After-school or weekend enrichment programs, including STEM enrichment activities, offer children the opportunity to discover new interests, develop new skills, hone existing talents, and learn valuable life lessons. San Antonio is home to plenty of places where children of all ages and backgrounds can explore their world. The best part? Many of the city’s programs are free! In this four-week series, we will showcase activities designed to engage everyone from the preschool Picasso to the high-tech teen and every nature lover, sports enthusiast, and animal activist in-between. Read part two on arts enrichment, part three on outdoor enrichment, and part four on volunteering..
Learning STEMs from Play
Our children live in a high-tech world and learning how to live, work, and play within its structure will be paramount to their future. STEM enrichment programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) offer children of all ages the opportunity to learn advanced concepts using modalities that get them motivated and keep them interested. Video game programming, LEGO construction, robotics, and simulated space missions are just a few of the ways that STEM programs meet children where they live, teaching them valuable, marketable skills hidden within fun, engaging play. You know, kind of like sneaking veggies into their favorite baked treats.
In the global world of technology, coding is the universal language. Teaching children to be fluent in that language through video game design is what Code Ninjas is all about. With a focus on Java Script and C Sharp programming, the program is open year-round to children ages 5–18. Code Ninjas Stone Oak Center Director Tyler Radtke says that for those parents who think their children spend too many hours gaming, Code Ninjas provides an excellent alternative by allowing them to learn through their favorite pastime.
“Here they build games, test them out and play them, but they are also learning how coding affects the different aspects of the game from design to function and animation,” he explains. “It is the best of both worlds.”
Children ages 5–7 are considered Junior Programmers and they follow a structured group format. They begin by learning a concept such as algorithms, defining it, and then experimenting with practical applications. Once they master the skill, they take part in Code Spark, implementing what they have learned into a simple game.
Children ages 8–18 participate in a self-paced, individual program where they progress through the ranks, martial arts style, from a white to black belt, learning different skills and coding languages along the way. Each instructor, known as a Sensei, is ready help guide students through the process. Upon reaching black belt status, the student builds a game from scratch utilizing all the skills and coding techniques he or she has learned.
“Tech is only going to become more integrated into our everyday lives,” predicts Radtke. “By providing kids with an opportunity like gaming, that they enjoy, we are giving them experience and knowledge in a language that could ultimately change their lives.”
Learning by DOing
At the DoSeum, San Antonio’s museum for kids, it’s all hands on deck as children explore STEM concepts through interactive structures and programs designed to stimulate little minds.
“Museums like the DoSeum specialize in engaging young learners in STEM, and in foundational skills and concepts fostering literacy and numeracy,” explains Daniel Menelly, CEO. “We contextualize these ‘big ideas’ through hands-on/minds-on learning and creative play. We feel that curiosity and wonder are the powerful first and second gears of learning.”
Immersive story spaces, interesting and accessible design challenges, and thoughtfully engineered climbing structures invite children to problem solve through play while allowing each child to define his or her interests and explore at an individualized pace.
From “Big Days of Play,” to “Family Workshops,” to “Tinkerfest,” and the inventive and always-evolving daily programming, there is something for every child to discover and learn. There is even a “Little Do-ers” pre-school program.
“The variety of options we offer ensure ample opportunities for personalized and self-directed learning,” describes Menelly. “We encourage our young learners to map their own way through the DoSeum’s exhibit halls and yards. In the process of choosing where to play and what to try, we see young learners defining themselves as adventurers and explorers.”
For more information on all you can do and see visit thedoseum.org.
Out of This World
“Many children are fascinated by space,” says Michelle Risse, Planetarium Coordinator. “We are putting them in scenarios where they can be engaged and learn.”
In the Micronaut Program, little astronauts ages K–2 can take part in a simulated space mission complete with hands-on activities and story-times. Beginning in third grade, those missions change to more in-depth experiences including setting up a colony on the planet Mars. These programs are designed for field trips and enrichment activities for groups of 20 or more and are ideal for class field trips or home school groups who are looking for STEM enrichment activities.
“Technology is all around us so introducing kids to the idea of using technology and thinking outside the box to problem solve helps them in every aspect of life,” says Risse. “They don’t have to go into a STEM field as adults to benefit from what they learn.”
