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While wacky experiments and hands-on experiences are still on the agenda for upper primary kids, the best STEM foundation right now is coding.
As children move through primary school, there are more opportunities to delve into more complex STEM principles and concepts. Many STEM toys (slime, puzzles, robot kits) bring the fun factor to the table, but they are also chock-full of learning. Remember, the best STEM activities for kids are engaging and capture their curiosity and attention.
The big question for parents of upper primary kids is how to get their children to connect what they’re learning with real-world application. The trick here is communication. Ask what they learned at school and engage them by asking questions about the world around them; why is grass green or the sky blue, why do boats float, how does sound travel?
Show them pictures, articles and videos that show STEM in action, and encourage them to ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, help them research it so you can learn together.
Use real-world problems for STEM projects. If you know an expert who works on the problem in the field, ask them to explain what they do. Go on an excursion. Science and maritime museums are exciting places to visit because, by this age, they will easily interact with the displays on their own.
Kids also love to build their own replicas of things they see in nature and culture. Inspire the budding horticulturist or ecologist with a home terrarium or fish tank. Some of the best STEM toys for kids in primary school are kits to build planes, boats or even a Star Wars droid. Robots can be particularly engaging for young minds – and can introduce early lessons about the all-important c-word: coding.
The answer is now. Upper primary school students are using tablets and computers at school and many kids are already starting to learn coding through STEM programs in schools. If you’re thinking, ‘What is coding?’, take heart; you’re not alone. It’s often a daunting concept for many parents, simply because it wasn’t part of our education programs and learning experiences. But at the basic level, coding is just how we communicate with computers. It’s learning to talk a computer’s language. Just like you might learn French to talk to a French person, you learn coding to talk to a computer.
Coding is seen as a new form of literacy that’s just as important as learning to read and write. Young people who can code will have an advantage at university and coding is predicted to be the most important skill for future employment. Added bonus: coding jobs are high paying. But at upper primary school, coding needs to be interesting and rewarding. In short, it needs to be fun.
There are endless opportunities to make it fun. There are coding websites with classes for kids, as well as apps, games and even STEM coding toys. Games like Minecraft are a gateway to coding, as is building a robot. Try robotics toys like Creativity for Kids Spark!Lab invent a motorized robot and engineering challenges like the VEX Gear Racer Robotics Kit.
Quick answer: no. At this age, it’s all about building on the principles they will have already set up in their younger years and taking those early lessons into more in-depth territory.
The best STEM activities for kids in upper primary years might include designing, making and launching rockets; playing with circuits; exploring force and motion through catapults; and construction play with multiple textures and products – everything from foil, toothpicks and newspapers to marshmallows, playdough and cardboard.
It’s a good time, too, to bring in even more applied mathematics: complex calculations that are linked to the real world. You might help them compare their weight on Earth with their weight on other planets, or research the size and scale of famous megastructures around the world. They can use Google Earth to measure distances between where they live and where their friends live – or between their city and wherever you’re planning to go on your school holidays.
STEM education doesn’t need to be expensive, either. Several free STEM activities can be found in nature that also provide great learning opportunities. They might like the idea of weather data collection through the seasons, or a simple outdoor activity like conducting a bird count in your backyard or local park.
Playground fads come and go, but many are a great introduction to STEM ideas. One of the greatest is the complex Rubik’s cube puzzle, a perennial favourite for problem solving that involves mathematical thinking.
Kids of this age also love making slime. Rainbow slime, fluffy slime, edible slime – there are lots of variations. Making slime involves a number of steps, but even the most easily distracted kids will happily commit to following careful measurements and scientific processes when there’s a pot of glittery slime at the end of the activity.
You can apply STEM to real-world situations by showing your kids pictures, articles and videos that connect to current events such as bushfires or volcanoes. There are also lots of documentaries that explore the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in interesting ways.
Action-oriented kids might enjoy documentaries like Inside the Inferno; it’s rated PG so you should watch it with them and be ready to answer any concerns it raises. To inspire kids with movies about children’s success in STEM learning, try Underwater Dreams or the Australian film Paper Planes. And you can’t go wrong with a David Attenborough documentary to get them interested in nature.
Hot Tip: Questioning marks the start of scientific research. Don’t forget to encourage your learners to ask questions and probe deeper when something sparks their curiosity. Inquisitive young minds are budding problem solvers and inventors who will one day change our world.