by Carol Vercellino, CEO of Oak City Labs


In the middle of May 2020, my 8-year-old daughter got the sad news that all the camps in June were canceled.

Which, subsequently, added “Camp Director” to my already long list of roles.

But, I thought, this is a great opportunity to try some STEAM-related activities and foster her curiosity in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.

The fact that it would also keep her distracted during my Zoom calls was a bonus that I’ll be adding to my gratitude list for Thanksgiving.

If you’re looking for STEAM-related activities to keep your kids entertained and engaged this summer, keep reading. I’ve included what we’ve tried so far and what works best when it comes to learning (which will also save you some money). 

DIY Science, Engineering, and Art Kits

At the start of the summer, we headed to a local science store to pick up a few kits. Here’s what we got:

However, despite how much fun they looked like in the stores, these kits still required some parental involvement. Usually, this would be okay, but since many of us are juggling work and childcare at the same time, it’s not something we planned for, but we are trying to make it work.

Live and Online Classes and Camps

So, with that in mind, we also tried Outschool Live Online Classes and Camps. My daughter loved the Wonderful Wizard Wands. She was able to create a wand without much help from me. She also loved the series on National Parks. These distracted her for at least an hour!

Independent, Spontaneous Learning

After a month of “camp” at home, I realized that despite all of the wonderful kits and classes, the best activities for my daughter have been unplanned.

For example, during the virtual learning portion of her school year, she took her classes on an old MacBook Pro. So this summer she’s been playing around with it – adjusting the settings (broke a few things) and picking up some mad Google skills.

Her typing has improved, and she learned how to resize and format elements to better fit a page for printing. She also started creating her graphics in Pixelmator – all on her own with only a few questions here and there!

She also borrowed (read: took) an old Android phone I was using for testing a client’s mobile app. While she quickly broke a few things and changed a whole bunch of settings, all I had to do was reset the phone to factory settings to correct the issues and wipe out her profile on the MacBook.

She also created her own activities. Right now, she’s building a dollhouse for an 18″ American Girl doll.

While she doesn’t play with her doll that often, the level of research required to make everything from scratch has rivaled mine (poor kid). She’s drawn house plans and made a couch from cardboard, old t-shirts, and packing materials. She also made a bed, and most importantly, called the furniture her ‘prototypes’ and said she would ‘make refinements on her next one’. I’m so proud.

What I’ve Learned from Experimenting with STEAM Activities

Independent Learning is Most Effective

Independent learning is how I got into computers. My parents gave me an old computer and allowed me to take it apart, reinstall, mess with settings, and teach myself things that I found interesting.

My first computer was a Commodore 64, and I have fond memories of floppy disks and playing Ghostbusters. It’s a good reminder that children don’t always need us to teach them things, and allowing them to break and fix on their own can be a much better learning experience.

But whatever device you give your kids – back it up.

Make sure you backup your devices.

Fortunately, with a background as a Systems Engineer and working in DevOps, I have a healthy level of paranoia. We store all of my daughter’s critical information in iCloud, and any work information in another Cloud provider.

The only thing she could mess up would take a few minutes to google a fix, or at it’s worst, a couple of hours to rebuild the MacBook or Android phone.

Keep an eye on their browser history

Despite there being many family targeted software and hardware solutions to protect kids from others and themselves, we have a long way to go with shared family internet access and accounts.

Google Family Link was annoying at best and blocked school-related links. So, my daughter ended up using my account to access teacher recommended videos. The current recommendation is to have your child use your account to view videos and search the internet, so you can track and view their history.

While that’s great, if I’m using it, I don’t want the same personalizations she has on Chrome. 

With her being eight, we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what’s safe for kids.

There’s no substitution for outdoor play

While I highly recommend incorporating STEAM activities into your summer plan, outdoor time is still incredibly important. For our family, it makes our kids happier, which makes mom and dad happier.

We’re fortunate to have neighborhood kids willing to put together a mini-camp with safe social distancing practices. The kids ride bikes, play lacrosse or pickleball, and just about anything else outdoors.

No, independent activities like these aren’t perfect. My daughter still wants to see her friends, she misses school, she doesn’t like wearing a face mask in Target, she’s getting entirely too much screen time, and our vacation plans got canceled.

But, getting to watch her build, explore, break things, and deal with lack of structure has been amazing.

So, I’ve stopped hunting for science kits, stopped pushing robotics, and currently, I’m letting her be bored with the occasional, “Hey, what do you think about…?”

Looking for more activities for your kids? Download our free STEM coloring sheets here!

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