More Resources for STEM Enrichment Activities
Education combined with entertainment is a powerful combination. STEM learning opportunities are everywhere and, as you can see, they are often disguised as play. The following programs teach valuable life skills in the STEM disciplines, all while providing plenty of opportunities for children to do what they do best—have FUN!
Snapology San Antonio
Who doesn’t love Legos? At Snapology San Antonio, children learn the building blocks of STEM through building with Legos and a wide range of other classes from robotics to coding and more. Check out their full range of options at snapology.com.
Girls Inc. of San Antonio
Did you know that 89 percent of girls are interested in science and math? Nurture that curiosity through the STEM programs and enrichment activities available through Girls Inc. of San Antonio. Check girlsincsa.org often—schedules and classes are updated frequently.
Communities In Schools—San Antonio
Want to host your own STEM event? Communities In Schools—San Antonio provides the supplies and curriculum for STEM Family Nights held at participating schools served by the CIS program. Students and their families work as a team to launch a rocket, code a robot, and much more. For more information visit cissa.org.
Charter Moms Chats
Watch Dr. Richard Kissel, Chief Program Officer at the DoSeum, and Tyler Radtke, Center Director at Code Ninjas Stone Oak, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on August 9, 2022 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.
Dr. Richard Kissel is the Chief Program Officer at the DoSeum, where he oversees guest experience, educational programming, and special events for San Antonio’s only museum dedicated to early learners. He also serves as an instructor and course developer for the online Museum Studies graduate program at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to his current work, Richard served as the Director of Public Programs at Yale’s Peabody Museum (2013–2018), Director of Teacher Programs at the Paleontological Research Institution (2008–2013), and Science Program Specialist at The Field Museum (2003–2008).
With an academic background in Earth and biological sciences, Richard has also studied the fossil remains of ancient amphibians, dinosaurs, and the ancient relatives of mammals. In addition to scientific publications, he has authored popular articles and books on paleontology, museum education, and the nature and history of science. Richard is a featured scientist online at NOVA’s scienceNOW, serves as a scientific consultant for NOVA/BBC programming, and was a featured speaker at the 2016 TEDxYale conference.
Tyler Radtke is the Center Director at Code Ninjas Stone Oak. For his entire professional career, he has worked with programs that work directly with or advocate for children, including a strong background working with children with special needs and students in Title I elementary schools. He also coaches at an organization called Kid Strong, where he is a role model and leader. On the personal side, he enjoys skateboarding, videography, and spending time with he family. His daughter is now 10 months old and growing like crazy.
Read Our Four-Part Series on Enrichment Activities
- This post, about STEM enrichment activities
- “Arts Enrichment Programs for San Antonio Kids,” Bonny Osterhage, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 16, 2022
- “Outdoor Enrichment Programs for San Antonio Kids,” Bonny Osterhage, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 23, 2022
- “Volunteering Enrichment Programs for San Antonio Kids,” Bonny Osterhage, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 30, 2022
Read More About STEM Enrichment
- “Learn Math, Love Math, and Change the World,” Hannah Guan, San Antonio Charter Moms, July 21, 2022
- “Outdoor Math Games for Kids,” Ellen Castro, San Antonio Charter Moms, July 21, 2022
- “Measuring Height: A Preschool Math Activity,” Moses Perez, San Antonio Charter Moms, April 21, 2022
- “San Antonio Youth Code Jam Will Get Your Kids Excited About Computer Science,” San Antonio Charter Moms, September 26, 2017
- “Discover Math All Around Us,” Ambika Dani, San Antonio Charter Moms
- “Exploring Magnetism,” Kelly Alston, San Antonio Charter Moms
- “Kitchen Chemistry: Elephant Toothpaste,” Audrey Hagopian, San Antonio Charter Moms
- “Kitchen Chemistry: Snowstorm in a Bottle,” Audrey Hagopian, San Antonio Charter Moms
- “Kitchen Chemistry: Weather Science,” Audrey Hagopian, San Antonio Charter Moms
- “LEGO Simple Machines for Kids with STEMtastic,” Janie Sellers, San Antonio Charter Moms
- “Oh Snap! Math Games,” Vicki Leach, San Antonio Charter Moms