Boost your child's STEM learning opportunities in the great outdoors

As springtime starts nudging the temperature upwards, there’s one thing you can count on: getting kids outdoors will be easy! Try one of these enriching activities to help your children get in some high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) learning into their outside time.

Stargazing

Contemplating the heavens can launch many conversations: how to chart the night sky to mark the passage of time, using math to calculate star distance, the technology needed for space travel, the makeup of our stars and planets, and of course, there are the many myths and legends.

Dust off your childhood telescope, or pull out a pair of binoculars and host a night showing. Return each evening to keep a moon journal to launch a discussion about the moon’s orbit, or choose another heavenly body like Venus or Orion to track. Download a stargazing app, such as Night Sky 4, which is a quick reference to overhead constellations; all you have to do is point the tablet to the specific area in the sky. Or if you’re more hands-on, a homemade pocket star guide will be sure to plant a few key constellations into their minds.

Water exploration

Kids love the water, so it makes sense to take time to explore the natural wetlands in your area, such as lakes, ponds, rivers and oceans. These offer plenty of tactile fun, while deepening their understanding of the world.

Wetlands are an ideal place to set up some outdoor science experiments. Make a homemade water scope to get a closer look at the creatures in the water, such as frogs, tadpoles, crawfish and minnows. Learn to identify creatures by looking at tracks in the mud, and capture insects in a jar (later setting them free). If you have a microscope at home, examine water samples from different bodies of water to begin a discussion about single-celled organisms. Supplement the excursion with learning materials from an app, such as DIY Lake Science, or get in touch with your park system to learn more about guided tours and summer programs.

Build a stick fort

What better nature activity for kids is there than building a “den” in the woods, a little structure made of branches, sticks and rocks? If that’s not practical, how about giving them the materials to construct a stick fort alongside a special backyard tree or even next to the garage? The process feels a lot like playtime, but they’ll also be experimenting with building and designing.

This how-to from a master architect has some key takeaways. Gather up sticks and branches from the ground (but refrain from snapping them off trees). Luckily, early spring is the ideal time to find your building materials, right after the snow melts but before the undergrowth starts emerging. Use rocks and stones to hold the sticks in place, and the loose bark from a fallen tree to fill in the gaps. Finally, he suggests, keep lighter materials at the top and heavier ones at the bottom.

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