(This article is available in an audio version as well)

After-school activities have the potential to leave a lasting impression on children. They often provide more flexibility and freedom than the structured time of the school day. However, it might also feel like a daunting task to fill the hours after school with engaging activities. Would you like to build STEM into your after-school activities? Introducing STEM concepts can help children explore the world around them and build problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

If you’re new to the idea of STEM, it is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Integrating STEM skills into your after school activities can take many forms, but there are a few best practices to consider. Identifying your focus areas, creating a schedule, and asking for feedback are all parts of the process.


Be Intentional

Set a goal for building STEM skills into after-school activities and share that intention with your children. Ask them about topics they’d like to learn more about to help you plan areas to focus on this year. For example, you might ask them to identify community problems they would like to solve and then find a connection to a STEM skill. If your children say that they are concerned about trash at a local beach, you can work with them to conduct research about local recycling initiatives or build a machine to help pick up trash safely.


Create a Schedule

Part of your after-school time might already be established or built into your current schedule. As you examine the week ahead, you might create a plan that fills in open parts of your schedule with a specific activity. Alternatively, you might decide to have a theme for different days of the week like “Technology Tuesdays,” where children learn the history of a famous piece of technology, or “Mathematician Mondays,” where they research someone who has a math connection in their career. You can build this schedule alongside your children and ask for feedback along the way. They might have a suggestion for a theme they’d like to explore each week.


Connect with Organizations

Suppose you are searching for inspiration on how to build STEM skills into an after-school program. In that case, you might look for an organization that specializes in an area your children are interested in learning more about. For example, you might look at the programming of a museum or science center to see what virtual events they are hosting or what supplemental resources they share on their website. If you have identified a high-interest STEM topic for your children, such as astronomy, you might head to the website of a planetarium or stargazing organization to explore their resources.

Consider building STEM skills into your plans as you think about the after-school activities you’d like to try out this year. Real-world applications for STEM skills can help children problem-solve, explore new concepts and pique their curiosity about future careers. Although the idea of STEM is a big one, there are plenty of options for incorporating STEM into your after-school activities.


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Monica Burns, Ed.D. is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, and founder of ClassTechTips.com. She hosts the Easy EdTech Podcast and is author of Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom.


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