The STEM movement is gaining momentum at home, as parents turn to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) games and toys to teach these critical concepts during early childhood. Ten years ago, STEM toys were hardly a blip on manufacturers’ radar; today, they line the shelves of toy stores around the country. it is funny, but below are a plethora of the “toys” (though less expensive and less glamorous for marketing), that we older mamas used to use.
Since your school at home is now underway for this year, it seems a good time to share some ways to keep the little ones busy with STEM. I am sharing this post by my friend Joy Kincaid over at Artful Homemaking, with her permission:
As I was thinking about the coming school year, I decided to make a list of activities that our soon-to-be-three-year-old would enjoy doing. Some of these activities he can do completely unassisted, but others will require a bit of help from an older sibling or Mom (I plan time into our schedule for each child to have a one-on-one playtime with our preschooler, and I also plan to have a preschool time with him).
Some of the activities would be suitable for a younger child (toddler), but some of them involve small parts and possible choking hazards. Since our youngest will be three next month, he is past the stage of putting things in his mouth, and I have included some activities for him that contain beads, buttons, dry beans, and other small items.
Know your own child and use common sense when you are picking activities for little ones. Be safe!
The key to not losing your sanity is to only get one or 2 things down at a time and to let them help you put them away when done.
Best STEM Activities for Little Hands:
1. Lauri Shape and Color Sorter
2. Wooden Block Cart (ours has been well-loved).
3. Colored toothpicks in a cheese shaker (we got ours from Walmart years ago).
For whatever reason, toothpicks and a bottle with the right sized holes have always been a favorite with our little ones.
It will sometimes occupy them for a long time. Something about sticking the toothpicks into the holes fascinates them.
4. I Spy Bottle This cost me nothing to make, as we already had all of the supplies here at home. I just gathered little random items and tiny toys and then filled the bottle part of the way with bird seed. Then they turn the bottle to find the items hidden in the bird seed. My little one will need someone to do this with him, probably.
5. Wooden String- a -Farm (This has also been a favorite for years.)
7. Playdough and playdough toys. I usually make my own playdough, and the toys were given to us by grandparents.
8. Nuts and Bolts
9. Wooden Stencils (We’ve had these for years, so I’m not sure the ones I’m linking to are exactly the same…)
10. Straws to String (Cheap straws, cut into pieces and used for stringing with a plastic yarn needle.)
Manual Dexterity and Motor Coordination for Small Hands
11. Pattern Matching With Pony Beads. I used some wooden toothpicks and cut the ends off. Then I glued one bead onto one end. I made a pattern with the beads, and then glued the other end, using my glue gun.
This will be an activity my preschooler will need help with. He already knows all of his colors, though, so he may actually be able to do it.
12. Pony Beads and Pipe Cleaners (Little ones think it’s fun to thread the beads on the pipe cleaner.) I got the plastic trays here (Brawny Tough Plastic Art Trays). They work great to hold a preschool/Montessori-type activity or art project.
13. Large Buttons and an Ice Cube Tray (They can sort the buttons by color, or younger children can just put them in the ice cube tray compartments.)
14. A Basket of Really Large Buttons (These can be sorted by color or shape, or just played with.)
I got the above basket and the below divided tray at the dollar store.
15. Stacking Cups
In this activity box I have stacking/nesting cups and various items to sort and/or just play with.
Stacking cups are also fun with the pony beads. He filled the whole tray with cups and then wanted to put beads in them. It kind of became a pouring activity then.
16. Pom Poms, Tongs, and Tea Light Holders
17. Beads, Tongs, and Tea Light Holders
Lacing for Little Hands
19. Lacing Cards: Farm Animals Lacing Cards
20. Covered Cake Pan with Magnetic Letters (or other magnets) – both from the dollar store.
21. Wooden Pattern Blocks and Pattern Block Cards
More Activities for Little Hands
22. Beginner Pattern Blocks (love these!)
23. Lauri Puzzles
Magnetic Puzzle (This is a huge hit. It will sometimes occupy a little one for a long time as they try to “catch” a fish with the magnetic fishing rod.)
