5 STEAM Activities for Busy Bees (Elementary School)
At home or at school, these elementary-level STEAM activities get cogs turning in new and unique ways, leading to discovery and cultivating further exploration in learning. These activities draw in the Art focus of STEAM, no pun intended. One of the most exciting things about STEAM with the A is how it can intertwine creativity with math, science, engineering and technology, helping young minds to find a passion that brings these realms of learning together.
Make Geometric Shapes with Materials from Nature
When a pre-geometry activity starts with a trip outdoors, you know it’s going to be a good one. The basic form of this project is great for kids around third grade, though there are options for kids throughout elementary school. After hitting the great outdoors, kids can pick out different objects they find, as much as they can carry in one hand. The next step is to settle in with scissors and glue to create a masterpiece: A display of rectangles, triangles, squares, circles, and any other shape you can name. It’s a great time to introduce lesser-known shapes such as rhombuses and trapezoids. You may consider hosting the entire activity outdoors so that any materials not glued to the paper can return to nature.
Kick it up a notch for fourth and fifth graders, and add a compass and ruler. The kids’ job is now not just to make shapes but to use the laws of geometry and trigonometry. This provides a great visual and kinesthetic aid to the learning process, helping students to develop strong memories to help them remember how to make geometric shapes later on. Not to mention they get to use leaves and pine needles instead of just a pencil and paper.
To make this STEAM project more approachable for first and second grade, make the activity all about discovery: finding shapes that exist in nature, gluing them in any pattern they like, then decorating and tracing to make each piece truly unique.
Design And/Or Build a Machine From Scratch
Every invention starts with an idea. For all elementary school kids, this first step follows a similar model. You might propose a problem and ask the kids for a solution (something light-hearted like getting gum on your shoe or a real-world problem like pollution). You may also ask for a new way of doing something, like opening jars or making pasta.
Each student makes a design of their problem-solving machine. For younger kids in first and second grade, this may be as far as it goes. Kids might share their design ideas with each other, and you might add to the thinking process by asking questions: how it works, how big it is, who might need one, etc).
As kids progress through elementary school, the complexity can expand. Third graders and up might make a list of materials needed and make a prototype out of common materials. You might challenge them to include moving parts: things that can bend or stretch. The student can then identify what else is needed to make it a fully functional machine. The result is a memorable exploration into the STEAM world that comes with a souvenir.
Investigate a Phenomenon
This STEAM project can be open-ended, and best suits either at-home learning or a Montessori-style class. The activity begins when someone asks a question, and the magic happens when this question is completely unprompted and coming from a genuine state of curiosity. Of course, this question can also be supplied by a parent or teacher.
The question can be a “why” or “how” for anything in the universe. Why do leaves turn brown and brittle? How do bees fly? It can even be grounded in the use of everyday technology: Why do erasers erase pencil marks but not colored pencil? How does a calculator work?
The activity can then take on one or multiple forms: Brainstorming and making a hypothesis, experimentation and observation, and research on the web. It can be free-form or follow steps in a certain order. If you prefer a guided approach, you might start with the hypothesis and create an experiment together, then follow it up with research to check your answers. If the young researchers aren’t satisfied, you might have one final experiment to complement what you learned from the research.
Perhaps the best part of this STEAM approach is how versatile it is, and how it can be repeated anytime to explore new phenomena. If you build a tradition of exploring questions (to varying degrees) whenever they’re brought up, you help to nurture a scientific mind.
Design an Animal and its Environment
As kids grow up and learn more about the world around them, they’ll start to notice patterns like certain animals having scales, fur, fins, or feathers. Infinite dialogue can be had about how each trait helps animals to survive in their unique environment.
A STEAM activity that kids will remember forever is designing an animal that will thrive in a specific environment. Does it need to keep cool or warm? What does it eat? Does it have predators? What gives this animal a unique advantage?
To make this more approachable for first through third graders, you may focus on the creative aspect: Choosing if the animal has fur or scales or something else entirely, what shape their eyes are, if they have a long tail. To get ideas flowing, you might show the kids pictures of animals from around the world and discuss their similarities and differences.
Study Animal Anatomy Hands-On
If you noticed which website this is, you probably saw this coming: A STEAM activity that really captures the hearts of young ones is dissecting owl pellets. Ethically sourced, these little capsules contain the secrets of an owl’s diet and the anatomy of the delicious rodents they consume. An owl pellet often contains the complete skeleton of a small rodent, and may be a child’s first look at animal bones in real life.
While icky at first, dissecting owl pellets gets the whole class eager to carefully examine, identify, and construct animal parts. We provide owl pellet kits for just one or two people, or for a whole class of eager learners. To add Art to this STEAM activity, consider writing letters to the owls (Goofy, we know) or drawing the rodents that the group found.
Elementary school is a time when kids absorb information about the world at a rapid rate, and curiosity is easy to unlock. These STEAM activities and many others help kids to build the habit of asking questions and finding the answers.