Learning and Development

STEM learning through play

  • STEM learning through play

Lisa Moss and Dr Thomas Bernard share four science experiments perfect for summer months…

STEM activities provide a brilliant opportunity for children to learn core concepts and skills through play whilst boosting their confidence and creativity. When engaging in STEM learning, children are able to develop a wealth of transferrable skills which they can utilise throughout their life.

These playful experiences promote their sense of curiosity and help to build foundations in key skills such as critical thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, perseverance and collaboration. Above all, they help to foster a love of learning, encourage a positive mindset and support children to view failure as part of the learning process. 

Learning though play is at the core of early years practice. STEM-based activities help children to understand more about the world they live in in a playful manner. 

Summer is a particularly exciting time of year for young learners to engage in STEM activities. From water and ice activities to experiments with shadows, it’s the ideal time to take learning and play outdoors. These four fun STEM activities will help introduce young children to key science concepts while keeping them entertained this summer. 

1 | Ice toy excavation

What you need: Small containers or moulds, small toys (for example, Lego, cars), food colouring, freezer, pipettes or a small jug, warm water, cold water, salt (optional).

Activity: Add a few drops of food colouring to your containers or moulds and then place the toys and water inside. Place the moulds in the freezer for a few hours. Remove from the freezer and leave them for a few minutes until they begin to melt a little. 

Place some warm and cold water in two separate bowls. Ask the children which one they think will melt the ice the fastest and why. Using a pipette or small jug, let them pour the water on the ice and begin to excavate their toys. 

As an extension, you could ask the children what they think will happen if they add salt to the ice. (Salt lowers the freezing point of water and so helps to melt the ice faster.)

2 | Sundial experiment

What you need: Stick or a straw, sticky tack/plasticine, pen, paper, a sunny spot.

Activity: Start by finding somewhere sunny and place the paper on the ground. Secure the stick to the paper using some sticky tack, making sure the stick stays upright. This experiment works particularly well if you start it at noon. 

Look at where the shadow of the stick is on the paper and draw over the shadow with pen, noting down the time. Record the location of the shadow every hour and see how it changes over the course of the afternoon!

3 | Raft making experiment

What you need: Different types of paper (such as plain paper, foil, parchment), empty clean plastic bottles, cardboard, wooden lolly sticks, washing up sponges, skewers, corks, elastic bands, glue, Sellotape, paddling pool or large tub, water.

Activity: The aim of the experiment is to investigate which materials work well for making a raft. Begin by asking the children which materials they think will work best and why. Allow them to construct different rafts using any of the materials available. 

Before placing the rafts in the water, ask learners to predict whether they think each one will sink or float, and record their predictions. Place the rafts in the paddling pool or tub of water and see what happens!

4 | Colour carnations

What you need: White carnations, three clean empty jars, three different colours of food colouring (such as red, blue and yellow), water.

Activity: Place a few drops of food colouring in each of the jars and add water. Place one or two carnations in each jar. 

Ask the children to predict what they think will happen to the carnations. If they predict that the colour will change, ask them how long they think it will take or which colour they think will change the fastest or slowest. Note down their predictions. Observe the flowers over the next few hours and throughout the day. 

As an extension, swap the flowers to different jars every day to create rainbow flowers. When the experiment is complete, you can also cut open the flower stem (the xylem) to see its internal structure.

Lisa Moss and Dr Thomas Bernard are co-authors of SuperQuesters: The Case of the Stolen Sun published by QuestFriendz. Book 2: SuperQuesters: The Case of the Missing Memory is out in November 2022. 

For more fun STEM activities and resources, visit questfriendz.com