowers that will grow throughout the season. In the colors, smells, and sounds of Mother Nature. And how can you capture this “Art” part of your experience? Journal! By writing and sketching the story of your garden adventure, you are stopping and reflecting on each part of the scientific process and bringing those elements of STEAM full circle.

You can make a small journal by folding pieces of inexpensive drawing paper into a folio, and adding a folded piece of card stock as the cover. Use a piece of twine, yarn, or ribbon and sew a few stitches along the folded spine. Tie a knot or bow to finish the stitching, and your journal is complete. Keep it in a small bag with a pencil, some colored pencils, even a small watercolor set, so you are ready at any time to record your words and images.

You may also want to use photographs to document the growth of specific plants, and put them in your journal. For decorating the cover, it could be fun to use leaves or petals and a monoprinting technique. Simply rub a very small amount of ink or paint on the leaf or petal you would like to print, and then press it onto your paper. Use one, two, or several prints for a more personal, handmade look.

Next page: Three places to check out for STEAM education fun! 

Three places to check out for STEAM education fun! 

1.  Take a trip into Boston and visit the MIT Museum.  With exhibits like Robots and Beyond, Gestural Engineering, and The Jeweled Net: Views of Contemporary Holography, there is something for every scientist in the family to discover.  Admission to the museum is free on the last Sunday of each month.

2. Spend a day at one of Mass Audubon’s magnificent properties, like Broad Meadow Brook Sanctuary in WorcesterThe largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England, it is home to over 430 acres of natural beauty. There are rope-guided and easily accessible trails, plus indoor and outdoor exhibits that incorporate nature with innovative, STEAM-based solutions for growing and maintaining this environmental science oasis in the city.  Visit the Mass Audubon website for information on Broad Meadow Brook, and other sanctuaries throughout Massachusetts.

3. Head to Danforth Art in Framingham. From paintings and sculpture to works that use science and technology to move light that creates changing images, the exhibits here a perfect example of the visual beauty of STEAM, and admission is always free for art enthusiasts ages 17 and under.