Summer of Joy: Six Ideas to Imagine New Possibilities with STEM
As winter recedes and spring brings signs of life, beauty, and wonder of the world around us, the time is perfect for reimagining moments that spark excitement and joy. With less structure and more time for play, summer is an ideal time to encourage children’s interests, confidence, and creativity. STEM Next Opportunity Fund believes passionately in the power of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and wants every child to have a summer of hands-on discovery and the chance to imagine new possibilities.
Here are six ideas afterschool and summer programs can consider to bring joy to summer for all families with new possibilities through STEM. Let’s collectively work so that every child in every family has access to enriching STEM activities this summer.
1. Begin and end with listening and learning from families. Hold listening sessions this spring to find out what caregivers want for their children this summer. Make space for caregivers to talk about challenges that might make it difficult for their children to participate. We have learned some valuable ideas for gathering input from caregivers, including: 1) Consider settings like community centers, homeless shelters, and parks where caregivers may feel more comfortable providing input. 2) Provide incentives including meals, childcare, stipends, and gift cards for gas or groceries for caregivers’ participation. 3) Understand challenges like poverty, addiction, mental health, trauma, and food insecurity that may impact participation in summer programs. We encourage you to listen and learn from these webinars — What’s Next for Rural Family Engagement? hosted by the Flamboyan Foundation and Highly Effective Family Engagement: 5 Habits to Start Now sponsored by ParentPowered. Gather feedback from families at the end of summer to understand how well you put their input into action.
Idea 1 in action. YouthQuest in Flint, MI asked families what they needed most, and learned that many needed clothing and food. In response, they hosted an activity where families made aprons and were provided $30 vouchers for Flint Fresh, to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to their house.
2. Weave family engagement throughout summer programs. Don’t put all your resources into one big event at the end of summer programs. Instead, create regular connections between summer programs programs and home and community. Design a lesson where youth practice STEM skills and teach an activity to their families. Share ideas with caregivers in a conversation during drop off or pick up, in a text, or with a photo sent home. The National Summer Learning Association created a handout with Summer Learning Ideas at Home and in the Community that include free and fun activities like keeping a summer journal about favorite books and planting a herb garden by the kitchen window.
Idea 2 in action. The Challenge Island San Diego Coastal team sent out a package with activities to do at home so that families arrived at their workshop with a connection to STEM. What an innovative way to jumpstart engagement! Girls were asked to look at video clips that connected STEM activities to their experiences from the IF/THEN Collection of role models. The girls interviewed a family member about STEM careers. These activities support child-caregiver interactions, regardless of comfort or prior experience with STEM.
3. STEM and reading make for a winning combination. Add reading to a summer STEM program by making time for reading aloud or silent reading. Send kids home with a list of STEM books to read over the summer. Encourage families to visit their public library and ask the children’s librarian for suggestions, based upon a child’s interests. The National Science Teaching Association along with the Children’s Book Council offers its 2023 list of the Best STEM Books. Start with a Book from Reading Rockets shares books and STEM-related activities along with tips for caregivers on how to support a love of learning. A Mighty Girl has a list of favorite reads about girls and women who love science, engineering, and math. We especially like the winners of this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books. Remind caregivers that reading aloud doesn’t have to stop as kids get older and can be a wonderful routine that brings families closer together.
Idea 3 in action. Engineering is Elementary Families, which is supported by the Overdeck Family Foundation, offers free hands-on activities in engineering and computer science. What we like about this program is that it includes multicultural stories that help underrepresented youth see themselves as engineers. Check out Keep It Watered, which offers the practical challenge of designing a way to keep plants watered while away from home.
4. Be intentional about making every STEM program accessible and inclusive. There are many factors that affect the ease with which families can participate in STEM opportunities in the summer. Start with a mindset that prioritizes access and design opportunities for families who haven’t engaged in previous STEM events. We encourage you to consider families with a member who has a disability when planning summer offerings. Kids Included Together can help with its Ready, Set, Summer resources to support an inclusive summer experience.
Idea 4 in action. The Growing Great Minds team in Wausau, WI appreciates that getting families outside and into welcoming places in the community can help them connect with STEM. The Growing Great Minds team hosted a birding event in a community garden. They partnered with the Wausau Bird Club and provided a DIY bird feeder project along with goodie bags, which included a bird guide, binoculars, magnifying glass, and scavenger hunt so that families could continue birding on their own.
5. Don’t let stereotypes hold girls back from STEM opportunities. Girls might not ask to sign up for a robotics class. Caregivers might not consider an engineering program for their daughter. Let’s change that. Girls Who Code offers summer programs that teach computer science skills and best of all, no prior experience is necessary. Black Girls Code and GoldieBlox are partnering on Code Along, a free video-based coding academy. Surprise — You might meet one of the Moonshot Flight Crew alumni in one of the videos! To learn more about how to support girls’ interest in STEM this summer, check out our blog Million Girls Moonshot and Six Ideas for a Summer of STEM.
Idea 5 in action. The Project Pride team in rural Hamlin, WV supported girls with a workshop that built awareness of STEM and its connections to their experiences. Following the workshop, girls interviewed their grandparents and recorded their stories. In preparing girls for this assignment, Project Pride empowered girls to empower their grand families.
6. Share resources with families so they can continue STEM engagement over the summer. Plan and support STEM activities that families can enjoy on their own throughout the summer. Consider ideas like STEM take-home kits, family passes to museums, and a calendar of STEM events along with gas cards and bus passes to allow families to participate in STEM events in the community.
Idea 6 in action. CitySprouts in Cambridge MA supports a sense of STEM wonder with hands-on learning in urban gardens. We appreciate CitySprouts’ approach to family engagement and its understanding that caregivers can be meaningfully involved even if they cannot attend their events. They built a program around growing mushrooms, which is popular with their youth and accessible to families whose homes may not have a lot of space or sunlight. CitySprouts provided mushrooms and recipes to cook mushrooms at home.
If you like our 6 Ideas in Action, you’ll want to read more about these amazing programs and others like them. Follow STEM Next to learn about Reimagining Family Engagement: How Out-of-School-Time STEM Programs “CARE” by Patty Allen and Gil Noam, which was supported by STEM Next Opportunity Fund (in press). And for additional ideas, check out STEM Family Engagement: A Planning Tool.
We invite you to share your successes with family engagement in STEM over the summer. Share on twitter and tag @STEMNext and @girlsmoonshot #SummerofSTEM2023
Linda Kekelis. I am an advisor for The Family Engagement Project for STEM Next Opportunity Fund. I have devoted my lifetime to supporting families and educators in encouraging youth in STEM. I remember how summer offered me opportunities to try new hobbies like sewing and bowling and to visit my public library. In my role as a grandmother, I enjoy engaging in fun STEM activities and creating summer memories for a new generation.
Teresa Drew. I am the Deputy Director of STEM Next Opportunity Fund and leading the Million Girls Moonshot initiative: Reimagining who can engineer, who can build and who can invent. As a young girl growing up in a rural mountain community, summer meant long days of exploring and adventuring where the sweet smell of the riverbed met fresh green grass. Moments in time that spurred a lifetime of curiosity and a love of nature. If all young people have the opportunity to get a little dirt on their hands and between their toes, our world will be a better place for all.
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