10 Holiday STEM Activities to Keep Your Kids Curious When It's Cold

When the temperatures drop this holiday, the fun doesn’t need to stop! From science experiments to technological wizardry, STEM activities offer tons of things to do with your kids. Each of these activities offers something to help children learn about science, technology, engineering, and math. These projects are safe and easy for younger kids to enjoy as well. To keep things organized, each activity is organized within its STEM field.



1. It's a Soap Soufflé

Want to explore Charles's Law? Charles's Law states that as the temperature of a gas goes up, so does the volume. This is a quick and easy way to show your child how air expands from Ivory soap. In addition, this experiment is great for sensory exploration with younger children.

What You'll Need

Conducting Your Experiment

Before getting started, you can have your child hold the bar of soap to feel its shape and texture. How does the soap feel against the skin? How does it smell? You can also show how Ivory soap floats in water in fact, Ivory soap is the only air-filled soap to do so!

1. Place the Ivory bar of soap on the dinner plate.

2. Put the soap into the microwave.

3. Adjust microwave settings to high and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Your time may be shorter. It's important to watch what's happening in the microwave!

4. Watch as the bar of soap starts expanding in the microwave, slowly fluffing out over time to be three times its size!

Once the soap has cooled, it is time to play with the soap again. Kids can feel the difference in texture, play with the airy, scented crumbles, and feel how the soap has changed from being heated. The soap is smooth and silky, easily crumbling in their hands!


Ivory soap is one of the only brands to have air-filled bars. These air-filled bars expand when heated, creating a much fluffier and larger "bar" of soap.

Now What?

You do not have to put the Ivory crumbles to waste. These can be used to create a homemade laundry detergent or even scented fairy mud.

2. Absorbing Your Name with Colors

Have you ever talked to your kids about how water is absorbed differently depending on the agent? As some towel brands will tell you, there are better paper towels with more absorbency. However, what is the absorbency of water to salt? This experiment uses watercolors and salt to spell your child's name, leading to an amazing wow factor when the water is absorbed into the letters!

What You'll Need

Conducting Your Experiment

To get started, help your child out a bit by printing their name on the cardboard. White card stock works really well for this experiment because you will easily be able to see each child’s name.

Trace out the letters of your name with white glue. This is a fun way to also learn how to spell and draw!

1. Place the glue cards on a baking pan as the next part gets a bit messy!

2. Open the salt and let your kid sprinkle it over their name in glue. Shake the pan back and forth to make sure that the glue is coated completely!

3. Put the watercolors into the ice cube tray or use Dixie cups.

4. Fill the pipette with one of the watercolors.

5. This is where the fun begins! Drip the watercolor across the glue and salt to see it expand and flow throughout the letters.

6. Try other shapes and colors with this experiment to see how the salt changes colors.

Note: Art is not able to stand upright as the salt will slide off.



3. Learn Your Binary Code Birthday

Binary code is the language that computers use to talk to each other and other systems of information. Even pictures are broken down into binary code for computers to understand what it is. Binary code is based on a two-number system consisting of “0” and “1.”

This binary code experiment will teach your child how to spell their birthday using binary numbers.

What You’ll Need

Conducting Your Experiment

When we count numbers, it is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. With binary code, you start with 0, count to 1, and then what? There are no 2, 3, 4, 5, or any other numbers besides 0 and 1 in binary code.

When you start to count in binary, you will start with 0, 1, and then go back to 0, adding a 1 before. So, the number 2 becomes 10. For more visual learning with binary code, try this binary number system that has a thorough explanation and teaches you how to count with binary code!

You can also use this chart below to help your child find their birthday:


1. First write down your kid’s birthday in a number format. For example, if it’s February 14th, 2013, you would write 2-14-2013.

2. Underneath, write the binary code numbers for your kid’s birthday. Using the same example, 2-14-2013 translates to 101100100111.

3. Pick one color of bead to be “0” and set another color of bead to be “1”

4. Lay out the beads and count out your kid’s birthday binary code!

5. String your beads together to create a bracelet or necklace to show off your binary code birthday. You can also tie the ends together around a backpack zipper for a fun, colorful accessory.

4. Screen-Free Ways to Learn Coding

Robot Turtles is one of the games that teaches programming to a very young audience. It works like a board game and has fun, interactive ways of learning the essentials of computer coding.

