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Back-to-School STEM Ideas

August 7th, 2018 | 2 min. read

By Gryphon House

Trying to come up with some last-minute learning center ideas for the beginning of the school year? We’ve got you covered! These two STEM-play activities will help you familiarize children with two different types of play centers in the classroom: the dramatic-play center and the Construction Zone.

Let’s Pretend Play (Dramatic-Play Center)

This is a great activity to use at the beginning of the year when introducing the dramatic learning center. Invite children to share ideas about the roles, activities, and situations they could enact in the center, and discuss your expectations for the dramatic-play center.

Skills supported

  • Engaging in dramatic play
  • Exploring emergent reading skills
  • Using emergent writing
  • Sharing
  • Developing social-emotional skills


  • Chart paper
  • Marker

What to do

  1. Gather the children and talk about the dramatic-play center and the materials they will find there. Ask them for ideas about what they could do in the center.
  2. On a large piece of paper, write, “What Can I Play?” Read the words out loud to the children, and then record their ideas on the chart paper. Some of the ideas might be retelling a story, creating a restaurant, or pretending to be a police officer. As you record ideas, ask the children to share beginning sounds they might know for the words in their suggestions. Read the ideas on the chart together.
  3. Tell the children that when they spend time in the dramatic-play center, you would like for them to work out ways to share and play with other children. Ask for suggestions about how to play well together. If the children do not include ideas related to sharing, roles, and cleanup, then address them with the children.
  4. After learning-center time, invite the children to share what they did in the dramatic-play center.  

What I Can Build (Construction Zone)

This is a great activity to use at the beginning of the year, when you are introducing the learning centers to the children. Talk with the children about your expectations for the Construction Zone—share, do not throw blocks, put your blocks away when you are finished, and so on—then brainstorm with them about the kinds of structures they could build in the center.

Skills supported

  • Using emergent writing
  • Developing fine motor skills
  • Listening
  • Developing social-emotional skills
  • Developing vocabulary


What to do

  1. Gather the children and talk about the Construction Zone. Talk about what kinds of materials they will find there, and discuss your expectations for their behavior when they are in that center.
  2. On a large piece of paper, write, “What I Can Build.” Read the words to the children, then ask them to tell you their ideas for structures they could build. Record their ideas on the chart. For example, they might say a castle, horse corral, tower, bridge, office building, road, or zoo.
  3. Give the children the old magazines and child-safe scissors, and ask them to find and cut out photos to show what the words represent. For example, for a horse corral, they might find a photo of a horse; for a castle, they might find photos of a crown and a real castle.
  4. Let the children help you glue the pictures onto the chart next to the words they represent.
  5. Read the words again with the children, and point to each picture to help them recognize and remember what the words are.
  6. Tell the children that you will post the chart in the Construction Zone. When they need ideas for structures they can build, they can look at the chart.

For more STEM activities to use throughout the school year, check out the book STEM Play: Integrating Inquiry into Learning Centers by Deirdre Englehart, Debby Mitchell, Junie Albers-Biddle, Kelly Jennings-Towle, and Marnie Forestieri.