10 Easy, Affordable DIY STEM Experiments to Keep Kids and Teens Engaged

help your kids and teens learn about science tech art engineering math

Whether you’re homeschooling or trying to supplement your child’s education while schools are closed, you’re probably feeling the heavy weight of dual priorities. How can you prioritize parenting and educating your child while still making time for other priorities, including your job? To reduce stress and maintain balance, you can arm yourself with lesson plans that combine entertainment with education.

Engaging activities can buy you a little time throughout the day by captivating your children and teenagers. Few things combine fun and learning quite like science. Why not have your children follow along with some age-appropriate STEM experiments to teach them about science, technology, engineering or math?

To get you started, here’s a curated list of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) science experiments that are appropriate for each age group:

Science Experiments for Toddlers

(Ages 2 to 3 Years)

Toddlers are sweet, adorable and unpredictable. If you have a small child, you realize your little one’s moods and interests can change in a heartbeat. To engage this age group, it’s essential to capture (and keep) your toddler’s attention with short, fun activities. Be sure to walk through each step with your child, explaining what you are doing and why. Here are a few STEM experiments you can complete together using common materials you probably already have at home:

Shoebox Sorting

  1. Cut 3 slats into a large shoe box.
  2. Make cards that have numbers, colors and shapes.
  3. Show your child which card belongs in each slot.
  4. Help your child sort the different cards into their respective slats.

Nature Walk Souvenirs

Note: if you complete the following activity during COVID-19, please be mindful of social distancing.

  1. Go on a nature walk around your neighborhood.
  2. During the walk, ask your child to point out any items of interest. 
  3. Examine each item with a magnifying glass. Discuss what each item is and how it contributes to the ecosystem.

DIY Sensory Bottle

  1. Fill a plastic bottle with liquid soap, olive oil, or any other thick, clear, non-toxic liquid.
  2. Help your child choose different colored glitter, beans, rocks, confetti, or other small items that can float. Consider adding a few buttons or other small items that will make noise when your child shakes the bottle.
  3. Ask your child what they think will happen when they shake the bottle.
  4. After ensuring the lid is tightly sealed, have your child shake the bottle to see what happens! (Not only is this activity fun for parents and children, but it can also be a great tantrum distraction.)

Science Experiments for Grade School Kids

(Kindergarten through middle school)

For growing children and preteens, look for STEM activities that provide age-appropriate levels of independence. You might also choose DIY experiments that give your child an outlet for expressing their creativity or their emotions. Here are three ideas:

Lemon Volcano

A lemon volcano teaches children about chemical reactions in science and nature. Using the volcano as a metaphor, you might even spin this activity as a discussion of emotions like anger, sadness or fear.

Capillary Action

Using food coloring in separate cups, your child will watch colors creep up a folded paper towel through a process called capillary action. Creative or artistic children will love playing with colors during this simple, DIY experiment. Additionally, studying this scientific process could help spark a conversation about emotions, during which you might discuss how to ease anxiety or move from anger to a state of calm. 

Ocean Currents

Does your child ever seem to get carried away by their emotions? If so, you can examine those feelings in greater detail while also learning about ocean currents together. This simple science experiment uses food coloring and water. Your child will watch rushing hot water push through cold water, which will be standing still. Explain to your child that this process is similar to the way currents move through the ocean — and the way emotions move through our minds. 

Science Experiments for Teens

(Ages 12 to 18 years)

Throughout adolescence, your teen’s body and mind are experiencing a lot of changes. Additionally, many schools are now shifting to online classes. If your teenager is completing the school year online, the experience will probably be vastly different from the structured, in-person classroom they’re used to. These STEM experiments will keep your teen focused and engaged:

Bridge Builders

  1. Build bridges out of straws and glue.
  2. Place objects of various weights on each bridge.
  3. Record how much weight each structure can hold.
  4. Explain that this is a real-world experiment that helps determine which shapes are the strongest. Ask your teenager when they think an engineer might use this type of an experiment in real life.

DNA Discovery

This DIY lesson is fun for the whole family, regardless of age. Together with your teen, you’ll learn about your own DNA. Best of all, the DNA Discovery uses some common items that you probably already have in your kitchen pantry: paper cups, dish soap, juice and rubbing alcohol. 

DIY Bottle Rockets

Explore the dynamic energy of propulsion and chemical reactions with homemade bottle rockets. All you need is an empty plastic bottle, a cork, a bicycle pump with a needle adapter, and some water.

Bonus: Science Experiment for All Ages

(Any Age)

Cooking

Believe it or not, cooking is a type of DIY science experiment. That’s right: making a meal is science! Preparing meals together is one of the easiest and most fulfilling ways to explore STEM concepts together as a family. Use cooking or baking as an opportunity to teach your child or teen about food science, scientific measurements, and chemical reactions. For toddlers and younger children, cooking and baking are excellent opportunities to teach kids about counting, fractions, and units of measurement. Whether you’re baking cookies or sauteing onions, use each meal as an opportunity to experiment as a family, then discuss what you learned while you eat. 

With a little creativity, it’s possible to complete countless budget-friendly science experiments from the comfort of your home. Best of all, many of these experiments use common items that you probably already have on hand. With the current global pandemic, there’s never been a better time to engage your kids in science. Your child might grow up to become a future scientist, researcher, doctor or nurse who helps keep the world safe, healthy, and whole.

Photo: Unsplash