10 Fun and Free Holiday Gifts for 2019

By Linda Kekelis, Family Engagement Advisor

Make it a Season of STEM

Photo: Techbridge Girls

This year I am switching up my usual holiday gift list and sharing ideas that make time for creativity and connection. These gifts won’t cost anything, and will provide you and your child the gift of time together. Here are STEM activities to bring joy and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to your family.

1. Learn a hobby together

Want to learn to sew or solder? Interested in exploring car maintenance or improving your cooking skills for the next bake off? Libraries are a lot more than books. Check out their free classes or look for courses at your community center. If you are more the self-taught type, get a book or find a Do-it-Yourself video online to learn a new hobby or try a new recipe with your child. You can model life lessons for your child like how to deal with challenges and set backs and how to persevere.

2. Connect over community service

Have a cause that is special to your family? You can volunteer cleaning up a beach or park or helping at a food bank or animal shelter. Ask other parents at school and work and relatives and friends for ideas. If your community has a volunteer clearinghouse, you can check out options with your child. These experiences offer opportunities to put STEM into practice and give back to others. You may find a project that leads to a family tradition and allows your child to learn they can make a difference. A Mighty Girl has a list of 30 books about community service.

Photo: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

3. Give the gift of your time

Create a coupon book that can be used for a STEM experience at home or in the community. Plan a trip to your local science museum and check out an exhibit or program that builds on the interests of your child. You can schedule a visit during free admission days for families. Check out parks and recreation programs to connect with nature and explore the outdoors. Hiking, biking, bird watching, working on a citizen science project, or planting a garden can bring you together and introduce the wonders of STEM.

4. Make car rides and bus rides “our time” with podcasts

All that time in carpool and on public transit got you worn out? Turn travel time into family fun with podcasts. Wondering where to look? Commonsense Media offers a list of The 25 Best Podcasts for Kids that are informative and kid-friendly. Check out NPR’s Wow in the World that inspires curiosity while sharing the latest news in science. Tumble fosters a love of science by interviewing scientists about their discoveries. But Why takes on kid-submitted questions, and with the help of experts, gives interesting answers. Involve your child, letting them pick podcasts that appeal to their interests.

5. Take apart adventures

Got a broken appliance like a toaster, clock radio, or hairdryer? Bring out the tools, take it apart, and see how it works. You can check out your ideas at HowStuffworks. We hear from some engineers that their budding interest in engineering started with a take-apart project. While TeachEngineering lessons are designed for classrooms, you can check out this lesson on dissecting a push toy car.

Photo: Bay Area STEM Ecosystem

6. Build with boxes

What to do with boxes lying around? Think outside the box or maybe inside the box before you send them to the recycling bin. Exercise your imagination and build a house for your cat. Brainstorm, draw plans, and design your own fabulous, one-of-a-kind cat house. Build a dinosaur that can balance on two legs with ideas from Technovation. For more ideas, check out Galileo’s awesome DIY costumes, which aren’t just for Halloween.

7. Bring back bedtime stories

Books can inspire a new interest, show the value of perseverance, and introduce role models who share a love for STEM. Look through the Best STEM Books K-12 for 2019 from the NSTA and check them out at your local library. Ask your child’s science teacher or the children’s librarian at your library for their suggestions, sharing your child’s interests. Reading aloud offers benefits for the entire family and doesn’t have to stop as kids get older. While bedtime reading works for some, you may find a different time that fits better with your family’s schedule.

8. Unleash talent with tools

Kids like to make things and work with their hands when given the chance. Look around for projects that need fixing or building. You can work on a bike, build a kite, or find inspiration from one of the fun activities from Design Squad. Working with tools can be especially empowering for girls and build their confidence to help with the next household repair project.

9. Host a games and toys swap

Puzzles, games, and blocks build spatial skills and provide hours of fun. Organize a toy swap where kids can swap games and toys that they’ve aged-out on for new ones. Building blocks, LEGO sets, Snap Circuits, and science kits can find a second life and save families money. A neighborhood library in my city organizes swaps. Look online and see if there is a toy swap near you already planned. When you turn off the devices and connect over play, interruptions and distractions are replaced with conversation, concentration, and creativity.

10. Make together time around the TV

Get out the popcorn, nachos, or fruit on a stick and watch a TV show or movie as a family. Check out the new season of SciGirls, which is all things computer science — creative, collaborative, and with purpose— available on PBS channels. Here are movies and documentaries your family may enjoy. If You Build It follows 10 high school students who build a farmer’s market for their rural community. Underwater Dreams tells the story of a robotics team from a lower-income high school that took on university teams in an underwater robotics competition. Hidden Figures brings to light the true story of African American women at NASA in the 1950s and ‘60s.

I hope that these ideas spark a STEM connection for your family. Engaging in these activities communicates your interest in your child and in STEM. Kids have the potential for greatness as inventors and creative forces in their community. They just need the opportunity to discover their inner engineer, math mindset, or passion for science.

Linda Kekelis, Ph.D., is an advisor for The Family Engagement Project for STEM Next Opportunity Fund. She has devoted her lifetime to supporting families and educators in encouraging youth in STEM. Her favorite winter holiday memories are engineering snowmen and building ice rinks at her childhood home in Ohio.

Follow Linda Kekelis on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaKekelis


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