The below list includes some of my favorites. Thanks to the amazing STEM education organizations, including Asset STEM Education, Lawrence Hall of Science, Community Resources for Science, Smithsonian Science Education Center and Science Friday Initiative for sharing these. For each activity, click the hyperlink to get a full set of instructions. If you like these, you can find more hereand here (EiE at the Museum of Science, Boston created this fun, family-friendly activity list for elementary-age kids). I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine has!
- Curious about Bubbles (best for Pre-K to 2nd grade): With household objects like drinking straws, rubber bands and pipe cleaners, have your kids design and create their very own bubble wands. In the process, they’ll learn which materials are best-suited for the job. You can ask them to reflect on which combinations worked to create the biggest bubbles, and which didn’t. To make the bubbly water you’ll combine 6 cups of water with one cup of bubble solution and stir slowly until they’ve mixed together (dish soap can also work as a replacement, in a pinch).
- Pond Muck Exploration (best for Pre-K to 2nd grade): Taking some pond sediment under close examination with a magnifying glass is a great way to show kids that there’s more to our ecosystems than meets the eye. Ask them to catalogue all the different objects and animals they can find in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of pond muck. You can even use your smartphone as a magnifying glass—just don’t drop it in the water! And for those of us without access to a pond (because too few of us do these days!), try leaving an overripe piece of fruit out for a day or two, and examine the changes occurring with your kids.
- Droplets Behaving Strangely! (best for 3rd to 5th grade): Show your kids how polarity works in liquids by testing the reactions of different liquids with each other, such as oil, water, and dish soap. Why do the different substances interact the way they do?
- Floating and Sinking (best for 4th to 6th grade): This is a great activity to demonstrate the concept of surface tension in liquids. You’ll need a plastic tub, water, some aluminum foil, and some small, heavy objects, such as pennies or marbles. Have your kids build three differently-sized boats with aluminum foil. Then place the boats in the water and have your kids push down on each boat slowly to test their resistance. Can they feel the water “pushing back up?” Once they’ve done this, have your kids try to predict how many marbles or pennies each boat can hold without starting to take in water.
- Build a Better Vortex Cannon (best for 6th to 8th grade): You’re probably wondering what a vortex cannon is. Don’t worry, it isn’t as complicated as it sounds. A vortex cannon is a device that releases air vortices, or doughnut-shaped air jets. The jets are invisible to the eye but similar in shape to a smoke ring. Having your kids build one of these cannons is fairly easy, and can be done with household objects like rubber bands and plastic cups. The activity demonstrates how air, like all matter, can move in response to force and exert force on other objects. Once they’ve built one, they can change the materials and size to see how strong a cannon they can create, and try to maximize the force and distance traveled by the air jets produced.
- Engineering Remote Sensing Devices (best for 6th to 8th grade): This engineering unit, designed in partnership with NASA for afterschool and summer camps, explores how scientists and engineers gather information from places in the solar system that are difficult to reach. Challenge your kids to investigate the properties of a mystery moon by designing remote sensing devices. The unit includes eight hands-on activities, and each one requires only common household things like straws, craft sticks, and rubber bands.