Discover STEM in your Backyard
March 15, 2020
Teacher- and kid-approved STEM activities you can do at home
STEM is all the rage these days, but if you haven’t been near a science classroom since 12th grade, teaching STEM to your kids might seem a bit daunting. That’s why we’ve created these simple activities guaranteed to transform any parent into a Science Superhero—no experience required.
Explore Space with a Telescope
Let the kids stay up past bedtime and create memories that will last a lifetime. These simple astronomy activities are great for even the youngest aspiring astronomers.
The Moon is an ideal object for new telescope users. It’s big, bright, and visible almost every night. Take your telescope outside and point it toward the Moon. Note its current phase—crescent, half, gibbous, or full—and whether it’s waxing or waning. You can even capture a photo of the Moon by aligning your smartphone camera over the telescope’s eyepiece or using a special adapter.
After your initial Moon-gazing session, make sure to revisit Luna over the following days and weeks. Take more photos and note the changes you see from night to night.
Download a free planetarium app for your smartphone or tablet, like Celestron’s free SkyPortal app for iOS and Android. Take a look at the Tonight’s Best list to find out which planets will be visible. While you observe, you can listen to hundreds of audio descriptions to learn more about the most popular celestial objects. Create a checklist and work on viewing every planet in the Solar System over the course of one year. Make notes about your observations.
Even the most modest telescope will be able to split the famous double stars. Mizar, the second star in the Big Dipper’s handle, has a small companion star called Alcor. Thousands of years ago, people used Mizar as an eyesight test—those who could split the double star with the naked eye were thought to have excellent vision.
For a more colorful view, try Albireo, a double star in the constellation Cygnus. Find it in your telescope and you’ll see that this star is a double—composed of a bright yellow star (actually a binary star itself) and a brilliant blue companion star.
Want some extra help locating stars and planets? Our new StarSense Explorer telescopes work with a specialized smartphone app to guide you step by step. Simply place your phone in the dock, select an object to view, and follow the onscreen arrows to place it perfectly in the eyepiece.
Our Top-Rated Beginner Telescopes
Binoculars and Spotting Scopes
Let your little naturalist hit the local trails, a nearby nature preserve, or your own yard. A simple pair of binoculars and a field notebook will get them in a scientific state of mind.
The Birds and the Bumblebees
Bird watching is a favorite activity for young and old alike. Download a birding app like Merlin Bird ID by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn about birds that are common in your area. Then, head outside to look for them. Keep track of how many birds of each species you can spot—and don’t forget to keep your ears open for bird songs, too. If there aren’t many birds out, try using the binoculars to view bumblebees and butterflies at closer distances.
Scan the Sea (or Sky)
If you live in a coastal area, the spring is a great time to go whale watching. Perch yourself on a high cliff and scan the water. You might see a whale’s fluke or spray from its blowhole. No ocean nearby? Find a spot with a view of your local airport and watch the planes take off and land.
This favorite road trip game becomes a lot more fun when you and your future scientist are equipped with binoculars. Stake out a scenic locale and take turns finding targets to view through your optics.
Birding for Science
It’s spring! The birds are back and WOW are they active! Watching their activities can be a great way to pass the time, and thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program, you can also help scientists who study birds while you watch them. Registering for eBird is free, and every bird you see and report through it to Cornell gives scientists around the world more information for their research.
Bestselling Binoculars and Spotting Scopes
An affordable microscope turns your kitchen table into a STEM laboratory. Let the experiments begin!
Pond Water Exploration
Think there are no exotic creatures in your neighborhood? You just aren’t looking small enough! Collect a sample of pond water and discover flora and fauna lurking right before your eyes.
Junior Veterinarian/Mini-Medical School
Have a pet at home? Let your little one give Fluffy or Fido a checkup with a handheld digital microscope. From close-up views of fur and skin to the pads on your pooch’s paws, everything looks different close up.
Next, have them turn the scope on themselves for even more viewing fun—skin, hair, and even the gunk under their fingernails! You might be grossed out, but your kids will be eager to snap a photo of their disgusting discoveries.
Raid your fridge for interesting-looking samples of all your child’s favorite foods. What do tomato seeds look like under the microscope? How about a freeze-dried strawberry? The possibilities are endless—and delicious!
Looking for Bears
Tardigrades are micro-animals that look a little like waddling eight-legged bears. They live all around the world and can often be found in a little wet moss (which is why they’re often called “water bears” or “moss piglets”). Being 0.3mm long, they’re just beyond the human eye’s ability to see them without a magnifying instrument. If you take a little green moss, place it in a little dish overnight with some rainwater (or purified water), you can often discover them by searching the moss under a stereoscope or low magnification microscope.
To be a naturalist, you need one important thing: curiosity about nature. And if you’re curious about nature, you want to learn more about it, right? Well, thanks to the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, you can learn more about it and help the scientists who study it at the same time! Simply sign up for a free iNaturalist account, then search around wherever you live for interesting plants, insects, animals, or other natural objects, then photograph and upload them to iNaturalist. They’ll even help you identify what you saw, and once it’s been properly identified, it will go into the database of over 30 million other records to be used by scientists in their research.
Favorite Kid-Friendly Microscopes