Activity Idea: Taking Advantage of a Unique Opportunity

I’ve heard a lot of people say this school year is a “lost year”.  I get it, we are not doing what we typically do, so we will not see the typical results.  But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  This is a unique opportunity.  Think about it, we have been forced to slow down and change just about every aspect of our lives.  When else are you going to have the chance to learn about your kiddos with no judgements, no expectations, and no worries about grades or the future? Whether we like it or not, we are where we are.  Why not use it to our advantage?

How to Start: Whether your kiddos are attending in-person, virtual, or home school, things aren’t the same.  Most of us have been forced to slow down (Kudos to you front-line workers who are bearing the burden of keeping the country going.  Thank you!).  Since we have more time at home, and with our families, why not use it to learn about each other?  Start by sharing something about yourself and you’ll be amazed at how your kiddos will jump in.  Some topics to start a conversation are:  

What was your favorite game as a kid? What toy did your friend have that you loved? What was your favorite song growing up?  What is it now?  If you could learn more about anything, what would it be? 

If your kiddos still won’t talk, ask them.  But you may have to be a little more subtle with your questions.  Try re-wording it into an “I wonder…” question.  For example, you could try “I wonder, if we could travel anywhere in the world, where would we go?”, or “I wonder, if we wrote a story about our family, what would it say?”, or (I think this is my favorite) “I wonder, if we were in the circus, what would we do?”

What to do next: Now that you’ve learned about each other, try learning with each other.  Education can be a family event.  Never taught anything?  No problem! You don’t need to.  You don’t have to be an expert on a topic to help your kiddos learn.  All you have to do is explore together.  Not sure where to start?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Continue with your discussion.  Research the area of the world you want to travel to, start writing your family story, or look into what it takes to be in the circus. 
  • Investigate a topic everyone in the family is interested in, but no one knows much about.  What do you want to know? How will you find it out?  How will you work together? 
  • You are an expert at many things.  You wouldn’t have gotten where you are otherwise.  Teach your kiddos something you know.  Let them see your passion and excitement.  Success in life requires more than success in traditional classroom learning. 
  • Your kiddos are experts at many things.  Don’t believe me, just ask!  Have them teach you.  You may just learn something new and, let’s face it, wouldn’t it be fun to be the one misbehaving…

What we found: My hubby had a brilliant idea of adding a word of the day to our dinnertime discussion.  His plan was to expose them to new words, new concepts, and reinforcing ideas important to our family.  We did it for two nights, and then and amazing thing happened.  On night three one of my kiddos started the discussion!  We were presented with a familiar word and took turns saying what that word meant to us.  We were amazed by the discussion that followed.     

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

It is up to you and your kiddos how you want to expand on what you’ve learned.  Follow wherever the discussion takes you.

STEAM Resources:

Once you find topics that you and your kiddos want to explore further, do it together. Work as a team to find resources.  There are no rules, no requirements.  Just exploration for exploration’s sake. 


Activity Idea: An Exercise in Brainstorming

Recently, I was asked to provide a video interview as part of a Girl Scouts Gold Award.  How cool is that!  The project is focusing on female aerospace engineers.  Although, I’m not an aerospace engineer, I am a female scientist.  While these are two very different fields, many females in science have had similar experiences, which is why I was interviewed. 

Participating in this project got me thinking… I was at NASA when they first announced their plans to return to the Moon and continue on to Mars.  At the time, I was asked a lot of questions: Why are we going back to the Moon? Why do we want to go to Mars? How will we get there?  Why are we talking about going to both the Moon and Mars?

For today’s activity, you and your kiddos are going to work together to figure out how to answer these questions.  This is a brainstorming activity.  Learning how to think can be one of the most important lessons in life.  When posed with a new question or problem, scientists and engineers aren’t expected to have all the answers. Their job is to analyze what they know, what they don’t know, and figure out a path forward.

How to Start: Have your kiddos write down their questions about NASA’s return to the Moon and travel to Mars.  If they need help, you can jot down their questions as they dictate.  Be warned, once they get started you will probably have to write fast to keep up! Keep them focused on the real world, we’re not working on a science fiction story (that’s a whole different blog post).

