Summer is the perfect time to get your children engaging in activities that empower them and give them the ability to make a difference. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) activities allow our kids to learn and apply content in a realistic way that's meaningful. They are authentically engaging in problem-based learning activities that extend well beyond the walls of the classroom to equip them with essential 21st century skills. Check out these low cost, age-friendly ideas:
Add an inexpensive bird feeder to your home or apartment. Cornell University's FeederWatch is a fun program for all families and age groups, and it's really easy to do. Add a bird feeder outside a window in your home. Even if your window is outside an apartment building, as long as it opens, you can get very inexpensive bird feeders. You and your child can watch the birds that come to the feeder, collect data, and send the data to FeederWatch.
Create a summer observation journal. Elementary students can draw pictures of things they see in nature. This promotes their fine-grain observational skills but also employs the five senses. We should encourage them to record what they smell and describe what it feels like to touch things around them. It's valuable for kids to be able to record their thoughts, senses, and observations.
Foster creativity and 21st century learning. Rather than having a kit with instructions—which is the opposite of creativity—encourage kids to create objects using simple materials like cardboard and rubber bands. This allows them to be creative and use their imagination.
Participate in citizen science and data collection opportunities. Citizen science is actual research that's being done all over the world. When there's too much data to be collected and professional scientists don't have the manpower to collect it all, they reach out to the public. Zooniverse.org provides people-powered projects for all ages and subjects, including social studies and finance. The data you and your child collect is used for real research.
Volunteer with community supported agriculture (CSA) or community gardens. If kids are volunteering to weed a garden, it's helpful to do so in conjunction with an observation journal. This gives them an opportunity to process their experience. It's not just the physical act of participating, but it involves reflecting on what they experienced.
Create a board game. Creating a board game helps promote 21st century learning skills. There's strategic thinking involved as kids determine a goal, design cards, create a strategy, and more. This is a fantastic way to get kids to be creative—and at the end, they get to play, which is its own reward.
Look for existing opportunities in the community. There are a lot of free library programs that offer books of the month, themed books, and engaging programming. High schoolers also can volunteer their time at local nonprofit organizations.
Encourage mindfulness with a summer observation journal. These types of journals are valuable for students of all ages. For older kids, encourage them to be mindful of their five senses. If they sit in a park, how can they experience their surroundings without using their eyes? If they can sit still and be present in the moment, everything around them tends to relax. There is tremendous value for high school students and adults to sit, observe, and experience a space—because this is the age group that doesn't often make time for this.
Participate in trail maintenance. Rails-to-Trails are frequently looking for people to help with trail maintenance, and teens will be able to do community service while learning from experts in the community. This an excellent way for teens to not only broaden their STEAM skills, but also build their character and leadership skills while helping others.
These activities provide our kids with multiple opportunities to approach learning in an open-ended way, and gets their brains active over the summer to reduce any learning loss that may occur—not to mention it's a great way to spend quality time together!