Depending on where you live, school may be starting soon — if it hasn’t already – but the summer months are not over yet.
The dog days of August can bring hot days and boredom and with them whiny kids and frazzled moms.
If you’re looking for some fun activities for the last days of summer – or a lazy weekend afternoon — that will also provide some educational stimulation to transition back to school, look no further!
Many kids are nervous about going back to school, and it is often hard to put our thinking caps back on when we’ve had an extended break (true for adults and kids alike)!
But by incorporating some interactive educational activities into a summer day, we can help gear the kids up to get excited about learning new things in the coming school year while enjoying some time outdoors.
Science and math, in particular, are a struggle for many kids, but getting hands-on with some STEM projects can show them that they can play and learn at the same time and alleviate some back to school anxiety.
STEM studies – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – are a major focus of most school curricula these days, and for good reason. We are becoming more dependent every day on technology, and the newest generation of students is being taught to carry on advancements that are meant to improve our quality of life in the future.
There are countless kids’ science experiments online, but these projects are some of our favorites because they are fun for all ages, aren’t too messy (but you have to make some mess to have fun!), and require nothing more than what you likely have on hand in the house.
So gather some supplies and head to the backyard to explore some summer fun with science and math!
Blast off and have some fun with flight!
Kids love to catapult things into the air — and as long as it’s not their dinner or a small household pet, there are many great benefits.
Playing ball or frisbee for the little ones is good for teaching cause and effect and hand/eye coordination. And for the older ones, learning about flight and gravity can be fun and fascinating.
You can start with something as simple as making paper airplanes. The kids can experiment with designs and measure the distances they achieve with their creations.
Do they fly farther when made with a lighter-weight paper or cardstock? Are they immediately plunging to the ground and need adjustment (like a paper clip on the tail), are they staying in midair for a long period of time, do they veer to one side or another – and why?
Let the kids practice trial and error in their designs. They can measure the distance their plane flies by feet or by seconds in the air. Older kids can research aerodynamics in books or online and even make a graph of their findings!
Is space more up your child’s alley? Try a simple homemade rocket ship.
For younger kids, have them draw and color a rocket ship on a medium-weight paper (like construction paper). Taking two straws, one that has a wider opening than the other, tape one end of the wider straw closed and tape it to the back of the rocket. Slide the other straw inside that one and tell the kids to take a deep breath. They can blow into the straw and watch how far their rockets go!
Older kids can make a simple rocket out of antacid tablets (like Alka Seltzer) and a small container with a lid (plastic film containers or something of a similar size work well). Fill the container about two-thirds full with water, drop in a half a tablet, and quickly put the lid on. Turn the container over, lid side down, and soon your little rocket will blast off! (Make sure kids stand back – even though these are small and lightweight, it’s better to be safe than sorry.)
The kids will have plenty of fun experimenting with designs to make their planes and rockets go higher and faster, and it will keep them occupied and engaged.
How is the day measuring up?
Measuring is an easy activity that kids can do with virtually anything in the house or yard and it is great for preschoolers and younger school-age children.
And you don’t have to just use an ordinary measuring tape! Find some objects around the house like shoes, a belt or tie, a cereal box — just about anything – and let the kids measure to their heart’s content! How many shoes long is the sofa? How many coffee cans tall is mom?
The kids can compare measuring the same object, like a dresser or closet door, with different sized measuring devices and draw pictures or write down their findings.
Liquid measurement is also perfect for a hot summer day. Give them some plastic measuring cups and empty containers, like a milk jug, to see how many cups, half cups, etc. it takes to fill up the container. They can even do this while sitting in the wading pool or can measure out how much ice-cold lemonade will fill up their glass.
Color Me Happy!
Want another great water activity for toddlers and preschoolers? Fill some ice trays with different colors of water dyed with food-safe coloring and freeze. Fill up some clear plastic cups with plain water and let the little ones drop in different colored ice cubes. As the ice melts, the water will take on the color and they can experiment with adding two or three different colored cubes to see what kind of color appears. This is a great way to introduce mixing primary colors to make secondary colors.
And speaking of colors, how about a completely unique way to paint an outdoor picture? Pendulum painting makes beautiful designs and the fun of it is, you never know how the painting will turn out.
This can be adapted for all ages with a few small changes. For little ones, Mom or Dad can tie a marker or paintbrush to a string and simply allow the kids to swing it over the paper in different directions to make a fun abstract.
For older kids, you can take it up a notch by tying a long piece of string to a tree branch, adding different weights to the bottom of the string where the paintbrush is to be tied (fishing weights or tablecloth weights are perfect for this) and giving them several different colors of watered-down paint to experiment with.
A flat surface can be created on the ground with a large piece of cardboard or plywood and large sheets of paper taped down. Let the kiddos experiment with how the pendulum moves when it is first swung, and how it reacts as it slows down.
This is a good way to teach them about gravity and force. What happens when the pendulum is swung lightly and what happens when you apply more force? How do the lines and circles change as the pendulum slows down? This project can be done on a small or large scale depending on how much room you have to work, so let the kids go wild with this mix of science and art!
Bring on the heat!
It is usually hot enough to fry an egg outside in the month of August, and older kids can actually try this out. Crack an egg on an old metal cookie sheet and place it in the sun, or grab some store-bought cookie dough and see what the sun can do. (Of course, these food items are not going to be edible — they are only for the science of it all, so you may want to bake an extra batch of cookies in the kitchen to fend off disappointed kids!)
Mom or Dad can also help the kids to make an outdoor solar oven out of an old pizza box. Cut a large square out of the top of the box and tape plastic wrap to cover the opening. Using dowels and aluminum foil, make a canopy over the top of the box to capture the heat of the sun. Experiment with putting different foods inside the closed box to see how fast they cook, and discuss the science behind how the aluminum foil and the seal of the plastic wrap conduct and trap the heat. (This is a fun way to make s’mores that are edible!)
Don’t forget about all the other simple ways you can teach your kids about science with everyday household materials – making goop or slime, homemade salt dough that air dries, invisible ink with diluted lemon juice — or even that old standby from our youth, the baking soda and vinegar volcano explosion.
There is so much summer fun to be had with STEM, and the experiments are only limited by your imagination and what you have on hand at home.
Your kids will stay busy and learn at the same time, and their teachers for the upcoming school year will be thrilled with how much they already know.
(h/t Mommy Underground)