Like many working parents, it’s a challenge for my husband and I to make time for daily activities, let alone special projects and outings with our girls. Yet, we make a point to incorporate enriching experiences to ensure they are exposed to STEM education activities, increasing the likelihood that they’ll envision themselves as STEM professionals.
So, when Blue Studios launched livestream STEM projects, I saw an opportunity to expose our daughters to civil engineering and avoid having to go through the tiring get out the door melodrama, every Saturday: “Get dressed!” Do everyone’s hair. Pack essentials. “Put on your shoes and coat.” “NO, not those shoes!”
You can see why this was a no-brainer for me.
1. The project prep was simple
After I registered our family team, we received a box containing the following, which I let my girls open:
A welcome letter that I encouraged my 2nd grader to read out loud to us. (Literacy win!)
A helpful check-list of materials / objects to gather from around the house to help us prepare for all the building that was to come.
An addition to our home library, the Paige & Paxton children’s book, Penelope Finds Her Perfect Fit (Intro to Engineering).
We saved recyclable items in paper grocery bags till the project began. The girls came to discuss what each item was made of and brainstormed the types of structures they could build. Together, we read the book which was exactly what it claims to be–an intro to engineering, defining and citing examples of types of engineering.
2. We got to have weekly check-ins with real engineers and fellow STEM families
From there, we committed to joining the livestream class. We didn’t get dressed up, nor felt compelled to clean up the house for company. All we had to do was join from the comfort of our couch, and let the instructor and real life civil engineers on the other end of the web engage our kids. They got a huge kick out of being able to see the other family teams too.
3. The resources and access to instructors made completing the project easy
I appreciated that all the resources mentioned and shared could be found in a single space online–no digging through multiple emails for the right links! We were given simple homework to do over the course of the week between the Saturday check-ins, purposed to take us through the engineering design process.
No reinventing the wheel! Desmond, the livestream instructor, provided ample suggestions to us about where to go and what to do, to help our kids finish their project. There was no pressure to invest more time into the homework beyond what we could afford to allot.
For example, the first assignment was to explore our neighborhood / town to identify structures and systems, like civic and utility buildings and streets. I hadn’t thought of planning family field trips, as some families did. However, my husband and I pointed out structures out to the girls as we drove throughout Chicagoland. These made for engaging conversations about the world beyond the car windows and didn’t require additional scheduled time.
Through it all, we had access to the instructor for any questions, and during each livestream we got to meet a new engineer who spoke on the topics of proper planning, collaboration, and execution. Now, whenever the girls and I start a project, I remind them of the importance of planning, considering needs, and allotting proper time to get things done. They have become “engineers” of their own days!
4. By the end, my kids ended up leading the way
When building began, we had several “blueprints” for what was to become our sustainable city, and 4-5 bags of “construction materials” to work with. Our city was to be solar and wind powered and urban rooftop gardens were going to feed the town! Lawns and parks were to be accessible for kids to play and adults to “chillax”, as my 1st grader would say.
It was a challenge not to take over the work for the kids during build time, but it was a fun team effort! We used an old card table as our base, and decorative scrapbooking papers to beautify the structures. My husband meticulously folded scraps of foil into solar panels and the girls and I fashioned windmills into a wind farm. Our residential neighborhoods were made out of toilet paper rolls fashioned into yurts. The girls insisted on malls to house every retailer imaginable. For safety, red, yellow, and green push-pins were traffic control signals at intersections, and emergency call stations were sprinkled throughout the public parks.
Here’s what our city ended up looking like.
Eventually, they named their city, “Powerville”! It became home to every Shopkin and Num Nom my girls had been collecting, and they were beaming with pride to show and tell every visitor about their civil engineering project.
What are some STEM projects you’ve tried at home? What did you like or not like about them? Share your experiences below in the comments.
About Daisy Copeland
Daisy Copeland is Development Director at Mudlark Theater, where she designs, implements and manages the development strategy for Mudlark Theater. Daisy is a mother of two girls—Zora and Ella—is a graduate of Denison University, spends her time volunteering through her work as a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and is a member of the School Advisory Committee of her daughters' school, Kingsley Elementary in Evanston, IL.