STEM Activities for Young Girls

I did my undergraduate degree in environmental science and geography. I don't remember our class being dominated by men, but the job market is a different story. When it comes to positions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), women are underrepresented. 

In my final year I was asked to participate in a special science program for high school girls; they came to visit the university for a day, and took part in a variety of activities. I took them on a tour of the local woodland, and we chatted about invasive species. Later, they heard from successful female scientists and mathematicians. It was a lot of fun, and I saw how enthusiastic the girls were about what they were seeing and doing.

Fast forward many years, and I now have two girls of my own. I see how easy it is to fall into the "princess trap." Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to play with dolls and dress up "bootiful" (as my 3 year old puts it), but there are other things we can do with our girls to foster their interest in STEM.

I'm lucky that my husband is a maker, and has my 7 year-old in his shop all the time hammering and drilling. But for parents like me (give me a good book instead of a hammer!) we sometimes need a few ideas to get motivated.

So, I was really excited while volunteering with my daughter's Brownies pack recently because we spent the whole evening doing STEM activities in celebration of The International Day of the Girl. Below are several easy activities you can do at home with your girls. Better yet, gather some of their friends and make it a fun afternoon!

Psychedelic Milk


- shallow bowls
- milk
- liquid dish soap
- food colouring
- Q-tips


Pour a small amount of milk into the bowls. Take several different jars of food colouring, and squeeze a couple of drops into the centre of the milk (make sure to keep the drops close together) Dip one end of the Q-tip into the liquid soap, and gently touch the centre of the bowl. Watch the colours swirl and move. To read more about the science behind this, check out this great website.

*note: the first time we tried this, the girls started mixing the drops of food colouring into the milk. This meant they didn't get to see the cool swirls of colour, so make sure to instruct them NOT to mix!

Marble Run

So easy and fun! Materials needed:

- empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls
- empty kleenex boxes
- duck tape
- marbles

If you have enough girls, divide them into two groups and make it a contest. Depending on their ages, you may need to help them think about how they will design the marble run so that the marble actually rolls. But I was surprised to see how ingenious our 7 and 8 year-olds were, and our marble ran!!

Dropping acid

Haha, nope, this one is not about drugs. It's all about acids and "bases" - which are opposites. Mix 'em together and you can get a colourful surprise! Materials needed:

- homemade red cabbage juice (blend 4 red cabbage leaves in your blender with some water; strain. If you don't have a blender, boil the leaves for about 30 minutes and strain.)
- clear glasses
- water
- several bases (try lemon juice, Coke, cleaning products, tap water, pickle brine, baking soda)

Make your red cabbage juice, and make sure it cools to room temperature. This liquid becomes your pH indicator. Now mix in your "bases" (test substances) in equal parts to the cabbage water, and record what happens. Warm colours (red or yellow) indicate that the substance is acidic. Cool colours (green, blue, purple) indicate a basic substance. If the cabbage juice doesn't change colours at all, then the test substance is neutral. Read more about the science behind this experiment.

Odd Todd and Even Steven

I love this math activity, that teaches kids all about odd and even numbers. This website includes free printables

We have been introducing the concept of odd and even to our kids with this handy trick for settling disputes. Now when the kids are having a disagreement I say "odd or even!" and that settles it. There are still tears, but at least the blame is no longer on me.

Science FunFest “Rocks”! (…and minerals, and maps, and insects…)

The Canada Science and Technology Museum is closed for repairs, but your kids can still get their science “fix” at Science Funfest. Held annually as part of National Science and Technology Week in October, this FREE event features more than 70 interactive activities for your budding young Einstein, with hands on experiences in energy, forestry, mining, geology, mapping, astronomy and agriculture.

Science FunFest

As Funfest veterans, my kids (ages 4 and 8) recommend:

• Bringing in your favourite rocks and fossils for identification • Mining chocolate chip “ore” from a cookie “mine” (HINT: choose your tools wisely and clean up the mine site for biggest profits!) • Creating colourful spin art using solar energy • Seeing glaciers shrink over time in satellite pictures from space • Getting up close and personal with snakes, bugs, and spiders - (parents may be interested in meeting the Emerald Ash Borer; the invasive insect ravaging Ottawa’s ash trees) • Jumping up and down to make an earthquake that can be measured by a seismometer • Spinning the wheel for a skill-testing question in the food safety quiz (…how safe is the food in your lunch box by noon?) • Trying your hand – and eyes! – at land surveying and star-gazing • Starting a chemical reaction to make custom-coloured slime to take home

There are plenty of free giveaways at Science Funfest, so make sure you pick up a complementary “swag bag”. Balloons, face-painting, and Natural Resources Canada’s huge green mascot “NRCat” make it fun for even the littlest ones!

Science Funfest takes place rain or shine on Sunday, October 19 from 11am-4pm at Natural Resources Canada’s Booth Street Complex (on the corner of Booth Street and Carling Avenue across from Dow’s Lake). Dress warmly as some activities are outdoors in tents. Parking is free, and there are a few concessions on site.

Have you been to Science Funfest? What’s your favourite activity? Let me know in the comments.

Wendy is a freelance copywriter in Ottawa and a totally unbiased employee of the Earth Sciences Sector at Natural Resources Canada. 

Little Scientists

This post is from our friends at the Calgary based blog Kids in Cowtown. by Danielle

With the cold weather we’ve had to find endless indoor activities to fill the days.  I pulled out the old science experiments for kids books I had lying around.  I found them at book sales and from my mother (who likely found them at book sales).  They never out date themselves so it’s the best kind of book to scout out at sales.  I consider this to be a free activity since it was with supplies found around our house.

We decided to be scientists for the day and picked out 3 experiments to run.

Experiment 1 – environment

supplies: clear bowl, water, oil, washing soda

Fill clear bowl with water.  Have your child add the oil and ask them to observe whether it floats or sinks.  Birds feather have some oil on them which help them from sinking.

Have them add the washing soda and observe what happens to the oil.  Adding detergents to the rivers etc keeps birds from being able to float properly.

Experiment 2 – magnets

supplies: cardstock, paperclip, cardboard, strong magnet

Fold cardstock and cut out paper dolls using a tutorial such as this one.  Tape dolls together to form a circle.  Tape a paperclip to one doll’s foot and sit circle on the cardboard.  Hang the cardboard over the edge of a table and place magnet underneath moving it from side to side.  Watch the dolls dance.

Experiment 3 - forensics

supplies: graphite pencil, paper, clear tape

Rub the graphite pencil on a piece of paper.  Firmly press a finger onto the rubbing.  Take a piece of clear tape and place on fingertip.  Remove and stick onto paper.  Have the child look closely at their fingerprints and compare others.

(my daughter loved this one and did her brother’s prints. We then labeled the fingers above the prints.  This is also a great way to have a record of your child’s fingerprints!)

For some more ideas here’s a great site that will help you start science at home.

Danielle is mom to a 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son and always looking for fun things to do with the kids.  She blogs over at fourdayshome.

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