How Robot Turtles Works

The object of the game is to move one turtle corner to the center where the jewel is. Players have to navigate around obstructions or zap them to bits with lasers. One player who is typically an adult gets to play the computer, while everyone else plays as a programmer. The programmers provide a series of commands that the computer then carries out on the board.

Why This Game is Great for Beginner Coders and Kids

Since the point of the game is to move the turtle to the center based on commands, everybody can win.

The game is great for younger kids because you can simply yell “BUG!” and get a do-over if a command does not work properly. This is just like in real programming. You can delete the last command and get a do-over.

Robot Turtles is for younger children, so there is not a lot of reading to go through before getting started.

Older kids can play with younger ones by being the computer. They can set up the board the way that they want in the beginning and take commands from programmers to move the turtle to the center.



5. Build a Rollercoaster

Ever played Rollercoaster Tycoon? This activity will excite the little engineer in you all over again. Kids get to design their own rollercoasters, then use simple household items to create a homemade rollercoaster. However, marbles will be taking this ride, not kids!

This project helps kids learn about construction, momentum, potential energy, and kinetic energy.

What You’ll Need

Designing Your Rollercoaster

The first step is to draw out the look of your rollercoaster. Does it have loops or a big vertical drop? These pipe rollercoasters are best created with one element so that your marble does not get stuck. However, it is also part of engineering to test different designs and see which ones make for the best rollercoaster!

The goal of the rollercoaster is to have at least one “hill” while getting the marble to end up at the bottom in the cup.

Build Your Rollercoaster

1. Place a strip of tape at the end of a piece of tubing and stick it to a smooth flat surface. Place another piece of tape across the first piece to fix the tubing in place. The higher that you start your rollercoaster, the more momentum the marble will build to go through additional hills and loops.

2. Connect two pieces of together by laying a piece of tape along the middle of the tube with about half of the tube piece hanging off the end. Pick up the second piece of track and press a piece of tape to it. Tape the underside of the tubes together as well. It’s important to create a seamless tube that’s pliable so you can structure your rollercoaster.

3. If building with a high vertical drop to begin with, you’ll want to secure the next piece of tubing to the floor.

4. Continue to connect tubing, creating hills and turns by bending your pipe insulation tubes. One thing to remember is that the track piping must turn on its side if the marble is going faster. In rollercoaster construction, this is called track banking. Otherwise, the marble may fly off the edge of the track. Banking the track will allow the marble to glide along the bottom of the track.

5. Experiment with different loops and hills to see how it affects your marble and improve upon your design. This is where you get to test how different shapes will work with kinetic energy and momentum.

6. Build a Bridge

Young kids are awesome engineers. They love to think about creative concepts. Building bridges is a great way to teach toddlers about civil engineering, architecture, and construction concepts.

To get your kid excited about building a bridge, you can talk through some of the design questions that they will need to answer beforehand. Some of these questions might be:

This helps create different concepts to get started before you start putting together the bridge.

What You’ll Need

Creating Your Bridge

Kids should have fun creating their bridge first. They can design and color all the pieces of the bridge on paper first. This teaches kids about drafting, size, necessary structures, and construction. You can look at different styles of bridges using a Google Image search.

1. Set down your blue paper to simulate water. Build the base of the bridge using cardboard tubes by lining them up in a row.

2. Tape popsicle sticks together and lay them across the tops of the cardboard tubes.

3. Try passing a toy car or Lego down the bridge to test if its sturdy enough to hold weight.

4. Use Styrofoam, plastic cups, pipe cleaners, egg crates, and other supplies to build a sturdier bridge.

You can build bridges from all types of combinations, testing to see which bridges were more successful than others, and looking at how you built those structures to create the best bridge.



7. Fun with Stickers

Looking for a fun and simple way to learn math concepts? Sticker sorting is the way to go. This activity is perfect toddlers and preschool children because it helps with counting and color association.

What You’ll Need

Counting with Color-Coded Stickers

Sorting activities are a great place to start with active toddlers. It’s one of the first math concepts that gives them hands-on experience with counting, sorting, addition, subtraction, and color coordination. This activity also teaches analytical and decision-making skills.

1. Tape the four sheets of construction paper to a wall or set apart on the table. Each sheet should be a different color.

