11 Fun STEM & STEAM Crafts for Kids

Forget those problem sets! Get your kids psyched about STEM and STEAM with interactive toys and crafts they can make at home. They'll be amazed to see science, technology, engineering, and math in action in a setting that feels nothing like school. Get templates and instructions at familyfunmag.com/printables.

1 of 12

Invisible Ink

Ryan Cline

Invisible Ink

When life gives you lemons, make a secret message from invisible ink! Mail it to a friend or relative, include tips on how it works, and let them bring the image or note to light!

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:  1 lemon, cotton swab, sheet of white paper, sun, iron, or lightbulb

WHAT TO DO: 

1. Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl and add a spoonful of water. Mix gently. Dip the swab into the liquid and write a message or draw a picture on the paper.

2. Let the liquid dry completely so that the message or picture is invisible. To share your secret, set it in sunlight, hold close to a lightbulb, or iron (with adult help). 

3. The message will be revealed! Hang it as artwork or share it with a friend. 

Diluting or adding water to the lemon juice makes it very hard to see when you apply it to the paper, but lemon juice is an organic substance that oxidizes and turns brown when it’s heated up. This means that no one will notice that the secret is there until the paper is heated and the message is revealed! Other substances that work in the same way include orange juice, honey diluted with water, milk, onion juice, and vinegar. 

2 of 12

Solar System Mobile

Jason Donnelly

Solar System Mobile

This far-out felting project from craft stylist Katie Leporte, author of the adorable needle-felted picture book Pearl & the Whale, is guaranteed to get the kids psyched to go back to science class. 

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- About 2 oz. 100% wool roving in assorted colors (we like the Penny Candy bag from decadentfibers.com)
- Two 38-gauge star-point felting needles (available at joann.com
- Felting pad or dense foam
- White fiberfill stuffing
- White paint
- 2 paint-stirring sticks
- Drill and 3/32-inch drill bit
- White baker’s twine or thin cotton yarn
- Sewing needle with a large eye
- Brass fish-eye hook
- Small brass chain

WHAT TO DO
1. To make a planet, pull off a few inches of roving and roll it into a ball so it fits in your palm. Pin onto the felt pad with one needle and use the other to “felt,” or to press the needle up and down repeatedly. The tiny barbs on the end of the felting needle compress the fibers into a desired shape. Turn the roving often and continue felting until it forms a semi-firm and uniform ball. Felt on a thin piece of roving in a different color if desired (to make the blue swirls on Neptune, for instance). Repeat to make additional planets.

2. To make the sun, pull a 4- to 5-inch-diameter tuft of stuffing and wrap with yellow roving to cover stuffing completely.

3. Paint two paint-stirring sticks and let dry. Mark five holes, spaced about 3 inches apart, on one of the paint sticks. Drill. Place the drilled stick over the other one as a template, mark holes, and drill. 

4. With the sticks in an “X” shape, line up the center holes; use the needle to thread the sun through the center hole. Knot to desired length. Twist in the fish-eye hook from the top to secure the paint sticks together. Secure the planets to yarn with the needle and thread up through remaining eight holes. Knot in place at desired heights. 

5. Add a chain to hang; felt on small amounts of wool to planets as needed to balance the mobile.

3 of 12

Bath Bombs

Biz Jones

Bath Bombs

Scrub-a-dub-dub, add some science to the tub with these pretty and so-simple bath bombs.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- ½ cup citric acid (find it at Bulk Apothecary)
- 1 cup baking soda
- ½ cup corn starch
- ½ cup Epsom salt
- Essential oil of your choice
- 1 tsp. water
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- Sphere-shaped mold (we used clear plastic ornaments)

WHAT TO DO
1.
Combine citric acid, baking soda, corn starch, and Epsom salt in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together one or two drops of essential oil, water, and olive oil.

2. Add the wet mixture to the dry very slowly. Mix it together quickly and thoroughly so it doesn’t begin to bubble. Once it’s all combined, let the mixture sit for a few minutes; it should look and feel like wet sand. If it’s still too dry, add a drop of olive oil, but don’t oversaturate. 

3. Separate the mixture into smaller bowls and add food coloring, mixing in the color by hand. 

4. Layer the different colors in both halves of a sphere-shaped mold and pack them down. When each side is completely filled with a slight mound, press them together and gently rotate until the sides lock. 

5. Let the bomb dry in the mold for a few minutes, then carefully remove the top half. Leave it for another hour or two, then carefully turn the bottom half out of the mold. Let it dry overnight. 

HOW DOES IT WORK?
The fizzy reaction in the tub is created by combining two ingredients: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and citric acid. The baking soda is a base, and the citric acid is (you guessed it) an acid. Not much happens when you mix them dry. But when you add water, voilà! It acts as a catalyst, allowing the ions in each to collide. They react and dissolve, producing tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. The fizzing helps the bombs break down, and it releases the scent! 

