Temperatures have dropped, and if you’re anything like me, you’re pouring eggnog in everything. Which means winter break is just around the corner.
Maybe you’re going somewhere tropical for the holidays. Maybe you’ll be visited by friends and family you haven’t seen in awhile. Either way, you'll probably have some downtime, and we're here to fill that time with fun projects and outings for all ages!
The best winter break STEM activities are fun, educational, and intriguing. They teach foundational skills that will benefit your kids in and out of the classroom, and show just how creative and cool the STEM fields can be.
Each of these activities is fun enough to pull your kids off the couch and away from the gaming console. Try one or try all 15—either way, we wish you a wonderful holiday season!
Winter Break STEM Activities
1. Take an educational field trip
Spending a couple weeks cooped up in the house can make anyone go crazy. Keep things interesting by taking your kids on an educational field trip. Depending on the ages of your kids, local children’s museums or science and technology museums will be a hit.
Plus, many of these institutions provide opportunities for hands-on exploration, so your kids will be able to interact with STEM subjects, instead of just watching them. Maker Faires also make for a great field trip, as they ignite creativity and provide solid proof that anything is possible.
Hint: Many museums offer discounted tickets on certain days throughout the month. Read the fine print online to see if you can visit for less.
2. Play with STEM toys
Have you ever camouflaged vegetables into a meal to keep your kids from knowing they’re in there? Today’s STEM gift guides are filled with toys like Roblox and others, which function the same way; they teach important skills like problem-solving and spatial reasoning in a way that’s so fun that kids don’t even realize that they’re learning.
3. Computer science, minus the computer
Two weeks (or more!) at home means screen time is pretty much a given, but being glued to a computer or phone screen isn’t the only way your child can brush up on their technology skills.
Head to Computer Science, Unplugged to find a ton of off-screen activities, puzzles, and stories that hone kids’ computer science skills. Each of the activities comes in an easy-to-print format with instructions and worksheets. We especially love the Santa’s Dirty Socks story and activity.
4. Start building
There’s no better way to explore engineering principles than to start building! Gather up any number of household objects—plastic cups, popsicle sticks, LEGO blocks, straws—and start building. Encourage your child to record the height, shape, and size of each new creation, and then test the structure's ability to stand up against a younger sibling.
If you’re like me and want some suggestions for what to build and how to build it, Google is your best friend. The web is full of tutorials, like this DIY light-up holiday sweater, or popsicle-stick truss bridge, or even a gingerbread house. Otherwise, find some funky materials, and let your child’s creativity soar.
You can challenge teens by encouraging them to replicate a current structure (like the bridge in a nearby city, or a famous skyscraper). A visit to the real-life landmark is always a good motivator.
5. Wrap presents like a (math) genius
While present-wrapping is pretty much a holiday season staple, the activity can also help young children build math skills. Help your child measure each gift, then determine how much wrapping paper will be needed to cover the present’s surface area. Kids can measure and cut out the appropriate amount of wrapping paper, as well as any decorative elements, like ribbon.
Not only will your child solidify their mathematical thinking, but you’ll have your very own elf to help wrap presents. For more math-related activities, consider downloading some free and simple math printables like these.
6. Family movie night, STEM edition
We’re working hard to prepare kids and teens for the millions of open STEM jobs that will go unfilled in the coming years. While equipping them with real-world tech skills is vital, nurturing a genuine interest in STEM is equally as important. So sit back (with some buttery popcorn), relax, and get ready for some inspiration!
Gather the family together for a STEM-themed movie night. While Netflix has plenty of great science and technology documentaries, don’t feel limited by non-fiction flicks. For instance, watch The Theory of Everything (PG-13) to be inspired by Steven Hawking’s life as a physicist. In the same way that sports stars, politicians, or celebrities become a child’s hero, so to can historic figures who shaped STEM fields and innovated incredible inventions along the way.
If biographical films aren’t your family’s cup of tea, try a science fiction movie that questions the limits we put on ourselves. Let your child dream outside of the box, and be enveloped in a world where the impossible becomes possible. After the movie, be sure to talk to your kids about what you’ve watched. Answer any questions they have, and see if their opinions have changed.
7. Try an at-home science experiment
Science experiments aren’t just for school. In fact, your kids could probably spend the entirety of their winter break exploring science with nothing more than objects you’d find around the house. For younger kids, making frozen bubbles or crafting crystallized ornaments are a great way to explore the scientific process. Teens can look to this list of 15 age-appropriate experiments for inspiration.
Hint: Pinterest is the go-to spot for fun experiments for kids and teens!
8. Explore nearby architecture and public works
Learn about civil engineering without going too far from home. Head to local infrastructure facilities such as a wastewater treatment plant to see what civil engineers have built in your own city. You can find nearby facilities online, and many offer free tours on certain days of the week.
An alternative to touring nearby facilities is to create a scavenger hunt. Civil engineering is essentially the grandfather of all engineering, and civil engineers create a vast and varied array of projects. Help your child research what civil engineers create (roads, subways, railroads, etc.), so that you can create a list of as many projects as possible. Then, drive through a nearby city (or take a bike ride, if you don’t mind stopping), and check off all of the structures you and your child see.