What to do next: Be a scientist!  Believe it or not, this is how most scientific investigations begin.  You are posed with a question, you figure out what you do and don’t know, and then you put together a plan to try to find the answers.  Let your kiddos guide their own exploration.  This is an exercise in brainstorming, thinking outside the box, and applying knowledge.  It is also an exercise in building confidence.  The goal of this activity is to figure out what you don’t know, not to find a specific answer. 

What we found: While my kiddos did ask some expected questions like: How much fuel will it take? and Will we travel straight to Mars, or go to the Moon first? I was totally surprised by others.  Why does the moon have crevices? How were the Moon and Mars created? What do they look like in real life? Are there volcanoes on Mars? Questions like these are actually right on target!  In order to travel to, and safely explore these new worlds, we need to understand how they are similar to, and different from Earth.

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

Space travel requires skills and knowledge in all areas of STEAM, which is why every mission requires many different experts working together.  Below are just a few of these areas.

  • Science: What do you need to know about the Moon and Mars in order to travel to, land, and survive?
  • Technology: What technology did we have when we first landed on the Moon?  What has changed since then? 
  • Engineering: What is aeronautics?  How is it different from astronautics?
  • Arts: Why does NASA’s JPL have an art studio?
  • Math: Who was Katherine Johnson and why was her work so important?

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: Confectionography: The study of crystals using candy

Okay, so it’s not a real word.  But it gets the point across, right?  We can use candy, rock candy to be specific, to study how crystals form (crystallography). 

How to Start: A little background: a crystal is a solid made from molecules that form a repeating pattern.  What’s really cool is that as the crystals grow, they form in the shape of that molecular pattern (aka crystal system)!

Our recipe:

  • Boil 2 cups water.
  • Add 4 cups sugar (we used white sugar) over medium-high heat.
  • Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and you get a rolling boil.
  • Pour into containers (mason jars work great).
  • Add food coloring and flavored syrup, if you want.
  • Dip a chop stick in the solution, remove and let fully dry.  It will take a day or two.
  • Once dry, put the chopstick back into the solution.  Use a clothespin to hold the stick in place and about an inch off the bottom of the container.
  • Watch your crystals grow!

What to do next: Discuss with your kiddos how they think the crystals grew.  Form a hypothesis and then do some research.  Hint, key word are: supersaturated, precipitate and evaporation.

What we found: I tried to take a short cut.  It failed.  I learned.  I read that you could wet the stick and roll it in sugar, so you wouldn’t have to wait a day or two for the stick to dry.  That didn’t work for us.    

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: Time to dig into some Geology (my fave!).  Research the different crystal patterns (or systems).  What are they?  How many are there?  Can you give an example of a mineral from each system?  What is the difference between a crystal and a mineral?
  • Technology: How are crystals used in technology?  Why are crystals used in technology?
  • Engineering: What is crystal engineering and why is it so important?
  • Arts: Can you draw a picture of your crystals?  What about pictures of the different types of crystal systems?
  • Math: What shapes do different crystals form?  What angles do they have?  What patterns?

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: Window Drawings

It’s summer time and, if you’re like me, you usually have a family vaca planned.  Except this year plans had to be cancelled, or at least postponed, until things are safer.  So, what do you do now?  Why not draw a picture of where you would like to be?  It can anywhere.  Make a window drawing and escape to a different state, country, or even a different world!

How to Start: Close your eyes and picture a window.  What does your window look like?  Is it large or small?  What shape is it?  Is it made up of multiple windows? Now, picture in your minds’ eye what you see outside that window.  Got it?  Good!  Draw it!

What to do next: Describe the world outside your window.  Is it real or made-up?  Where is it?  Pick at least one living thing outside your window and describe it.  What is it called?  If it is made-up, give it a name.  Make sure you give it a scientific name along with a common name (see the binomial nomenclature link below).  What does it look like?  What does it need to survive?  In what climate does it live? Are there predators? Prey?

What we found: When doing this activity, we found that one window wasn’t enough.  We ended-up using multiple windows and “evolving” our view but adding new elements to each window.  Say hello to Sciurus niger, or the Eastern Fox Squirrel.  We just call him Bobby.

