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5 Easy STEM Activities to do at the Beach

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When the weather gets hot it’s a must to head to the lake or ocean with the kids. There are countless ways to sneak in some learning as you are keeping cool, and the kids most likely won’t even know it’s happening.

Magnify Grains of Sand

Sand is beautiful. It may seem like just another one of those mundane and annoying things that kids track into the car and everywhere else, but it is worth a second look.

Sand is different everywhere you go because it is made up of eroded rock, minerals and seashells. Just as the mountains are different in various geographic locations, so is the sand that has washed away into the ocean or lake.

To observe sand up close, bring along a magnifying glass or nature magnifier. I really like having kids use this magnifier because you can view your sand from above and below, and it can hold a bit of water for viewing water samples or small aquatic life. If you don’t have a magnifier you can still  scoop up a handful of sand and take a closer look.

What colors do you see? What shapes? Sand is amazing, but you may have never taken time to look before!

How Hot is the Sand?

Hot, hot, hot! Before stepping out onto the sand on a blazing day, take the temperature! Bring along an infrared temperature gun (not as fancy, expensive or high-tech as it sounds, check out infrared thermometers here). Test the temperature of various surfaces by pointing the thermometer at a spot and pressing a button.

Challenge kids to find the hottest spot, the coolest spot, determine the temperature of the pavement in the parking lot or the surface of the water. Find out how different surfaces change temperature over time and how quickly they do so. You can also try this investigation at home!


Build an Underwater Viewer

Before you head to the beach, show kids how to build a simple underwater viewer from recycled items. This can be used to see what is under the water, and to evaluate water clarity, which is one way to evaluate the health of a body of water.

You will need a recycled plastic container, with a lid if possible, some plastic wrap, a rubber band (if you do not have the lid to your container) and scissors.

Cut the bottom out of the plastic container. Cut a circle out of the lid, leaving a bit around the edge.

Flip it right side up and place a piece of plastic wrap across the top. Put the lid back on. Voila! (If you don’t have the lid, just secure the plastic wrap with a rubber band.)

Look down through the bottom of the container, what do you see?

Design and Build a Mini-Solar Oven

Bring some marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers in the cooler and challenge your kids to build a solar oven to make beach s’mores!

The building challenge: Make a mini-solar oven that can hold at least one s’more. Devise a way to keep the s’more from getting sandy or discovered by insects or other wildlife while it is cooking.

Have kids build them ahead or make them at the beach. Items like paper cups, aluminum foil and plastic baggies will get them started. For a full list of potential supplies and other ideas for inspiring kids to design and build their own oven, check out this solar oven STEM engineering challenge.

Survival Training: Engineer a Solar Still

If you are visiting a salt water beach, kids can use items you have for your picnic to build a mini-solar still and use the sun to remove the salt from a water sample. This is not only fun, but is also a legitimate way to collect and obtain fresh water to drink if you were in an emergency situation.

You’ll need a bowl, cup (glasses or jars work best), plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Put some salt water in the bottom of the bowl. Place the cup in the middle of the bowl, facing upward. The water you put in the bowl should not be higher than the top of the cup!

Cover the entire thing with plastic wrap or a transparent or translucent plastic bag. Pull the plastic tight around the bowl. (You may find it helpful to put something heavy, like a rock or a big seashell, on top of the cup to hold everything into place.)

Place it in the sun for a while. Eventually, you’ll have a bit of freshwater in the cup. Don’t believe me? Taste it!

My name is Sarah Benton Feitlinger and I am a science educator with over 10 years experience sharing science in nature and environmental centers, museums and schools. I have been studying science and nature in one way or another pretty much my whole life! Currently I’m a work-at-home mom, a freelance K-12 science curriculum developer, children’s science writer and blogger.  I have a passion for making science understandable, and my goal is to make it accessible for everyone. My blog focuses on connecting current events in science to resources and activities for teachers, parents and students.

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