The weather has warmed up in St. Louis, which means Forest Park is buzzing with activity, the lines at Ted Drewes reach into the street, and…school is almost out for the summer! If you’re wanting to keep your kids engaged in learning about science over the summer break, here’s some ideas for fun activities in St. Louis and the nearby area (and experiments you can do at home when it’s just too hot to go outside!) PS: You can do these activities without kiddos, too 😉
1. Visit the St. Louis Science Center
Okay, this one might be pretty obvious. But c’mon, how lucky are we to have such an awesome Science Center with FREE general admission? This summer they’ve got some great exhibits lined up, including a special exhibition called Destination Moon, which features artifacts from the Apollo 11 mission. Learn about food and how it gets from the ground to our tables in the GROW exhibit. Take in a movie and learn all about pandas in the IMAX documentary Pandas. Check out the night sky at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium. There are so many things to learn and explore, and the fun is for all ages — at 23, I still get great enjoyment from the science center!
(Free, Accessible, All Science)
2. Go on a Nature Hike
St. Louis is in close proximity to a lot of natural areas, and Missouri is home to many amazing species of birds, plants, fish, and other wildlife. Why not check out a guide to Missouri wildlife and hit the trail? Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center is located in Kirkwood, MO and has opportunities for hiking (with an accessible trail), bird watching, and tours led by expert naturalists. Take a guide to wildlife along with you (or download one on your phone), and make a game out of spotting different flora and fauna.
Forest Park is also home to many various species of trees and plants, and you can even check out the fish hatchery (which was established in 1879!) You might see a variety of bird species, such as herons, egrets, and kingfishers. Can you spot all three?
If you’re willing to drive a little further, Shaw Nature Reserve (located in Gray Summit, about 40 minutes from St. Louis) has plenty of options for exploring nature. With an abundance of classes for all ages, Shaw Nature Reserve also offers tours, art exhibits, the StoryWalk® project (designed so that you read a story as you walk a trail, to promote physical fitness and literacy), a special children’s nature play area, and much more. Admission is $5 Adults/$3 Seniors and Children.
(Accessible/Free options available, Ecology, Wildlife, Biology, Conservation)
3. Cool Off in a Cave
Did you know that Missouri is also called the Cave State? Because of the region’s rich geological history, Missouri is home to over 7,000 recorded caves (and more are discovered each year!) Caves maintain a cool temperature of about 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit year round, so dig out your headlamps and head for any one of the many awesome caves open to the public each summer. At Meramec State Park, just an hour outside of St. Louis, you can tour Fisher Cave, filled with a variety of rooms and passages as well as well-preserved ancient bear claw marks, interesting wildlife such as cave salamanders, and massive 30 ft tall calcite formations. ($10 Adult/$8 Teen/$6 Child; under 6 are free.) Onondaga State Park is another great area to check out, with both Onondaga Cave (pictured above) and Cathedral Cave available for tours.
It’s also a good time to learn all about Missouri’s 14 species of bats! Many cave tours will talk about the importance of bats to the cave ecosystem. Introducing kids to bats at a young age may make them less scared of these harmless creatures in the future. Bats in Missouri (and other nearby regions) are dying at an alarming rate due to the White-Nose Syndrome, a fungus which has been found in many of our local species. Learning proper cave etiquette and precautions can help reduce transmission of WNS.
(Accessible Options, Wildlife, Ecology, Caves, Conservation)
4. Check out the Magic House
The Magic House in Kirkwood is a wonderful hands-on children’s museum that provides a plethora of ways to explore science, engineering, art, music, physical fitness, and more! Kids of all ages can engage in interactive exhibits designed just for them. There are free family nights once a month, and admission is $11 per person the rest of the month. One of the really nice things about The Magic House is that they provide a private “Calming Corner“, where kids with sensory disabilities, autism, developmental or physical disabilities, or just feelings of being overwhelmed can take some time away from the busy Museum. Breastfeeding moms can also retreat her for some privacy while nursing their young ones. For the adults, The Magic House has an Adult Play Date fundraising event this summer on June 21. Those 21+ can come enjoy the museum as well as food and beverages, and proceeds will benefit the museum’s fund to provide free field trips for children in the area who might not otherwise be able to visit The Magic House.
(Accessible, Free Visit Days, Science, Art)
5. Explore Space at the Challenger Learning Center
Personally, I feel like the Challenger Learning Center in Ferguson is one of St. Louis’ most underrated STEM-focused attractions. I got to visit many times as an elementary schooler, but did you know that they also have space simulation missions open to the public on a regular basis? Kids age 11+ and adults can take on roles of astronauts, scientists, and engineers in simulations that teach problem-solving skills as well as inspire curiosity about the cosmos. For younger children, there are Junior Astronaut programs, geared towards those between the ages of 6 and 11.
If you’ve ever wanted to travel to the moon, Mars, or the International Space Station, the CLC is a great Earth-bound alternative. Admission is $15 per person and the schedule can be found here.
(Astronomy, Engineering, Physics, Aerospace)
6. Stuck Inside? Try an At-Home Experiment
Sometimes, it’s just too hot to be outside (or, as we say in St. Louis, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”) or you just don’t want to face the crowds. Stay at home and try out some of these fun, easy at-home science experiments that can help introduce concepts in chemistry, physics, and biology.
You can create your own pH indicator solution using red cabbage,
…or flowers different colors with a little food coloring and capillary action.
Older kids might enjoy making a bottle rocket powered by baking soda and vinegar.
Cool off with some homemade ice cream in a bag and learn all about the delicious chemistry of ice cream.
Spend a day inventing and engineering by holding an egg drop competition (this could be a fun activity for the whole neighborhood, or a group of friends!) Let kids go wild with different materials you find around the house.
Many of these experiments use items you might already have at home, or can be easily found at your local supermarket for a low price.
(Free/Accessible Options, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Biology, At-Home)
Have fun exploring science in our fantastic city and in your own home this summer!
Here’s one more bonus item I wanted to include:
7. Going on Vacation? Take the Science With You
If you’re going on a vacation this summer, you might consider bringing the science along with you. Going on a road trip? Bring (or download on your phone) a guide to different types of clouds, and see who can spot the most different types from the car windows. If you’re going somewhere like the beach or a national park, check out guides to local wildlife and bring along a small notebook for kids to write down or draw the different plants and animals they observe. Bring a set of binoculars and learn how to identify different birds in the region with these age-appropriate guides. Vacation can be a wonderful opportunity to learn about the biodiversity of different ecosystems outside of St. Louis, and can be a really enriching experience. If you’re going on multiple vacations, consider starting an Observation Journal for your kids, so by the end of the summer they have a notebook filled with notes, drawings, observations, and maybe pictures of the different places they saw.