973741 tn?1342342773

STEM Activities

Hi, this is just a general question on educational resources for kids.  STEM or Science Technology Engineering Math is a big buzz word these days and I'm all for it.  We've done a program recently which was great--  a Lego Robotics program that came to our school for an after school enrichment program.  My boys love it.  And they participated in Destination Imagination which is associated with STEM.  But when I look at all that is available---  it is semi limited and super expensive.  Every 'camp' or class is over 200 dollars (and I have 2 kids).  But I was wondering if anyone else felt it was worth it.  There are video game design courses (right up my young boys' alley), computer programing courses, space programs, lego engineering courses (we have done one of these also as an after school enrichment which is not expensive like the 'real' class), etc.  

I have tried to see what I can offer at home and have found some computer programming for kids and even one that they can make video games with (we are going to do that at home this summer) but I have no skills to help them.  It is really just them learning on their own because I am not computer savvy.

I also looked into the Lego Mindstorm robotics sets you could buy but nope. That is out of my price range.  

My older son is a movie fanatic and I had been eyeing a stop gap video making course but found an app for his ipod that does this and he now makes little movies all the time---  narrating, adding music.  He does a lego spiderman movie where he sings the spiderman song as the background, it's hysterical!  But would he get much more out of the 250 dollar camp?  Is it worth it?  

So, my question is two fold---  what do people thing the value of these types of camps are? Are the worth the money?  Does it really help kids advance academically?  My boys certainly love their current robotics after school class but is it helping them in a meaningful way for down the road academically?  And what STEM activities do you feel are best?  

And the second, what can I provide at home?  I get things like a circuit board as my older son did a unit on electricity and had an interest in wiring after that so he has wired a doorbell and is working on a radio from this circuit board---  these are inexpensive things that you can buy at home (it was 40 dollars to get this board that you could wire like 30 things off of---  don't ask ME how though).  So I have found sites that I can get those things off of (if anyone is interested, I can provide a link) but am looking for more ideas!!  And direction for what is good for kids to know or be dabbling in.  

I know this is an odd question for child behavior, but I think keeping kids engaged and using their brains does help with behavior.  Right after they run outside for a couple of hours that is!  It's hard to provide some of the things that I've seen associating themselves with STEM due to cost if you aren't rolling in dough though.  So then for those of us that have limited resources, we have to really prioritize how we spend our money.  

Thanks for reading!
9 Responses
13167 tn?1327194124
I agree about using their brains!  My boys always loved inventive stuff when they were growing up.  We had a huge bin of legos that I foolishly gave to Goodwill several years ago - ouch,  still feeling negative vibes from that decision - but they also liked kind of edgier stuff too.  Have you ever done an estes rocket?  You can get ones you have to build,  or ones that are pretty much pre-fab.

We also have a great fridgets set -  VERY fun.  Here's a link - and a great website with all kinds of cool creative toys.


I forget how old your boys are,  but there's nothing as exciting as a potato cannon if they're old enough to do that.  I have to say, these can be very dangerous so you have to use caution.  

Do you have a good microscope?  (Better than the kind you can get in a toy store).  That was also really fun for my kids.  It's amazing what things look like magnified.

Have fun -
13167 tn?1327194124
oops,  forgot the link:

189897 tn?1441126518
    Ya,  $200 is a lot of money.  And I have a feeling that you can find a lot of that on the internet for free.  For example,  I love the Khan Academy.  Its all for free and he teaches all kinds of stuff.  This is is stuff on programming - it may be above what you are reaching for - or not.
   I don't think that these camps will help your kids academically down the road because you seem to do a pretty good job of exposing them to interesting things.    Pretty sure I've got some other good links around that may help.  I'll keep looking.
973741 tn?1342342773
Thanks guys!  Love the info.  Sandman, I just had a teacher introduce me to the khan academy.  I had only looked at the math section---  I'll check out what more they have to offer!  

I found the computer software as a free download that the video game programming class uses---  but just wasn't sure what my kids were missing in the 'camp'.  I've found Scratch which is a free programming download for kids.  So, yes, I've found some free things.  I just didn't know if it didn't come with a knowledgeable person teaching it to them, if it would be helpful.  But I just can't afford those classes.  

