Summer can be the most exciting time of year for students, full of sunshine and free time, away from the stresses of school. While traditional thinking may expect students to disengage with academics during the summer, this time of year can actually offer a great opportunity to continue STEM learning and instill a passion for STEM in students of all grade levels.
Below we explore how to keep students engaged with STEM during summer break and why it matters.
Why STEM Matters During Summer
You remember the feeling. You had a great summer and are ready to get back to school—but do you remember what you learned last year? This common experience of students forgetting what they’ve learned over summer break has many names, from “summer slide” to “brain drain” and “summer learning loss.”
What Is Summer Learning Loss?
Summer learning loss, or summer slide, is when students forget what they learned in the classroom during their summer break. In 1996, summer slide was brought to the forefront thanks to a meta-analysis of 39 studies by the American Educational Research Association, which found that the academic loss “equaled about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale.”
Summer learning loss should be considered when it comes to educational equity. According to Texas Children’s Hospital, “Children who are academically most vulnerable are at the greatest risk of falling further behind in school from summer learning loss.”
While this may seem like a widely-accepted part of the education system, educators and researchers alike are still studying this phenomenon, so best practices will likely continue to develop.
8 Hands-On Summer STEM Activities
Hands-on projects provide an excellent way to keep students immersed in a learning mindset. Your student may not want to fill their precious summer days with times tables and worksheets, but STEM activities can become fun memories.
1. Track rainfall.
Make rainy days an exciting part of summer by tracking how much precipitation occurs. Build a simple rain gauge out of a plastic water bottle in just a few steps, and then keep a log of how much rainfall you receive. You can even make predictions and track how close you come to guessing the correct amount of precipitation!
Check out this quick video tutorial by STEM Powered Family to get started.
2. Make oobleck.
For this project, you’ll want to set aside an area where your STEM learner can make a bit of a mess! Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid or putty, which means it does not follow Newton’s laws of viscosity. In practice, this means it acts like a liquid sometimes and a solid sometimes, depending on factors like temperature and pressure.
Oobleck is very easy to make and utilizes just a few simple ingredients. Following a recipe from PBS, you’ll mix one cup of cornstarch with three-fourths of a cup of water in a bowl, optionally adding food coloring to the batch. Mix for ten minutes. Once mixed, your student can interact with the mixture and discover how it changes under different stressors.
P.S. Make sure to throw away oobleck, as it cannot be disposed of through a drain.
3. Grow plants.
In the Northern Hemisphere, summer is a great time for plant growth in many locations. Take this time to show your student how a plant sprouts from a seed with a simple windowsill experiment.
Based on your geographic location, select a plant that will grow well. You may even be able to use the seeds from something in your pantry, like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Be sure to expose your pottings to the appropriate amount of sunlight and water, based on the plant type, and then watch it grow!
4. Form a cloud in a jar.
Summer is hardly complete without some cloud watching, but what if you could capture a cloud? With just a few simple household items and a bit of STEM-minded thinking, you can catch a cloud in a jar.
The Science Museum Oklahoma details how you will use a jar, hot water, ice, and a household aerosol like hairspray to make the cloud. First, you’ll put the hot water in the jar and swirl it around, then place the jar’s lid upside down on top of it. Put the ice cubes in the upside down lid.
Moving quickly, remove the lid and spray a bit of hairspray into the jar. Place the lid back on and watch the cloud form. Challenge your student to try to figure out how the cloud forms, and then lift the lid to let the cloud escape!
5. Engineer a claw.
Bring the arcade into your home by creating a working claw tool. You can follow this video tutorial from The Dad Lab to create a claw from paper cups, a pencil, and a straw. Utilize the claw to scoop up different items and create fun challenges.
If this claw is too simple for your student, consider making a cardboard claw. This STEM activity is more challenging but results in a working tool that your child can use in other adventures and projects.
6. Make a Möbius strip.
If you want to challenge your student’s math skills, task them with fathoming the Möbius strip. A Möbius strip is a “one-sided non-orientable surface that is created by adding one half-twist to a band.” In practice, it’s very easy to create one of these mathematical objects by simply cutting a long strip of paper that’s an inch or two wide, twisting the paper 180 degrees, and taping the ends together.
The Möbius strip has unique properties, which can be demonstrated to your young student by cutting along the center of the strip. Have your student note what shapes they are left with after cutting!
7. Create slime.
Slime is all the rage these days, with entire companies making and selling the fun substance! Slime can provide a great sensory experience that offers relaxation, and the creation of the slime combines scientific thinking strategies. Most slime recipes, like this one from The Best Ideas for Kids, will include simple ingredients including Elmer’s glue, baking soda, shaving cream, water, contact lens solution, and food coloring.
There are tons of slime recipes online, so you can be sure to find one that works for your student. Browse slime projects and recipes made by educators on Teachers Pay Teachers.
8. Whip up fresh ice cream.
Nothing feels better on a summer day than a scoop of ice cream. To make your own ice cream, you’ll need granulated sugar, half and half, granulated sugar, salt, ice cubes, resealable plastic bags, and whatever flavoring you’d like to add in.
Following a recipe from Delish, you’ll combine the half and half, sugar, and flavor in a small resealable bag and then combine salt and ice in a large resealable bag. Place the small bag, sealed, inside the large bag among the ice and salt. Shake for seven to ten minutes or until the ice cream hardens, add your toppings, and enjoy!
STEM Summer Camps and Programs
If your student is showing a particular interest in STEM, consider a dedicated STEM summer camp or program to nurture that passion. STEM camps are hosted across the country at a variety of summer camps, science centers, and universities, with even more options available through virtual, completely online programs.
Summer Camp Hub has compiled a helpful list of fifteen great STEM summer camps, including both virtual and in-person opportunities. You can also search for STEM camps in your local community. For example, in Palo Alto, California, students can attend the CoolineKids Camp, an all-inclusive summer camp that covers ten subject areas. In Sunnyvale, California, which is in the Bay Area, children can attend camps from Maker Nexus and iDTech.
Virtual STEM programs might focus on coding, since that subject is focused on computer learning. A few online coding camps are:
3 Easy Ways to Incorporate STEM into Summer
As a caretaker, you won’t always have time to curate a hands-on, summer-themed STEM project, and summer camps may not always be the right fit. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to incorporate exposure to STEM into the break to prevent the summer slide.
1. Explore your local library.
A library card is a passport to endless learning opportunities. Make sure your student has a library card at the local library and a familiarity with what resources are available there. Besides informational books on science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, students can also find learning programs, events, games, and more.
According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Libraries have learning spaces that feature youth centered approaches to enhancing technical knowledge, strengthening independent learning skills, and building a foundation for the pursuit of higher education STEM opportunities and jobs.”
Visit your local library soon to ask a librarian about what summer STEM programs could work for your student.
2. Build a summer STEM calendar.
STEM is happening all around you! Take a moment to search for local events that are related to STEM, and then add them to a summer STEM calendar for your student.
Start by checking in with your local community center, plus your city’s summer event lineup. Many wildlife centers, botanic gardens, and nature organizations will host outreach events to share what they do, some of which can be specially curated for children. Next, look for unique skywatching events to add to your summer STEM calendar. Utilize online resources like Space.com to find meteor showers, eclipses, rocket launches, and more.
Continue to build your calendar through the summer, keeping an eye out for events and ideas to add.
3. Visit a museum or landmark.
Museums can provide the perfect break on a hot summer day. The Association of Science and Technology Centers has a helpful directory of science centers and museums that you can explore to find one near you.
You can take this kind of exploration outdoors, too! Search for any local fossil formations or natural wonders nearby to discover a bit about natural science. This can provide a great chance for your young STEM learner to associate the science material they learn in the classroom with the real community and environment where they live.
Follow Kid Spark for More STEM Education Trends
Summer STEM projects can help maintain students’ interest in STEM education. During the school year, students need hands-on, high-quality STEM labs and curriculum to help them succeed in these vital subject areas.
Kid Spark Education provides engaging STEM kits for Pre-K through eighth grade, utilizing proven techniques to instill a passion for STEM that can endure the summer slide.