The Festival of Ridván begins next week, and because it commemorates Bahá’u’lláh’s stay in a garden full of roses, I love to do rose crafts and activities with my children to celebrate (like make these rose cookies). Inspired by the roses that were piled in Bahá’u’lláh’s tent each day (so many that His guests could not see each other over them!) I have gathered together a huge list of rose crafts, play and learning activities, and recipes for you. Enjoy!
STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) is such an important part of education today, and for good reason: most careers in today’s economy are based on some aspect of STEM. And even more fundamentally, a child who can think like a scientist can apply those critical thinking skills and curiosity to any field they wish to pursue. Here are some simple ways to get kids excited about STEM at any age!
I received complimentary copies of the books below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase. I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
How to Get Kids Excited About STEM
1. Keep It Fun
There are all kinds of fun ways to get kids excited about STEM – from picture books to crafts and field trips. Experiment and see what gets your kids interested! Pay attention to what they love and use that as a way to start their explorations. For example, when my oldest became fascinated with carnivorous plants, we checked out as many books as we could, did crafts, made snacks in the shape of the plants he loved, and took a trip to San Francisco to see an exhibit!
There are so many ways to explore. Try visiting your local science museum – they are always so fun, and will introduce your child to new topics they may not have considered. A visit will definitely get your child fired up about science!
You can also explore at home by taking an activity they enjoy and helping them experience it in new ways! Old Tracks, New Tricks is a great new book to get kids excited about STEM from an early age. You may be thinking, what does playing with trains have to do with STEM? Plenty! This is not only a fun story (what happens when a group of fun-loving train tracks are adopted into a home where the trains make everyone stick to their rules?), it is wonderful for inspiring play and learning. Through this imaginative tale, kids are invited to think outside the box and use favorite toys in new ways. Who says you can’t use your train tracks for painting or to build trees or high tower jumps? I love that this book really empowers kids to be creators by coming up with their own projects! As soon as we read this book the first time, my kids jumped up and raced to pull out the train tracks. Soon they were building and creating – and kept going all morning!
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2. Focus on Hands on Learning
Kids really get excited when you take learning out into the real world and give them projects they can do for themselves. We recently attended a Science and Engineering Night at our homeschool charter school (yes! a charter school that supports homeschoolers – we love it!). My kids loved jumping in and getting involved in so many projects, from making slime and building towers to participating in an astronaut-in-training obstacle course. What fun ways to get kids excited about STEM!
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A fun way to recreate this learning at home is to use a STEM project guide like the new STEAM AHEAD! DIY for KIDS. This great activity pack includes making and building activities for kids ages 4 to 10. There is such a variety of projects included here, that you are guaranteed to find ones that you and your kids will enjoy!
From LED cards and scribbling bots to squishy circuits and bubble blowers, there is something for everyone! And note that this is STEAM, not just STEM – that extra “A” stands for Art and means that it includes craft projects that also teach science – score! Find even more resources to get kids excited about STEM on the WizKids Club website – and grab a free download – an alien doodle book!
3. Empower Them
If you loved Rosie Revere, Engineer then I know you will be just as excited as I am to learn that there is now an activity book to go along with it! Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers is a wonderful companion to the bestselling children’s book, building on the excitement it created around engineering and STEM. It includes 40+ things to invent, draw, and make. I love that it really encourages kids to use their imaginations and become inventors and creators themselves. The book also puts a big emphasis on failure as part of the engineering process. It celebrates flops and encourages kids to track their own as part of the fun of inventing. “Think about a time you failed at something and wanted to quit. Draw a picture to show how you felt. What did you learn?”
When kids are empowered to learn from their mistakes, they feel more confident to try new things and not give up. This is especially helpful if you have a little perfectionist in your house or if you are one yourself! Worrying about getting things just right the first time can really hold them back. Make sure they know that mistakes are not only okay – they are great! Mistakes help propel the process of invention forward, so encourage your kids to be proud of what they have learned.
If we want to get kids excited about STEM, we need to teach them to trust themselves and follow their curiosity. Science is all about exploration, so we have to equip them with the self-confidence to try new things – and fail. And try again. Having a growth mindset, where failure is not only okay but required, will help them develop perseverance and a belief in themselves as problem solvers. This means loosening up the reins a bit and giving them the freedom to explore, even when we know (or at least we think we know!) that something will not work. (Or that it will be messy or disgusting!)
Want to see if you can grow a bean plant in complete darkness? Let’s find out! Want to experiment with ways to grow mold on bread? Sure! Sometimes kids need to find out things for themselves, so we have to give them space to do just that.
This is one of the many reasons I love Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras), the first installment in a new book series about a girl whose mother not only trusts her with a big secret (there are magical animals in the forest that need our help!) but also trusts her to take care of the animals while she is away. This is a great book to showcase the scientific method, as Zoey and her pet Sassafras carefully experiment to find out why a baby dragon is sick. I also loves that it shows a kid who is empowered to figure out a problem on her own – and ask for help when she needs it. We can’t wait to read the entire series!
5. Turn It Into an Adventure
If you know anything about the world of science for kids, you know about Bill Nye, the Science Guy! We have used his super fun YouTube videos to teach many a scientific concept, so I was really excited to see that he had co-created a new chapter book series for kids! Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World is the first installment in an exciting new middle grade adventure series that features real-world science in a way that is engaging and accessible. Jack and his friends travel to Australia for a science competition, but when one of the scientists goes missing, they are drawn into a mystery that will have them racing to solve clues before it’s too late! I love how hands on science is woven into the story. This book also shows what actual, grown up scientists do, so kids can imagine themselves as part of the scientific world. This book is easy to read without being watered down, so it’s great for reluctant readers as well as those already curious about science. Includes additional information about the science shown in the book as well as an experiment kids can do at home or in the classroom!
What are your favorite ways to get kids excited about STEM? Share in the comments!
Do you have a child who is interested in science and medicine? Or one that you want to encourage to pursue their dreams no matter what the obstacles? Black History Month is the perfect time to introduce them to the inspiring story of medical pioneer Vivien Thomas, who persisted despite incredible difficulties to study medicine and develop a surgical technique that has saved thousands of children’s lives. Inspire your kids with a wonderful children’s book on his life as well as suggested activities to teach your kids mor about this important figure in the history of STEM.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
History of STEM: Black Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas
There is a reason that most of us have never heard of the incredible Vivien Thomas, despite the fact that he invented a surgical technique that allowed for the first successful open heart surgeries on children. Even though he is now credited with saving thousands of children’s lives, his is not a household name.
After the first operations were performed using Thomas’ technique in 1944, the procedure made national news, yet Thomas was never mentioned. The technique itself was named after the two doctors Thomas worked for, both of whom were nominated for the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine because of “their” technique.
Why? Because Vivien Thomas was black, at a time when blacks and whites used separate drinking fountains, when blacks had trouble finding housing in “nice” neighborhoods, when blacks were barred from entering all-white medical schools, and when blacks could not operate on white babies, even to save their lives.
When Thomas’ life-saving technique was first used in 1944, Thomas was not allowed to perform the surgery himself, but the surgeon could not do it without Thomas’ help. Thomas had to stand on a chair behind the surgeon, giving instructions (and at one point stopping the surgeon from making a suture in the wrong direction).
Thomas’ contributions were not recognized until 1971, when his portrait was displayed at John Hopkins University. The university awarded him an honorary doctorate degree 5 years later and appointed him to the faculty. Many of the country’s top surgeons trained under Thomas and credit him with their success.
A wonderful book to introduce children to Thomas’ life, his incredible perseverance, and pioneering work is Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. It tells of his life from his childhood, when he worked under his father, a master carpenter, to carefully save money so he could go to a nearby medical school for African Americans. It follows his crushing disappointment at losing his savings in the market crash of 1929 and his persistence in pursuing work in medicine, even if his official job title was simply “janitor.” How did someone with only a high school education develop a life-saving surgical technique that is still used today? How did Thomas overcome the racism and resistance he faced from his co-workers?
One activity we did after reading the book is based on the first operation that was performed using Thomas’ technique, when Thomas stood on a chair behind the surgeon, giving instructions.
The boys took turns standing on a chair behind the other, giving instructions on how to draw a picture. The one drawing had to follow what the other was saying, and the one giving directions was not allowed to actually touch the drawing.
Warning: They hated it! It was too frustrating to just give out instructions and not be able to draw, especially because the one drawing usually had his own ideas about what to do! The one drawing wasn’t having any fun either, since he just wanted to do his own picture.