I'll check out fat brain toys Rockrose.  We have some mini microscopes but I would imagine a big one would be much better.  We were thinking about a good telescope too.  I'm not sure what a friget is . . .  ??  I'll have to check the fat brain site!

My boys are just 9 last week and 10.  Maybe dad does the potato cannon while they watch?  
973741 tn?1342342773
Oh, and Sandman, rockrose, and anyone, Any other links or ideas are greatly welcome!  I appreciate the information very much and will make good use of it!
189897 tn?1441126518
    Oh, forgot to mention.  I have watched some of my high school (ex) students use potato guns.  They are dangerous.  Save that experience till the kids are older.
     An easy thing to do (by the way, one of my favorite things) is paper airplanes.  They can be incredibly complex!   Many examples on line or in fairly cheap books.  Once they master that then its on to parachutes and parafoils - tons on line and really cheap.  Then its on to kite making and
ta da a way to get the parachute/foil really high in the air.  Perfect for spring time.  I actually did classes in this and the kids loved it - well, I certainly did.
973741 tn?1342342773
Hm, interesting idea with the paper airplanes.  In the Fall, my kids got into origami star wars characters and were using construction paper ever day after school to make them.  There is a series of books that started with Origami Yoda that they liked and they had fun with that.  So, airplanes would be cool.  

I found a book called "mini weapons of mass destruction" which sounds horrible but it is all about building catapults out of things like pencils, rubber bands and straws.  Or a canon using a toilet paper cardboard holder thing, a cut balloon on one side held with a rubber band which we did make and works really great!  We had target practice with our homemade cannons.  We used a penny to shoot.  

I found a web site called Engineering-Go For IT which is from the American Society of Engineering Education for kids which has many cool things on it.  Great ideas.  AND, making movies which is a hot interest of one of my kids as I mentioned.  (look for him as an Oscar nominee in 20 years, ha ha).  

Now this is probably too simple for many people but my kids are getting into this---  simple graph paper.  They put a key that each square is a square foot (or whatever they decide) and they create buildings or things like a zoo.  They think that is fun for some reason.  When I'm feeling like a task master, I ask them to figure out the perimeter and area of what they draw.  

I joined the Kahn Academy and look forward to seeing what all is there.  Thanks for the suggestion Sandman.  
189897 tn?1441126518
   The mass destruction book sounds really cool.  
The graph paper stuff reminds me of the battleship game.  They could easily do that with graph paper.   Reminds me, we are and have always been a gaming family.   When our kids and spouses are over - we will do a 3 hour board game (we tend to also be somewhat competitive).   Anyway, have you ever tried Cribbage with your kids?  Its a great card game (you need the board for scoring) and uses math in nice ways.  I think both my kids did well at math, etc. just cause all the card games we would play.
973741 tn?1342342773
My kids love Phase 10 and I swear it helped them with addition---  adding up all our points!  I'm a believer in that.

I also wanted to say that I've never been a super 'academic' nutsy parent.  I don't force my kids to do work all summer or even to read a book if they don't feel like it.  I've always felt like we have fun together doing interesting things and they'll learn plenty. I tried to keep things around the house that would interest them without saying "sit down and practice your letters!"   As the years have gone on, I now am seeing that they've developed various interests.  Both of my kids like math, science, techy stuff, engineering/building, art, etc.  So STEM is really their interests and not me just being a pusy parent trying to make them do it.  

Now, my kids both aren't great writers.  This drives me nuts as I LOVED language arts growing up and still to this day.  I did find something that is kind of fun for the elementary aged child that is Scholastic sponsored.  My kids spin this wheel on the computer (don't ask me how that works) and different words come up and they then write a story that incorporates all three words or ideas.  It has categories so an example would be Knight, Sword fight, dies of a poisoned apple.  Then with that direction, they write a story --  type it, I should say.  A fun way to practice writing over the summer.  Then we read the stories at dinner.  I write one too.  
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