STEM activities, STEM Preschool, and STEM toys for toddlers are the trendy topics of today. And for a good reason! Yes, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects are the way of the future. When you hear the word STEM, you might be thinking about high-tech toys or STEM kits that are expensive. Today, we will look at STEM activities for toddlers that use simple items found around the house or at a local discount store.
No need to wait until grade school; you can introduce STEM activities for toddlers now. Keep in mind these easy STEM activities will not look like the complicated science experiments you remember from school. The principles will be the same, but we keep things easy, simple, and fun with readily available materials.
Before we get started, for clarification, when using the term "toddler," we refer to children ages 2-3 years old.
STEM Play For Toddlers
At this stage, STEM activities for toddlers are all about curiosity and play. Giving your toddler the freedom to explore their surroundings, see how things work, and investigate cause and effect. You will see a lot of observation, questioning, experimenting, analyzing, concluding, and sharing. Remember, toddlers learn best through exploratory play and hands-on experiences!
Play is vital to your toddler's learning and development. Fortunately, toddlers come by it naturally, and are drawn to STEM activities because they are curious! You might not have thought of play as part of the STEM-based learning process, but it is crucial. The best way to support STEM learning is through play and to make available materials, tools, and resources. For example:
- Keep on hand, open-ended supplies that may be used in multiple ways, like building sets and materials. Building teaches toddlers a variety of concepts and skills, all while they play and create.
- Select resources and materials that encourage creativity and play while helping toddlers understand STEM ideas.
- Encourage their play and curiosity through open-ended questions. Ask "Why?" and "What?" to start them thinking about building and playing in exciting new ways.
It is quite simple to incorporate quick STEM activities into your toddler's routine. Let them be inquisitive, and most importantly,…Let Them Play!
What Are STEM Activities For Toddlers?
STEM projects for toddlers support the concept that science, technology, engineering, and math work together to help them become innovators, creative problem solvers, and critical thinkers!
In other words, a toddler STEM activity is a simple, structured but open-ended activity that allows your toddler to instinctively and curiously explore, which is essential to their growth and development. Furthermore, they learn to use their thinking skills to increase logic and creativity while boosting their fine and gross motor development.
The best part about STEM activities is the focus is on the process and NOT the results. STEM projects for toddlers work by incorporating STEM thinking into their daily activities. For example, your toddler might:
- Experiment with various materials.
- Explore with their senses, such as taste, touch, and smell.
- Investigate the basics of geometry and physics, including motion, gravity, and balance.
- Measure, weigh, and count as part of their exploration.
- Physically manipulate, connect, and shape objects to see how things go together and work.
- Test cause and effect.
- Utilize tools like a magnifying glass to investigate their surroundings.
- Use STEM building materials to create something new.
The following STEM activities for 2-3 years olds are easily adapted to your toddler's skill level. Use them to encourage STEM-thinking and inspire your own STEM ideas.
Since toddlers develop at varying degrees, your child may or may not be ready for the more challenging STEM activities. Start with the simplest STEM challenges, and slowly increase the difficulty when your toddler is prepared for more complicated STEM activities and projects.
How To Support Successful STEM Activities For Toddlers
Like any toddler project or activity, you want your STEM activities to be successful.
Your parental role is to support this exploration by providing a safe space for your toddler to question, seek, and examine using their senses. Additionally, provide the opportunities, experiences, and materials for organic learning that lead to curiosity and discovery.
To facilitate STEM activities for toddlers and STEM learning, remember to engage with your child. Explore with them, connect past experiences with recent experiences, and provide a welcoming and safe play environment.
Here are a few tips for handling expectations, reducing frustration, and boosting your STEM activities experience.
- Foresee that errors and messes will happen.
- Be sure to have all materials on hand and ready.
- Be flexible, but know in advance how to perform the activity.
- Before bringing out the hands-on supplies, describe the STEM concept.
- Go step by step, introducing the materials one at a time.
Engineering Activities For Toddlers
Engineering for toddlers is all about solving real-world problems using math and science. In other words, it is viewing things in creative ways to foster problem-solving. Therefore, engineering activities are some of the most comprehensive, hands-on STEM activities your toddler can enjoy.
Engineering STEM activities are about exploring, designing, creating, and building. Toddlers love to build, especially something BIG! They naturally want to figure out how things work, which introduces creative thinking and problem-solving. These STEM building and engineering STEM activities will thrill your toddler.
STEM Building Sets & Materials For Toddlers
What makes building structures a fantastic STEM play activity? STEM building activities introduce basic math, science, and engineering skills that require your toddler to focus on design. They must think about a solid base, what type of blocks to use, and how many. These are all essential elements of STEM!
Explore these building materials that inspire STEM building activities.
- Cardboard Boxes (Variety of sizes)
- Cardboard Tubes (All sizes)
- Giant Building Blocks
- Gift Boxes
- Magnetic Blocks
- Marshmallows (All sizes)
- Plastic Cups (All types and sizes)
- Pool Noodles
- PVC Pipe Pieces & Connectors
- Seasonal Candy (A great time to stock up is after the season clearance)
- Skewers (Wooden)
- Snap Together Blocks For Toddlers
- Spaghetti (Dry)
- Sponges (Cut into different shapes as sizes)
- Straws (All types and sizes)
- Toothpicks (Plain or colored)
- Wooden Building Blocks
STEM Building Activities With Blocks For Toddlers
Block play is a natural STEM activity, and block activities let toddlers experiment with science and engineering. With every tower or structure they build, they learn about balance, stability, and gravity. Furthermore, they hone their engineering skills with each design and creation. STEM activities with blocks can be as simple or complicated as you want, just remember to keep them fun and led by the child and their interests.
Easy ways to engage your toddler in block play:
- Ask them, "What would they like to build?"
- What kind of blocks do they want to use?
- Help them gather the blocks.
- Build with your child, letting them lead the way.
Shape And Color Match
This is a quick STEM activity that requires two identical sets of blocks. Start small and add more blocks as your toddlers' skills develop. You are going to have them match up all the pairs of blocks. Be sure to demonstrate how some may be the same shape or the same color, but the pairs must exactly match the shape and color.
Match By Color And Count
An easy STEM challenge that introduces math and color recognition. You simply have your toddler match all the blocks by color only. Then count the number of blocks for each color. Explore more color activities for toddlers.
Largest To Smallest
In this activity, your toddler will be working on size contrast and their fine motor skills. Challenge your toddler to build a tower, beginning with the largest blocks and ending with the smallest blocks. In this activity, we are only focused on size, not color.
Build A Tower
The goal of this activity is for your toddler to try to build a tower as tall as they are. Use some of the previous activities like the largest to smallest to help give them a jumpstart.
Again, you will need two identical sets of blocks. First, you create something and then let your child recreate it. Start simple and show your toddler how to complete the challenge the first time through.
STEM Building Blocks
Just two simple supplies are needed for this quick STEM activity—a basket of blocks and some painters tape. Create a rectangle or square on the floor. The goal is to have your toddler fill the space covering the floor with the blocks without going outside the tape.
Invite your budding engineer to the benefits of block play. Studies suggest that constructive play or playing with blocks build spatial awareness and creative problem-solving.
Edible Engineering Activities
Let the fun engineering activities begin. All building and engineering activities are fantastic for STEM projects and hands-on STEM activities. But what could be better than an edible structure? Your toddler can build towers, sculptures, and geometric shapes while designing, testing, and problem-solving. When they are finished, they can enjoy the "fruits" of their labor one piece at a time. What a great way to start snack time?
STEM Food Activities
Who says we can't play with our food? How exciting to gather up a few edible materials and enjoy some STEM activities with food. Using these hands-on STEM activities, your toddler can build structures, steeples, columns, and bridges. Due to the variety of building materials, your child can experiment with what shapes and pieces make the sturdiest base and design. Expand the STEM play by adding popsicle sticks or paper. The possibilities are endless!
Toothpick Marshmallow Tower
For this toothpick and marshmallow tower, you will need a box of toothpicks, a bag of marshmallows (regular or mini), and a flat surface, trays work nicely. We recommend starting with a limited amount of toothpicks and marshmallows to not overwhelm your toddler. Then add more if you see they are really engaged.
Before you begin this marshmallow toothpick tower challenge, you might talk about building a tower. "How high should we make it?" "What does it need to help it stand tall?" Then let your toddler jump in and get hands-on experience, which is how they learn best.
Start the marshmallow STEM challenge with the base. Encourage your toddler to build simple shapes like triangles and squares. The act of picking up the marshmallows and sticking the toothpicks into them is also great for fine motor development.
Once they have a few shapes built, together, you can work on connecting them to create a more expansive, stable base. Now comes the fun part, up you go! Have your toddler work on building up as tall as they possibly can. Be prepared for some trial and error. They may have to design and redesign, all of which is why this a STEM activity. In the end, measure the height, maybe take a picture and enjoy a tasty marshmallow snack.
Gumdrop Toothpick Tower
Here is one of many variations on the toothpick marshmallow tower. Replace the marshmallows with gumdrops or any seasonal candy and build away encouraging their creative thinking skills.
You might also try these other candy STEM projects. Replace the gumdrops with any other seasonal candy. Here are just a few ideas.
- Valentine's - Gummy Red Hearts
- Easter - Jelly Beans
- Halloween - Pumpkin Candies or Candy Corn
Want a healthier version? How about?
- Apple Pieces and Cheese
- Cranberries at Thanksgiving
Apple STEM Activity
How many apples can your toddler stack? This can be an exciting build. Have them try stacking as many apples as possible before they fall—test stacking one on top of the other. Explore building a more significant base with multiple apples before building up. Once they have completed the activity, cut up the apples for a snack, or make applesauce. The apples will be quite bruised after all the testing and retesting.
A S'Mores STEM Tower Challenge
Using graham crackers, regular marshmallows, and chocolate pieces build a tower. Give them a set number of materials and see how tall of a tower they can create. If you also have older kids, you can use a time element to make it more complicated. For example, in 10 minutes, build the tallest tower possible. When finished, roast them over a campfire or wrap in foil and cook in the oven for a fun treat!
Use a bag of large Valentine's day conversation hearts to build a tower. You can incorporate estimation, for example, "How many hearts do you think you (we) can stack?" Or add sorting, counting, and patterning activities.
Other ideas to explore when building a tall, sturdy tower, "Does it work better if the hearts are all lined up or twisting in different directions?" "What if we build two towers next to each other, can we make it taller?" Let them use their imagination and creativity. So easy, but so much fun!
STEM Activities With Household Items
We have pulled together some fun STEM activities that use everyday household items or purchased inexpensively at your local discount store. What makes these STEM activities for toddlers special is that they open up a whole new way to use ordinary materials.
STEM Spaghetti Tower
What about replacing the toothpicks in previous challenges with dry spaghetti? This will require a more delicate touch as spaghetti easily breaks.
Here is the spaghetti tower STEM challenge: In 15 minutes, build the tallest tower possible.
You might begin this activity with a spaghetti strength test. First, have your toddler test the spaghetti's strength by breaking it, starting with one piece, and adding 10 additional pieces each time to the bundle until they can no longer break it with their hands. Great for investigating and discussing "stronger together" like the strands of a rope.
STEM Cup Challenge
This is a low prep STEM challenge that produces a quick STEM activity. All you need is a bag or two of cups. They can be paper or plastic. Small shot glass size or drinking cup size. This can be a timed cup stacking STEM challenge or NOT.
Try one or more of these quick engineering challenges depending on your toddler's skill level.
- Cup Stacking STEM Challenge 1: Who can stack the tallest cup tower?
- Cup Stacking STEM Challenge 2: Can you build a tower as tall as (X)? Let your toddler decide what X equals, for example, as tall as the couch, door, or your toddler.
- Cup Stacking STEM Challenge 3: Who can build the tallest (X) cup tower? You determine the number for X based on the number of cups you have.
Optional: Index Card STEM Challenge: Add playing cards, index cards, cardstock, cardboard pieces, or popsicle sticks between stacking cups to make a stable base that disperses the weight of the cups. Can you build an even taller tower with this extra support?
Boat Float STEM Challenge
This simple boat-building activity is a blast. You will need a container of water to act as a lake or sea. Each boat will require a 6" x 6" square piece of foil. Have a pile of pennies available for testing. Ask your toddler to shape the foil into a boat. Now test to see if the boat floats on the water.
To add an additional dimension to the activity, you can add pennies to the boat one at a time. "How many pennies will the boat hold before it sinks?" "Does the shape of the boat's bottom make a difference?" For example, if they made a wide bottom boat or a narrow bottom boat.
For even further STEM-based learning, try two water containers, one with tap water and one with salt water. "Does the type of water matter with regards to floating and sinking?" "Which container of water and boat holds the most pennies?"
Playdough STEM Activities
Building with playdough is loads of fun and offers so many benefits from fine motor development to encouraging easy STEM activities for toddlers. Playdough is simple to make and inspires exploration, building, creativity, discovery, and imaginative play. Here we are going to look at STEM activities with playdough.
STEM projects using playdough are fun, versatile, and easy to set up. All you need is some playdough and one or more of the following building materials. Use the list below as inspiration and encourage open-ended play, letting your toddler take their building to new heights.
- Wooden Skewers
- Dry Spaghetti
- Popsicle Or Craft Sticks
- Wooden Beads
- Small Wooden Blocks
- Straws (Paper and plastic. Long and short. With and without flexible bends.)
Inspire your toddler to create a tower, bridge, or other 2-D and 3-D structures, by using the playdough as the "glue" to hold the building materials together. They could also forgo the optional materials and just use the playdough to build a tower. Roll it into balls and pile them as high as they can. Create cubes and stack them. Roll it out into one long piece and coil it. Encourage your toddler to test, observe, and retest with various methods and materials to find the best options.
STEM Building Activities With Pool Noodles
Pool noodles are so readily available, reusable, versatile, and inexpensive. The following STEM activities will require you to prepare the pool noodles in advance.
For these cool STEM projects, you will need to pick up a few pool noodles in various colors, if possible. Next, slice the pool noodles into discs with a long serrated knife, like a bread knife. You can either cut them in varying widths or all the same width. We prefer a variety of sizes to maximize fun and STEM-based learning. For added appeal, cut some of the discs in half, creating semi-circle shapes. These make amazing roofs!
Ready? Let's get building!
Pool Noodles & Toothpick Tower Challenge
This STEM tower challenge is simple to set up once you have all the pool noodles cut. Grab a box of toothpicks, your cut pool noodles, and let your toddler get building. Challenge them to build the tallest tower, or the largest (not necessarily tall.) Encourage them to use their imagination and creativity. What about using all the materials available or make it a timed challenge? No matter what, let your toddler play and have fun!
STEM Tower Challenge With Pool Noodles & Shaving Cream
Toddlers love this messy but "clean" STEM building activity. For this fun engineering project, you will need:
- STEM building blocks (cut up pool noodles.)
- Tray for building (optional but nice to have for stability and to contain the mess.)
- A bowl of shaving cream.
- Spreader (paintbrush, plastic spoon, or knife.)
The challenge is to build with the STEM building blocks, using the shaving cream as mortar between the blocks. Your toddler will use the spreading tools (which, by the way, develops fine motor skills) to "glue" the blocks together, building towers, structures, bridges, or whatever their imaginations create!
During which time, you can ask your toddler, "Does shaving cream make a good mortar for your blocks?" "What else might we use to hold the blocks together?"
Whether your goal is to just spend time with your toddler playing and having fun, these playful STEM activities for toddlers will enhance their imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Want to expand your stem activities further? Take a look at this post, "Playing With Magnets: 8 Fun Activities For Toddlers."
Why not grab a set of wooden building blocks for toddlers and enjoy some fun engineering activities!