Hopefully this activity gave them a taste of how incredibly frustrating it must have been for Thomas to watch another surgeon performing his technique, while all he could do was stand behind him and give instructions (which the surgeon would hopefully want and be able to follow).
Welcome to our fourth annual Black History Month series and giveaway! Follow along all month long as we explore the rich history and cultures of Africa and African-Americans. Be sure to enter our giveaway below and link up your own posts at the bottom of the page.
Coming soon! Our annual Black History Month giveaway runs from February 3 through February 28, 2017. Winners will be drawn and notified within 48 hours. Note that some prizes have shipping restrictions. If the winner lives outside of that shipping area, that part of the prize package will go to the next prize winner. Read our full giveaway rules.
I try to integrate subjects whenever possible, so when the time came to study the Nazca lines of South America (after our study of the Olmecs), I saw an opportunity for a great STEM project that taught history as well!
What are the Nazca lines and why should we care? These lines, etched into the ground in the Peruvian desert between 500 BC and 500 AD, are now a World Heritage site and one of the great mysteries of history.
Barely noticeable from the ground, these geoglyphs are so large that their true value can only be appreciated from the air, which is why they did not come to public attention until airplanes started flying them in the 1930s.
By Unukorno (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Some of the straight lines are 30 miles long, while the animal and plant figures (our favorites were the hummingbird and monkey) range from 50 to 1200 feet in length (Source: National Geographic).
By Martin St-Amant (S23678) (Français : Travail personnel English: Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
So how did the ancient peoples of this region create these massive works of art? Possible alien visitors (!) notwithstanding, the most likely explanation is simply that they were great engineers, who were able to map out their designs on a grand scale and patiently bring them to life over a vast swath of land.
What would it undertake this kind of engineering project? To explore, we did this STEM activity, which requires little more than paper, pen, chalk, and a large space to draw:
Nazca Lines STEM Project
1. Choose your site. Before you start your engineering project, you need to know where you are going to be doing your final creation. Ideally, it is a large open space outdoors that is divided into several uniform blocks, such as a sidewalk. Decide how many blocks tall and wide your final design will be. We chose a sidewalk at a nearby park and decided to use three blocks of the sidewalk. (You could also use a white board or blackboard that you divide into sections, though it is nice to draw on a horizontal surface to get the full effect).
2. Create your design. Draw blocks on a sheet of paper that match those of your final site. Since we were going to be using three blocks of a sidewalk, we first drew three large blocks on our paper and my son drew his design onto these. This will help you plan how large your drawing needs to be when you transfer it to the sidewalk. You may even find it helpful to divide your paper (and the sidewalk) into smaller blocks. For younger children, try to keep the drawings fairly simple, as it is easy to underestimate how difficult it will be to scale them up in the next step. (Knowing, of course, that many children – like mine – will ignore this advice and draw something complicated, like a detailed picture of a warrior!)
In which we learn an important lesson about not sitting on our chalk drawings.
3. Make your creation. Take chalk and your paper to your final site and transfer your design. Use your sketch to help you see how big each portion has to be on the sidewalk. It will be much bigger than you think! Even with drawing in hand, this was the most challenging part, as it is quite difficult to scale up your drawing onto the pavement.
Note his creative way to make his warrior taller when he realized he hadn’t scaled up enough!
This was a fun project, and it helps build a healthy respect for those long ago engineers!
Welcome to our third annual celebration of Native American Heritage Month! All month long we’ll be sharing posts about sharing these rich cultures with kids. Find our full schedule of posts below, and don’t forget to link up your own as well! We’re also having a giveaway (see below for details and to enter!) You can find even more ideas on our Native/Indigenous Cultures Pinterest board:
My kids and I recently attended a Maker Faire at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore, where we got to use all kinds of fun, creative toys, including robots and 3-D pens! It was a great way to really try things out before purchasing them. Based on our experiences, my oldest and I collaborated to make this guide of our favorite tech gifts for kids. You’ll find his opinions below along with mine. These toys are not only fun they are also (shh!) educational, making coding and creating exciting for kids. Hope you have as much fun with these as we did!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Cool Tech Gifts for Kids
If you buy nothing else on this list, buy the Emerge Tech EUVRC Utopia 360Degree Virtual Realty Headset. It is so affordable that it puts virtual reality into the reach of many families who otherwise would never consider it. I asked the rep about the price out of sheer curiosity, never imagining how low it would be. Result? Two little boys I know will be getting a virtual reality headset this year! Trust me, buy this and you will be a hero in your house! It is super fun and easy to use. My son tried this so many times that the rep got to know him quite well! The images are great, and you have a 360 degree view, so you can look in any direction and still be totally immersed in the virtual world. (By the way, it is almost as entertaining just to watch someone who is wearing this headset!) There are thousands of FREE apps you can download to use on the headset, including games (the headset comes with a controller that can be used in games), so you don’t have to worry about this being a gift they are excited about for a few days then throw in the closet, as there will always be something new for them to try. There are some apps that have a cost, but nearly all are in the 99 cent range. One of our favorite tech gifts for kids this year.
