Kids Arts & Science Room
November 21, 2013 5:37 AM   Subscribe

We have a spare room that we're turning into an Arts & Science room for the kids (13 year old girl and 8 year old boy). It's in a walk-out basement with a painted concrete floor and a window. We have some ideas but little knowledge in how to setup a room for them to create and explore. We have a cheap beginner's chemistry set, some art and craft supplies, and...that's about it. What ideas can we implement with the little expertise and money we have?

As an example, I want to do this if I can locate some of the materials. It's looks fun to put together, it's got a lot of potential for usage, and it's inexpensive. What other things can we do? What should we be careful of (besides blowing up the house)?
posted by medarby to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Less in terms of specific activities and more in terms of design, I'd paint the walls half in blackboard paint and half in magnetic paint!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:40 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

What sort of arts and craft supplies have you got? Sewing machines can often be found at thrift stores for not too much money.

How about a library? Craft and science books.

Legos! Or blocks. Especially the cool robotic ones.
posted by MadMadam at 5:54 AM on November 21, 2013

You need some sort of "cabinet of curiosities" where they can store their finds ... some open shelves, or an actual wardrobe cabinet, or some shadow boxes ... something.

A sturdy table where they can work. (Maybe even one for each, so they can each leave things out.)

Go to a teacher supply store and flip through the classroom posters -- you'll find solar systems, periodic tables, color wheels, evolution trees, identification of animal tracks, all kinds of things.

You can also get a bunch of government maps really cheap -- if you're in the states, you can get a soil map of your state, you can get hyper-detailed up-close topographical maps of small areas (like right where you live), you can get geological maps, all sorts of things.

Some libraries have an art lending program where you can borrow a painting for the library check out period ... you could rotate art for your kids that way, have different things for them to enjoy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:02 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would try to add some plants and a little area where they could try growing different things (lemon seeds, carrot tops, the bottom end of celery, all depending on what kind of produce you get).

Maybe a tub where they could play around with water dynamics and floating things, that can also be re-purposed for crafts like marbling paper or dyeing things.

I would have killed for a microscope as a kid.

Would you be willing to consider a small pet as part of this? You could do an aquarium, or a setup with small frogs or something if you don't want to go the standard fuzzy route. Or a butterfly kit so you can let them loose when you're done!

Snap circuits are pretty cool if you're into electricity.
posted by brilliantine at 6:03 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Glow in the dark ANYTHING! Why don't you put glow in the dark star stickers on the walls (and ceilings?) in the form of actual constellations, and then have a night time star lesson space? Plus, glow in the dark is awesome.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:03 AM on November 21, 2013

Building off brilliantine's suggestion for pets, my mom's team teacher has a tank of horseshoe crabs (tiny ones, babies) that the fourth graders find endlessly fascinating. They require very little effort.
posted by phunniemee at 6:07 AM on November 21, 2013

Great ideas so far! We had thought about painting a wall with whiteboard paint; I didn't know about magnetic paint. Plants are good ideas, though we have a lot of pets already. I forgot to mention that we have three different snap circuit sets (e.g. here). Keep the ideas coming!
posted by medarby at 6:19 AM on November 21, 2013

I always want to get/make/find a lot of stuff to let my kids make a giant all-around-the-house Rube Goldberg contraption.
posted by artychoke at 7:06 AM on November 21, 2013

Also, in my five year old's class, they build lots of things out of paper straws, paperclip and tape. At parent night, they made us try to build the tallest tower we could that could hold a ping pong ball.
posted by artychoke at 7:10 AM on November 21, 2013

Take the kids to the library, research is a big part of science. Get science books for kids - a variety of projects, including kitchen science and weather. Also books about scientists, and about the natural world. Teach them to identify trees, flowers, clouds, insects, stars and planets. Winter is a good time for doing circuits, magnets and other indoor stuff. Science begins with observing. Post to freecycle looking for a microscope, and send away for some cool slides. With just a good magnifying glass, you can see the structures in bark, leaves, insects, snowflakes, etc. Maybe find some lists or newsletters to subscribe to. And go on field trips to the water plant, museums, breweries (brewing is science) anyplace interesting.

When they have questions, don't just tell them the answer, go look it up together. I hated it when I asked my Dad about a word and he said "Look it up," but loved it when he got up and looked it up with me. Do the projects with them. We used to put baking soda in a jar and add vinegar once in a while, cause it's fun, and then my son would show other kids. My grandfather was a research biochemist and when I was a kid, for gifts he would send cool stuff. We had records that told the story of weather - weird, but I loved listening. I gave my son similar resources. Maybe outfit them with a backpack or belt pack with pencil, notebook, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting samples, etc.

Share your own interest in facts, research, and evidence-based decision-making. Make 2 recipes of chocolate chip cookies and compare. Read labels and look up the stuff in your food. This is a great idea, I think you and your kids will have a lot of fun.

sci·ence ˈsīəns/ the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

American Science & Surplus
Edmund Scientifics: educational toys, gifts, hobby supplies & science equipment
Ward's Science
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posted by theora55 at 7:23 AM on November 21, 2013

They need a Dremel! Wire cutters and small screwdrivers and strong lights and a hot-glue gun, too.

Make sure your table top is destructable--let them drill into it and screw things to it and mount things and spill paint and glue without too much worry.

Get an easel that's always set up, with paints and markers that are left out. My girl had a low table with a mounted roll of butcher paper so she could draw and draw and draw--I used her creations as wrapping paper for many years.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:46 AM on November 21, 2013

Not a suggestion, but on the list of things you should be careful of: adequate ventilation, especially if you're giving them chemistry sets/sharpies/various paints. Yeah, it's a walk-out basement, but unless you live somewhere with year-round temperate weather, you still want some sort of ventilation.

Also, handwashing station. You don't want a bunch of paintbrushes being carried through the house to the nearest sink, and in the event that someone spills chemicals or anything on themselves, you want them to be able to wash it off right away.

Yes, I was an accident-prone child! Why do you ask?

On the craft front: woodburning kit, tabletop loom and/or beading loom, basic tools (hammer, drill, screwdriver, jigsaw, dremel), wood scraps, wood stain. Scrimshaw equipment is cheap and interesting, plus has bonus historical value. (My just-barely eleven year old can safely use all of these things--your kids can, too.)

I would also suggest that you buy some do whatever/build whatever kits. Having all this Stuff suddenly accessible to you can be overwhelming for a kid, and having a couple of "make this leather belt!" "grow magic crystals!" things can be a much easier entry point than now you have ALL the things!.
posted by MeghanC at 8:15 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would add to it slowly, maybe once a month. If friends & family ask for gift suggestions, you might keep a wish list. I much preferred experience gifts, books and craft kits to toys as a kid.
posted by MichelleinMD at 9:21 AM on November 21, 2013

Get thee to Pinterest, and search for STEM or STEAM projects. You will find every manner of experiment and demonstration for kids.
See if your library system has science kits to lend. They will give you some ideas of what you can focus on.
When my kids were younger we could never have enough big pieces of cardboard, felt or polymer clay.
posted by Biblio at 11:53 AM on November 21, 2013

Wow! MFers came through again! I've definitely got enough ideas and projects to sort through to last a long time. I can't mark any one answer as the best as they're all great. Thanks!
posted by medarby at 6:19 AM on November 22, 2013

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