Who doesn't love a picture book? Regardless of your age, we're pretty sure that answer is yes! Which makes these STEM activities for kids the perfect learning-based project for your students and you!
It's no secret that literacy skills like reading, writing, and communication are crucial to early childhood development. At the same time, many teachers are looking for ways to integrate more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), into their lesson plans to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving. The good news is, you don't have to choose between English-Language Arts (ELA) or STEM - you can teach both at the same time!
The Connection Between STEM + Literacy
According to the US Common Core, ELA “asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”
One of the best ways to encourage students to think critically about what they've read is to have them complete a book-inspired project or activity. Below are nine of our favorite STEM-themed picture books (Still looking for a Holiday gift? Maybe one of these books will grab your attention!) and a fun, creative project to go with it. Enjoy!
We want to say thank you to Samantha Selikoff, STEM/Tech Teacher & Ed Tech Coach at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, for inspiring this blog by creating this excellent STEM-themed picture book list.
STEM Activities for Kids Inspired By Our Favorite Picture Books
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
What it's about: "Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious."
Activity: Run your own science experiment, just like Ada! This hands-on, wild weather lesson teaches Conditional Statements with lightning and thunder. Learn why thunder always follows lightning and examine the logic statement "if there is lightning, then thunder will follow."
How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk
What it's about: "Pearl and her robot friend Pascal are having trouble building a sandcastle. Using fundamental computer coding concepts like Sequences and Loops, Pearl and Pascal are finally able to break down their sandcastle problem into small, manageable steps."
Activity: After reading the book, dip your toes into real computer programming with a learn-to-code app like Kodable! Kids as young as 5-years-old practice code fundamentals like Sequence, Conditions, and Loops as they play programming games and create projects.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
What it's about: "Rosie Revere dreamed of becoming a great engineer. Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends. Afraid of failure, she hides them away under her bed. Until a fateful visit from her great-great-aunt Rose (AKA Rosie the Riveter!), who shows her that the first flop isn’t something to fear—it’s something to celebrate. And you can only truly fail, if you quit."
Activities: Author Andrea Beaty features some amazing engineering projects on her website to accompany this book! Learners can try building their own Rosie-copter or Cheese Hat! Then, check out this incredible activity generator for more resources.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
What it's about: "A little girl and her canine assistant set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after much hard work, the end result is not what the girl had in mind. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long walk, and as they walk, it slowly becomes clear what the girl needs to do to succeed."
Activities: Check out these STEAM challenges from Reading is Fundamental. You can download a free PDF that features projects that use recycled materials, from an "egg-cellent" egg drop design to trash-to-treasure sculptures. This is personally one of our favorite STEM activities for kids!
Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughan, Computer Scientist by Andi Diehn
What it's about: "A picture book biography about Dorothy Vaughan, one of NASA’s first African American managers and one of the groundbreakers on the front line of electronic computing".
Activity: Code Bracelets
Each bead represents a line of code. Like Dorothy, Programmers will often want to use certain lines of code again and again throughout a program, so they store that code in a Function. The repeating bead pattern is one easy way to visualize this process!
- Cut a piece of string so it is just longer than wrist-size. Tie a knot at the end of a string.
- Decide on a pattern of 3 beads that you want to repeat multiple times in your bracelet. For example, Pink–Blue–Pink. We can call this set of beads a “Function”.
- Start stringing beads onto the yarn. After 5 beads, add your first “Function”. In this example, this means the pattern of Pink-Blue-Pink.
- Add 5 more beads. Then, add your Function again. Repeat this process until the string is full with beads.
- Tie a knot on the other end and display your finished bracelet!
- Observe – How many times were you able to repeat the function beads?
Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty
What it's about: "Some kids sculpt sand castles. Some make mud pies. Some construct great block towers. But none are better at building than Iggy Peck, who once erected a life-size replica of the Great Sphinx on his front lawn! It’s too bad that few people appreciate Iggy’s talent . . . until a fateful field trip proves just how useful a mast builder can be."
Activities: Northern Illinois University has a put out a great collection of STEM activities for kids to explore alongside Iggy. Here are some helpful links:
This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers
What it's about: "The Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous bridge in the world. It is also, not entirely coincidentally, the world’s first bright-orange bridge. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. In this book, fellow bridge-lovers Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols tell the story of how it happened."
Activity: Bridge building activities, like the ones linked for Iggy Peck, Architect above, are a great way to explore engineering principles. In addition, this book is a fantastic jumping-off point for an art unit. Check out this Companion Guide for the book for a Golden Gate Bridge collage project. Don't be afraid to put the "A" in STEAM!
If I Built A Car by Chris Van Dusen
What it's about: "Young Jack is giving an eye-opening tour of the car he'd like to build. There's a snack bar, a pool, and even a robot named Robert to act as chauffeur. Jack's soaring imagination is in the driver's seat!"
Activity: Invite learners to brainstorm what they would add to their dream car. Then, construct the car using household items or craft supplies. Vroom Vroom!
Need inspiration? This Lego-Balloon powered car is awesome!
Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum Day by Jennifer George
What it's about: "For Rube, the simplest path to accomplishing an everyday task—like brushing his teeth or getting dressed—is a humorously complicated one. Follow Rube as he sets out on a typical school day, overcomplicating each and every step from the time he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed at night."
Activity: Build a Rube Goldberg Machine! This might sound daunting at first, but you can do this with household items. We recommend checking out this guide from Tinkerlab for step-by-step instructions for how to create a Rube Goldberg from scratch. They also give some background history about Rube himself!
For more easy Rube Goldberg ideas, check out this video:
Looking for More STEM Activities for Kids?
We've got you covered! Check out these other resources:
- The Ultimate Guide to Unplugged Activities
- Creative Coding Video Lessons
- Unplugged Sequence Activity for Fall
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