Do your kids like playing with play dough? What about colourful gems? If they do, then they will love this STEM challenge! It is a great way to use materials that you have around the house, or classroom, in a new way.
The bonus is that this activity is also a great learning experience for kids! As a teacher, this makes my heart very happy. As a parent, I love the fact that my kids are screen-free and engaged when doing this STEM challenge.
In the classroom, I try to challenge my students with different STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities on a regular basis. I find these challenges encourage persistence, problem solving and critical thinking, but from a kids point of view they are simply hands-on fun!
You Will Need:
This is one of the great things about this STEM challenge. All you need is:
- Play Dough
- Small Gems
- Lots of Imagination
The small gems pose a choking hazard. Please do not use them with young children that you are unsure if they will put them in their mouths. The children that I did this activity with I knew that I was safe to use the gems and small pieces with. They use them on a regular basis in class and we have discussed using them safely. Always supervise children during activities.
Since I teach kindergarten, I made up a tray full of the materials for each groups to use. Each tray had a few large balls of play dough and a handful of gems for each child to build with. The more of each material that you have, the longer your activity will likely run for and the more detail children will be able to add to their structure.
For this challenge, I encouraged children to think of the glass stones as bricks and the playdoh as mortar.
I give very little specific, directed instruction when I do STEM challenges. I find it best to make the instructions fairly open-ended. For this STEM challenge, I asked children to create a structure or house using the ‘mortar’ and ‘bricks’. That’s it! With these brief instructions, children then had to come up with a solution.
I really want to see what the children can independently come up with. I also encourage the idea that there is more than one solution to the problem so they don’t need to worry about what the person beside them is creating.
Their creations were amazing!
Some children started creating a fence like structure right away. Others laid a layer of mortar and then stuck the bricks into it and added to it layer by layer. Some children did not use the gems at all and simply worked with the play dough.
You will be amazed with what children will come up with. There are always a few creations that I never even considered anyone creating, but this is what is amazing about a STEM challenge. These activities give children the freedom to create and share new ways of looking at things and solving problems outside of the box.
It is always interesting to talk to children as they build, because they can often explain every part of their creation. They will happily tell each part of their structure and why they had made it the way they did.
Once you are done, if you have the time to have children talk about their creations with their peers, or with the whole class, if done in a school setting, you may be surprised to hear some of the thought that went into each piece.
This STEM challenge is also a great sensory experience for children and a way for them to use familiar materials in a whole new way.
I see the positive impact of these STEM challenges every time I do them with children. Children are keen to create and work very hard during our classes. If part of their creation doesn’t work, they work to solve it and try again. This is such a simple STEM challenge, but there is so much learning that comes from it.
Since this STEM challenge was for kindergarten children, I simply let them create and build. When I have done this activity with older kids, I have had them sketch out and plan their structure first. This is a great way to incorporate a bit of architecture into the activity.
I try to get my students, and my own children at home, out of the house as much as possible. As an alternative idea for this STEM challenge, I have taken children outside to search for small stones and pebbles.
Kids love collecting stones. I have learned this from many years of my youngest coming home with pockets full of beautiful stone that she found. Have some fun searching for lots of stones and small rocks and then wash them off. It is a great way of incorporating the outdoors into your activity.
Using the stones you found, complete the STEM challenge in the same way, but use your stones instead of the gems.
Depending on your access to the materials, another option, that I did at home, was allow my children to create for as long as they wanted. When they were done, we let their structures and the playdough dry. They then had a solid structure that they had created and could then keep and play with.
If you are working on a homes or structures unit, this STEM challenge is an easy way for children to build their own home or structure. It is also a great opportunity to talk about building materials. The play dough acting as cement and the gems are bricks.
Looking for More?
For more hands-on learning activities for children, take a peek through some of my activities and products. I have done all of my activities at home, and in the classroom, so they have all been tested out and are kid approved!