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: What is a food web? Where does your organism fit within the food web?
  • Technology: How would you make a vehicle to travel to, and through, your world?  What materials would you need? (see “Engineering” below).
  • Engineering: How would you prefer to travel to, and through, your world?  Design your vehicle. 
  • Arts: Did you know people work as science artists?  What type of science artist would you like to be?  Photographer? Fine artist? 
  • Math: Math is everywhere! Can you find math in your nature drawing?  Can you add math to it?

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: Make a bored game

Okay, I know. It’s a dad joke and I’m not a dad.  But I just couldn’t resist.  I mean seriously, low hanging fruit anyone? 

If your kids are like mine, they need a whole new level of entertaining during this Covid, global pandemic, plague thing.  The same ol’ same ol’ toys and games just aren’t as interesting.  So, have them MAKE something that’s more interesting.

How to Start: Brainstorm!  What will be the focus of your game?  Why not meteors?  The Perseid meteor shower is peaking the week of August 10th, so use that event to your advantage! Then, research, research, research.  What are meteors?  What are the Perseids? How did they form?  What strange facts can you find about them?  How can you use this information in your bored game?

What to do next: Design! What will your game look like?  Will there be an actual game board?  How many players are required? What will the game pieces look like?  How will players move through the game? Remember that as you develop your game, you can always re-adjust the design and the rules.  Even the most experienced scientists change their path as they collect new evidence!

What we found: You can take as much or as little time to develop a game as you want.  The game we developed took only about an hour, and was impressively complex.  Although, we have yet to fully test it so I’m expecting a version 2.0.  But… I was amazed at how focused my kiddo was when working on it.  To be quite honest, I wasn’t even involved in the development.  By the time I found out about it, it was almost complete!

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: What other science areas interest you?  What science topics are related and can be integrated into your game?
  • Technology: What technology did you use to build your game?  What other technologies could you have used?  How would that change your game?
  • Engineering: How can you incorporate the engineering design process into the development of your game?
  • Arts: The game board, pieces, cards, etc. can be as intricate as you want.  And the questions don’t have to be straight forward.  Make rhymes, require the answer to be in a song… have fun with this!
  • Math: Add calculations to your game.  Astronomy can’t be done without math!

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: Design A New Language… and then some

My kiddos have been talking in their own “language” for a while now.  It’s not really a formal language, just jibber jabber that they say they understand and will periodically translate for us.  Which at times can be hysterical.  But why not have them formalize it? 

How to Start: Talk with your kiddos about language.  What makes up a spoken language?  A written one?  If they are not reading/writing yet, they can still develop symbols for sounds.  If they are older, then can design letters that match our alphabet, or even make-up unique letters that represents sounds that occur only in their language.  Have them record their written alphabet and include explanations of pronunciation.

What to do next: See how far they can go.  After coming up with an alphabet, design a sentence structure.  Have them write a story in their own language.  Better yet, have them design a whole culture.  Use the following guiding questions, or come up with your own:  Is it an ancient or current culture?  If they are an ancient culture, when did they exist and why do they no longer exist? What traditions are associated with the culture?  Do they have their own unique religion(s)?  What great inventions and scientific advancements are they responsible for?  What type of environment do they live in?  Do they have a flag?  How are they governed?  What does their artwork look like and was it influenced by other cultures?  What foods do they eat?  There are so many directions they can go with this!!

What we found: We are currently finalizing the language and practicing writing.  My kiddo even made a flip-chart describing the language, letters and words, to use as a quick reference.  Our plan this week is to develop a culture, starting with holidays (why didn’t I think of that?!?!).

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: Use the location of the culture to investigate different habitats/biomes. 
  • Technology: What technological is your culture responsible for?  Consider where they are located to determine societal needs.
  • Engineering: What does the architecture of your culture look like?  How has it evolved? How do they build?  What materials are used?
  • Arts: Design a flag.  Design samples of artwork that use common themes of the cultural.
  • Math: Are there patterns in their artwork and architecture?  What are they and how are they created? 

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: Summer “Camp”

Well, it’s been a while. The transition from “Mommy school” to “Mommy camp” has been… a learning experience.  At the end of the school year I thought I had a solid plan.  To be honest, I still think I had a solid plan.  I just chose not to follow it.  See, I found that Varsity Tutors was offering free online summer camps.  How perfect!  My kids could register for as many camps as they wanted and we would have cool stuff to do over the summer.  Potions, Minecraft, graphic novels… heck, I even planned to sit in on some of the classes.  I put together a weekly schedule, charted it all out, and even made plans for additional summer learning.   Things started off great, but after a couple weeks they needed a break.  We had to adjust our tack.    

We are still doing the free summer camps, sort of.  On Friday we look at our camps for next week and decide which ones they really want to do.  We reevaluate participating both before and after camp starts.  Sometimes we even make it through an entire week! 

How to Start: So, where’s the activity idea you ask?  Why do I have this picture of an artery-hardening ice cream “sundae” above (yup, under all of that other stuff there is actually ice cream)?  For the summer, I have let the kids take the lead in learning.  I am listening to their ideas and then building activities (lessons) around them.  One activity that we’ve had success with is making home-made ice cream.  Not in one of those ice cream maker contraptions.  We made ice cream in a bag.  It’s a lot of fun, and you can make the kids work for it.  Believe it or not, this is a lesson I used with my high school students… back when you could do that in school.  This activity has STEAM content for all levels. 

What to do next: There are a ton of recipes on-line for this.  Below is what we did, feel free to tweak and adjust as you like.  As you will see, that can even be part of the lesson.


  • Quart storage bag (make sure you get a tight seal when closed)
  • Gallon storage bag (make sure you get a tight seal when closed)
  • ½ cup half and half
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Any other flavor or ingredients you want to put in your ice cream
  • 3 cups Ice
  • 1/3 cup Salt (I prefer rock salt, but I’ve heard all types of salt will work).


  • Hypothesis, as a scientist, I have to include this.  Some sample questions you can ask are: What do you think the steps will be? What do you think will happen?  How long do you think it will take?
  • Procedure:
    • Add the half and half, sugar, vanilla, and any other flavors or ingredients into the quart bag and zip closed.
    • Put Ice and salt into the gallon storage bag.
    • Put quart storage bag in the gallon storage bag and close.  Mix and shake until ice cream forms (about 10-15 minutes).
    • When the ice cream is ready, enjoy!  Just make sure you do not get the salt from the outside bag into the ice cream.  I use a sponge to wipe own the outside of the ice cream bag before opening.
  • Analysis:  What happened?  Why did it happen?  Would you get a different result with different ingredients? Different salt?  I have a feeling the kiddos would up for re-testing this experiment!

What we found (new section): I received a great recommendation about including our personal results, so here goes!  The kiddos loved doing this experiment (go figure), and after their first attempt got very creative with their ingredients.  Not just the flavors (cinnamon worked out great), but how they flavored.  For example, how would you make chocolate ice cream?  Would you add chocolate chips, melted chocolate, chocolate powder?  The experimentation for this activity is endless.  And, it doesn’t take much to get the kiddos to try another batch!  However, I have two warnings.  First is the home-made ice cream version of “are we there yet”.  They get tired, impatient, and cold.  Grabbing a pair of oven mitts helped, as did only making one batch at a time, and having the kiddos take turns mixing.  Second, when they ask if they can add toppings, make sure you monitor the situation closely…

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: Chemistry fits in perfect here, from states of matter for the younger kiddos to chemical reactions for the older.
  • Technology: Can your kiddos design a machine to do the job? Something that works faster or isn’t as cold to hold?
  • Engineering: Now that you’ve designed an ice cream making machine, build it!
  • Arts: Let the kiddos get creative.  What flavors do they think will work well together?
  • Math: For the younger kiddos, work on measurements.  You can even bring in English and Metric.  For older kiddos, experiment with amounts of your ingredients and conversions.

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: What tastes good?

Okay, so we did it.  For some of us the school year is over and for the rest of us, we’re are just about there. So, now what?  Whether your state is easing restrictions or not, you and the kiddos are still going to be spending a lot of time together.  Now that we don’t have school, what are we going to do?  Why not use the time to train teach the kiddos how to cook?  There’s a lot for everyone to learn and it can be a great bonding experience. 