Jumbo Knob Farm Puzzle and Fish Bowl Puzzle (These are wonderful for very little hands.)
24. Latches Board (this is cute, but it’s a little hard for really little ones to do on their own).
25. Magnetic Hide and Seek Board
Open each door to reveal a surprise…
The items behind each door are magnets. The child tries to match each item with where it would be found (cow in the barn, cookie in the cookie jar, etc.).
26. Bean Bags With a Box or Bucket
27. Spray Bottles and Paint Brushes. I mostly use this activity for outside play.
They can fill the spray bottles with water and go on the back porch with a sibling and spray to their heart’s content! I give them a recycled plastic container full of water and a paint brush (from the dollar store) and let them “paint” the deck, the house, or whatever they want. Another favorite activity, especially when it’s nice outside.
28. Small Items and a Pringles Can
I started saving these tags from bread bags years ago…I thought, “hey, these are free…what could I do with them?”
If you cut a hole in the top of a Pringles can, you can have fun inserting small items (like the bread bag tags) in the hole. You can also use play money, pennies, buttons, beans, or whatever. It seems to be the act of dropping something in a hole that thrills little ones.
29. Dyed Pasta (I used the instructions here for dyeing pasta.)
You can sort this, string it, make a necklace, or whatever. Very cheap and easy.
30. Play Food (Our children have had so much fun through the years with this wooden play food. They love the crunching sound they make when you slice through them.)
31. Counting Bears and Balance Scale (Or you can use any other item with the scale: beans, buttons, beads, etc.)
32. Kumon Workbooks (These are so bright and colorful. Little ones do need help with these, but they are very quick to do, and then they feel like they did their schoolwork, too!
33. Laminated Worksheets and a Dry Erase Marker (I took some of the pages out of one of the Kumon books many years ago, and laminated it. Little ones love to write with the marker and then wipe it off. Wipe-off books are also fun.
36. Lincoln Logs
38. Envelopes and Paper (The free envelopes that come in the mail and would otherwise be thrown out.)
39. A large cardboard box or boxes (They can use this for a car, a boat, a house, or whatever their imagination dictates.)
40. Bubbles (On the back porch with an older sibling.)
41. Cars and Car Mat (the car mat was a gift from Grandma)
43. Wikki Stix
45. Dress Up Box (our box is filled with Grandma’s dress shoes, old dresses, vests, construction hats, bonnets, fire hat, clip-on earrings, purses, wallets, long strings of beads, velvet jackets, bandannas, and other fun stuff. 🙂
So, there’s my list! It may sound/look like a lot of stuff, but keep in mind that we have been collecting these items for 13 years (since our oldest daughter’s birth). We knew we wanted to invest in quality wood toys, and we got our first set of wooden blocks when she was just a tiny baby. And they are still going strong!
The grandparents also know that we love to receive educational items and art supplies for gifts, so a lot of them were given to us. I also try to take advantage of free/cheap/used/recycled items.
Where do we store all this stuff?
Storing Activities for Small Hands
As I mentioned in the post about our homeschool room, this basket on top of the bookshelves holds preschool activity bags:
These plastic shoe boxes hold some items:
And other items are kept in the craft cupboard.
For more ideas, check out The Preschooler’s Busy Book, and The Toddler’s Busy Book and this free ABC Snacks Plan.
What activities keep your little ones busy?
Meet Joy from Artful Homemaking. You will love her blog and learn much from her journey as a strong helpmeet to her husband and homeschooling mom to five. Her heart is to encourage and build others up in their parenting and homemaking through thrift, downsizing tips, excellent curriculum and homeschooling ideas, and handmade DIY and crafts that are simply beautiful. She also will wow you with healthy recipes. Visit her blog today here. She is one of my favorites, and I know you will be glad you did!