Your toddler or preschooler likely spends quite a bit of time running around outdoors, playing on playground equipment, throwing a ball, or chasing friends. But you can add an additional element to his outdoor fun in the form of STEM activities which will teach your child about nature, science, and technology using natural materials and elements of nature.
- Construct a stick fort. Many of us remember stick forts from our youth. We would head out into the woods with friends and construct large forts from fallen branches, big enough for many of our friends to fit inside. If you’re feeling adventurous, taking your kids on an expedition to build a large fort can be great fun. But you can also gather twigs and smaller sticks in your own backyard and create a miniature fort, too. Ask your child if they would like to build it in the form of a log cabin, or using a technique similar to a tipi. Talk about what your fort needs to be built higher, to stay stable, and what to do if it falls down. You can also look for natural materials to augment your fort, such as leaves as a carpet or grass or mud to fill in any gaps. Your child can exercise both creativity and engineering skills using natural materials.
- Create a human sundial. Kids love this fun, interactive activity. Wait for a sunny day and look for a large sunny spot in your driveway or a patio or deck. Mark a spot on the ground with an “x”, using sidewalk chalk, and ask your child, every hour on the hour, to stand in that spot. You’ll notice that he casts a shadow. Trace his shadow every hour on the hour and you’ll begin to see patterns emerge. Even if you can’t devote 12 hours to this task, you’ll be able to compare the height and position of the shadows and draw some conclusions. When does your child cast the longest shadow? Do the shadows grow over time or shrink?
- Conduct a photo scavenger hunt. Create a list of common items your child can find in your backyard. Start with some general items, like “something sot”, “something green”, or “something wet”. Think of more specific items such as leaves, blades of grass, things that are alive, or things that only come out in the spring or summer. Gear up your child with an old phone camera or an inexpensive plastic toy digital camera, and ask your child to document her scavenger hunt findings by taking photos of each. This is a great way to introduce your child to the practice of taking note of the natural environment surrounding her, while also building in technology and camera skills. Ask her to keep the camera level, or to take better pictures by keeping the light behind her.
What is your favorite activity that keeps your child engaged with science and nature? Let us know in the comments section!