Dr Thomas Bernard and Lisa Moss, illustrated by Amy Willcox
November 1, 2022, in paperback from QuestFriendz, £7.99. For super problem-solvers and curious creators aged 4-8 years.
So much of what we do in our everyday lives at home and at work is related to STEM - for example, if we're preparing a hard boiled egg then sometimes it comes out too soft with runny yolk, and other times it might be overcooked. STEM learning is about identifying these small mistakes and learning from them. If the egg was too runny then we know that next time we'll need to cook it for a bit longer and we can keep experimenting until we get it right. It's about the cycle of continuous improvement and refinement through experimentation and reflection.
Even getting dressed in the morning requires us to use our STEM skills - we know that our pants go on our legs, our sweater goes on our core and we can use our sequencing skills to make sure we put on our clothes in the correct order. For example young children are already learning critical sequencing skills when they learn to put their underwear on before their pants and their socks on before their shoes.
As per the egg example, the kitchen is a great setting for helping children to develop their STEM skills. We often bake with our children and we encourage them to choose a recipe and break it down into small parts (or steps) so that the larger challenge (e.g. baking a cake) becomes achievable and more manageable.
As STEM activities form part of our everyday lives, why not try some fun activities over half term?
Here are some suggestions:
Coding Unplugged Activities
1.Follow The Leader
What You Need: Nothing
Activity: Choose a person to be the leader and another to be the follower. The leader begins by giving an instruction, using the structure of IF/THEN statements. For example, “IF I jump up, THEN you jump up.” Repeat this with a few different actions.
To create more challenge, the leader can then make the outcomes different from the condition. For example, “IF I touch my nose, THEN you clap twice.” Partners can practice these a few times and then the leader can perform them at random and see whether the follower can keep up, without making a mistake. Partners can switch roles at the end.
2.Coding With Cards
What You Need: A deck of cards, masking tape, variety of small toys (e.g., Lego, action figures, counters, etc.), toy car, paper and pencil/pen.
Activity: Create a 7 x 7 grid using the cards. Place them face down on the floor and secure them to the floor using masking tape. Place 3 -5 toys on top of some of the cards. Put the toy car at the ‘Start’. This will be the ‘robot’ and the challenge is to give it instructions, making sure that it collects all the toys before reaching the end.
For younger or less confident children, let them begin by giving one instruction at a time (e.g., move forwards 2 cards). Parents can then move the ‘robot’ car after each individual instruction. For older or more confident children, allow them to write the entire code in advance. This can be done in words or pictorially with arrows. Once the code is complete, parents can perform the code. Make sure that children have the opportunity to debug their code if they encounter an error.
3.Treasure Hunt Challenge
What You Need: Paper, pencil, some treasure
Activity: One person hides the “treasure” somewhere in the house or outdoors in the garden. They must then write a set of clear and precise instructions for the finder to follow in order to find the hidden treasure (e.g., Take 5 steps forward, turn left, take 6 lunges straight ahead, lift up the pillow to discover the treasure). Younger children can dictate these to an adult who can scribe them. The finder must then follow the instructions exactly. If they do not find the treasure, then the hider can debug the instructions and try again until the treasure is successfully found. Once the treasure has been found, swap roles and repeat the activity!
4.Paper Plane Instructions
What You Need: Square paper or A4 paper
Activity: Sit back-to-back with your child so that neither person can see what the other doing. Child to give the parent step-by-step instructions explaining how to make a paper aeroplane, whilst making one themselves at the same time. If children don’t know how to make a paper aeroplane, parents can do a demonstration first.
The instructions given by the child will need to be very specific and parents must follow them exactly (even if they are wrong!) At the end, compare your creations. If something is incorrect, allow children to try to figure out what went wrong and how to correct it in future.
Variations of this activity can include making a paper hat, paper boat, simple origami creations or even allowing children to come up with their own invention and then giving step-by-step instructions.
5.Create Your Own Board Game
What You Need: Range of recycled or junk materials (e.g., cardboard, plastic bottles or containers, foil, scrap paper, etc.), pencil and paper.
Activity: Create a board game using the recycled/junk materials available. Write an instructions manual for how to play the game. The manual should include step-by-step instructions for how to play the game. Younger children may dictate these to parents who can scribe the instructions. Older children can make the game more challenging by adding variables or conditions to the game. For example, they can explain and define what causes things to happen in the game, or what happens if two things happen simultaneously (e.g., players roll a five and pick up a particular card).
Once the instruction manual has been completed and the board game is ready, have fun playing the game! Children can note down any situations that occur during the gameplay that they hadn’t accounted for and add these to the instruction manual.