How to "STEAM" Up Your Child's Break from School

Posted by Sam Moser on 12/19/19 10:21 AM

Sipping hot chocolate. Sleeping in. Following a “relaxed” schedule. These are some of the many parts of winter break that our students are excited about. However, having several weeks off from school creates new challenges. How will you keep your children occupied during this time? There is only so much hot chocolate one can consume!

Before you begin pulling your hair out, why not “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) up your child’s time off from school with some great resources and activities that will keep them making, designing, and thinking? Following are some suggestions for creating an “Innovation Studio” in your home, as well as some places to keep the minds of your young engineer active and engaged.

Your In-Home “Innovation Studio”

Most kids enjoy making and building things. You can encourage your child’s interest and help develop their skills by providing opportunities to engage in the Design Process at home. One way to do this is to create your own mini-makerspace. Many of the materials your child will need are probably lying around your home already or may be going out with the trash and recycling. Some items require purchasing, but their benefits are vast.

ID 96761294 © Paolo De Gasperis |


  • Cardboard—I recommend flattening regular cardboard boxes, but if you have any neat shapes—i.e. long, thin, round—you may want to keep them as is
  • Toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and wrapping paper rolls—they’re incredibly useful!
  • Glue
  • Tape—masking, packing, or duct
  • Scissors
  • Soda bottles

A Few Specialty Tools

These are some other tools that allow for construction, coding, and more. While they require purchasing, their benefits can be vast depending on your child’s interests.

  • MakeDo Toolkit—Screwdriver, saw, and screws—for cardboard!
  • Makey Makey—Alligator clips, a simple board, and anything conductive (literally, almost anything), and you have a programmable circuit!
  • Computer kits—there are many types available and they vary significantly in price. The common theme with most of these kits, however, is their ability to give your child a true understanding of the inner workings of a computer. Some come with proprietary operating systems while others are more open-source. Either way, there are opportunities for exploration and creativity. Some popular kits include the Kano, the CanaKit, and the Piper.

Find a Space 

Your child will need some dedicated space to work on their projects. You don’t need a garage, a basement, or a spare room—although these are great for building. The most important thing is to carve out a defined space where they can work uninterrupted and use materials that might get a little messy.

Creating Design Challenges          

Now that you have put together your in-home “Innovation Studio,” it is time to challenge your child. It is easy to apply the tenets of the Design Process and Design Thinking by encouraging projects that require processing and iteration.

For example, if your child wants to build a balloon-powered car, provide them with a specific problem to solve: “These materials need to get to the recycling bin, but they can’t be carried by a human because they are covered in toxic gunk. How will you design a vehicle that will safely bring this contaminated waste to the recycling bin?”

If you have collected lots of paper towel rolls or toilet paper rolls, your child can put together a marble run. While the construction itself is engaging, you can easily add challenges for your children: “In order for the citizens of Marbleton (the marbles) to arrive safely down Marble Mountain, their road must have at least 5 turns before they reach the bottom.” Add in another challenge if you’d like: “The citizens of Marbleton cannot be touched by human fingers or they will melt. How will you return the citizens to the top of Marble Mountain?”

If you decide to purchase one of the items I mentioned above, there are a plethora of online resources to support your exploration. For instance, Makey Makey has a robust set of online how-to guides that take you through a variety of challenges. Activities are divided generally by grade level. Once you and your child get acclimated to the interface, you can add a design component.


For instance, define the number of materials they can use—i.e., What’s the smallest amount of aluminum foil you can use to create your circuit? How many different types of food can you add to the circuit and keep it working? The more you think outside the box with Makey Makey challenges, the better it gets.


Once you set a few challenges, your child will get the idea and begin to generate their own! 

Critical Thinking

These challenges are basic and require limited materials. The goal is to provide your child with opportunities to think critically, to reflect constructively, and to prototype, test, fix, and retest their solutions. Much of what we do in the Innovation Studio at Lowell School requires persistence and resilience—when things don’t work the first time, it is tough to go back to the drawing board. However, these skills will be useful for years to come. 

Before you begin counting the minutes until winter break ends and your child returns to school in 2020, gather some of the materials mentioned above, find a spot to put them that you don’t mind getting messy, and get building!

Title Image: ID 140597489 © Tatiana Kostenko |

Looking for a school for your child?

Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: STEM and STEAM, Parent Resources for Remote Learning

Sam Moser

Written by Sam Moser

Sam earned his bachelor's degrees in elementary education and psychology from the College of William and Mary and his master's degree in the integration of technology in schools from George Mason University. Sam has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.