In Parent Tips

Summer Stem Activities For Kids and Teens

Summer Stem Activities

Summer is the perfect opportunity to help your kids develop what author Paul Tough calls “mental contrasting”, one of my favorite skills which means “concentrating on a positive outcome and simultaneously concentrating on the obstacles in the way” (Tough, 2012, 93). Without mental contrasting, how would you achieve your goals? And yet it is easy to understand why (and that) kids give up on tasks that appear too hard or impossible.

Often this tendency to give up results in taking an easier, less risky path at school. During the school year, students are strapped for time, so if something is too hard and is therefore taking too much time, they are inclined to scrap it. If they have a creative idea, but it’s risky and could cost them a good grade, grades are too important, so they go with the less risky project.

But in the summer, the consequences of risk taking are much lower and kids have more free time, making it the best time to practice mental contrasting.

And what better way to practice mental contrasting than engineering and art projects? In both you have a goal (your vision for your project) and yet in both you run across challenges – how do I portray this in my picture? what can I use to keep this building stable? 

Summer Stem Activities

Here are a couple of art and engineering project suggestions for you to do with your kids this summer specifically to promote the development of mental contrasting.

Engineering Project – Build a Catapult

  1. Provide your child with supplies. You can make the activity harder or easier depending on which supplies you choose to provide your child. Choose and add options as you wish. However, you may think that by providing certain objects that your child will build the contraption one way, but that is not necessarily the case. Therefore, the exact materials you choose are not too important.
  2. Tell your child to build a catapult given the supplies provided. They will need to build something to put in the catapult and perhaps something to knock down with the catapult.
  3. Ask your child, can you knock something over with your catapult? OR can you catapult a blueberry into my mouth with your catapult?

Some potential supplies:

  • Balloons
  • Bottle caps
  • Cotton balls
  • Duct tape/Masking tape
  • Egg carton
  • Flexible drinking straws
  • Glue
  • Marshmallows
  • Newspaper
  • Pack of gum
  • Paint brushes (small)
  • Paper clips
  • Paper plates
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Pencils
  • Plastic grocery bag(s)
  • Plastic water bottles
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Q-Tips
  • Rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Shoe strings
  • Streamers
  • Tin foil
  • Tissue box

Parents, if you need to help your child, you can watch this YouTube video for inspriration, but I do not recommend letting children use hot glue guns or X-Acto knives.


Art Project – Self-Portrait Mask

Explore your identity by decorating and playing with masks. While the masks are self-portraits, they could still portray an animal or a movie character as long as you can explain how that animal or character represents you.


  1. Using a piece of cardboard (any shape), cut out eye holes. (It may be a good idea to cut the eye holes out for your child depending on her age and fine motor skills).
  2. Decorate your cardboard mask in your image using whatever supplies you would like to use. For instance, you could paint your mask or you could glue objects onto your mask.


Several children enjoy playing Minecraft. By searching online for “Minecraft cubes” you can find printable cutout blocks. Use the Minecraft cubes you put together to decorate the mask.

  1. Once complete and dry, attach a popsicle stick to the back of the mask with masking tape so that you can hold the mask to your face using the popsicle stick.
  2. Explain to your family why you made the choices you made for your mask.
    1. What do your choices say about you?
    2. What story do you want your mask to tell about you?

If your child is stuck, try to ask questions such as “What if you did this?” and “What happened when you did that?” to inspire further thoughts and solutions instead of showing your child how you might solve the problem.

Interested in more art ideas for the summer?

You can purchase Summer Fun with Sisu, Fireborn’s summer edutainment packet filled with tons of ideas like these for summer learning and fun. Summer Fun with Sisu can be purchased on Etsy for $30.


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