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[Parent Tips] Put the STEAM in Your Child’s Summer Learning

Tuesday, July 5, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

After working hard all year long, every child deserves a little break from school. But just because school is out, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop learning.

STEAM learning is a movement in education designed to help students embrace the innovative fields of science, technology, engineering, art and design, and math. The goal of STEAM learning is to continue driving innovation by inspiring the thinkers, builders and achievers of tomorrow to find creative solutions to the challenges they are faced with. STEAM supports the foundation for a complete and relevant education by encouraging both logical and creative thinking.

Believe it or not, integrating STEAM learning into your summer vacation is easier than it looks, and you may already be doing it at home. By recognizing the skills you’re practicing over the summer, your child will have an easier time applying science, technology, engineering, art and math concepts in their classroom projects and assignments next school year.

Help your child achieve deeper comprehension, identify how STEAM applies in their everyday lives, and get excited about learning by calling out the skills you are putting into practice as you enjoy fun activities at home this summer! Here are some creative tips to get you started:

Wear your lab coat in the kitchen

The summer time is perfect for finally giving that no-fail chocolate cheesecake recipe your neighbor gave you a try, or teaching your child how to make a fruit smoothie. These are also great opportunities to point out the chemistry behind cooking. Explain to your child why when you put eggs in a cake batter, you can’t take them out again, or what makes the pitcher of fresh, ice-cold lemonade sweat when you leave it outside by the pool. The kitchen is a great place to sneak in an effective, fun, and delicious science lesson.

Keep in mind though, we’re not all Top-Chefs, and sometimes that “Easy Soufflé” you saw on your favorite food blog, or even your grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe won’t come out as planned. Don’t let mistakes get you down. Instead, see if you and your child can figure out where you went wrong and why things didn’t turn out quite right. Did you use salt instead of sugar, or maybe you left the brownies in the oven too long? Why does changing one ingredient change the whole recipe? Small mistakes in the kitchen are a great chance to instill a central principle of STEAM learning in your child—to embrace and learn from failure.

Look for tech without the screen

For many of us, when we think of technology, the first thing that comes to mind is a computer. But the actual definition of technology encompasses much more than the latest smartphone or tablet; it is simply the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.

Help your child see just how many different places tech shows up by playing “Technology I-Spy” next time you run errands or watch a television program. See how many times your child can find the word “technology” in advertisements, product descriptions or slogans. Check makeup packages, cleaning supplies…even mattresses! When he or she has “spied” something, take a second to discuss what makes it “technology.” What scientific knowledge is being used? How is it being used for a practical purpose? Ask your child if he or she can think of another way this “technology” could be used, or if they can think of a way the “technology” could be improved.

Remember--not all technology has a label on it, but sometimes it can be hiding in plain sight! As you and your child go about you day, see if they can identify the basic technologies that we all use on a daily basis but often take for granted. Maybe there’s a pulley system in the window blinds, a wheel-and-axel on the baby-jogger or bicycle, an incline-plain in the stairs or a wedge in the door-stop. See how many you can find in your home, then talk about how technology has made your lives easier. What would life be like without these simple machines? Where else might these machines be found in the world?

Make time for old-school playtime

Traditional, tech-free toys and activities are still great for building logical and creative abilities. Their hands-on nature is perfect for instilling a maker mindset in your child and getting them to think like an engineer.

Puzzles offer a great chance to have casual conversations with your child about logical thinking by talking a little strategy. If your child is working on a puzzle, will they start by sorting the pieces by shape or color? Will they try and put together all the corner pieces first? If so, why?

If your child is more into building blocks, suggest they try sketching out their ideas before they start building. After they have completed building something, ask them where they think its weak and strong points are. You could also try asking your child to build a specific type of structure. What would a bank look like? A grocery store? A courthouse? What kind of material would it be made out of any why? When they have completed their masterpiece, ask them to explain its different features to you. Did anything inspire them to design it a certain way? How does it compare to a real-life version?

Get a Creative License

Finger painting, coloring books, modeling clay or watercolor- whatever the medium, encourage your child be creative this summer by giving them different art projects. But, do more than just slap a piece of computer paper and a box of crayons down on the kitchen table (although that’s never a bad idea). Instead, take the opportunity every now and again to expose your child to a different artist or type of art. Ask them if they know of any famous artists, or if they have a favorite painting. Try taking a family field trip to an art museum or flipping through a coffee table book featuring famous paintings. Show your child a few of your favorites, and explain why you like it or what makes it special to you.

However, not every art project your child does this summer needs to be a lesson in color theory or art history- nor should it be! There are lots of quick, easy ways to encourage creativity. Buy a big roll of butcher paper and lay it over the kitchen table so everyone in your household can free-draw when they have a spare minute. Instead of giving your child a tablet or smart-device to play with when you go out to eat, let them bring a coloring book and crayons. See if you can draw each other’s faces without looking at the paper or lifting your drawing tool. Ask your child to see how many different ways they can draw the same thing, like a dog or object around the house. If the weather is nice, you can even take art outside with washable sidewalk chalk. The possibilities are endless.

Take Math on the Go

While it’s a good idea to sit down with your child and some multiplication or addition flashcards every now and again, practicing math skills like you’re back in a classroom during the middle of the summer can be a real bummer to a kid. Instead, find ways to point out math in your everyday routine. Ask them to do quick mental math when you balance your checkbook, or figure out how many hours they slept the night before. When you go shopping, ask them to estimate how much change you can expect back after paying, or teach them how to calculate a tip when you’re out to eat. Cooking at home is also a great way to practice measurements and conversions.

STEAM learning encompasses so many subjects and skills—which is why it’s so important to focus on! Take the opportunity this summer to think about just how many STEAM concepts touch your daily routine, and make them a focus with your child. Try different activities and approaches to help you and your child understand their learning style. And above all, remember its summer; keep it fun!

Looking for more ideas to keep your child learning this summer? Check out this post on Three Ways Parents Can Stop the Summer Slide