Today I am super excited to share TWO fun and easy STEM ideas that I did this month with my TKs! The first idea is called “Santa’s Chimney Challenge,” and the second is “Build a Shelf for the Elf.” The kids absolutely LOVED them both, and you KNOW that if these ideas work well in TK, then they will surely work in Kindergarten and first grade, (and probably even Pre-K, too!)
Both of these activities were easy enough for the kids to do by themselves, which is a HUGE plus- am I right? And that is really the trick when planning any STEM activity for young children. You have to find the right balance between challenge and what’s possible for your students in order for them to really enjoy it. If it’s too easy, it’s loses its excitement. If it’s too hard, they can get discouraged and then they will need some help. And good heavens- there are already so many things that young children may need help with that we really DON’T want to add to it! When I plan a STEM activity, my hope is that it can function as an independent center, and that they really can do it alone. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I am learning as I go along!
Santa’s Chimney Challenge
For this activity, I gave the group of five or six children a box of Magnatiles and asked them to build a chimney that my little “Sock Monkey Santa” could slide down. The object was to get this soft Santa ornament to slide down and come all the way out without knocking down the chimney!
My teammate Jeff and I did not designate who would work with whom within this group of five or six kids. We had enough Magnatiles (approximately 400 pieces that I’ve been collecting for a LONG time!) for the group to make a couple of large houses or several small houses, so we just let them figure it out. They generally did much better when they worked with a friend than when they worked alone- but we let them discover that on their own.
Most of the children did manage to meet the challenge successfully! Some of the chimneys did fall down, but nobody cried. (Hooray!) In fact, many of them squealed with laughter when the chimneys/houses came down! They had SUCH a great time! Each time we were ready to change groups, my teammate Jeff called out, “Alright, it’s Chimney Time!” Then everyone gathered around the edge of the colored carpet to watch him drop Sock Monkey Santa down the chimney. And of course we all cheered when Santa made it out!
I must say that this “Santa’s Chimney Challenge” was one of the most successful, most fun, and certainly the most EXCITING projects we’ve done yet! And although we used Magnatiles to build our chimneys, but I think that you could easily use other building materials as long as they are reasonably easy to form into a long rectangle. That’s what made Magnatiles especially good for this challenge!
We tried this again with our second grade STEM buddies, and the challenge I issued was to build a chimney for Santa to slide down again, but this time with other building materials! So we had Mega Blox, Duplos, sticks and clips, paper cups, Lincoln Logs, and Linking Cubes, and basically anything else I could find in my room! It was MUCH harder for them- no question, but many of them did accomplish it!
Build a Shelf for the Elf
The second STEM activity was “Build a Shelf for the Elf!” I picked up these cute little elves at Target in their ornament section for just three bucks each, so I thought we could make good use of them! So I gave the children our trusty wooden cube blocks and our flat Kiva blocks, and told them to build a shelf for the elf. I really didn’t elaborate any more than that, basically because we just didn’t have any more time that day!
Anyway, I probably should have explained better what a SHELF actually is, because what the children made looked much more like walls or beds, LOL! And those cheap little elves just don’t sit up no matter WHAT, and that made them look even creepier (than usual!)- somewhat like they were ready to be sacrificed on some kind of weird holiday altar! OMG!
When I took a look at the first one, I started giggling so hard that if I had had a drink of coffee/water/soda in my mouth, I think it would have come right out of my nose! But anyway, it was tons of fun for the children! They sure enjoyed themselves, and a few of their constructions really did come close to looking a bit more like shelves.
PS: Here’s another idea!
At the risk of giving them way too much Christmas and not enough of the other holiday activities, here’s another idea:
Build the North Pole with Duplo Blocks!
We started this, and I bought some fun Rudolph and friends finger puppets at Target ($3!) to put in it, but we don’t have any building plates to put our Duplos on. Soooooo their Duplo creations just really didn’t pan out, and I didn’t get any great pictures. Boo hoo! When I took my leave of absence, I gave away SO MUCH of my stuff, and a lot of my toys got sacrificed. Oh well!
Hope you enjoy these ideas!
Check out my singable book “Christmas Countdown 20-10” from my Little Songs for Language Arts collection!
It teaches students how to decompose teen numbers and count backwards from 20, all with a Christmas theme! You can get the templates AND mp3 of the song for just $3!!!!