Instead Of Vegging Out, Try STEM-ing Out This March Break

03/11/2016 02:44 EST | Updated 03/12/2017 05:12 EDT
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Father helping son with homework

March Break is here, and with so much free time, activities must be planned to keep the sanity. Rather than drop the kids in front of the TV for a marathon viewing of their favourite shows (as tempting as that may sound to both you and them) or keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates for outdoor fun, consider breaking out a few STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities to keep them entertained and engaged while still learning.

Why are parents, educators and government and business leaders talking about STEM so much? These skills stimulate learning, open doors to a range of education and employment options and prepare the younger generation for the digital economy that continues to burgeon every year.

Recently, the Council for Canadian Academies released an in depth report on why STEM-based education is so vital to the economy. They note that building a base of STEM skills, such as problem solving, technological proficiency, and numeracy are useful building blocks for every Canadian.

There are a growing number of extracurricular programs that expose young people to the possibilities of technology and coding, such as CoderDojo, a global movement of free coding clubs for young people, which Salesforce supports globally. But there are also many activities you can do with your kids at home. Here are just a few easy to organize and inexpensive ideas to get you started:

1. Shoot a stop-motion animated movie. Use a tablet or a smartphone with a stand or a tripod and let your kids' favourite toys come to life by taking photos after each slight movement. It fosters storytelling, problem-solving and experimentation with technology and is simple enough for even younger children to try.

2. Incorporate some low-pressure math fun into a walk around the neighbourhood with a 2D shape hunt. Ideal for younger children, give your little ones a reference map containing shapes and then try to find all of them while going for a walk. Challenge them to find an octagon, a trapezoid and specific triangles. This activity is an early exposure to geometric shapes and promotes problem solving.

3. Create a Rube Goldberg Machine. This is an ambitious experiment for older children, filled with trial and error, problem-solving and the understanding of cause and effect. If you look online you'll find hundreds of examples of Rube Goldberg Machines that range from incredibly elaborate to simple. Based on the size of your space and the materials you have handy - which could include anything from cereal boxes, Lego pieces, straws, matchbox cars, and pretty much anything else you can find -- your machine will be as unique as its builders. This experiment requires some patience and time, but the payoff can be pretty exciting.

4. Make a rainbow in a jar. A hands-on way to explain and understand density, this science experiment uses a number of items you've probably already got in your cupboards (honey, light corn syrup, dish soap, olive oil, rubbing alcohol, water, food colouring and a clear jar). And unlike some at home science experiments, this one doesn't involve a huge clean up when you're finished.

5. Put your engineering skills to the test by building a tower on a slippery slope. Using a vinyl rain gutter from a hardware store, figure out how deep a foundation needs to be to build a structure out of Lego bricks on an angle. This promotes trial and error, problem-solving skills and dealing with variables. This experiment is best for older kids and requires a nice day and a piece of ground suitable to dig in.

6. Spend a few hours online and learn to code at The company I work for, Salesforce, is also a supporter of this non-profit, and every year, my children and I have so much fun doing the Hour of Code. Kids of any age -- and parents -- can learn to code in as little as an hour thanks to interactive games and programs. Using popular characters from Minecraft to Star Wars to Frozen, these activities teach coding in a fun, interactive way.

Integrating STEM-related activities into your March break plans is a win for you (no more "I'm bored") and a win for your kids ("Wow, science, math and technology are fun!"). There's no question that replacing vegging out with STEM-ing out will be valuable and fun for the whole family.