Shopping Cart

Using Play to Build STEM Skills

You may have noticed the current buzz surrounding STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Not only do skills in these fields boost innovative thinking and creative problem solving, but experts say that STEM education is key to the economic future of the United States.

While experience with computers and robotics can be invaluable, STEM skills can also be boosted at home during the normal course of play. No batteries required!


How: Almost every time we play with our little ones there is an opportunity to discuss spatial concepts. Whether you’re playing with play dough, dolls or cars, be sure to discuss where the toys are located in relation to each other, as well as their sizes, quantities and shapes.

Why: Even the youngest of children can begin to develop math skills. Research shows that when children under 3 years of age are exposed to spatial language (shape, size, location), they are more likely to use spatial vocabulary themselves as their verbal skills develop. These children then grow to have a better understanding of related math concepts as a result. 


How: Unstructured play with blocks has been linked to improved math ability. Dump a box of blocks on the floor as a simple invitation to play for your future engineer.

Why: Studies indicate that spatial thinking may be increased by playing with blocks and other constructive materials. Blocks give kids the opportunity to manipulate objects in space and mentally rotate or move them. There’s also lots of room to practice divergent problem solving. As children investigate questions like, “Will this block fit here?” they are developing spatial awareness or a sense of the relationship between objects and the environment.


How: Everyday items found in the kitchen can be used to create simple experiments that provide a perfect introduction to chemistry. Mix 2 parts cornstarch with 1 part water to create “magic mud,” a remarkable substance that can lead the basis for a discussion of liquids and solids. For older children it’s an opportunity to discuss colloids and non-Newtonian fluids. Either way, encourage your child to get their hands in the mud, roll it into balls and let it drip from their fingers. It’s a wonderfully fun sensory experience!

Why: Not only does learning about chemistry help us understand the world around us, it also provides great opportunity to practice reasoning and problem solving skills.


How: Gather household materials and practice making candy bridges. Show your child how to connect gum drops or marshmallows with toothpicks and experiment to see which designs create the sturdiest structures. Encourage your kiddo to test the strength of their creations by lining the bridge with paper or popsicle sticks and marching small figurines across.

Why: When kids use engineering skills, they’re able to apply math and science lessons in a hands-on way. Not only does this help strengthen their skills, but also allows them to see how these fields can solve real life problems.

Whether your goal is to enhance your child’s STEM education, or simply to have fun, these playful activities are great for cognitive development and imagination. Have fun and follow your child’s interests for best results!

Main Photo by Julian Barlow

About the Author

Amber LoRe is a parenting consultant and writer. A former New York City family law attorney, she now spends her free time chasing an active toddler and 1st grader around the parks of Long Island, where she lives with her husband and children.

See all articles

Recent Articles