Build STEM Skills at Home: Make an Inventor’s Box

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If you have children at home, you’ve probably heard by now the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills. In today’s technology-based world, kids well versed in these areas will certainly have a leg up. The question is how do we help build those skills at home?

Today we’ve got a simple activity that can yield amazing results. Having an “Inventor’s Box” at your children’s disposal can open up whole new worlds of imagination and exploration. Plus it will flex their critical thinking and STEM skills.

So what’s inside this magic box of learning?

In our box there’s little more than a few basic tools and some used electronics (flashlights, a keyboard, a calculator, etc.) purchased from a local thrift store. Each of these items were priced around $3.99, a small price to pay for a brighter future.

My son is 4 years old, so I started him off with a simple project to ensure early success. First I took apart a flashlight and arranged all the pieces next to him on the floor. Then I challenged him to put it back together. His eyes lit up at the opportunity to tinker and he dove into the task immediately.

Trial and error is exactly what we’re looking for here so I didn’t offer much in the way of guidance. When he got stuck, I showed him how the batteries have a positive and negative side and encouraged him to experiment with putting them into the flashlight in different ways. It wasn’t long until we were in business with a fully functioning flashlight.

Next, he wanted a go at the screwdriver so I handed it over and told him to pick something new to take apart. He diligently worked on getting each screw out, which was a great way for him to work on both his concentration and fine motor skills.

Several minutes later he was in! He was quite surprised by what he found. After inspecting the different shapes and textures of the materials inside the keyboard, we laid everything out on the floor for further examination.

A measuring tape is a must have for every Inventor’s Box.  We talked about math concepts like greater than and less than while measuring the length of the various keyboard components.

And, of course, he was delighted when he discovered how easily the keyboard keys popped out with the screwdriver.  (This was a good opportunity to squeeze in some physics with a basic discussion of levers.)

We removed keys for several minutes and then had fun popping them back on and spelling out new words.

We got a good hour’s worth of play out of this easy activity and we still have plenty of items to dissect in the future. I loved my son’s enthusiasm, and I foresee many more trips to the thrift store. Along with the screwdrivers and tape measure, I also plan to add various nuts and bolts to our box so my kids can practice matching up the shapes and sizes.

My hope is that there will be an Inventor’s Box of some shape or form in our house for many years to come. As my kids get older, we’ll encourage them to continue investigating how things work in a hands-on fashion. We may even add circuit boards, wires, and who knows what else. The sky’s the limit!

Photo Credits: Stephanie Morgan

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