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3 active STEM-inspired games to play with your preschooler this winter

Getting your kids to be active can be a challenge sometimes, especially when temperatures drop outside. Try these fun STEM activities to get them moving in winter weather.

What are STEM activities anyway?

You may have heard teachers or other parents talk about STEM activities and how great they are for kids. But what does it mean? STEM stands for:

  • Science
  • Technology
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics

These fun activities are a great way to grab your young child’s attention, introduce STEM concepts, and get moving too.

1. Walk like winter animals

A playful way to get your child off the couch is to move like an animal that loves the cold. Come up with a list of winter animals together and get walking indoors or outdoors with your child.

Your list of winter animals could include:

  • Polar bear: walk around on all fours, and be careful not to slip on the ice!
  • Penguin: place a soft ball or cushion between your knees and squeeze it hard as you try to waddle like a penguin. Don’t let the ball drop!
  • Walrus: lie on the floor and try to drag yourself around with your arms or wiggle.
  • Snowshoe hare: hop around like a winter rabbit.
  • Snowy owl: flap your arms like wings and move around like an owl hunting for food.

Movement skills: Coordination and balance.

STEM connection: Biology. As you move like different animals, explore the reasons why their bodies move in such varied ways. This activity is also a great way to build their environmental knowledge. Ask your child if they know which animals can walk well on slippery ice, and why it’s easier for one animal or another. Explore how webbed feet can give animals an advantage to move through the water easier.

You can also talk about the ecosystems, predators, and prey for the animals. Explore the many animals that can search for food in snow. How do they survive with limited grass or green foliage during the winter? How do animals like deer stay safe from predators in the winter when there are fewer places to hide?

You can also explore geography: What winter animals live close to you, or the furthest away? You could even pull out a map and see exactly where these winter animals live. Explore these locations and how temperatures may change over long distances.

2. Try snowman bowling

Don’t worry if you don’t own bowling pins or a ball. You can make your own snowman to knock over. Try throwing and rolling different household items to see what makes the best “bowling ball.”

Use empty tissue boxes and cover them in white paper. Decorate each box to resemble part of a snowman with the top box as the head. Stack them on top of each other with the head at the top and decorate with a hat.

Use a sock ball large enough to roll on the floor of your home if indoors, or you could use a snowball outside. Stand back and see who can bowl over the snowman first. Keep score and see how many snowmen you can knock over in 15 minutes.

Try using separate items to knock the snowman down. How easy is it to knock down with a pair of rolled-up socks? What if you try rolling a soup can instead of throwing a ball? Ask your child why they think one will work better than the other, then put that into action.

Movement skills: Throwing accuracy, coordination, and fine motor skills.

STEM connection: This one’s all about the physics of forces, including momentum, mass, and velocity. Examine if it’s easier or harder to hit the snowman when you are standing closer or farther away.

Do you have to throw a ball harder or softer when you’re closer? What happens if you throw softly and are too far away? The direction of an object’s movement is part of the momentum and velocity.

3. Teach your child about gas molecules with balloon catch

Ever notice how excited a child gets at birthday parties when they see balloons? They love to throw them in the air and bat them back and forth. Why not turn a game of balloon catch into a science lesson!

Blow up two balloons so they’re almost full and about the same size. Use one to play catch in the house for a few minutes and observe how firm and large the balloon is after playing with it. Use a flexible tape measurer or a piece of string to measure the circumference.

Next, take the balloon outside in the cold air. Play catch back and forth again for a few minutes. Does the balloon change at all? What can your child notice that’s happening? You could try comparing it to the balloon left indoors to notice the changes and differences.

If you live in a warmer climate, put the balloon in the fridge for a few minutes to cool it down. Make sure there’s enough space so it won’t get squished. Remove the balloon and notice the changes. Play with the balloon indoors again and ask your child about the changes they observe.

Movement skills: Volleying and striking develops hand-eye coordination, motor control, and the ability to track moving objects in the air.

STEM connection: Chemistry! Gas molecules shrink and move closer in colder temperatures. As they warm up, the molecules move farther away, creating more space in the balloon. This activity helps your child observe what happens to gases in cold and warm temperatures. You can ask “what gas did we use to fill the balloon?” Talk about the different gasses and properties. Oxygen and carbon dioxide in a balloon will fill it up, while helium will make the balloon float.

Get your child thinking about gas spaces by asking them to draw a balloon filled with warm oxygen molecules. It should be big and have many molecules that fill the balloon farther apart from each other. A cold molecule balloon example should be smaller, with the gas molecules inside closer together.

There are many ways to get your child moving this winter and still build brain fundamentals. Try one or more of these activities and you’re sure to have a fun, active time while learning with your child!

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