By Dena Milliron – Curator of Education for the i.d.e.a. Museum

Early experiences shape how your child’s brain gets built.

During early development, your child’s brain grows rapidly. Toddlers and preschoolers naturally touch, taste, view, listen and smell to learn.

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities provide a variety of sensory experiences to support brain development. STEAM activities encourage children to explore their world, develop their curiosity, observe, question and practice. Ultimately, it builds problem-solving skills.

Parents and caregivers can support a child’s natural curiosity by providing STEAM experiences that stimulate their senses, engage their mind and encourage their imagination. Read on for some ideas to engage your child’s brain at home.


Experiment with shadows. You need a light source (sun or flashlight), some objects and a place for the shadow to fall (sidewalk, wall, sofa).

Ask: What do you need to create a shadow? Does your shadow move? What does it look like?

Tips: Using a flashlight, move the light closer and farther from the object. Ask your child to predict what will happen if the light is close and far from objects. Try tracing an outline of the shadow to create an artwork.

Fun with water. Fill a large container with water and add measuring cups, basters and other household items. Encourage your child to scoop, pour and measure the water.

Ask: What happens if you pour water from a large cup into a smaller cup? How many cups will you need to fill a large cup using a smaller cup?

Tips: Provide your child with any size paintbrush. Use the water to create paintings on the sidewalk. Remember to quickly take a photo of the artwork to save before the “paint” dries.

Technology: Tools of technology. While interactive media is a large part of technology today, many years ago technology referred to tools we used to make our lives easier – and to help solve problems.  When you look at technology this way, you can incorporate tools of technology into play activities so they learn how to use these tools.

Ask: How do you think this is used? How else might you use it?

Example: Discuss scissors as a tool to cut paper. Preschool children will need a little guidance to learn to cut, but this builds fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Practice on a variety of thin paper, such as magazines and junk mail. Work up to creating a one-of-a-kind art collage!

Engineering: Building with blocks. Blocks are a perfect way to develop engineering skills, which includes learning about design, shapes, balance, and problem solving. No blocks? Try tissue boxes, round plastic containers, paper towel tubes and paper or plastic cups. Encourage children to stack, line-up and balance blocks.

Ask: How high can they build? Can they predict how many blocks are needed to build a tower as tall as them? Try it!

Tips: Help children develop problem-solving skills by asking questions such as “What would happen if you put this block on top?” When a design doesn’t work out, encourage trying again. Incorporate art into this activity by asking children to draw or paint a picture of the building they created.

Art: Artastic activities. Encourage your child to use their imagination. For children’s art activities, emphasis should be placed on the process, not the product. Provide your child with a variety of art materials and let them take the lead!

Ask: Tell me about what you made. What was your inspiration? Why did you use those colors? Can you tell me a story about your picture?

Tips: Children love to get messy, so painting with washable tempera or watercolors is always fun. Another idea is to spray a heavy sheet of paper with water. Then, let your child sprinkle on powdered drink mix (the packets without sugar) and watch the colors explode on the paper. Wear an old shirt during these activities to avoid staining clothes. Your child will love for you to join in on the fun, too!


Math: Explore with edible math. Use snacks, fruit and other food items to help your child build math skills. Sort foods by color and/or shape and compare groups to develop counting skills. Line up snacks to estimate length.

Ask: Which color do you think has more? Which pile has more pieces?  How long do you think that will be?

Tips: Use different colored berries to create patterns. Start A-B-A-B, by alternating colors and then let your child determine what color is next. As they get better with patterns, make them more difficult. Combine math with art by using yarn and lacing Fruit Loops cereal in patterns to create a bracelet. Remember to ask open-ended questions to promote conversation, critical thinking skills and language development.

When playing with your children, remember to ask “what” questions, such as “What happened?” “What did you see?” “What do you think will happen next?” These questions encourage critical thinking skills, inquiry, observation, exploration and problem solving. In addition, your child will be gaining valuable language skills as they play.




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