Fall STEAM Activities for Kids
By Nicole Rhodes, Lead STEM Tutor at The Community Classroom
Fall break is just around the corner, which is a great time to have some fun with the kids at home! We put together some fall-themed STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities that encourage creativity and spark curiosity. As a bonus, they all center around a classic November bird – the noble turkey! The following four activities include STEAM challenges, which encourage engineering design, help to develop problem-solving skills, and require the use of logic and critical thinking.
- Turkey Platform Centerpieces
- Feather Observations with DIY Magnifying Glass
- Flying Turkeys
- Turkey Catapult
Pumpkin Platform Centerpieces
This is definitely a STEAM challenge! Straws are flimsy, hollow, and made out of thin plastic or other plant polymer. However, with the right engineering, they can hold surprising amounts of weight! It can be both fun and rewarding to tweak your design just right to support the heft of a pumpkin. You can start with a limited amount of materials to encourage creativity and economy of resources, just like engineers often do. If you are proud of your design, why not make it a centerpiece at your Thanksgiving table?
- Masking tape
- Heavy object (ie. pumpkin)
- Define the Problem: Your challenge is to build a platform at least 3 inches high that will hold a small pumpkin (or pumpkin pie at the Thanksgiving table!). An additional layer of challenge is to limit yourself to 10 straws.
- Develop a Solution: Make a drawing of your idea, or just start playing around with the materials!
- Create a Prototype: Put together your first design. You will notice that the straws shift around, and you will need to play with placement and braces to make them stand straight. Play around with the arrangement of the straws to maximize stability. You may decide to bend the straws, cross them, or add a base to tape the bottom end of the straws down.
- Test out your Prototype: Place an object on your platform–did it hold it up or collapse? Test out your platform with increasingly heavy objects.
- Reflect and Retry: If the platform collapsed, in what direction did it fall? How could you improve your design to better support the weight? Change your prototype and test it out again.
Feather Observations with DIY Magnifying Glass
Did you know that wild turkeys CAN fly? It is only their domestic cousins that are bred for meat who are too heavy to lift off the ground. Feathers are how birds are adapted for flight, but how do feathers work? Go on a scavenger hunt for feathers (or buy some at your local craft store) and take a closer look with a homemade magnifying glass.
- Clear plastic bottle with a smooth round side (1L soda bottles work well)
- Water dropper (optional)
- Use the cap of the bottle (or another jar lid) to trace a circle at a smooth rounded place on the plastic bottle. You want to make a concave lens.
- Carefully cut out the lens. Be sure to smooth any sharp edges–you can do this with scissors or a nail file.
- Fill the lens halfway with water. A dropper comes in handy for this.
- Hold the lens over a feather and see how it makes it look bigger! Observe the fine barbs and hollow shaft of the feather. How does this help birds fly? Do further research on feathers and flight online or at the library. Use what you learn to develop a model bird in the next STEAM challenge, Flying Turkeys!
Birds are master engineers of flight. Have you ever watched a hawk soar for hours without beating a wing? How do they use their wing shape and feathers to achieve this? Balloons will give your “turkeys” some lift into the air while you discover how feather placement drastically changes how birds move.
- Permanent markers
- Binder clips
- Define the Problem: Your challenge is to create a bird that will fly the fastest, highest, or furthest.
- Develop a Solution: Think about the observations you made when looking up close at bird feathers (see above). Make a guess about how the feathers will help with lift, speed, or height. Sketch a design. Experiment with feather placement. Feather direction, shape and angle will all affect flight. Too many feathers will weigh the bird down.
- Create a Prototype: Put together the flying turkey by blowing up a balloon, but clip it closed with a binder clip instead of tying the end. Draw any designs on the balloon with a permanent marker (washable markers will smear). Attach the feathers with tape.
- Test out your Prototype: Tape a few feathers to the “bird.” Take the bird balloons outside and launch them into flight by releasing the binder clip. Notice any differences with feather placement. You can blow up the balloons again to re-launch the birds from different locations.
Reflect and Retry: How did your design(s) work? How do you think it could be improved?
Giant catapults were used in ancient Greece, China, and Rome by harnessing physical mechanics to launch heavy objects with much less force than would be needed to push or throw them on their own. This is a fun investigation to do because who doesn’t like to launch things into the air? It is still plenty of fun to see things go flying while using much softer objects that will not leave a huge divot in your lawn.
- Scrap wood boards
- Drill or screwdriver
- Inflatable turkey, beach ball, or other soft object
- Ruler or measuring tape
- Define the Problem: Choose a challenge, either to build a catapult that will launch the turkey the highest or farthest.
- Develop a Solution: Make a drawing of your ideas. Do research on the physics of catapults. What are the parts of a catapult and how are they important to their function?
- Create a Prototype: Put together your catapult! We used wood boards and fastened them to a heavier wooden base for the fulcrum. Play around with using other materials, but be careful when launching–parts can go flying! Adult supervision is required.
- Test out your Prototype: Try launching your object! You can record the distance or height with a ruler or measuring tape in a notebook.
Reflect and Retry: How did it work? What one thing might you change to make it work even better? Changing one thing at a time will help you uncover the thing that works.
Looking for more fall science and math ideas? Check out: