Category Archives: Inventors of Tomorrow series

a collection of STEM themed activities for home or preschool for ages 2.5 – 7

Growing Up Wild Activity Book

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Project Wild offers a great resource for educators and parents with children aged 3 – 7. The Growing Up Wild book (order it here) covers 27 themes, including “Oh Deer (a habitat theme)”, “The Deep Blue Sea”, “Who Lives in a Tree”, and “Wildlife is Everywhere.” Each theme includes: several ideas for group activities, and for self-guided exploration stations, recommended books (fiction and non-fiction), songs and movement activities, outdoor exploration ideas, math activities, art projects, snack ideas, links to videos (listed here) and “take home” sheets with ideas for parents to try at home. (See sample theme here.)  Each theme also includes a list of numerical codes for which Head Start Domains and which NAEYC Accreditation Criteria are met by the activities, and warm up and wrap up activities to assess children’s prior knowledge and learning outcomes. (Learn more about the contents of the book here.)

I attended a training where we had the opportunity to try out several of these activities. Some samples:

  • Looking at Leaves. The instructor had collected 25 leaves, and given us each one. She asked us to look at our leaves and memorize them. You could ask children to think about how to describe their leaf: shape, color, texture, and so on. Then we put them all in a pile and mixed them up, then had to find our own. Simple, free, and great for teaching attention to detail, visual discrimination, and short-term memory. Easy to customize to age group, or to start a year with leaves that are very easy to tell apart, and over the course of time, have collections with more subtle differences. After the leaf match, you could take them outdoors to find the plant their leaf came from. You could also do leaf rubbings or leaf prints, then add the leaves to a collage.
  • Spider Web Wonders. Draw a spider, discussing its anatomy (head, abdomen, 8 eyes, 8 legs that attach to the “head”). Children create spiders with a variety of craft or snack materials. The math game is “how many legs”. The teacher holds up a sign saying 0, and asking what creatures have zero legs. After children guesses, turn over the card to show a picture of the answers. (Snake, worm, etc.) Then do 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 14, 30+. A take home at Halloween time could be to check out Halloween decorations, and see how many of them get the spider anatomy wrong.
  • Hiding in Plain Sight. Gather a collection of toy animals (stuffed or plastic). Begin with a matched pair, and hide one in plain sight before the children arrive. Then show them the matching animal animal and see if they can spot the hidden one in the room. Talk about how it was hiding  in plain sight – for example, placed in front of a similar colored item it could blend into, or placed somewhere that’s visually very busy so it could “hide” in the clutter. Explain the basics of camouflage. Next, the teacher or some children “hide” more animals, either in the classroom or outdoors. BUT… they should be told to hide them in plain sight. Then take the other children out to search. Then, build camouflage collages: cut out photos of animals, have the child paste one onto paper, then surround it with tissue paper squares in the colors that would camouflage it. Play “freeze birds”, explaining that even when animals are camouflaged, they give themselves away if they move. The “hawk” closes his eyes while the “bluebirds” play. When you call out freeze, they freeze, and the hawk opens his eyes. If he sees anyone move, they become the hawk.

That’s just a small sampling of ideas. For educators this book could provide a full ready-made nature curriculum for  your class, or could provide lots of ideas you might sample as you build your own curriculum. For parents, there’s plenty of fun and easy ideas in here – you can try out any that seem fun to you.

To learn more about nature play, click on these links “Recommended Daily Allowance of Outdoor Time“, Benefits of Outdoor Play, and Overcoming the Barriers to Outside Play.

Rainbow Science and Art Activities

rainbowAt today’s Family Inventors Lab, our theme was Rainbows.

We had a painting of a rainbow on the wall, then had a black and white line drawing of a rainbow below that they painted in to match the one on the top. (We had two siblings who were really dedicated to getting this project done right.)

We “made it rain” by filling cups of water, spraying shaving cream on top, and using pipettes to drip liquid watercolor onto the shaving cream clouds. It drips through, creating colorful rainfall below. I failed to take pictures, but here’s some from Pinterest… check out the original posts here, here and here for more ideas for activities, and thoughts on talking to kids about the science of rain

rainWe also used pipettes to drip liquid watercolor onto coffee filters, which creates some beautiful color mixing. If you want to take this one step further at home, they can be turned into butterfly decorations with a clothespin and a pipe cleaner. (Source for idea.)

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

We had a light table with lots of colorful objects on it, rainbow crayons, rainbow colored blocks, a rainbow colored tumbling mat with colored hoops to jump into for some big motor play, and color your own playdough. (This was not quite successful – our colors were too wet and made the playdough too wet to handle… we’ll be tinkering with this activity to get it right in the future!) We had blocks of ice that they could sprinkle salt onto and pour water onto, and drip liquid watercolor on to help it melt.

We had diffraction grating peepholes. (When you hold these up to your eye, then look at a light, the light is broken up into rainbows. Different lights produce different patterns… when I look at my ceiling light at home, I see circular rainbows, when I look at the LED flashlight on my cell phone, I see six rays of rainbows radiating out.) We had crayons and paper out so the kids could draw what they saw. (If you want to learn more about how prisms separate “white” light into colors, watch this video. Here’s a simple, low equipment experiment to do with your child. And here‘s more activities and a little info about Inventor Isaac Newton and his discovery that light is made up of 7 colors.)

The books we read in opening circle were:

Other books we used / had available:

  • Who Likes the Rain by Etta Kaner
  • What is the Water Cycle by Ellen Lawrence
  • A Rainbow of My Own by Don Freeman

We sang a few rain and rainbow songs, including a spontaneous sing-a-long of Rainbow Connection after one of the parents suggested it. (Check out the classic video here.)

We always have more ideas than we have time and space for, but if you’d like more ideas for rainbow-themed activities, look on our Pinterest page:


tinkerAt an in-service last week, after seeing this poster, I had a great conversation with one of my class’ teachers about the word “tinkering” and how great it is when parents allow their kids to tinker around, exploring, testing, fixing, breaking, and fixing again. So many skills are learned by this kind of hands-on exploration.

So, what is “tinkering”? Let’s ignore the definitions that say things like “unskillful or clumsy worker.” I like:

Children at play,  discovering new materials, and exploring new uses for familiar materials are Tinkers. People who were allowed to tinker a lot as children often become engineers, or scientists, because of that approach of “what happens if I try this? Oh cool! Now, what if I do that? Ooh, even better!”

People who were allowed to tinker a lot as children also become chefs, woodworkers, architects, computer designers, graphic artists, fashion designers, and builders. Learning early on the joys of building and creating and refining sets a lifelong passion for hands-on work in a variety of fields. (Check out this great post on The Importance of Learning to Make Things.)

How do you encourage your children to tinker? Give them lots of open-ended materials (cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, tape, string) and time to experiment. Talk to them about their creations, asking about the process and what they learned along the way. Ask them what they want to do next with their experiment.

I like this post from Kids Stuff World on Ten Powerful Life Lessons from TInkerlab. A couple of her lessons are:

  • The results are not as important as the process.
  • The more exposure you have to a material, the more you will learn what you can do with it.
  • Think of everything as an experiment.

Allowing your child to play, and tinker, and putter around, helps to ensure that as they get older, they meet this definition of Tinker: “somebody good at many tasks: somebody able to do many different kinds of work successfully.” (Bing dictionary)

If you’re in the Seattle area, and want to do some tinkering with your child, join our Family Inventors Lab!

Fun with Dry Ice – Science for Toddlers


When our grocery order comes from AmazonFresh, there’s usually a couple chunks of dry ice in with the frozen items. That offers great opportunities for fun science play. We have played with regular ice too, teaching the difference between solid, liquid, and gas. Our first game with dry ice was a few days later, where I explained that dry ice goes straight from solid to gas. Yes, you can use the word “sublimate” if your toddler likes big words like mine does. That day, we just put the dry ice outside in the sun, and watched it steam. Then added water to accelerate the process.

The next game was just pouring water droplets onto the dry ice – it gathers into balls and rolls off. I’m sure someone else could explain the science of this….

And a close-up:

The next time, we added food color to our water. Made blue water droplets, which was fun. But even better – after we stopped playing, we flipped over the dry ice – the blue water had all frozen to the underside of the dry ice.


We wondered what happens when you put dry ice in a baby bottle… We put in dry ice and little water. It turns out the hole in the nipple releases some of the gas and lets a little water escape, but not enough – the pressure was building quickly and I was worried the nipple would break or fly off (never put dry ice in a completely closed container – it could explode!), so I unscrewed it, and discovered this sound effect… After a couple minutes of playing with it, my husband calls downstairs, saying “What is that noise??? Is it the dog??”

The next time, we put dry ice in a sippy cup with a straw. We added a little water, then screwed on the lid – As the vapor expands, it forces the water out the straw, making a great little geyser. Which was completely unexpected the first time (though I now realize I could have predicted it) but VERY funny!

But then, even better, add bubble solution or bubble bath to the water. (We liked the results better with bubble bath.) So, put the dry ice in. Pour in a little bubble bath. Pour in a little water, and seal the lid. You can see our fountain in the video at the top of this post…. followed by lots of bubbles.

Here’s what happens if you don’t screw the lid on all the way.

And when you leave the lid off and let your toddler play with bubbles while you clean the kitchen:

And the latest experiment? Dry ice, water, and bubbles in a sippy cup.

As we play, I talk about the solid ice turning into gas. And I talk about surface tension with the bubbles. I’m starting to give science vocabulary.

But, this isn’t about drilling in science ideas so in 15 years my kid can go to MIT. It’s about having fun together, and laughing, and experiencing science hands-on. Learning that the word “science” means FUN, discovery, experimentation, and observation.

So, where do you get dry ice? I hear you can get it at most grocery stores, ice cream shops, Walmarts… There are dry ice directories on line but I suspect those are for larger quantities. For home use, you only need a little. One 2 inch by 2 inch square can last for 15 – 20 minutes of bubble play. Learn more here about how to get it:

Safety note: It’s really important to explain to your toddler that they MUST NOT touch the dry ice, because it will “burn” their fingers!! It is -100 degrees Fahrenheit! Treat it with the same caution you would treat a hot frying pan. I use kitchen tongs to handle it and point out the importance of doing so.

Are you a parent of a 3 – 6 year old in the Seattle area? Come join our Family Inventors’ Lab! Are you a parent or educator anywhere who wants ideas for STEM enrichment for young children? Check out my blog: