Outdoor STEM for the Summertime

Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy your surroundings. Kids and families can take advantage of summer weather by finding the science, technology, engineering, and math in the outdoors. Just because there is no school doesn’t mean we still can’t explore STEM learning throughout the summer months.

STEM is all around us; at home, in school, and out in nature. There is science in the rainbows that come out after a summer rainstorm. You’ll find math in the creation of a lemonade stand and engineering in the construction of a bird’s nest or in the amusement rides at a county fair. Summer fireworks displays wouldn’t happen without technology. STEM learning is a part of so many things that we see and do during the summer. There are lots of ways to engage in authentic STEM learning this summer.

Not only can we use the summer months to learn about STEM topics, but we can also use the engineering design process to prototype, invent, and build new things. It is a great time to explore new learning through research and discovery as well as through engineering design challenges. Let’s investigate the basic elements of summer through air, water, and earth. 

In the Water

Summer is the perfect time to discover STEM in the water.  Splashing in the water is fun, but there’s a lot of STEM to learn, too! What can you do?

-Explore local waterways. Do you live near a creek, pond, river, or lake? What kinds of plants and animals live in these ecosystems? 

-Does your family visit the ocean in the summer? Observe how the tides change each day. Find out when it is low tide. That is a great time to explore the beach and find shells and other things left behind in the tides. 

- Focus on conservation and collect rainwater in a large container. Use the collected water to water plants, wash the family car, or use it to play in.

-Gather some household items and a tub of water to find out what sinks or floats.


STEM Water Challenge: Design a boat that will float on the water. You might use craft sticks to make a raft or aluminum foil to mold a boat. How much weight will your boat hold? How long will it float? 

Summer STEM field trip: Head to the zoo or aquarium and check out the underwater creatures. Fish, sharks, penguins, sea otters and polar bears are favorites at our local zoo.

On the Ground

Bugs, soil, grass, flowers. The ground is alive with curious things in the warm summer season. What curious questions can you chase after this summer?

-How fast does grass grow? Measure a blade today and see how y’all it grows in one week. Or two? 

-If I plant a sunflower seed in the dirt, how long before it sprouts? 

-How do ants create their underground tunnels?

-Why do ladybugs have spots? Find some and count their spots. 

-Why do lightning bugs light up at night? 


STEM Ground Challenge: Create a Discovery jar. Include some insects that you find on the ground, along with some leaves or twigs. Include a plastic cap with water. Observe the insects. Watch how they move. What do they like to eat? 


Summer STEM Field Trip: Go for a hike. Find a local nature trail or walking path through the woods. What do you notice on the ground? What types of plants and animals do you see? Bring along a “STEM notebook” and sketch some of the things you see.

Up in the Air

Look up. What do you see? Clouds, sun, birds? We can learn a lot from the things around us, but also from the things above us. Things in the sky and up in the air are great examples of STEM in action.

-If your family travels on the highway this summer, you might see giant wind turbines. That is STEM! They are using the wind to create energy to power homes and towns.

-Maybe you’ll travel somewhere by plane. How are planes designed to help them fly through the air? What helps to give them lift? Create some paper airplanes of your own and see which designs work the best? Which ones fly the farthest? 

-The sun shines in the sky on hot summer days. Experiment with the heat the sun creates. Make your own solar oven or crack an egg on the sidewalk and see how long it takes to cook it. Even though the sun is up in the air, its energy can create changes in the ground. 

-At night, do some stargazing. What do you see in the summer sky? Can you identify any constellations? Lay in the grass and watch how the moon changes at different parts of the month. 

STEM Air Challenge:

-Summer is also a great time to fly a kite. Design and engineer a kite. What materials will you use? Make sure they are light enough for the wind to pick it up. 

Summer STEM Field Trip: Visit your local aviary to study birds and how they fly or visit a park to bird watch. What types of birds do you see? What do you notice about their wings and bodies that might help them to fly? Take some photographs or a video to record what you have observed. 

Hands-On Summer Fun

Whether in the water, on the ground, or in the air, you can discover STEM in lots of different ways. Hands-on learning can happen all summer long when we observe our surroundings and notice the STEM in the outdoors. Whether taking a trip, hiking in the woods, or observing creatures outdoors, science, technology, engineering, and math can be a part of your summertime fun!

Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.



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