Winter is a great time for a creative, hands-on STEM challenge! Kids love playing outside in the winter, creating snowmen, snowballs, and snow forts. Bring some of the fun inside this season with this winter STEM activity that kids are sure to love!
You don’t need any time to prepare this activity. Simply gather the materials, print the challenge page and the rest is up to your creative children!
If you have been following me for awhile, you know that I love creating and preparing STEM challenges for my students and my own children. A STEM challenge is basically any activity that involves Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. A mix of a few of these subjects is ideal.
I teach kindergarten and the learning that happens from STEM challenges is incredible. These activities tend to be open ended, involve simple materials, and be hands-on. Problem solving, creative thinking and a willingness to take risks are just a few of the skills that are reinforced in these activities.
Winter STEM Activity Idea
My students love STEM challenges. In the classroom, when I place materials out for different centers, the STEM activities are always popular. This winter STEM activity was inspired by some engineering themed tinker trays that I set out. (If you’re curious about tinker trays, check out my previous post.)
I had a few Styrofoam balls, popsicle sticks, tooth picks and other materials, and all the children were drawn to were the balls and tooth picks. It was great because I knew I then had my next STEM challenge idea!
I have included a free printable activity card to go along with the activity. This card is great to tape to the table to give guidance while children do the activity. It also makes an appealing kit to hand out to children to complete independently at home.
More information on how to download the printable(s) is available at the bottom of the post along with links to some of the materials used to make getting the materials easier!
Winter STEM Activity Materials
One of my favorite things about STEM challenges is that the materials tend to be really simple and often things that you may already have on hand at home.
All you need:
- Styrofoam Balls (Different sizes and several for each child)
- Printable STEM Activity Card (optional)
The more Styrofoam balls and toothpicks you have available to the children doing the activity, the longer the kids will build for and the more detailed their projects will be.
Setting Up Your Winter STEM Activity
When introducing STEM activities, avoid guiding children too much in terms of telling them what to create or specifics of what you want the end result to be. The more freedom you give the kids, the more amazing and different the results will be. Be open to creations that you never imagined.
Although you can give a lot of freedom, it is also important that children understand the expectations. For this activity, the Styrofoam balls are meant to be snowballs and the tooth picks are sticks found in the snow. Using only these materials, children create a model of a snow fort.
When doing STEM activities, I try to give kids as long as possible. The longer kids have the more detailed and creative their snow forts will be.
Another huge part of any STEM challenge is learning that not everything will go as planned. When kids first start building, the materials may not stay in the way they want them to and it may break as they build.
Make sure to tell children that that is part of the challenge and not giving up is the goal.
Once you have set the expectations and handed out the materials, it’s time to start!
Winter STEM Activity Kit
Another option to try with this STEM activity is creating a Snowball STEM Activity Kit. If you want to send the kit home for kids. It is also an easy way to keep the materials together and control the amount each child gets.
Simply place a collection of the balls, toothpicks and a copy of the printed off “Snowball STEM Activity card” in a sealed bag. Kids can take their bag/kit to a spot of their choice to create their fort.
Winter STEM Activity
Kids will be keen to get started and get their hands-on the materials.
Encourage kids to take their time and explore the materials first. Some kids may not have touched or explored Styrofoam before so they will need some time to figure out how to use the materials.
Many children may spend awhile simply playing around with the materials and sticking the toothpicks into the Styrofoam balls. Don’t worry if they do this. It is a great way for them to explore and figure out how to use the materials. It is more then playing, it’s hands-on learning.
Kids will likely begin sticking the tooth picks into the Styrofoam balls and connecting them together. They may build up and make a tall snow fort, or they may only build a long base and never add much height. Either way is great!
Once kids begin to create, make sure to ask questions about their project. I am always surprised and interested to hear about the details, such as doors, special rooms and more that kids can tell you about their creations. Details that you may not notice otherwise.
Winter STEM Activity Results
When I did this winter STEM activity with my kids, it was interesting to see the different snow forts they created.
Since I provided different sized balls, some kids mixed them and used the different sizes as part of their design. Others used the size as part of their structure, using the large Styrofoam balls on the bottom and using smaller balls for each row.
Other kids sorted the balls and only used one size. They slid the balls onto the toothpick to fill the toothpick and make it less visible.
As children build, their fort will fall, break and wobble. This is one of the best parts of a STEM challenge. Although it can be frustrating for kids for things to not go as planned, it is a great way for them to learn to keep trying and never give up.
If some kids finish their project quickly, challenge them to add onto their fort by adding design details or maybe even an extra room or two onto the fort.
STEM Challenge Results
Overall, this winter STEM activity is a great way for children to explore interesting materials and create a structure, all with a winter theme!
If you try this winter STEM activity in the classroom, once all of the snow forts have been created, a fun option is to give children the opportunity to walk around and see what their classmates made. This gives them ideas for creating next time and a chance to show off their work.
If by the end of the time, some children are not done, or were not able to complete any fort, this can also be a great opportunity to talk about what strategies they tried.
The purpose and learning in a STEM activity comes from the process, not the end result. I would rather have a child create and try the whole time, but still be experimenting when time runs out then have a project that a child finished in the first five minutes. There is so much learning that comes from problem solving and experimenting he whole time.
Depending on how gentle the kids are with the foam balls, you should be able to use them again and again. An option to try once you are done with the STEM activity is using the Styrofoam balls in a sensory bin or even for arts and crafts.
For your convenience, this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases and I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.
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More Hands-On Teaching Ideas
Looking for more hands-on fun? Check out more ideas from Hands-On Teaching Ideas. From more winter activities and STEM building challenges to outdoor activities for winter and winter themed escape rooms, there is lots to keep children busy and learning.
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