BONUS FUN
Hide a surprise inside! Add a small plastic toy, glitter, or flower petals when you’re layering the bathbomb mixture. 

By Curious Jane 

Check out the org’s new book, Curious Jane: Science + Design + Engineering for Inquisitive Girls$17.

4 of 12

Make a Bath Bomb

5 of 12

Balancing Buddy

Tara Donne

Balancing Buddy

Your child will be delighted to see this silly pal teeter on his tiny toothpick point!

WHAT YOU'LL NEED 
- Wine cork
- Two 12-inch bamboo skewers
- Toothpick
- Modeling clay
- Decorations (like paper, googly eyes, and paint)

WHAT TO DO
1. Place the cork upright on your work surface. Press the pointy end of a skewer into one side of the cork at a 45-degree angle (the ends should point up); repeat on the opposite side. Press the toothpick into the top center of the cork.
2. Roll two equal-size balls of modeling clay and press them onto the ends of the skewers. Decorate the cork as desired.
3. Place the tip of the toothpick on your finger to see if the toy balances. If it leans to one side, adjust the angles of the skewers until it stands up straight.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Every object has a center of gravity—the point where its mass is evenly distributed. Because the clay balls are heavier than the cork, they bring the center of gravity to the bottom of the toothpick. In order for the toy to "stand," the weight of the balls must also be in balance: Adjusting the skewers helps to compensate for any difference in size and allows Buddy to stay centered. 

6 of 12

Dancing Puppet

Tara Donne

Dancing Puppet

Surprise: The whole robot moves with the pull of a string! Make a couple and put on a show.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Paint and paintbrush
- A piece of cardboard cut into thirteen 1½-inch-wide strips: four 10-inch pieces, four 5-inch pieces, one 4-inch piece, and four 3½-inch pieces
- Construction paper
- Pencil
- Scissors
- Hole punch
- 1-inch-capacity brads
- Glue
- 6-inch piece of string

WHAT TO DO
1. Paint one side of each cardboard piece black; let dry. Trace the robot-face template onto construction paper and cut out; fold as directed.
2. Following the template, punch holes in the cardboard pieces and connect the face and cardboard pieces with brads. Score the 4-inch piece of cardboard into sections, then fold it into a T and glue to the back of the puppet; let dry.
3. Tie the string to the bottom-most brad. Hold the puppet by the handle and pull on the string to get the arms and legs moving.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Each brad acts as a fulcrum, creating a pivot point for the pieces of cardboard it's connecting. But because each piece of cardboard attaches to another one, the pressure (effort) you apply to the first one is transferred to the rest, making everything move at once.

7 of 12

Brushbot

Tara Donne

Brushbot

This crazy critter moves on its own—just don't expect it to clean the floors.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- 4 AA batteries
- 6-volt battery case with wire lead terminals and an on-off switch (we used this one)
- 6-volt hobby motor (like the Uxcell High Torque Cylinder Magnetic Electric Mini DC Motor)
- Electrical tape
- Washer, dime, or other small, flat object
- Kitchen brush
- Duct tape
- Felt
- Scissors
- Tacky glue

WHAT TO DO
1. Put batteries in the battery case. Connect the leads to the hobby motor (it doesn't matter which color lead connects to which), and secure the wires in place with electrical tape. Attach the washer to the motor's shaft with electrical tape.
2. Attach the battery pack and motor to the brush with duct tape, and decorate as desired (just make sure you can still access the on-off switch). Turn it on to see it move on its bristle "feet."

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Your child has created a simple circuit, a closed path that an electrical current travels through. The battery provides the electricity, and the wires conduct it to the motor. When the motor's shaft spins, the washer throws it off-balance, making the whole motor—and the brush along with it—vibrate and move. 

8 of 12

Zip-Line Toy Transporter

Tara Donne

Zip-Line Toy Transporter

Get gravity working to move toys—quickly!—from one side of the room to the other in this nifty rocket ship.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Removable adhesive wall hook (like a Command Hook)
- Cardboard tea box
- Hole punch
- Cardstock
- Tacky glue
- 11½ feet of parachute cord, cut into two pieces: 10 feet and 16 inches
- Swivel-eye pulley
- Duct tape

WHAT TO DO
1. Attach the hook to a wall, about as high as your child can reach; let set.
2. Cut the box in half lengthwise, punch holes in two opposite sides, then use our template to create the rocket from cardstock and adhere it to the box. Tie one end of the 16-inch rope to one hole, loop it through the eye of the pulley, and tie it to the hole on the other side.
3. Run the 10-foot piece of rope through the block (wheel) of the pulley. Tie a loop onto one end, then hang it on the wall hook. Pull the other end of the rope until it's taut, then use duct tape to secure it to the floor at a 45-degree angle from the wall (or hold it in place for your child).
4. Have your child push the rocket all the way up to the top of the line, then let go and watch the rocket fly!