6 year old says: A big heart (his top rating)
His other top gift was the CreoPop Cordless 3D Printing Pen. It is actually the one he talks about the most, though he didn’t get to spend lots of time with it because there was such a long line. Basically it has a type of ink in it (which comes out like a gel) that hardens once you use it, so you can make creations that you can keep for later. You can either draw or on a surface in the usual way then pick it up to display, or you can draw up to build a tower or other creation. Talk about your ideas leaping off the page! It is also easy to change colors mid-creation, just by popping out one ink cartridge and inserting another. (Many other 3D pens use filaments which appear to be more difficult to change in the middle of drawing). I love that it is cool to the touch, unlike many of the others on the market, and materials are non-toxic.
6 year old says: A big heart
The kids all really had fun with the award-winning Wonder Workshop Dash Robot. Recommended for ages 8 and up (I actually saw kids much younger having fun with it), Dash is a real, responsive robot that kids can learn to program from their phone or tablet using free apps. It is a fun way for kids to learn coding, as they teach Dash to move, dance, and even respond to their voice.
6 year old says: A fun bot, 5 stars
One of the tech gifts for kids at the Maker Faire that grabbed the kids’ attention right away was Meccano – Meccanoid 2.0. It is about 2 feet tall and looks most like what kids picture when they think of robots. It is recommended for ages 10+, but I think this is for the actual building and programming of the robot. Kids much younger will enjoy playing with it, especially as it is voice activated. My son explained to me that when the robot’s eyes turn blue, it is ready for you to say, “Meccanoid.” When its eyes turn green, it is ready for a command. If you are thinking to yourself, “I cannot afford to buy my kid a 2 foot tall robot!” then take heart, because they actually have Meccano – MicroNoid, a much smaller (and more affordable) version.
6 year old says: 5 stars (It lost a star because someone else was nearby when he was playing with it and the bot was getting confused about who was giving it commands. As my son told me, in a mock stern voice, “He disobeyed me.”)
Another fun robot toy is Sphero 2.0: The App-Controlled Robot Ball. It is also app-controlled and teaches kids coding in a really fun way as they make Sphero move all over the house! I love that it is water-proof and pet-proof, because you can imagine what corners and spaces this little guy will roll into! I also like that it is so portable, although I really had to watch that my three year old didn’t walk off with it when we were leaving!
6 year old says: 5 stars
I love the concept of Ozobot. This award-winning robot is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and is great to help visual learners really get coding. The basic idea is to create a pattern on paper using Ozobot Washable Markers. The patterns you draw give instructions to the Ozobot, as each color indicates whether it should go straight, turn around, and so on. The patterns you draw can be very simple or quite intricate, so kids really exercise those logical thinking skills. Teachers can even contact Ozobot for free lesson plans to use in the classroom!
6 year old says: 3 stars (He liked it, but not quite as fun as chasing around the larger robots, plus it can take a bit to get the hang of how to draw the patterns for the bot to follow).
Looking to have some STEM fun with your kids? Here are some of our favorite resources, from picture books to paper airplanes, sing-alongs, and more!
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of many of the items below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission.
STEM Fun for Kids
Long time readers will remember when I reviewed a set of wonderful culturally diverse STEM books for elementary students from Hands-on-Prints. Now they are back with another globally-minded STEM book, this time for younger readers. A Handful of Numbers is a gorgeous way to introduce children to numbers 1 – 10 and at the same time introduce them to concepts about the Earth – for example, One Earth, Two Poles, Three Oceans, Four Directions, etc. My favorite is the last – Ten Fingers (that build and impact the world). Once again STEM is combined with a global consciousness that raises children’s awareness about the planet at the same time as they learn their numbers. This is also a book that will grow with your child – my three year old loved the gorgeous pictures and the basic concepts, while my six year old pored over the scientific information about weather patterns and the poles. Another beautifully done book to introduce STEM concepts to young children.
