Summer is coming. So is the search for ideas to support summer learning. With less structure and more time for self-directed play, summer is an ideal time to encourage children’s interests, confidence, and creativity. STEM Next Opportunity Fund believes passionately in the power of STEM to close the opportunity gap and wants every child to have a summer experience with hands-on STEM learning that is fun, engaging, and meaningful to their lives.
Here are seven ideas to bring STEM fun into summertime. We hope that they create the “STEM spark” that brings joy and discovery to families.
1. Find inspiration from a classroom or afterschool educator. There are lots of summer coding camps, tinkering workshops, and science classes. There are lots of online STEM opportunities too. How can a caregiver sift through them all and make the best choice? Ask an educator for suggestions for fun and free summer learning experiences that will support a budding interest and set a child up for success next school year. Look for programs and activities that are culturally responsive, and for a safe space where youth are encouraged to speak up and embrace challenges. Check out this summer parent-teacher planning tool from Learning Heroes to prepare for this conversation.
2. Make math meaningful and fun. Give kids a reason to learn and use math. Sign up for Bedtime Math and receive a fun set-up story like There Goats the Neighborhood, along with math problems. Get outside and do math. Every neighborhood has interesting opportunities to explore math. Check out We’re Going on a Math Walk, Going to Find Some Math Talk from the Early Math Collaborative at the Erikson Institute. Consider that the attitudes of adults — caregivers and educators — towards math can have impact on children. Ready4K has a great blog, The Mathephant in the Room, with ideas to help us adults face our math fears and with activities to support math learning at home.
3. Embrace messes and mistakes. Mistakes and messes are an important part of learning to code, modifying a recipe, or figuring out why the family’s printer doesn’t work. Summer experiences can help kids let go of their fear of making mistakes and embrace challenges. What better way to support their growth mindset than by modeling willingness to try new things? Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know (yet) and talk about some of your failures as an adult or child.
4. Sprinkle STEM into your summer reading. Ask a science teacher or the children’s librarian at your public library for suggestions, based upon your child’s interests. The National Science Teaching Association along with the Children’s Book Council offers a 2022 list of outstanding science books for students. Check out 50+ multicultural STEAM books by the STEM Teacher Leadership Network. Make summer reading a family affair. Reading aloud brings families closer together and doesn’t have to stop as kids get older.
5. Plan a STEM experience for the entire family. Check out options with your child and find one that you want to explore together. Technovation has free, family-friendly design challenges with hands-on activities that promote creativity and problem-solving. We encourage educators to share STEM resources with families at the end of the school year and start of summer. We love the example of how teachers at Virginia A. Myers Elementary School in San Antonio, TX handed out packs with resources, literacy tips, and a mindfulness home activity as parents picked up their children.
6. Don’t let stereotypes hold you back from providing STEM opportunities for girls. A research brief by the NSF INCLUDES Coordination Hub and the National Girls Collaborative Project shines a light on how gender-stereotypes influence the way that girls and boys are supported in STEM. “For girls, the opportunities to experience science learning activities are most often provided after they have expressed interest, whereas the same opportunities are available for boys regardless of individual differences in interest.” 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.
7. Take care of yourself. We encourage you to nurture and replenish your mental and physical health as you make summer plans for your family. Check out these resource from Ready4K on summer learning. We especially like the blog, Summer Fun the Ready4K Way, which offers bite-sized pieces of information that can be incorporated into everyday routines. Don’t try to do too many things or overschedule enrichment activities for children. Kids can benefit from unstructured time and find their own creative ways out of boredom. If you find yourself jumping in when your child says she’s bored, you may appreciate reading The Benefits of Boredom. What kids can learn from handling more free time by Gia Miller. We did!
We invite you to share your successes with family engagement in STEM over the summer. Share on twitter and tag @STEMNext and @girlsmoonshot and #SummerofSTEM
Linda Kekelis, Ph.D. 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 opportunities to try new hobbies like sewing and bowling and to read lots of books. In my new 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.