Raising a child with STEAM smarts takes more than multiplication flashcards and periodic table drills. Experts say that the best learning comes by making connections to the real world, observing and doing.
Fortunately, the Bay Area is full of fun, hands-on STEAM activities and venues for families. Plus. there are simple things parents can do with their kids, such as getting hands dirty in a garden, gazing at the stars and helping with grocery shopping that contribute to a bigger understanding of the world.
From the S in Science to the M in Math, learn how you can spark wonder and knowledge.
When many of us think of science, we imagine labs, white coats, beakers and test tubes. But getting kids excited about science doesn’t have to be that complicated.
For example, it can be as simple as gardening with your children to teach them about botany. Talk to them about the different parts of the plant, such as the roots and stems, and what climates are best for them to different plants.. Have them care for the plants by watering them and watching them grow.
Visiting a botanical garden is another great way to learn about botany. The San Francisco Botanical Garden (sfbg.org) in Golden Gate Park showcases nearly 9,000 plant varieties from around the world. It also has educational programs for youth and families. The UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley (botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu) is another great resource. It has more than 10,000 plants from around the world, including rare and endangered species.
Going for a hike or walk is another great way to learn about plants, trees and wildlife. Download a free or low cost plant identifier app that allows you to identify plants by photographing them with your smartphone. PlantNet is a good option. Not only does it identify plants, but it is also a good citizen science project. The plants you photograph are studied by scientists around the world to better understand plant biodiversity.
If you want to your child to learn about zoology, an obvious activity is visiting a zoo. At the Oakland Zoo (oaklandzoo.org) and San Francisco Zoo (sfzoo.org) there are usually experts available to answer questions and provide fascinating facts. For older youth, both zoos offer volunteer opportunities and camps.
For children interested in sea life, head to the tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (smcgov.org/parks/fitzgerald-marine-reserve) at Moss Beach. Visitors can explore a variety of algae, crabs, sponges, seastars, mollusks and fish, while enjoying beautiful scenery.
A trip to a local aquarium is another smart option to inspire an interest in marine biology and oceanography. In San Francisco, The Aquarium of the Bay (aquariumofthebay.org) and California Academy of Sciences (calacademy.org) offer views of sea life. A trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (montereybayaquarium.org) offers a look at more than 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals.
For learning about the universe, nothing beats stargazing. Find a spot with little city light on a clear night. There are several apps, including Star Walk 2, that can help find planets, constellations, comets, satellites and more just by pointing your phone at the sky. For more ideas, check out this Bay Area Parent article about stargazing (bit.ly/3hOrWJ7).
For parents looking to get their children excited about science in general, a family trip to the Exploratorium in San Francisco (exploratorium.edu) is a must. With more than 600 interactive exhibits, the museum inspires curiosity and understanding of the world around us.
During the pandemic, many families discovered there can be such a thing as too much technology in their kids’ lives. But they also discovered the positives, such as encouraging kids to express their creativity. Websites and apps can be vehicles for creating artwork, music and videos, along with learning simple coding.
There are many tech opportunities for kids in the Bay Area. Camp EDMO (edmo.org) has summer camps throughout the Bay Area offering coding as well as other STEAM-focused activities. TechKnowHow (techknowhowkids.com), also with locations throughout the Bay Area, offers summer camps with everything from video game making to coding to robotics.
A field trip to one of our tech-focused museums is a good way to spark interest in technology. The Tech Interactive (thetech.org) in San Jose allows kids to explore technology hands on. The newest exhibit, “Solve for the Earth,” is a tech-driven, interactive way of looking at how the community can live more sustainably and reduce the impacts of climate change. At the Hiller Aviation Museum (hiller.org) in San Carlos, visitors can learn about the technology of aviation as well as its history. Kids can sit inside aircraft cockpits, fly a simulation of a Wright Model B plane, watch real-time air traffic and more.
Engineering is a broad term that covers many career paths. In general, an engineer designs, builds or maintains structures, machines, engines and even the environment. So, if you want to spark an interest in engineering, start by designing and building things with your child. Start with LEGO bricks.. You can design and build basic structures and more complex things, such as intricate structures and robots.
The Bay Area offers many LEGO-focused activities. For young children, check out the LEGOLAND Discovery Center (legolanddiscoverycenter.com/bayarea) in Milpitas. It has a LEGO Miniland with Bay Area landmarks, a place to build LEGO cars and test them out, and rides and attractions. The Bay Area LEGO Users Group or BayLUG (baylug.org) is a club of LEGO enthusiasts, young and old, who hold public meetings and exhibits.
Engineering for Kids (engineeringforkids.com/sf-bay-area) is another great resource that offers classes, camps, afterschool programs, workshops and events.
Developing a love of art can start just by having supplies around the house. Make available paints, pastels, colored pencils, markers, crayons and clay. Your child can make art from items in nature, such as leaves, rocks, sand and pinecones. There are always fun ideas to check out on Pinterest.
You can spark your child’s artistic side with an art-viewing field trip. In San Francisco, many museums, such as the de Young and Legion of Honor (famsf.org), Asian Art Museum (asianart.org) and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (sfmoma.org), have programs for families. Every Saturday, the de Young offers drop-in art programs for families. The first Sunday of the month at the Asian Art Museum, there’s storytelling and hands-on art activities at its Family Fun Day.
At the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s Art Studios in Marin (bayareadiscoverymuseum.org), kids can get messy and creative with art supplies. At the Children’s Discovery Museum San Jose (cdm.org), there are a variety of hands-on art activities, as well as an art studio showcasing the art of children and youth.
Some other spots for drop-in art include: Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco (creativity.org), MOCHA: Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (mocha.org/open-studio), and Laurel Street Arts in San Carlos (laurelstreetarts.com).
Math doesn’t have to be all about solving formulas. In fact, an important part of sparking an interest in numbers involves connecting math to real-life activities.
It can be as simple as cooking with your children, a a great way to show how measurements are used in real life. To go beyond your own kitchen, sign up your child for a cooking class or camp. Culinary Artistas in San Francisco (culinaryartistas.com) offers cooking classes for kids and families, as well as seasonal camps.
Another easy way to incorporate math is to take the kids grocery shopping. Figure out how much the groceries will cost, including tax. If there’s something your child really wants, have her do chores to raise. Teaching kids the value of money and how to count it are important lessons for both math and life.