5 Fun STEM Activities To Get Preschoolers Excited About Engineering

Activities based on engineering principals offer a great way for kids to learn art, science, technology and concepts of literacy, while also strengthening fine motor, critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills. That’s the thinking behind STEM-based schools, like our sponsor BASIS Independent Brooklyn, which starts teaching engineering in its PreK classes. But learning engineering principles can happen at home, too, and BASIS Independent Brooklyn teachers have shared some of their favorite engineering-based activities from their preschool and K-4 classrooms to try with your family.

"With increased screen time in PreK-12 environments, there is a growing and important movement to build in time for actual 3D play into children's days," says Hadley Ruggles, head of school at Basis Independent Brooklyn. "Not only is engineering important for asking larger questions about the world around you, but it keeps important parts of kids' brains and bodies active." So challenge yourselves with these fun engineering activities, perfect for your preschoolers and older kids, too.

1. Paper Bridge
Materials: Paper, pennies or blocks

What shape makes the best bridge? This activity involves creating a bridge out of a single piece of paper that spans a six-inch gap between tables or chairs. The purpose is for kids to figure out which shape will hold the most weight (you can place pennies or blocks on top of the bridge one at a time to test out your theories). The trick is for the child to learn to fold the paper like an accordion, which makes it stronger.

2. Hovercrafts
Materials: Balloon, CD, wooden spool, rubber band

What makes this hovercraft glide so easily? To build, simply glue/tape the wooden spool to the CD so that the holes line up. Next, attach the balloon to the other end of the spool using the rubber band. Finally, inflate the balloon by blowing air through the CD/spool hole. Set the device on a flat surface and release the air from the balloon. It should hover and slide like it is on an air-hockey table. This will teach kids about friction and show them how the layer of air takes up space and keeps the plate and table from rubbing together so that the hovercraft can glide.

3. Popsicle Stick Bridges
Materials: Popsicle sticks

This is a favorite activity at BASIS Independent Schools, because it allows for a large amount of experimentation. There are many different types of bridges to try to build: beam, truss, arch, suspension, etc. The challenge is to use as few popsicle sticks as possible to hold the most weight—you can even try to build one strong enough that your child (or even you!) can walk across it.

4. Gumdrop Challenge
Materials: 10 gumdrops, 20 toothpicks

Using only the above materials, try to build a structure strong enough to hold a book. This will teach your child about load distribution and building structures, eventually showing that a large base can support more weight, and that triangles are sturdier than other shapes.

5. Balloon Brain
Materials: Balloons, variety of "protective" materials (see below)

Fill balloons with water, then use materials to build a “skull” around the balloon to protect it. Some materials to try include Styrofoam, cotton, tissue, felt, egg cartons, bubble wrap, newspaper and tape. Be sure that part of your balloon is left uncovered. You can make several balloons using different materials, then go outside and throw them against the wall to find out which protection worked best.

Interested in more STEM activities? Check out Tech & Science Fun for NYC Kids. And to learn more about BASIS Independent Schools and its programs, contact the school about a tour and future open house events. Limited seats are available for PreK and Kindergarten for Fall 2016.

This post is sponsored by BASIS Independent Schools, offering a world-acclaimed liberal arts, STEM-focused curriculum, now with two campuses in New York City: their flagship PreK-12 private school in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and K-8 BASIS Independent Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, opening Fall 2017.

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