STEAM learning is great for career development, but it can also be a lot of fun. Learning doesn’t have to stop when students leave a classroom setting. Here are 10 (inexpensive) STEAM activities your student can do this summer at home, in the yard, and in the community. 

1. Bird Watching 

Did you know that Oregon is home to 547 species of birds? 

Bird watching is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise while learning about Oregon’s bird population. See if you can find all of these common birds

Here is a great bird identification resource to get you started.

2. Grow a Plant

Growing plants and observing seedlings is a very accessible way to learn about the natural world. One way to do this is to obtain some vegetable seeds a small pot and a scoop of soil. Examining the process from germination to the plant’s fruiting stage and beyond.

A different approach to this experiment would be to use a common household food item, the potato. We tried growing a sweet potato in a jar to see what would happen and got some fascinating results.

Give this project a try for yourself. Remember to record daily observations so that you and your student can discuss the growing process.

3. Build a Fort

Constructing a fort is a great way to get your students thinking creatively about STEAM concepts while using the constraints of the materials and space that are available.

Some materials that we recommend are:

  • Furniture
  • Blankets
  • Cardboard (Using kid-safe tools like Makedo can really level up your cardboard engineering)

Building engineering and toys (K’Nex, LEGO, Keva Planks, etc)

4. LEGO Ziplines  

LEGO ziplines are a great way to flex engineering and design thinking skills for your student. This is a great project for solo learning or for the entire crew. The goal is to build the fastest and most stable carriage possible; the first one across the finish line wins!

To make the zipline, tie a sturdy string from a high point to a low point, this will give the carriages the speed they need to make if from one end of the zipline to the other. 

LEGO zipline is one of our favorite ways to incorporate LEGOs into learning opportunities. You can learn more about this project by watching part 1 and part 2 of our LEGO zipline tutorials. 

5. Foil Boats

Making foil boats is a Hub team favorite activity. You will need some aluminum foil, as much or as little as you have access to. There are no hard and fast rules about the dimensions of this boat, so use your excess or constraint to help you be creative with your design.

Once a boat is designed fill a vessel with water. This vessel could be anything large enough to accommodate your boat, Tupperware, a sink, your bathtub, anything.

Place the boat on top of the water and make sure it floats. Once your boat is stable and floating start putting small increments of weight on the boat to see how much weight the vessel can hold before taking on water and sinking.

We used pennies in our experiment, but you can use anything small that you have access to a large quantity of like thumbtacks or dried beans.

Make note of your successes and failures. Try different strategies to see if you can maximize your foil boat’s weight capacity.

6. Rube Goldberg Machine 

Are you looking for a fun and approachable way to introduce your student to physics? Try making a Rube Goldberg Machine, a device that contains a string of physical events in order to accomplish a task. This wacky project will have your student trouble shooting and adjusting for hours trying to come up with creative solutions to everyday problems.

Need some inspiration? Check out these over-the-top Rube Goldberg Machines on YouTube.
1. The Lemonade Machine
2. The Pizza-Making Contraption
Rocket-Launching Machine

7. Homemade Instruments

Instruments don’t have to be high quality and expensive to be effective and fun, just take it from Metallica and The Roots as they play “Enter Sandman” with toy instruments on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show”.

This is a challenge for you and your student to find some unique and out-of-the-box items around the house to make a one-of-a-kind handmade instrument and learn to play your favorite song on it. 

Need some inspiration to get you started? Here is a video that offers tutorials on how to make some basic percussion instruments. Be sure to do some of your own experimenting when making your instrument so you can find the sound that is right for your new garage band.

8. Plant Identification Journal

Oregon is home to many interesting and beautiful plants year-round. Taking time to identify the plants in your neighborhood and local trails is a great way to get a science lesson in while burning some extra energy and enjoying the outdoors.

Step 1. Make a zine – bring this zine and a pencil on your adventure.
Step 2. Stop when you find an interesting plant you do not know. Draw a picture of the plant in your zine and make notes you think will be helpful when identifying the plant.
Step 3. When your zine is full, go home and use Pl@nNet to help identify the plants you found.

Don’t forget when you are on the trail (and even just around your neighborhood) to implement the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

9. Designing a Game Using Cardboard 

With the convenience of home delivery, most of us have lots of cardboard boxes at our disposal. Cardboard is a great material for building; it is both sturdy and easy to manipulate. A favorite way of our Mobile Makerspace to incorporate cardboard into STEAM activities is to have students dream up, design, and create board games.

The possibilities are truly endless. One student that visited our Mobile Makerspace made a cardboard version for of the 8-bit classic, Oregon Trail. Another made a twisting and winding track for marbles and Hot Wheels. And yet another made a miniature replica of her favorite park.

10. Elephant Toothpaste

You may be asking yourself, “what is elephant toothpaste”? Elephant toothpaste is a chemistry project that creates a colorful and foamy reaction. You can find many people like Mark Rober making world record sized elephant toothpaste, but this project can be downsized so home chemists can make elephant toothpaste as well. This is a great video resource for beginners and how to level up your elephant toothpaste if and when you feel comfortable doing so.