2. Coordinate the color of a dot sticker to the construction paper by placing each sticker to its corresponding color.

3. Ask the toddler to count how many stickers can fit on one sheet and count the number of stickers.

4. Create patterns with the stickers such as boxes and circles.

5. Count how many stickers were used overall or by sheet.

8. Learning to Graph with Toys

With some help from painter’s tape, you can help your toddler create a graph to use for sorting and counting different sets of toys.

What You’ll Need

Setting Up Your Toy Graph

1. Design a large graph on a floor, table, or poster board using painter’s tape. You can try three or for columns to start.

2. Sort toys into groups. For example, all of the race cars go into one column or all of the teddy bears go into one row.

3. Space out the toys so that it’s clear to see which columns have less toys.

4. Count the toys in each column and ask some questions to get the data like “What column hast the most cars?” or “What type of toy do we have the least of?”

The best part with this activity is that that you can ask as many questions and mathematic problems as you think your kid can handle.

9. i-Spy with Numbers

One of the few games that is played at every age is i-Spy. This very simple game typically asks the players to guess what the person is spying on! In this version, numbers are used to teach younger kids about quantities, matching, and counting.

What You’ll Need

Creating Your i-Spy Game

Each tray has a number and items in that tray that represent that number. For example, if you had the number zero, then you could put the number in the tray with nothing else, signifying that zero has no quantity.

1. Set up your tray with each number. For 0, just place the number in the center of the tray with nothing else. For 1, place items that are singular, such as 1 penny, 1 button, 1 spoon, 1 toy car, 1 photo, etc.

2. Ask your partner to sort out all the objects that are singular, meaning only 1 of them.

3. Set up the next tray for 2. Place items in the tray in doubles, like two toy cars, a dice with 2 dots, dominos with two dots, two letters, two toothpicks, etc. Now ask your toddler to count everything in twos, matching the similar pieces together.

4. Continue to set up the trays building up to the highest number you want to go. You can keep playing this game over and over. You can count and match as many items as your little one can count.

10. Count Your Apples

Apple pie and apple cider are some of the best treat in Winter months. Counting apples is an activity inspired by those who love their apples.

What You’ll Need

Let the Counting Begin

1. Start out with three apples lined up on the tray. Place one leaf on each apple.

2. Pick up each leaf and count as you go with your toddler.

3. Place one apple in each bowl, counting as you go.

4. Place the leaves back on each apple, allowing your toddler to finish the activity by attaching one leaf per apple.

You can add more apples, leaves, and bowls as your toddler gets better at counting and identifying the leaves to apples.

Send Water Traveling This Summer

It’s that time of year again when families start planning their summer travels. Whether you are visiting us at the Discovery Center of Idaho or trekking to a foreign land – scientific adventure is to be had!

But did you know that water also travels?

Discover the science behind traveling water so you can watch water travel in between some summer trips of your own.

Scientific Secrets of Traveling Water

Traveling water requires three scientific principles: cohesion, adhesion, and gravity. Through a chemical bond, water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. These three atoms bond together to form water. When more than one molecule of water gets together, they bond, too. This is the process of cohesion. Adhesion, on the other hand, has to do with those water molecules staying together once they bond. As you know, water drips, which means it isn’t as adhesive as it is cohesive. Otherwise it would stay together no matter what. Now for gravity’s role in making water travel. Water uses gravity to its advantage to be able to travel more rapidly.

Send Water Traveling!

OK now it’s time to see this process in action and watch water travel. For this, we have a science experiment that you can do at home with simple items and inspiration by Steve Spangler Science.

You will need:
- 2 clear drinking glasses
- Water
- Food coloring
- 2-foot piece of string or thin yarn, light colors work best
- Masking tape or duct tape

1. Begin by filling one of the drinking glasses with water. Add your preference of food color to dye your water. Choose a darker color, preferably one that shows up well against the color of string you are using.
2. Take the empty glass and one end of the string. Affix the end of the string inside the bottom of the glass using tape. Make sure the string is attached by gently pulling on it.
Place the glass with the string in the bottom on a hard surface.
3. Hold the glass with colored water and the other end of the string in each of your hands above the other glass.
4. Very carefully pour the water from the glass onto the loose end of the string. Hold the string taut during this process for best results.
5. Slowly pour the water so that it travels along the string and into the glass.
6. See how long it takes you to fill up the empty glass with your traveling water.

