children playing outside in a water sprinkler

Build STEM Skills While Keeping Cool with These Refreshing Water Activities

It looks as if this is going to be a long, hot summer. Time to get creative and find fun ways to get your family outside and moving without melting.

One solution: Just add water. Outdoor activities that include water can be cooler—especially when some splashing is allowed. Playing with water also has another advantage—it’s a great way to introduce some basic STEM concepts while having fun.

In fact, that’s what kids at the Water World Camp at FWBG | BRIT are doing this week. Water World is sold out, but you can still enjoy some fun, water-based activities at your own home.

Set Paper Boats Afloat

You can find several sources online for making paper boats that will reliably float—here’s one to get you started. Making boats can become a craft project of its own. How can you decorate the boats? What kind of flags or other unique features will your family add?

Then take your boats outside and start floating them. You can do this in a plastic bin full of water or in a kiddie pool, or if you have access to a swimming pool or a body of water, that’s great. (Be safe and never leave children unsupervised around water!) Ask lots of questions: How long does the boat float? How fast can you make it go? If you add things to the boat—like small plastic figures—how many can it hold?

From here, the sky’s the limit. Think about ways to make your boats last longer. For example, you can find instructions online for coating paper with beeswax to make it waterproof. Or try building boats out of different materials. These can be natural items you find outside—like leaves and twigs—or with materials like LEGO® bricks. You can even make boats out of discarded Babybel cheese wrappers. It’s a great way to have fun while learning about concepts like buoyancy.

Floating blooming paper flowers activity
Photo from Mombrite.com

Make Paper Flowers Bloom

This is a simple activity that teaches a fun lesson about water. First, help your child cut out paper flowers with multiple petals. (For detailed instructions, including photos and videos, this site is helpful.) You can color the flowers any way you like–make them beautiful!

Then fold all of the petals of the flower inward. Place the folded flowers into a container of water with the petals facing upward. Then watch as the petals slowly unfold and the flowers begin to bloom.

Photo from Mombrite.com.

Talk to you children about what they think is making the petals open. Then explain to them the science behind the activity. In short, paper is made up small wood fibers. These fibers absorb the water and swell up, causin the folds to slowly open. This site and this site have good child-friendly explanations.

You can experiment with different kinds of paper, from tissue paper to thick poster paper, and see how the flowers behave differently. Stars also work well for this activity. You can also experiment with other shapes–how well do they bloom when wet?

Child playing with a DIY water course
Photo from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls.

Create a Water Course

This activity involves securing LEGO® bases to a metal or plastic tray, setting it up at a slight angle, and running water from a garden hose down the tray. You and your kids can then begin building canals and dams to channel or contain the water. Older children can experiment with building water wheels spun by the water.

These instructions are only the start. You could use different materials to build your course, or combine plastic bricks with other objects. Why not send different objects through the stream—maybe even the paper boats from the first activity? Try varying the flow of water or the angle at which you position the tray. Talk to your kids about each change before you make it, and ask them to guess what will happen. This is a great way to model scientific thinking—you are coming up with a hypothesis and testing it.

The summer may be hot, but a little water goes a long way to cool you down—and with activities like these, you and your family will never stop learning and never stop having fun.

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