The magnifying glass has to be one of the first scientific wonders that young children encounter – such a simple tool that small hands can use, and it makes things so BIG! I know my boys still like to run around the house examining things with their magnifying glasses, and they are essential when we go on our nature walks. Now here is a fun book to help young children explore with magnifying glasses and start to learn some basic terminology. Maggie the Magnifying Glass is the story of a little girl who is actually a magnifying glass! Readers go along with Maggie and her diverse (yay!) classmates as they search for the class pet. Really cute, engaging book to get little ones excited about science on a level that they can relate to.
Have some hands-on STEM fun with this amazing paper airplane kit! Think you know how to fold a paper airplane? Think again! Next Generation Paper Airplanes Kit: [Origami Kit with DVD, Book, 56 Paper Airplanes] will take you beyond the basics to build some truly amazing flying wonders. This kit is STEM fun that kids and adults will love. We have so much fun building and flying these airplanes together as a family. There are twelve different designs, everything from a ladybug to a space ship and even an improved version of the classic paper airplane. The instructions are easy to follow and there is even a DVD for those like me who are a little mechanically challenged! The instruction booklet also teaches basic engineering concepts – like why the classic paper airplane design is actually flawed and the simple change needed to make it really fly! I also love that for each of the twelve designs there are many different sheets, so no need to argue over who gets the spaceship or to worry if it accidentally gets ripped by little hands or chewed by the dog. There is a range of difficulty in the designs, so young children will definitely need help with many of the designs, but people of any age will enjoy flying them!
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A science sing-along book that also teaches about South Asian cultures?? A dream come true! Author Najla Ahmad wanted to teach her young daughters about science using a character they could relate to, so she created the series Asha Loves Science, a series of books and videos that teach science while at the same time incorporating South Asian culture and language. How does this work, exactly? In Over In The Meadow: An Asha Loves Science Sing Along Book children all about animals (for example, the difference between reptiles and amphibians) plus some basic Hindi/Urdu animal words! The YouTube channel also includes science experiments for kids. Great STEM fun for kids from any background!
The website Kids vs. Life began with a scenario all parents can relate to – trying to answer one of those endless questions from a curious kid: Where does rain come from? From that simple dilemma came the amazing collection of e-books for curious kids on topics like the planets, cavities, ants, and fire, as well as a collection dedicated to phonics, and you can also sign up for their parenting newsletter! I love the artwork and the story lines are all very engaging. Be aware that currently these interactive books are just available on iBooks.
Kids love dogs, and now they can learn more about these wonderful creatures who have been our companions for so long. (I had a professor that used to say it wasn’t clear if humans domesticated dogs or the other way around!) From Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs is illustrated with beautiful paintings that tell the history of the dog from the early bond between wolves and humans to modern dogs with their variety of breeds. Great for helping kids think about dogs in a new way as well as the reasons this animal-human friendship was beneficial for both partners.
Older kids will love Squish, a series of graphic novels about a lovable loser just trying to make it through the school day – while reading his favorite comic (Super Amoeba!) as much as possible. So how does this relate to STEM? Squish is an amoeba, and his world is populated by microscopic creatures from the pond, like paramecia and algae. Poor Squish is forever getting into trouble thanks to his equally lovable but quirky friends (one is always forgetting whether or not he remembered to shut his front door/wash his hands, etc and so making Squish late for school), leading him to confrontations with the principal, school bullies, and more dangers every kid will recognize. Besides introducing basic concepts (and including science experiments at the end), the series also teaches kids about how to cope with the basic dilemmas they face at school. My favorite story line is when Squish had to decide what to do with the cool kids (the algae brothers) want Squish to humiliate his best friend just for a joke. These are books that my son has finished reading by the time we get home from the library. Luckily he likes to read them over and over! Great way to sneak in some STEM fun for older kids!
I also recently reviewed Cosmos Ignites, a wonderful middle grade novel that integrates math concepts into a fantastical adventure for older kids. Be sure to read my full review!