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Keeping kids engaged with STEM

August 27, 2020

By INL Media Relations

Use STEM basics to help kids explore creative play and have fun.

After plenty of time with the kids home this year, parents and caregivers are eager to keep everyone happy and busy. If the kids can learn while having fun? That’s even better! There’s no need to lose your sanity while keeping the kids occupied. And it’s never too soon to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Do yourself a favor and try some of these activities to beat boredom while subtly encouraging your kids’ interest in STEM fields.

Engineer a snack:

Kids can use ordinary snack items like cubes of apples and cheese or a fun treat like marshmallows to make a building out of toothpicks.

Food and entertainment are a beautiful combination. Try giving your kids a healthy snack that tests their engineering skills. Prepare cubes of apples and cheese, and throw some marshmallows in there for a treat the kids will love. Using toothpicks, kids can build a structure with the cubes of food functioning as joints. Parents and caregivers can challenge the kids to build a structure that won’t fall. Try asking them encouraging questions like, “Who can build a sturdy structure? Whose structure will be the tallest?” Using their imaginations, kids will certainly create something you couldn’t imagine – maybe a castle, a village of homes for kitties, or their dream gym. The activity requires creativity, an engineering mindset, and problem-solving skills. Best of all, it will end with a delicious snack.


Rediscover the alphabet:

Using Legos or other blocks, your kids can have an introduction to the building blocks of computer coding: the binary alphabet. Computers don’t read letters the same way we do – they operate using a series of zeroes and ones. To help kids understand what this means, find a key to the binary alphabet online (I simply used a search engine using the phrase “binary alphabet” to find a key to use at home). Explain to kids that for each letter in our alphabet, a computer would use zeroes and ones. Now you can get creative together. Take a look at what blocks or building bricks you have available. Assign one color to be ones and another color to be zeroes. Using the binary alphabet key, have the kids write words or messages making a line of blocks to spell out the zeroes and ones. You could start with names – the word kids are probably most familiar with writing – and see how long it takes to spell out. As the kids work at creating their own binary messages, ask them questions like, “What would it be like if you had to use the binary alphabet to write your on schoolwork?”

Binary scaled
With building bricks or blocks, kids can learn the challenges of writing in a binary code rather than a simple alphabet.
Binary scaled
Use a binary alphabet guide to help kids write messages the way a computer would.
Binary scaled
Building bricks are a classic toy that parents and kids can both love. They are great for open-ended play, and they can be used to develop engineering and basic computer science skills.
Binary scaled
A child’s name is typically the first word they learn to write. “Writing” their name in binary alphabet using blocks is a new challenge.

Get out!

With all the additional time spent indoors with kids this year, an outing can be just the thing to keep everyone happy and sane. Try a field trip to the historic Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, just 50 miles west of Idaho Falls. EBR-I in the Idaho desert is a national historic landmark set up for the public to explore where nuclear power first produced usable electricity. You and the kids can opt for a guided tour or explore on your own with a self-guided tour. With a mix of history and science, the outing will get you out of the house and help your kids explore another aspect of STEM.

For more ideas on easy STEM activities to do with household items, visit and view our resource library.



About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted August 27, 2020

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