5 ways parents can interest kids in STEM at home

(BPT) - Did you know that there are simple, fun, everyday activities you can do with your kids to foster curiosity and interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)? If you want your school-aged kids to be more engaged in these crucial educational subjects, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to support your children in learning.

These activities are not only fun for kids of many ages and stages, but they will help introduce key principals needed to build a strong base for STEM education.

1. Build something together

Making something by hand is a fantastic learning opportunity for kids, bolstering their understanding of engineering, physics and math. Even a simple project like a birdhouse, bookshelf or wind chimes teaches the importance of careful planning, why they need to measure accurately and the basics of construction — principles best learned hands-on. Plenty of ideas for simple projects can be found online or with an easy-to-use kit.

2. Reach new heights

Kids love toys involving motion, and there’s no better way to encounter principles of physics like velocity, momentum and gravity than with a high-quality marble run. If you want to build higher and race faster, the GraviTrax PRO Vertical Starter Set from Ravensburger is full of opportunities for complex problem-solving and experimentation — as a solo activity or with the whole family. Kids 8 and up (and parents!) will find this set fun and challenging.

The GraviTrax PRO set offers multiple new ways to build higher and learn more about gravity. Kids can experiment with altering the speed of the marbles as they careen around curves and zoom down tracks. The complexity of what kids build will change as they get older, and with trial and error as they use the set. Even better — you can use the GraviTrax PRO set with any other GraviTrax product or accessories for endless combinations and exploration.

3. Bake up a chemistry experiment

Cooking and baking involves STEM principles including math, chemistry, biology and agriculture. Next time you're making cookies or cake, take the opportunity to discuss common chemical reactions as your kids measure and mix. Here are a few common baking reactions to get you started:

  • Caramelization and browning
  • Water evaporation
  • Expanding gases
  • Protein coagulation
  • Enzyme reactions

You could talk about each ingredient's chemical composition, its role in the process and discuss how it affects the results. Skip an ingredient or measure incorrectly, and the cake may not rise or becomes too dense. Flour and eggs contain proteins that help bond ingredients together. The gluten in flour helps create the cake's structure. Sugar caramelizes and tenderizes, while milk or water provide moisture. Leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda react with acidic and alkaline ingredients to release carbon dioxide into the batter — helping cakes expand and rise. Encourage observation and questions while you bake together.

4. Get your hands dirty

Kids learn a lot about science through gardening and many love to watch things grow. What does a seed need to grow and become a plant? If you don't have space (or time) to create an outdoor garden, an indoor gardening kit can help you get started.

Spending time together outdoors involves biological principles like photosynthesis and the life cycle of plants and animals. You can help your children observe the plants, birds and wildlife and answer questions about the different animal behaviors.

5. The sky’s the limit

Making toys that fly and watching toys fly can be endlessly fascinating for kids. Those activities also provide an entry point to teach them about physics principles like aerodynamics, lift and drag. Start by creating simple paper airplanes, and ask why some designs fly better than others. Try flying a homemade or store-bought kite together. Which kind of design works better? How does the kite respond to the wind, and what keeps it afloat?

Watching clouds, birds and airplanes can also pique kids' curiosity, and may lead to an interest in engineering, physics or space travel.

You don't have to be an expert to encourage an interest in STEM learning. All it takes is a curious mind and looking at everyday activities in a whole new way.

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