9. Head to the kitchen
There’s never been a tastier way for kids to discover math and science principles! This winter break, invite your children into the kitchen for a healthy dose of STEM learning. Encourage kids to measure out each ingredient, following the recipe to get the cooking process right. You'll get bonus points if your baked goods resemble something technology-related—like these fun Pacman cookies!
As your food cooks, discuss how various ingredients change during the cooking process. For instance, chat about how cooking fats have different smoking points, which means butter can’t be used to cook the same things as canola oil. Or, discuss what’s actually happening to water as it’s boiled. If you’re like me and don’t know too much about the science behind cooking, head to the Science of Cooking website with your child to look up some interesting food facts.
Once you’re done cooking, chow down on your delicious meal (or treat!) together.
10. Learn new skills online
Online learning platforms are becoming more and more accessible, especially as today’s kids feel increasingly comfortable operating technology. Depending on how much guidance your child needs, these guided online coding classes for kids and teens and other coding websites are great options for teaching students what might be the most important skill they can learn over the course of their childhood.
11. Turn a road trip into an adventure
If you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car this winter break, consider trying one of these educational car ride activities to boost your child’s STEM skills while keeping you sane.
Guess the Gas Price: Turn your trip into a math adventure! Before leaving for your trip, tell your child how far it is from Point A to Point B. Then, have your kids make estimates about how many times you’ll have to fill up for gas. Once you arrive at the gas station, they can complete more complicated equations, like how much it will cost to fill up the whole tank. Hint: Games are always more fun with prizes. Offer to pick up a fun snack or road trip memorabilia if your child’s estimates are close to the actual amount.
The World Around Us: Encourage your children to make observations about the world around them in this fun activity. On a long drive, kids can describe weather patterns, geological formations, or other landforms that they see along the way. This activity is particularly great when you're traversing over varied terrain on long car rides. Don't forget to ask your kids questions about what they see, and provide answers to their questions about the world around them whenever possible.
- Scavenger Hunt: Before setting out on your trip, gather your family together to write down some of the landforms (ie. mountains, river, trees, etc.) or animal life you might see along the way. Make the game harder by getting even more specific about what you’ll pass (ie. an oak tree, the Snake River). Then, once you’re on the road, see who can find most of the landforms or animals on the list!
12. Design a game: offline or online
Your child loves playing games. Now it’s time for them to design one! The great thing about creating games at home is that they can be as simple or complex as your child wants them to be. Plus, game creation strengthens problem-solving abilities and hones if-then thinking—two skills that help kids find success in STEM studies.
Start by brainstorming what type of game your child wants to make: How many people can play the game at once? What is the game’s objective? What characters will the game include? From there, it’s time to figure out how to best build the game. At this stage, you should probably decide whether you’ll create a physical game (using cardboard, paper cut-outs, dice, etc.) or program a game online. If your child isn’t familiar with game creation software, we recommend creating a physical game (for now). More advanced teens can follow these directions to develop a video game.
Once your child has decided how they will build the game, it’s time to make it a reality. Create a game board, characters, cards, or any other pieces needed to play the game. Once the game is completed and the rules are perfected, it’s time to play! Gather the family together to test out the new game. Although you might find mistakes as you go along—that’s okay. Have your child take notes during gameplay, so that future iterations can be improved upon.
13. Create a mock job fair
When kids think of STEM jobs, they often think of scientists, mathematicians, or engineers. Yet the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math cover an insanely diverse collection of careers, from being a nurse to coding apps like Lyft to working as a Legoland designer.
Broaden your child’s understanding of STEM jobs by hosting your very own “job fair.” Help your child research 4–6 different STEM jobs, noting various details about each one: what the responsibilities of the job are, what the person must wear to work, what the best part of the job is, etc.
Then, it’s time to pretend that you’re interviewing for a position. Let your child set up a job fair where he can “interview” you to determine which STEM job is the right fit.
14. Explore outside
Let your child explore the natural sciences without leaving your neighborhood. On a nice day, walk around your backyard or head to a nearby park to collect various objects from your environment: rocks, flowers, leaves, twigs, dirt, and wood shavings. Bring along a “scientific notebook” so your child can take notes (or draw pictures) of the insects and animals you see along the way. Once you return home, help your child identify each of the various objects and determine what type of environment you live in.
15. Try electrical engineering
Light up your holiday season with one of our handy tutorials. In the past, we showed readers how to create a Tech-o-Lantern costume, and those same principles could be used to create other light-up projects. We also created a simple guide for creating a light-up holiday card that’s perfect for Christmas or Hanukkah.
In addition, products from littleBits and Arduino are great for encouraging creativity and introducing kids and teens to electrical engineering. They are perfect gifts for the tinkerers in your family.
Fast-forward to Summer 2020
While we hope these fun STEM activities will keep your kids (happily) occupied over winter break, let’s be honest: summer is our bread and butter. After more than a decade running awesome technology camps, we know what gets kids and teens excited about technology. That’s how we became the #1 tech camp in the country.
Starting November 1st, register to inspire your child at one of our 150+ camp locations this summer. Be sure to enroll early to get your first choice of summer courses, locations, and dates—some courses sell out quickly! We can’t wait to be a part of your family’s summer.