Continue the experiment using various liquids and types of string to see how well your water travels. Water experiments are just one of the super awesome ways the Discovery Center of Idaho can bring a little science into your home.


6 Fun Science Activities You Can Do With Your Kids at Home  

Trying to teach your kids a science lesson over summer or for at home classes? Don't worry, because there are plenty of at-home science experiments that can teach kids a lot without requiring too much work (or deep pockets). Let's talk about some of our favorites and how they work.

  1. Studying Density

The great thing about this experiment is that kids can learn a lot about density and how it works at the kitchen counter...and then drink the experiments when you are through! All you need is a clear glass and then a drop or baster to insert liquid at different levels. Discuss how and why various fruit juices have different densities, and you have an ideal science lesson! The specific experiment we cited suggested pomegranate, orange, and white grape juice, but you have many other choices.

  1. Seed Dissection

Seed dissection is a great biology experiment! The key is finding seed pods that haven't opened yet so that you can cut them open and talk about how seeds develop and the different ways that they travel once they are ready to break out. Our cited option deals with cattails because they are large and easy to find in the Boise area. If you can’t get cattail seeds, use any larger seeds that you can find – even pine cones can teach a lesson when used correctly.

  1. Inflate a Balloon with Gases

If you want to teach about gases and how they form, this is a fun little experiment that only requires a bottle, a balloon and a simple funnel. The goal is to create a scientific reaction that creates gas, which then inflates a balloon. This works with the traditional baking soda and vinegar, but also with experiments using yeast and other common kitchen ingredients.

  1. How Plants Breathe

Plants absorb carbon dioxide and exude oxygen...but how? This project, great for warmer weather, involves locking plants into plastic bags for around half an hour to create different levels of condensation that lets you to judge how plants "breathe" and talk about plant biology.

  1. Balloon Greenhouse

This fun project allows you to examine how weather and light affect plant growth with a hanging balloon filled with soil and seed growth. It's a long term project ideal for studying many lessons throughout.

  1. Create an Electromagnet

Ready for some engineering science? Study how to make a magnet with simple household materials like a battery, nail, and copper wire. This is a great way to talk about electromagnetic forces and a great lead into how motors work!

5 Ways Science Connects the Community

It's sometimes easy to look at science as something distant. A discipline that doesn't really affect you or anyone you know directly, except maybe at a visit to a local museum or planetarium. But the truth is that science is a living, active member of the community too! Here are just a few ways how science connects and benefits your community.

Preserving Local Landmarks

A park doesn't become a park or stay a park without some help! Science is involved in these precious local landmarks and their preservation. That doesn't just mean raising awareness either. Let's say a local park, like Julia Davis Park, gets overrun by geese (which wouldn’t be surprising!).How should the geese be removed? Should the city somehow remove all the geese, or will that cause future problems that geese are preventing? Is it possible to get rid of geese but not the ducks? Well, science has the answers! That's why parks and recreation reports are one of the valuable contributions science makes to keeping your favorite parks and landmarks beautiful.

Energy Use and Management

A community is defined by how it uses energy. From nuclear power plants to wind farms and hydroelectric dams, large energy sources come to define the communities around them. However, energy policies backed by science and research also change how a community approaches vital issues like air and water quality, zoning, and construction requirements. Just like how Boise is powered by green hydroelectric energy, for example. With scientific input, communities can solve pollution issues, create more attractive buildings, and use the local landscape to its advantage. In other words, science can be beautiful.

Preserving Local History

Archaeology, anthropology, paleontology – these disciplines and many others are all about exploring history and preserving valuable evidence of the past. Without science, we wouldn't have fossil beds, historical landmarks, or knowledge of how the nearby land was settled. We wouldn’t have Sue, the world’s largest T-Rex fossil on record! Not only would this affect tourists, but it would also be bad for the families growing within those communities, who would never know why their location is unique and worth valuing. Communities are made all the better when they understand and appreciate their history...and that's where science comes in handy.

Professional Development for Teachers

Scientists do give talks at schools, and of course higher-level educators are often scientists in their own right. But there's another, more subtle way that scientists affect the overall education of a community: They help train teachers. That's right, the community of scientists is actively involved in teacher development courses where they teach the latest methods and classroom projects to help impart scientific knowledge to children.