How to Start: As a family, come up with some ideas of what you would like to cook.  Consider picking one day a week where you and your family make something new.  You can research recipes that use favorite foods, look at a world map and pick a country, or just flip through a cook book and see what page you land on. 

What to do next: While you are cooking, think about the different ingredients and how they taste.  Are they sour, bitter, sweet?  Why are certain ingredients combined together?  Why are other ingredients not combined together?  How do these combinations change the flavor of the food?  How do the flavors of foods change when you prepare them differently?

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

You can go in many STEAM directions with this activity based on interest and age. 

  • Science: Investigate the science of taste:  How do you taste?  What makes a pleasant vs. an unpleasant taste?  Investigate the chemistry of cooking: How do the different ingredients react?
  • Technology: What did you use to cook your meal?  Was it effective?  How did people cook in the past?  How has cooking technology changed?  How would you improve cooking technology and why?
  • Engineering: Can you build something better?  How would you do it?  Make a design and propose materials.
  • Arts: Why do people consider cooking an art? What makes top chef’s so successful, other than just a good recipe?
  • Math: For the little’s, you can practice measurements.  For older kiddos, you can discuss different measurement units and practice converting.  You can also practice decreasing or increasing recipes and see if it tastes the same. 

STEAM Resources:


Activity Idea: What Animal Is It?

Have you noticed that there are a lot more animals out-and-about since we humans have been less out-and-about?  I’ve seen videos of penguins walking down the street in South Africa, wild turkeys on an elementary school playground in California and even whales swimming off the coast of Marseille.  While these videos are direct evidence that animals are more active during the pandemic, is there any indirect evidence?

How to Start: Discuss with your kiddos what evidence left by animals you would expect to find, other than actually seeing them.  Make a list of your ideas and where you would expect to find them.

What to do next: Head on out and explore!  What’s great about this activity is that you can explore anywhere.  Out your window/balcony, in your yard, at a local park, in the streets…. The evidence is everywhere!  Just put on your detective hat and look around.  Even better, make it a week long project.  Collect your data and put together an analysis.

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: Research the types of animals in your area.  Where do they live, what do they do?  How could you use that information to help your investigation? 
  • Technology: Put together a presentation of your data to share with others.  I’m sure grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc. would love to hear about your findings.
  • Engineering: Have you heard about data engineering?  If not, look into it.  If so, how would you apply it to this project?
  • Arts: Scientists record their data in many different ways, including taking pictures.  Practice taking pictures of your evidence, without disturbing it. 
  • Math: How would you represent your data?  Think about how you would show your data to others. How would you analyze your data? 

STEAM Resources:


Don’t Do It All Yourself!

Many of the parents I’ve spoken with recently have talked about getting into a rhythm with their work and their kiddo’s school.  We’ve all settled into our routines, but I have heard an overwhelming concern that kids just aren’t getting enough.  Most families are only able to do the bare minimum.  So, how can we do more?   

How to Start: First, remember that everyone is in the same situation.  All students are doing less.  Second, focus on ensuring your kiddos have the academic and emotional support from you that they need.  It is a matter of quality, not quantity.  When it is time to be with your kiddos, focus on them.  Third, if you think your kiddos are lacking in any area, and you don’t have the time or the experience to help, find someone who does!

What to do next: Get help!  No parent can do it all, so look for outside resources.  I’m not talking about worksheets or busy work, find experts that teach.  The number and type of virtual classes is exploding, and you are no longer restricted by driving radius.  There are multiple benefits here, your kiddos will have a more diverse experience and you will get a break.  Some of these experiences do cost, but there are many that are free. 

Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?

  • Science: What are your kiddos learning about?  In what are your kiddos interested?
  • Technology: Once you look at all the other STEAM areas, come back to this one.  Then look into what technology is required to address the other areas. 
  • Engineering: Have your kiddos research different engineering fields and see what sparks an interest.   
  • Arts: Is there an area of art that your kiddos show interest?  Or do you want to expose them to something new?
  • Math: Same as Science.  What are your kiddos learning about?  In what are your kiddos interested?

STEAM Resources: