Keep your kids engaged in critical thinking this summer with activities that foster science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) learning.

By Katherine Lagomarsino
Spass/Shutterstock 

Aside from spirited pool parties and video game marathons, summer is a great time to keep your child engaged in an innovative mindset with STEAM activities. STEAM is an educational initiative that exercises both sides of the brain by incorporating all five disciplines of learning: science, technology, engineering, art, and math. This holistic approach to education demonstrates how all fields of learning are interconnected and necessary when problem solving.

From signing up for specialized camps to performing familiar activities with a STEAM mindset, there are endless opportunities for honing the critical thinking skills of your future innovator.

1. Add a STEAM twist

"A great way to incorporate STEAM this summer is to modify activities," suggests Elizabeth Malson, president of the Amslee Institute, an online technical school specializing in childcare. "Instead of flying a kite, try to build one that can carry a ball. While on a road trip, discuss the steps needed to build a new road or add a lane to a bridge, focusing on engineering. When at a restaurant, ask the children to calculate the tip so they use math skills."

2. Register for a STEAM camp

There is no shortage of camps throughout the U.S. that can instill a life-long love of tinkering in kids and teens. Activities include everything from designing miniature homes, to playing the role of space explorer, to creating documentaries.

3. Head outside.

While structured camp activities are great, Vanessa Ford, head of training and curriculum at Out Teach, a teacher-development nonprofit that specializes in educational access, suggests capitalizing on your child's natural curiosity with STEAM-inspired thinking. "Take kids outside and have them look for natural phenomena," she says. "See if your child can come up with a list of questions about the things they notice." To get you started, she suggests asking, "Why is there water on the leaves in the morning if it didn't rain? Why are there worms on the ground after it rains? Why do shadows move over time? Where does wind come from?"

4. Find free online games.

Your child can help a city predict and prepare for a natural disaster, build a bridge, or design a roller coaster, all in the comfort of home. An abundance of free games are offered through world-class institutions such as the SmithsonianUniversity of Cambridge, the University of North Texas, and PBS's NOVA.

5. Visit your local museum or library

On a rainy day, let your kids roam the exhibits and stacks of your nearest museum or library. Many offer special workshopsexhibits, and reading lists dedicated to STEAM learning that are at low or no cost.

6. Learn to code

Let your children create and share their own interactive stories, animations, and games through free online coding programs such as MIT's Scratch project, Code.org, or Kodable.

7. Try out a subscription box

Sign up for a monthly bonanza of inspiration with a STEAM subscription box like KiwiCo, which offers kid-tested activity crates filled with science, engineering, math and art projects appropriate for all ages, or Raddish, a culinary club that delivers a monthly box of ideas to create themed meals and comes with recipes, a grocery list, activity cards, kitchen tools, and even conversation starters.

8. Listen to a podcast

Long road trips are an ideal time to get your child thinking about topics in new ways. Check out shows like Vermont Public Radio's But Why podcast, which allows kids to ask questions about anything from nature to the end of the world that the producers try to answer; Ear Snacks, which delivers interesting info through catchy, kid-friendly tunes; or NPR's Wow in the World, which explores the latest news in science and technology.

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