HOW DOES IT WORK?
A pulley is a wheel with a grooved rim that helps it grip the rope. As the wheel turns, it encounters very little friction as it travels, so it moves quickly. Because the far end of the rope is lower than the anchor point in the wall, gravity pulls the rocket toward the ground—super fast! 

9 of 12

Yardstick Launcher

Tara Donne

Yardstick Launcher

Hurl lightweight balls, toys, and other objects toward a target across the room with the stomp of a foot.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Clean metal can (like a coffee can)
- Scrapbook paper
- Tape
- Yardstick
- Acrylic paint and paintbrush
- Hot glue
- 4 plastic party cups
- Rubber band
- Ping-pong balls or other small objects

WHAT TO DO
1. Cover the can with scrapbook paper and secure with tape. Paint the yardstick; let dry.
2. Use hot glue to attach the plastic party cups to one end of the yardstick (an adult's job). Secure the can to the middle of the yardstick with a rubber band.
3. Place ping-pong balls or other small objects in the cups, then stomp or press down firmly on the free end of the yardstick to launch the projectiles across the room.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
A lever is a simple machine made from a rigid beam (the yardstick) and a fulcrum (the can). When your child applies downward force to one side, it elicits an opposite reaction, sending the unattached load (the ping-pong balls) flying. You can change the amount of effort it takes to move those balls: The closer the can is to the cups, the less work it takes to move the projectiles.

Rachelle Doorley is an arts educator and founder of TinkerLab, a website that supports creativity through hands-on making. She is the author of TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors.

10 of 12

Pentominoes

Jeff Harris 

Pentominoes

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- 60 unfinished 1-inch wooden cubes (we got ours on amazon.com)
- Glue
- Paintbrush and paint, in color(s) of your choice

WHAT TO DO
1. Sort the wooden cubes into groups of five, then challenge your child to create 12 different shapes where each cube shares at least one side with another. These are your pentominoes! (Use the photo as a key if they get stuck.)
2. Once your child has found all 12 configurations, glue the cubes together and paint them as desired. (We mixed teal with increasing amounts of white paint for an ombré set.)
3. Time to play! Have your child try to create various squares and rectangles with the blocks. (Hint: She’ll need four different puzzle pieces to complete a 4 x 5 rectangle.)

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Polyominoes are shapes made from groups of congruent squares. (Dominoes are two-square pieces, and Tetris uses tetrominoes, four-square pieces.) Building pentominoes works kids’ spatial reasoning skills and hones concepts of area and perimeter: Each shape looks different but has the same area (five square units), though not necessarily the same perimeter.

BONUS FUN: Can your child use ALL the pieces to create one big rectangle?

11 of 12

Math Fact Triangles

Jeff Harris

Math Fact Triangles

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Craft foam, in various shades
- Scissors
- Sharpie pen

WHAT TO DO
1. Cut out equal-size triangles from different shades of craft foam.
2. Along with your child, use a Sharpie to write an addition/subtraction or multiplication/division equation (depending on your child’s skills) on each triangle, placing one number in each corner; circle the answer.
3. Flip the triangles over. Choose one, cover the circled answer with your finger, and ask your child to solve it. (To practice the opposite operation, cover one of the other numbers.)

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Most parents learned to solve problems in a linear way: 1 + 2 = 3. Using the triangles helps kids think in “fact families.” They learn that 1 + 2 = 3 and 3 - 2 = 1 at the same time. The triangles promote flexible thinking, which allows for faster problem-solving as kids practice.

BONUS FUN: Algebra! Ask, “What times 4 equals 12?” 

12 of 12

Perler Bead Arrays

Jeff Harris

Perler Bead Arrays

Take a break from flash cards and practice multiplication tables using arrays, which allow kids to see the answers as they study.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Perler beads (we got ours from amazon.com)
- Perler beads clear square pegboards (such as this set)
- Iron

WHAT TO DO
1. Write out an equation (say, 7 x 3), then challenge your child to express it with Perler beads as an array of three columns of seven. Then he can count the total number of beads to figure out the answer. 
2. If your child is struggling with particular equations or a line on his multiplication tables, create a permanent version for him to use: For each equation (7 x 1, 7 x 2, etc), have your child help you assemble the correct number of beads into an array (so one column of seven, two columns of seven, etc.), then iron to set according to package directions. Break them out whenever he needs some practice.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Arrays—also called the area model of multiplication—are a visual way of teaching multiplication (you can also do it by drawing dots on a piece of paper). Kids can see that 7 x 3 is the same as 7 + 7 + 7, a concept they’re probably already comfortable with. Building the arrays and using them to solve equations are both powerful ways to internalize the answers.

BONUS FUN: Add together two or more arrays to practice multistep problems. For example, write out 7 x 2 + 7 x 3, and show your child that the total is the same as 7 x 5.